"The Problem with Passing Judgment"

Mar.27, 2011 Romans 2


A star has fallen - or so the news might lead us to believe. Elizabeth Taylor passed away this week at the age of 79. Elizabeth Taylor, long-time well-known movie-star. But I must confess it was hard to suppress a wave of judgmentalism: the news reported she'd been married 8 times (though perhaps we should give her a bit of credit as that included twice to the same man, Richard Burton); I think the reporter termed it a 'tempestuous love life'. Also the summary stated she'd been in and out of rehab for alcoholism. It's easy to pat yourself on the back when the failures of an idol are broadcast for all to hear.

Another "Liz" made headlines in my world this week, in a better way: my boss at Wingham Hospital, also named Liz, retired after 29 years. However for this Liz I have nothing but respect. She was a model staffer, having worked her way steadfastly up from nurse to Director of Patient Services to a Vice-President of the 2-hospital alliance. For much of my 9 years at the hospital, I was involved with her on the Inpatient Governance Council; when she wasn't at a meeting, it was like the rest of us almost didn't know what to do - she was so much at the hub of what was happening. Her dedication was lauded at her farewell event by someone telling the story of the time she got a ride to work with a snowplow operator! This Liz was such an exemplary employee that I'd feel like saying to her, "Thanks to you, I can't shirk at my work" - she set such a high standard for the rest of us.

We are very prone to compare ourselves with others and make value judgments. Yet Scripture, like model employees, reminds us we're never at the top of the heap as we might suppose we are. Paul begins Romans 2 by saying, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else..." We are too quick to pass judgment and jump to conclusions.

A lady in an airport bought a book to read and a package of cookies to eat while she waited for her plane. After she had taken her seat in the terminal and gotten engrossed in her book, she noticed that the man one seat away from her was fumbling to open the package of cookies on the seat between them. She was so shocked that a stranger would eat her cookies that she didn't really know what to do, so she just reached over and took one of the cookies and ate it. The man didn't say anything but soon reached over and took another. Well, the woman wasn't going to let him eat them all, so she took another, too. When they were down to one cookie, the man reached over, broke the cookie in half, and got up and left. The lady couldn't believe the man's nerve, but soon the announcement came to board the plane.

Once the woman was aboard, still angry at the man's audacity and puzzling over the incident, she reached into her purse for a tissue. It suddenly dawned on her that she really shouldn't judge people too harshly-- for there in her purse lay her still-unopened package of cookies.


Our judgments are usually prejudicial, pre-judging the other person without knowing the whole story. Were the bigger picture known, we might discover we're as guilty as the other party. Only God knows people's inner secrets; only His final judgment will be perfect and absolutely fair. Paul writes in v3, "So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment?" It's as if we think we're somehow immune or protected from God's eventual judgment of us for similar failures and sins.

Consider a situation in hockey, a fast sport in which there are sometimes unfortunately violent injuries (concussions have been in the headlines lately). Sometimes when an infraction occurs, the referee will raise his hand, but if the team that didn't break the rules is in possession of the puck, the referee will delay calling the penalty until the team causing the infraction gains control of the puck, or play is halted on another account. Now, suppose you're the player that's caused the problem - say you high-sticked someone. Let's say the other team has the puck, so it's a delayed penalty. What if you decided to take advantage of the delay by checking someone from behind - then charged the opposing goalie, wiping him off his feet and knocking the net off its posts? Would that be smart? Instead of just the high-sticking penalty, you'd have racked up two more misdemeanours.

Paul's arguing that when we persist in passing judgment while doing the same things, supposing we will escape God's judgment, we're showing contempt for the ultimate Referee - as if we kept on bullying others while waiting for a delayed penalty call. Look at vv4-5: "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed." Just because there's a delay, an interlude between the fault and the judgment, doesn't mean you won't be held accountable. To continue passing judgment before the time is to show contempt for God's kindness, forbearance, and patience, which ought to instead be leading us to repent.

The truth of the matter could be captured in a grid of 4 squares with 2 columns and 2 rows: Now / Then across the top and Me / God down the side. "Me-Now" we find described in vv1,3: passing judgment; contempt as a 'mere man'; v5 stubborn hard heart, unrepentant; v8 self-seeking, rejecting truth, opting for evil.

In the "God-Now" square Paul notes riches of kindness, tolerance, and patience; other meanings - moral goodness, integrity, forbearance. The Referee is holding off on calling the penalty.

But look what happens when we move over to the "Then" column - what will take place in the future. In the "God-Then" square put "righteous judgment": v2, "God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth." V5 mentions "the day of God's wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed." V6, quoting Proverbs 24:12, "God "will give to each person according to what he has done."" The punishment accords with the infraction; it will be fair and just. Not like the reffing at some hockey games where they seem to turn a blind eye to antics by the home team - that leaves a bad taste in your mouth!

Where's that put us in the "Me-Then" square? In hockey, the player winds up in the penalty box, or maybe with a game misconduct. That's mild compared to God's judgment in eternity. To sum it up in a word - "Wrath": v5, "But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath..." Vv8-9, "But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil..."

Hypocrisy - passing judgment as if you're better when you're really just as guilty - is a particularly devilish sin: it's deceptive, sneaky, covered up. Paul paints a little cameo of the perfect hypocrite in vv17-24. Note the way he builds the thrust of his argument to a climax with a cadence of four "if's" and then drives it home with five "do's": "If you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law...if you know His will...if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, (a little sub-list here to accentuate the build-up), a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants..." (Like he's reading down a list of credentials on some puffed-up one's resume!) Then v21 is the climax: "YOU, then, who teach others, DO you not teach yourself?" (First of the 5 do's) "You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?" Note he's gone from the specific to the general. And the answer to his rhetorical questions? Implied - YES! To drive it home, Paul resorts to the authority of Scripture, pulling in a quote from Isaiah 52:5 - "As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."" ZING! Scorch!

