Lies Hip Hop Told Me: Only God Can Judge Me
With a title like Lies Hip-Hop Told Me you can already guess that this blog series will include a number of judgments. If you, like me, have been heavily influenced by hip-hop culture you may be put off by that. One of the most widely held ideas in hip-hop is the idea that “only God can judge me.”
The phrase was most famously driven into our collective consciousness by 2Pac and Master P, who both released songs by that name. I won’t bother telling you which of the two songs was better. If you’re smart enough to read this you’re probably smart enough to know the answer. Either way, both songs helped to make the idea that “only God can judge me” so well known that it is now assumed to be true by millions. It has become a sort of magic phrase that can be used to stop anyone from critiquing you or anything about you. But there are two major problems with this common belief that “only God can judge me.”
The first problem is that it’s simply not true. Those who want to argue that it is true point to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Read by itself that verse does seem to forbid people from making judgments about others. For this reason, it is the verse most often quoted by non-Christians who do not believe the rest of the Bible. However, the Bible is not an encyclopedia. You cannot find all that the Bible has to say about the topic of “judgment” in this one verse. In fact, you cannot even properly understand this one verse unless you keep reading the rest of Jesus’ sermon in the same chapter. As Jesus continues to speak it becomes very clear that he is not prohibiting judgment, he is prohibiting the wrong kind of judgment.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye.”
Jesus is not telling us not to judge. In this passage he actually tells us to judge when he tells us to remove the speck from the other person’s eye. This requires both that we judge what is wrong (recognize the speck in their eye) and that we share that judgment with them (remove the speck from their eye). Rather than telling us not to judge, Jesus is telling us how to judge. He is telling us not to judge hypocritically. We are to judge another only after we have honestly judged ourselves. Until we do that we cannot accurately judge another person. Jesus says to try to do so is like trying to remove a piece of sawdust from another’s eye while you have a 2 x 4 in your own. In other words, you look foolish doing it and it will not be helpful to anyone. Moreover, you bring judgment upon yourself for your self-righteousness.
But once we have honestly judged ourselves we are not only free to judge others, we are supposed to judge others. In the very next verse Jesus tells his audience to judge carefully between those who will properly receive their valuable message from those who will treat their valuable message with contempt. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). In this case he doesn’t tell us precisely how to make this judgment but seems to assume that we can figure it out. Just a few verses later, still in the context of the same sermon, Jesus tells his audience to judge between false prophets and true prophets. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit…Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:15-18, 20). In this case Jesus tells us the basis upon which we can make this judgment. We can judge between true prophets and false prophets on the basis of their “fruit” (meaning behavior). Unlike 2Pac, Jesus believes we can make accurate judgments about the heart of another person by watching the behavioral patterns of that person.
Jesus’ Apostles expand this teaching throughout the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian Christians to stop associating with a man in the church who has been engaged in sexual immorality. He asks the rhetorical question, “Are you not to judge those inside [the church]?” (1 Corinthians 5:12b). The implied answer is “of course you are” and the explicit directive follows, “Expel the wicked person from among you.’” (1 Corinthians 5:13b). This is a call for decisive judgment based on a man’s behavior. Elsewhere he instructs Titus to “warn divisive people once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them” (Titus 3:10). This requires first that Titus judges who is being divisive by recognizing their behavior, second that Titus judges the divisive people by confronting their behavior, and third that Titus judges the divisive people by having nothing further to do with them. Paul tells Titus that when these people continue in their divisiveness “You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned” (Titus 3:11, emphasis mine). Unlike Master P, Paul believes we can make accurate judgments about the heart of another person by watching the behavioral patterns of that person.
The second problem with the idea that “only God can judge me” is the fact that if you live by it then the judgment you receive from God will be far worse than the judgment you would have received from other people. In fact, one of the reasons God encourages Christians to accurately judge people now is so those same people may be saved from a far worse judgment later. Jesus’ half-brother James explains, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring them back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the way of error will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
The purpose of judging others is not to gloat over others in self-righteousness but to help people see their sin so they may turn from it and turn to God. In other words, God tells us to judge other people for their own good. At times he even tells us to involve multiple people in this process of judgment.
“If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17). Jesus teaches that those who respond to the judgment of other people with repentance show themselves to be a part of God’s family, while those who do not respond in this way show themselves to be separated from God, awaiting his ultimate judgment. To quote a classic De La Soul song, “the stakes is high.”
The testimony of the Scripture is clear on the subject of judgment: because everyone has sinned against the eternal God everyone deserves an eternal measure of his wrath under his righteous judgment. Thus, even if it were true that “only God can judge me” that would not be good news for any one of us. Thankfully, there is good news. The good news is not that “only God can judge me” but that God has provided an escape from his judgment. In Jesus Christ, God the Son willfully came to earth, took the sin of his people upon himself, and lovingly absorbed every drop of God’s wrath that was earned by his people. Jesus now offers himself as an escape from the judgment we deserve, and that escape is a free gift given only to those who place their faith in who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. One of the ways we are able to determine whether we have truly placed our faith in Jesus and, therefore, truly been saved from God’s judgment, is to examine ourselves to see if the works of our life match the words of our lips (2 Corinthians 13:5). The other, as we have seen, is to allow others to examine us in judgment.
Thus, we should reject the claim that “only God can judge me” both because it is simply false and because it is much better to receive judgment from other people now than to receive judgment from God later. Instead of hiding from the judgment of others we should welcome it, so that as they point to the greatness of our sin we can point to the exceeding greatness of our Savior who was judged for those sins in our place.