John 7:24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
'Judge less - wash more feet.' So said one of the placards held aloft by a small group of anarchists in Norwich, counter-protesting against us outside the Theatre Royal on the last night of Jerry Springer the Opera in that city on 13th May 2006.
Well, at least the placard-holder had found the sense to stand outside rather than buy a ticket for the wretched production. But what of the sentiment: 'Judge less - wash more feet'? These days, none of us likes to be accused of being judgmental. Paradoxically, it is itself a judgmental statement, to say 'Judge less - wash more feet.' It judges that the church is judging too much for the liking of the placard-holder, and judges that the church is not washing enough feet.
In the latter observation, the judgment may be right. It would be nitpicking to say that the washing of feet was an internal church discipline. Clearly, from Matthew 25:31ff, the church is intended to be in the world, if not of it, caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, healing the sick, visiting those in prison, in short, washing the people's feet.
The Church has historically done these things. It was Christians who offered hospitality to travellers, started hospitals, provided support for the poor, opened orphanages, founded almshouses and the ragged schools, and even today, when the State has taken over so much, who run soup kitchens and hostels for the homeless, and are beginning to offer pregnancy and debt counselling, outreach into prisons, together with numerous community projects. Although we look in vain for atheists in general or anarchists in particular doing any of it, the Church could and should be washing more feet, of which there will never be any shortage.
But what of the first part? 'Judge less'? On one level, that is a typically anarchist statement. Anarchists, like Marxists, believe that men are born good and that it is the structures of society which corrupt him. It follows that in pure anarchy, everyone does good and no courts are necessary. The Christian view is rather more realistic. It is that men are born are born evil and that the structures of society, the courts punishing, the Church reforming, are necessary to restrain him. 'I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me,' writes David in Psalm 51. 'Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually,' says God of mankind in Genesis 6.
In today's world, given that anarchism is really just a refuge of the rebellious, 'Judge less' means 'Don't criticise what I see nothing wrong with', which is a rather different matter. What 'I see nothing wrong with' is usually destructive sexual behaviour, indecency, obscenity, mocking the sacred, taking drugs, getting incapable through drink, and generally rubbishing the mores and landmarks which previous, dare we say more responsible, generations found essential to the effective ordering of society.
So is 'Judge less' good advice to the Church? Is it Biblical? There is one verse from either Luke or Matthew which is the only single fragile support for 'Judge less'. We all know it. When said in isolation it is said sagely and with the intent of ending all argument, rather like a bridge-player producing the ace of trumps. But here it is in context:
Matt. 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
The context is plainly that of a warning against hypocrisy. The intention is to make us look at ourselves and clean out our own hearts before engaging with the faults of others. When we get to the stage where we are quite relaxed about being judged with the same judgment we judge, then we are understanding and living just a bit more of the Gospel. The Lord's teaching on judgment with which this article opened - 'Judge righteous judgment' - is entirely in agreement with what the Lord said as recorded by Matthew.
How do we judge righteous judgment? How do we make sure that all our judgments are in accord with those of Almighty God, and righteous by His standard? The obvious answer is the correct one. By reading and studying God's word. It is as easy - and for some people as difficult - as that. If we don't understand, we can ask God in prayer for the illumination of the Holy Spirit, although Mark Twain, the American author, is reputed to have said, 'It's not the parts of the Bible I don't understand which trouble me; it's those I do understand.'
To be able to judge righteous judgment is, in my view, essential for three main reasons. The first is practical. In the society in which we live, Christians have the spiritual responsibility to proclaim prophetically what is right and what is wrong, from God's standpoint. The world should listen to us, not because we are nice people - which of course we are - but because we know the mind of God from our study of His word. Psalm 1 says:
Ps. 1:5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. We have a duty, and Ezekiel 33 is the famous word, to warn our neighbours of the judgment of God, lest they find, or a whole nations finds, they cannot stand in that day.
The second is for self-preservation. The Apostle Paul says this:
1 Cor. 6:1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?
2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?
We are to judge the world and we are to judge angels. That is serious. Whose standards are we going to apply when judging the world and the angels? It won't be the standards of fallen, sinful, fallible early-twenty-first-century man, that's for sure. It will be the standards of the Almighty Ruler and Law-giver of heaven, those of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In scripture, we read: Ps. 106:3 Blessed are they that keep judgment, and he that doeth righteousness at all times. It just might be a good idea to study God's standards of judgment and righteousness and do them now, in order not to feel a complete fool when called upon to pronounce them later. How long do barristers and solicitors study the law of our land for before they are let loose on the public? It must be six years at least, and even then they are under a pupil-master or senior partner because they are bound to get it wrong. How much more do we need to study the laws of God before we are ready to judge angels.
The third is to draw closer to God. In His judgments, in His law, do we find the very character of God Himself. All through the Psalms - and not even mentioning Psalm 119- we read of God's love for judgment:
Ps. 9:7 But the LORD shall endure for ever: he hath prepared his throne for judgment.
8 And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness.
16 The LORD is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Higgaion. Selah.
Ps. 33:5 He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.
Ps. 72:2 He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment.
Ps. 76:8 Thou didst cause judgment to be heard from heaven; the earth feared, and was still,
9 When God arose to judgment, to save all the meek of the earth. Selah.
Two verses in the Psalms speak of judgment as the 'habitation' of God's very throne:
Ps. 89:14 Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.
Ps. 97:2 Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.
Some Bible versions have the 'foundation' of His throne. All Christians want to feel closer to God, Study of His word, asking to be like the Psalmist who could say: 'Oh, how I love thy law. It is my meditation all the day', (Ps 119:97) is the way to do get closer to God, to understand things from His standpoint, to speak and even to pray with His mind. What a privilege that is, to draw closer and closer to the very heart of God, to the habitation of His throne.
'Judge less'? Judge less in wickedness, and judge more in righteousness. Indeed, when we are 'washing feet', it is easy to get sucked in to the standards of world. We need to keep the ways of righteousness and in fact to judge more whilst meeting the people's needs. Otherwise, we can easily end up conformed to the world rather than transformed by God (Rom 12:2). And people want and need to hear that we stand for something and that we know what society should look like. It may not be like it here and now, and although we pray it will be like it one day soon, some of us can only look across
and see what the promised land looks like. But even that distant vision of a righteous society is worth sharing with the lost.
And lest we ever think we have got there, and entered right in to the mind of God, more than one word should pull us up short. Since I have quoted a lot of verses from the Psalms, here is a final one, in which the Psalmist pleads to God:
Ps. 143:2 And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.
We shall never quite get there, and thank God we are justified in the blood of Jesus Christ and only in His precious blood. In fact thank God that there is that living Way of being justified in His sight. But even if we shall never get right into the mind of God in our study of His word, let us never stop trying.