An earlier post on the topic of judging others brought to the surface the tension between the clear Scriptural prohibition against this practice, and our equally clear responsibility to correct and rebuke one another when our theology or our behavior merits it. Many excellent points were made during the ensuing discussion, but it's clear that there's lots of confusion at the juncture between these two concepts.
It may be said that Jesus' charge to "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged" is the sinner's favorite verse, as it appears to provide a club to use against any legitimate critique of his behavior. You can almost imagine David protesting to Nathan: "Hey, dude, don't judge me!"
Now, we need to take this command seriously, of course, but we need also to take it in context, and in light of Scripture's other clear direction on the topic. In particular, Scripture very much makes me my brother's keeper, and responsible to "correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction."
So where does the line lie between a godly rebuke, such as Nathan's, and ungodly judgment such as that condemned by Jesus and Paul? I recommend looking at three things:
- The attitude of your heart. The ungodly, hypocritical judge holds an attitude of self-righteous arrogance. The godly rebuke comes from a heart of humble authority: Such a heart has the humility of one who knows he is himself a sinner, but also has the authority of one who isn't himself guilty and unrepentant of the same sin of which he is charging his brother.
- The intent of your actions. The ungodly judge intends to tear down his brother (and to thereby build himself up in comparison). The godly man corrects and rebukes in order to build up or restore his brother.
- The subject matter. Paul makes clear that there is nothing to be gained by judging one another about peripheral matters, such as (in his example) observance of "special days" or "food and drink". Yet when it came to Peter's public shunning of the Gentiles and tacit endorsement of Jewish customs, Paul recognized that a public rebuke was called for, as the consequences of letting this matter slide would have been catastrophic to the fledgling church at Antioch.