One might wonder about the 'robbing temples' charge, but there seems to be some backing for it; for instance, in Acts 19(37) the city clerk tells the rioting crowd that Paul and his companions "have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess," as if the former was something other Jews had done in the past. Adultery apparently was just as big a problem back then; commentator Vincent tells us, "The Talmud [authoritative oral Jewish body of teaching] charges the crime of adultery upon the 3 most illustrious Rabbis." Did you catch that? Even the official Jewish historical record acknowledges the 3 most illustrious Rabbis - best in the business, mind you - fell victim to the sin of adultery. Can you believe it? Sadly, the same can be said for some of the biggest names in Christianity in recent decades. If even the leaders fall prey to evil temptings - what about us average Joes?

"God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," v24 says. Sadly that also applies to the church. One of the most commonly cited excuses people give for not attending church is, "the church is full of hypocrites." And usually the person who says that has been hurt by some instance of someone who claimed to bear the name of Jesus but let their imperfection show through, whether by an incident of gossip, or shady business dealing, an inordinate eruption of temper, or so forth. We've all slipped. And as a result, God's name is blasphemed - dishonoured - discredited to those on the outside.

It's not a pretty picture. In the next chapter Paul will summarize the universality of our guilt: "Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin...that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:9,19,23)

If you think that in your 'natural man', at your unregenerate core, you're any better than the next guy - think again! Yet passing judgment while being a hypocrite abounds. John Stott observed, "Hypocrisy is hideous.What cancer is to the body, hypocrisy is to the church.It is a killing agent.Unfortunately, hypocrisy is also addictive.And even though Jesus reserved His most severe words of condemnation for the hypocrite, we still seem to prefer that lifestyle to truth and authenticity."


So, what's the solution to the comparison game? How's this problem of hypocrisy, insincerity, which is so endemic, ever going to change?

First, we can realize that Jesus Christ is the impossible standard. Stop comparing yourself to Liz Taylor, or Jim Bakker, or even Billy Graham. V16, "This" (referring back to v13, the obedient being declared righteous) - "This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares." Jesus is the standard for judgment - the whole body of His teaching, elaborated by the apostles under the Holy Spirit's inspiration in the rest of the New Testament, becomes the basis for judgment. Jesus Himself said, "There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day." (Jn 12:48)

Do you think you're righteous on your own steam by Jesus' standard? Are you deluding yourself by supposing as some have told me from a hospital bed, "I've lived a pretty good life" (meaning they're not so bad)?! Go back and look at the Sermon on the Mount. It was said, "Do not murder"; Jesus says, "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." It was said, "Do not commit adultery"; Jesus comments, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Those two examples should give you an idea how much higher Jesus' standard is.

Second, understand God's kindness leads you toward repentance as v4 says. The referee's delay in calling the penalty is not for you to take advantage of by committing more faults, but by making things right - His way. Repent; confess your sins; submit to Jesus as Lord and admit you need Him to save you. Make an about-turn away from evil.

Third, start seeking God's goals for your life. Note the word 'seek' in both verses 7&8: v8 refers to those who are SELF-seeking (how much that sums up our culture - me me me!). But v7 shows the godly "by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality" - they are the ones who'll be given eternal life. What are you seeking? What pursuits claim the most of your time? Does fellowship with God figure in your daily planner? Do you define 'success' in dollars or more immaterially in 'glory' and 'honour' - a life that's worthy, uncorrupted?

Fourth, with the Spirit's help, circumcise your heart. V29, "a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code..." What do you need to 'cut off' that's been a parasite of wickedness latched onto your life with lamprey-like tenacity? What unholy habits are holding you back, leading you in a wrong direction? Let it go! Make the cut, accept the discipline of inward circumcision.

Fifth and last - go beyond hearing to doing / obedience. V13, "For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." The words 'do' and 'obey' figure prominently in this chapter: vv1-2-3 'do' repeatedly; v13 obey; v14 do; 5 times 'do' in 21-23; v25 'observe' the law'; v27 'obeys the law'. In fact Paul's whole letter to the Romans begins and ends with an emphasis on believing AND obeying. 1:5, "Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith." It's a famous letter for outlining Christian faith, but in Paul's mind you're not called just to faith, but "to the OBEDIENCE that comes from faith." IQ measures intelligence; how's your 'O.Q.' been this week? (Obedience Quotient) And at the end of the book, 16:26 - "so that all nations might believe and obey him--" It's not just 'believe' with Paul, but "believe and obey".


Joseph Bayly in his book Psalms of My Life includes a poem we could make our prayer in response to God's message to us here today - a prayer to stop being phony hypocrites, and to start being the real thing. He calls it "A Psalm of Single-Mindedness".

Lord of reality / make me real / not plastic / synthetic / pretend / phony

an actor playing out his part / hypocrite.

I don't want to keep a prayer list / but to pray

nor agonize to find Your will / but to obey what I already know

to argue theories of inspiration / but submit to Your Word.

I don't want to explain the difference between eros and philos and agape / but to love.

I don't want to sing as if I mean it / I want to mean it.

I don't want to tell it like it is / but to be it like you want it.

I don't want to think another needs me / but I need him else I'm not complete.

I don't want to tell others how to do it / but to do it

to have to be always right / but to admit it when I'm wrong.

I don't want to be a census taker / but an obstetrician

nor an involved person, a professional / but a friend.

I don't want to be insensitive / but to hurt where other people hurt

nor to say "I know how you feel" / but to say "God knows and I'll try if you'll be patient with me and meanwhile I'll be quiet."

I don't want to scorn the clichés of others / but to mean everything I say

including this.

Let's pray.