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The Rev. Timothy Cargal, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Stated Clerk for Preparation for Ministry in Mid Council Ministries of the Office of the General Assembly.

“... the Land that I Will Show You” is the blog of the Office of Preparation for Ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This blog is designed to serve as a resource for those discerning and preparing for a call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament as ordained teaching elders of the church. It will also provide a place for reflecting on and dialoging about the changing context of pastoral ministry in the early 21st century.

For quick announcements about changes or developments in the preparation process, dates related to exams or other key events, discussion boards, surveys, etc., you can follow us on Facebook at “Preparing for Presbyterian Ministry.”

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November 21, 2011

Exercising Judgment

Domenico Fetti, detail of The Parable of the Mote and the Beam, c. 1619I’ve recently been spending some time in Matthew 7, and I must say that I couldn’t get past the very first verse of the chapter without recalling a sentiment I often encounter in my work with those engaged in the preparation for ministry process from all sides: “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.” (Common English Bible, here and throughout this post) Admittedly I don’t often hear it put in precisely those words. Usually the phrasing is more like, “Who is in a position to judge the Spirit’s call on another person’s life?” That question is then promptly followed by something like, “After all, Jesus tells us not to judge others,” which I must conclude is a reference back to Matthew 7:1.

But is Jesus really commanding us in this verse not to form judgments about others, or is he forbidding us from judging others in some other sense of the word? If he really intended that we not form judgments about others, then he wasn’t terribly consistent. Only a few verses later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus warns us, “Watch out for false prophets,” and advises, “you will know them by their fruit” (7:15a, 20). Now, this juxtaposition has led a few to quip, “I’m not a judge; I’m a fruit inspector,” but I think something more substantive is at play here than just a clever turn of phrase.

According the standard lexicon for New Testament Greek (usually referenced as BDAG, or “Bauer-Danker”), the word κρινω (krinō) actually has quite a range of meanings, some of which can easily be ruled out in this context. For example, some of the most common uses are simply “to select,” or “to reach a decision.” Surely Jesus is not issuing a blanket assertion: “Don’t decide!” Another common use of the word is in judicial contexts related to the rulings of courts, but there are no indications of such a context here and no evidence elsewhere that Jesus opposed courts (or at least properly functioning courts).

The specific meaning for which the lexicon cites Matthew 7:1a as an example is “pass judgment upon, express an opinion about,” though I think the verse more properly belongs with the negative nuance meanings associated with that usage: “criticize, find fault with, condemn.” As even the hyperbolic image that illustrates the command there in Matthew 7 expresses, there may indeed be a “splinter” in another’s eye for which we might be able to provide assistance, but we will only be able to do so effectively once we address the “log” in our own respective eyes.

A preparation for ministry process that has degraded into criticizing, finding fault, and condemning (regardless of whether the recipients of those actions are those “under care” or those who should be providing the care) is obviously one that has gone terribly off track. But there is a real difference between “judging others” in that sense and “exercising judgment” with regard to another’s giftedness and calling to certain forms of ministry.

It is, indeed, not caring for either the individual or the church when we refuse to share with others that we do not see the evidence of a particular call to service as a teaching elder, even as we do see giftedness for other forms of ministry. While we should not “criticize” that person for considering the possibility of the Spirit’s leading to such ministry, we can and must use our judgment to make “an informed decision about the [person’s] suitability for ordered ministry” (G-2.0603). After all, that is precisely the responsibility placed on all those who answer the call of the Spirit and the community to serve the preparation for ministry process. Just fulfill that responsibility in a spirit of care, not judgmentalism.

Categories: Bible study

Tags: discerning others' gifts, matthew 7, preparation for ministry process