Do Not Judge
In the Sermon on the Mount we find many of Jesus’ core teachings. He tells us who the blessed ones are. He tells us that we are salt and light in the world. He tells us that to be angry is the moral equivalent of murder. He tells us to love our enemies. He tells us to store up treasure in heaven. He tells us not to worry. Then we run into his teaching about judging: “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 (Matthew 7:1-2).”
In our culture there are those who use his words against anyone who makes judgments. When someone points out the worldly values, they ask us, “Who gave you the right to judge?” And some who have learned Jesus’ teaching might comment, “You call yourself Christian and disobey Jesus command not to judge!” If we don’t know what Jesus is actually teaching those comments shut us up quickly. We live in a worldly culture where truth is not respected and judgments are based not on facts but on feelings.
I find Jesus’ command against judging perplexing. It certainly appears that he severely judged the Pharisees. In Matthew 23 one finds seven woes he proclaimed against both the teachers of the Law of Moses and the Pharisees. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (23:13) “Woe to you blind guides!” (23:16a) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean (23:25-26”. And he nails them with another judgment: “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (23:33) Jesus is quite critical of the Pharisees and lets them know it. How can he command us to refrain from judging? If we are his followers and he sets the example of holy living, how can he make such a command?
Some people have heard that command and were confused by it. Leo Tolstoy the famous Russian novelist wrote: “Christ here totally forbids the human institution of any law court.” If we take Jesus’ command literally without doing some serious examination of it, we might agree with Tolstoy. I suspect there are some criminals who would wish there were no law courts. Yes, there are those who say we should never make judgments of any kind.
One Bible scholar says that the Greek word for judging “means basically to separate, choose, select, or determine and has a dozen or more shades of meaning that must be decided from context.” As we go through life we make many judgments. When we purchase an auto, we look at many different ones and judge which one is best for our needs. When we are seeking a spouse, we look at many different ones and judge which the best is for us.
Sometimes such judging works and at other times it does not. Regardless, judging is part of life.
The experts in biblical studies tell us that Jesus is talking about a specific kind of judging. He is not making a blanket statement that we must not do any judging at all. We would have problems if we stopped making certain judgments. All through Scripture we are challenged to learn how to discern good from evil, truth from falsehood. Such discernment is necessary if we are to be good followers of our Lord. We must discern, discriminate, evaluate and judge. Pastor Erwin Lutzer of Moody Church Ministries writes that discernment is in short supply and that discernment “is the ability to distinguish biblical Christianity from counterfeit spirituality and the values of today’s world.” He becomes so bold as to write, “Discernment determines our destiny.” If we cannot discern between that which is of God and that which is of the world then we will not live as Jesus calls us to live.
Jesus had big issues with the Pharisees. The Bible experts say that he is making the “don’t judge” command with them in mind. What’s the big issue with the Pharisees? They were people who sought to please God by living out the 600 plus rules in the Law of Moses. They were big in rule following. However, they were big on criticizing those who did not follow the rules of their religion. Not only that, they were unmerciful, unforgiving, unkind and lacking grace, and they criticized everybody who did not come up to their standard. Have you ever met anyone who was like that? The Pharisees were big in finding faults in others. They were proud and self-righteous. They were convinced that they were better than others. And they showed it by becoming judgmental and condemning others.
Jesus had issues with the Pharisees because he saw them as being hypocrites. They proclaimed one thing and lived another. I suspect he saw within them great potential for good but they were caught up in a critical spirit that saw only the worst in others. And they acted as if they had the right to make formal judgments of others. Dr. Lutzer writes, “Pharisees judged people by external matters, and thought they had the right to condemn others in a final judgment. And what was worse, they judged others for things that they themselves were doing.” I think there is no problem in saying that Jesus does not want his followers to be like the Pharisees. He does not want us to be Twenty-First Century Pharisees. When Jesus says, “Do not judge,” he is pointing to the hypercritical, judgmental Pharisees and tells us not to be like them.
To make good judgments, one must first gather the facts. In a court of law the prosecution’s job is to present the facts regarding the charges against the defendant and the task of the defense is to call the prosecution’s case into question. The judge or jury then evaluate the facts and make a decision or judgment. Sometimes making a judgment is easy but in other cases it is hard. Gathering and evaluating the facts is an important part in judging. When we are tempted to judge another, the big question we must ask ourselves is, “Do we have all the facts?” Knowing everything about the person and the situation being judged is an important part of making a judgment. In many cases, we do not have the facts but want to make a judgment anyway. Recently I noticed a police car in front of a neighbor’s house. I was curious but knew it was none of my business. The next day I saw two police cars in front of his house. I could quickly make a judgment but I certainly did not know the facts and decided it was none of my business to make a judgment. We are tempted to make a hasty judgment even though we have no satisfactory basis to make a judgment. We humans want to make hasty judgments whether we know the facts or not. We must not make hasty judgments.
In making judgments, it is important for us to know that we have no business being the final court of judgment. If we make judgments that condemn another as the Pharisees were prone to, we are playing God. Only God knows everything. And only God can make final judgments. In reading Scripture, we learn that God makes no hasty judgments. He takes a long time before he judges. The people of Israel constantly strayed from serving the Lord and turned to worshipping pagan gods and goddesses. The Lord did not make a hasty judgment that the situation certainly called for but was amazingly patient. When it was time to make a severe judgment, he did so. When Jesus tells us not to judge he is telling us not to make hasty judgments and not to play God. Only God can make final judgments and condemn.
Jesus tells us that if we judge we will be judged. He said, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:2).” Bible scholars call this the boomerang effect or the principle of reciprocity. In Australia the aboriginal people used to hunt with a weapon that had the marvelous ability to return to the one who threw it. They threw the boomerang and it returned to them. Jesus tells us that we will be judged by the way we judge others. This concept is an important one for Jesus. Earlier he said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if U do not forgive others their sin, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15).” If that does not get our attention, I don’t know what will. Our being forgiven by God is contingent in some way on our forgiving the one who did a number on us. It seems that Jesus is giving us a warning that we will be judged by God according to the way we judge others. All future judgment is in God’s realm of responsibility. I don’t know about you but I don’t want my judgment of others boomeranging back at me.
If we don’t get the message, Jesus then gives us another one. If you ever thought that Jesus does not have a good sense of humor, think about this teaching. I did a Google search and found several cartoons about the speck and the plank. One cartoon character said, “I have a removable beam in my eye so that I can tell people about specks in their eyes.” I think he missed the point. Jesus says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the board in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3) This is a lesson on making unjust judgments. It is a lesson on the dangers of self-righteousness. He tells us to get rid of the board in our own eyes before we think about judging another.
Okay, what’s the bottom line? Is Jesus telling us that we must not make judgments? No, he is telling us not to make hasty judgments or make judgments without all the facts. Living as a follower of Jesus means that we must discern good from evil, truth from falsehood. However, our judgments must not come out of self-righteousness and pride. They must be humble, merciful judgments. And we must recognize that God is the final judge, not us. And he gives us a warning that we will be judged by the standard we judge others.
A sermon preached at Veterans Memorial Chapel by CH (COL) Michael W. Malone AUS, RET