Here, Paul reminds the believers of the teaching of the Lord. Jesus had warned us before, “judge not, that you be not judged. For with the same judgment that you judge, you will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1-2). While so often misquoted, this passage is a powerful passage in context as well. See, while it is not forbidding discernment, it is forbidding hypocrisy, a pit which so many have fallen into. It’s this idea that; if you condemn someone for committing adultery, then you have displayed the knowledge of the iniquity of that, therefore you no longer have any excuse if you should also fall victim to it.
This is exactly what Paul is warning against here in Rome, this endless hypocrisy that so many had fallen into. Having already proclaimed that judgment is for the ungodly and the unrighteous, here he extends this judgment to also be for those self-righteous, the hypocrite who proclaims one man to be a sinner while practicing the same, or even other, sins. See, it’s so easy for us to compare ourselves to another person and declare ourselves “more righteous than them.” We begin to say things like, “I watch pornography, but that man is a homosexual” or “I got angry with my brother, but the guy that shot those kids in school was worse, HE needs to be punished.” We prioritize our sins based on what’s acceptable to us versus what isn’t. Ultimately, it becomes this self-righteousness derived from pridefully comparing our sins to the sins of others, and seeing our sins as being more forgivable than another’s sins. And James warns us so strongly against this, when he warns us that “whoever keeps the whole law, yet stumbles at one point, is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘do not commit adultery’ also said ‘do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but do murder someone, you have become a transgressor of the law.” (James 2:10-11).
Again, we like to “rank” things, prioritize them, even our sins. And we rank it in terms of what we consider the worse offenses. We think of something like a lie to be this minor sin, whereas something like murder is a major sin. And yet, when we look to Scripture, we never once see that. To the contrary, we learn of the Lord that He has “eyes too pure to look upon sin.” (Habakkuk 1:13), and thus any sin becomes equally sinful in God’s eyes. When we consider that Jesus further explained that it is not merely the actions which indict us, but the intentions of the heart (Matthew 5:22,28), then we begin to recognize the gravity with which these warnings are issued. And Paul issues this as the gravest of warnings, stating that when we judge someone according to the commandments of the Lord, then we too shall be judged according to those same commandments. To judge someone as a transgressor of the law shows our own knowledge of the law, and we shall be judged based on the measure with which we judge others. To judge someone as being a sinner, we display our knowledge of sin, thus we shall be judged based on the same law, and considering the intentions of the heart, that is a frightening thought.
Paul goes on even further to explain this. “We know that the judgment of God is according to the truth of those who practice such things.” This is such a powerful admonishment to them, and to us as well. See, we live in this culture where the mentality is, “it’s only wrong if you get caught,” thus we feel as though if we hide something well enough then we are safe. The Lord warns us through the prophet Isaiah, “woe to those who take counsel in secret and work in darkness. They say ‘who sees us?’ and ‘who knows us or what we do?'” (Isaiah 29:15). And He answers through the prophet Jeremiah, “I the Lord examine hearts and test minds, to give each man according to his ways and the fruits of his practices.” (Jeremiah 17:6). Jesus commanded us to pray in secret, and our Father, who hears in secret, will reward us; similarly, however, we must bear in mind that He who sees our obedience in secret will also see our secret trangressions. We must be careful to never make the mistake of thinking that because our boss, the police, our spouse, anyone on earth doesn’t catch us, that we have gotten away with something. The Lord knows all things, and we can be assured that if there is a sin that we think that we have gotten away with, we must still repent of it and be cleansed. Our Lord is faithful to forgive us our sins, if we repent. As St Mark the Ascetic teaches us, however, “there is a sin that leads unto death, the unrepentant sin, for which if even a saint shall pray, he shall not be heard.”
My brethern, I am not writing this from the view of constantly striving and yet never being able to attain. My purpose for explaining this is that we may focus on our own holiness, as the Scripture commands, while not judging others sins. Too often, we focus on the sins of others, which are easy to find, and then fall into a complacency when evaluating our own lives. We seek those who are “worse” than we are, and in doing so, lull ourselves into a false sense of security. Mark the Ascetic teaches us that “he who seeks the forgiveness of his sins loves humility. But he who judges another strengthens his own evil deeds against himself.” When we focus on our own holiness, our own walk with the Lord, then we see one another as people each equally in need of the Grace of the Lord. When we see someone in sin, rather than judging them, we fall on our face and pray for their eternal souls. We warn them of their sin, but lovingly, never ceasing to build them up, as the beloved apostle does all throughout Scripture. Paul, you note, never once condemns any in his letters, but he does strongly warn them of the consequences, while constantly expressing heartfelt concern for their eternal souls. And we must be ever mindful of this spirit of hypocrisy that the apostle is warning against here.
In our culture, we have a tendency to be very deeply superficial. We live in a world that has replaced intimacy with connection, and as such, it is ever so easy to create an image for ourselves, to sell a “selfie” to the world. And, because of that, we often fool others so convincingly that we begin to fool ourselves. We create this perfect image of holy perfection and utter piety, which is dangerous in itself, but that danger increases exponentially when we begin to believe that very image. We begin to see this image that would make the fathers of the desert seem godless, and then begin to focus on the flaws of others, comparing them to our own lives, which is tempered by this image and by our own sense of self-worth. Thus, we begin to overlook our own iniquities and instead cast judgments on all others for theirs. St Mark teaches us that “a humble man, when he reads the Holy Scriptures, will relate all things to himself and not to others.” The more holy we become, the more aware of our sinfulness we become. And John Chrysostom reminds us that the Church is a hospital, not a courtroom. Our Lord knows our hearts better than we ever will, and thus we must be ever cautious and always pray, as did David, “test me, O God, and know my heart, examine me and know my paths, and see if there is a lawless way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 138:23-24). We all too often see ourselves as God’s inquisitor, as though He would need us to punish those who have sinned against Him. Rather, we should see the fault in ourselves and pray to Him daily for His grace and mercy, that we be granted the grace to attain to the “righteousness of God.”
May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.