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Playing God

• Greg Boyd

This sermon explores the four primary passages from the Bible that explain why judgment is forbidden.

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Jesus told us not to judge, but there is a difference between judging and discerning. We need to evaluate or assess things all the time. For instance, a parent must evaluate whether or not a specific person would be an effective provider of childcare. Or someone must determine whether their co-worker is telling them the truth. There are good and necessary assessments we must make every day. However, this is a very different from the kind of judgment that Jesus and the entire Bible forbids.

The kind of judgement Jesus prohibits serves no purpose other than the judger feeding off his or her judgment. When we look down on others, it makes us feel taller. When we gossip about people in the privacy of our own minds or in the company of others, we are feeding off our presumed superiority over that person or that group.

This is the foundational sin of the Bible because it undermines our most fundamental and all-important calling as humans made in the image of God, which is to participate in God’s love by loving God, ourselves and our neighbor as ourselves and to do this as we lovingly care for the Earth and animal kingdom. We cannot love others if we are judging them.

In this sermon, Greg addresses four of twenty-six specific passages that directly forbid judging others. In the first, quoted above, Jesus says that if you don’t want to be judged, don’t judge because you will be judged by your own judgment. Throughout the Bible, we see that sin ricochets back on itself, like an increasingly loud echo. Sin is inherently self-destructive because the punishment for sin is built into sin itself. In order for God to bring judgment on any person or group, God doesn’t need to impose and carry out a sentence. God simply has to let them pursue the self-destructive path they’ve chosen. God punishes them by allowing their own sin to ricochet back on them.

The second passage is found in Genesis, in the story of Joseph, who was one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Joseph’s nasty brothers had sold him into slavery, and he ended up a slave in Egypt. Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams caused him to quickly climb the ranks of the Egyptian social hierarchy and eventually had made him Pharaoh’s right-hand man. When his brothers had to travel to Egypt and buy food from Pharaoh and had to face their brother, they were terrified. We read:

Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, ‘We are here as your slaves.’  But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God?  Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. — Genesis 50: 18-21

Instead of retribution, Joseph shows mercy, saying “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?” Joseph reflects remarkable insight. To judge another is to stand in the place of God. When we do so we are saying that God is not a trustworthy judge.

Third passage reads;

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor? — James 4:11-12  

There is one lawgiver and judge, and that is God. Who are we to judge our neighbor? If we are doing so we are not a doer of the law but a judge of the law. All the law is summed in loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. When we judge others, we aren’t loving them. In the process, we’re judging both God and the law as incompetent. With each judgment we pass, we’re saying we don’t trust God to judge.

The fourth passage:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. — Romans 12:19-21

Part of our fallen nature is that we have an instinct to get even, to return evil for evil. Paul says to leave all pay-back to God. When we judge others, we are not leaving room for God’s wrath because we’re standing in the place of God as judge. Instead of trying to get even by judging them, love them.

These four passages establish a foundation for understanding Jesus’ prohibition of judging others.

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Topics: Judgment, Love

Sermon Series: Sermon on the Mount, Cross Examination


Downloads & Resources

Audio File
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The MuseCast: June 21


Focus Scripture:

  • Matthew 7:1-3

    Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?

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