It’s possible that the words, “Do not judge” are better known from the Bible than John 3: 16. No one wants to be labeled “judgmental” these days. That’s because we can all remember times when we were judged unfairly, or knew someone whose reputation was unjustly called into question. The damage of malicious criticism, of hateful or condemning words, can last a lifetime. At the same time, if Jesus intended that we should never judge, then he has some explaining to do. For in passages like Luke 17:3 he says that “If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender….” And in Matt. 7: 15 Jesus says, “Watch out for false prophets…By their fruit you will recognize them.” It seems that being able to make good judgments is also mandated by the Scriptures. Jesus commands us to avoid judgmentalism, but then challenges us as the same time to be a people of good judgment. How is it possible to do both? Let's look again at what Jesus has to say in Luke 6: 37-45:
37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back." 39 He also told them a parable: "Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, "Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. 43 "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
The first step: Honor God as the final Judge (37). When Jesus says, “Do not judge!” he is talking especially about making final judgments about others; about self-righteous slander and unjust criticism. When we presume to make final judgments about others it is because we’ve taken it upon ourselves to sit in God’s judgment seat. And where does this lead us? As Karl Barth would say, “it leads us to the place where we pronounce ourselves innocent, and everyone else guilty.
Several years ago Millard Fuller of Habitat for Humanity asked a group of 200 pastors a seemingly innocent question: "Is it possible for a person to build a house so large that it's sinful in the eyes of God? Raise your hand if you think so." All 200 raised their hands. "Okay," said Millard, "then can you tell me at exactly what size, the precise square footage, a certain house becomes sinful to occupy?" Silence from the pastors. You could have heard a pin drop. Finally, a small, quiet voice spoke up from the back of the room: "When it is bigger than mine!" Pronouncing others guilty and ourselves innocent is dangerous business, because we are under judgment ourselves.
, there were several
judgment seats in the great basilicas, the colonnaded porches around the Forum
where a man would stand before the tribunal. There was no Roman citizen who was not
familiar with the scene of one standing before this awesome judgment seat. Yet Jesus reminds us there is only ONE Judge to whom all must answer (even the Roman tribunal), and give an account. Who is this Judge? “The LORD…will judge the world with
righteousness and all the nations with his truth.” (Psalm 96). Before we open our mouths to speak a word of criticism or correction, however
well intended, this knowledge will temper
our words…this knowledge will help to transform arrogance into meekness;
and over-confidence into humbleness. Rome
The second step: Hear & obey God’s mandate to practice mercy (38). Jesus goes on to say that “the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” Here is a powerful motivation to practice mercy and to be slow to judge! If we are unmerciful, we will not be shown mercy. This is because the practice of mercy is the chief evidence that we’ve received it! If we are unmerciful, we prove that his grace is not operative in us.
Luke tells the story of a time when Jesus was invited to eat at the home of a Pharisee named Simon. As he sat at the table with Simon amidst a crowd of on-lookers, a woman described as “sinful” (i.e., a prostitute) enters the room and begins to wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, and a flask of perfume. Simon is shocked, thinking to himself, “If Jesus were truly a prophet, he would know that the woman who is doing these things to him is a sinner.” Jesus, replies: “Simon, when I arrived, you did not offer me any of the customary hospitality – no water to wash my dirty feet, no kiss of greeting, no anointing oil for my head to honor my arrival. Yet this woman did all these things for me and more. Why? Because “her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little (Luke 7: 47).” I have to confess that at times in my life I have been more like Simon and less like Jesus; that sometimes I have failed to offer the mercy which I have received. If I am quick to pass judgment on others, it may be because I have not yet realized how totally dependent I am upon God’s grace…which leads us to the third step.
The third step: Take an honest self-inventory of your own sins and imperfections (39-42). Jesus’ words are convicting. “Everyone who is angry with a brother is liable to judgment…. Whoever looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them… You can’t serve God and wealth." To listen to Jesus’ words is to be judged profoundly, and to re-evaluate all our attitudes and actions by God’s standards.
It’s a very human tendency to defend ourselves against true judgments of our character; and so we focus on the failures or shortcomings of others instead. Isn’t it remarkable how you and I are able to pinpoint poor driving habits, like a skilled DMV examiner, while excusing our own; how like Superman we can see all of our neighbor’s trash without even opening the lid; how we can quickly refute the arguments of an opponent while failing to see the holes in our own; how quickly we fantasize about all the other people who need to hear Jesus on this subject; while forgetting that he may be speaking to us? Jesus says, it’s like walking around with a log in your eye (The vivid Greek word used here is dokos– a weight bearing beam in the ceiling or floor of a house) while trying to remove the splinter of wood, a speck of sawdust, in someone else’s eye!
Carlyle Marney writes, “Many Christians define sin as the sum total of acts which they themselves do not commit.” To guard against this, we must take an honest self-inventory of our own moral and spiritual failings. That’s why many churches have a prayer of confession in their worship service every week. We are asking the Holy Spirit to search our hearts because, until we do that, we will not be prepared to take the fourth step…
The fourth step: A humble and self-critical offer of help (42b-45). There is obviously a point at which it is sometimes necessary to practice good judgment (or discernment). It’s interesting that the command not to judge is immediately followed in Luke’s Gospel by this word about good and bad fruit. In Luke 6:43 Jesus implies that the good and evil in us is revealed by the fruit that our lives and our mouths produce. Such distinctions surely require a judgment call.
When you stop to think, it's really not possible to be completely non-judgmental. Even the charge that someone is being judgmental is a rather judgmental thing to say! The truth is, we have to make judgments every day. Parents, when your children are in a fight, and each comes to you blaming the other, you have to make a judgment call. When you go to the market and you’re looking over the apples, deciding which to buy and which not to buy, that requires judgment. When you’re on jury duty and have to come up with a verdict, that requires good judgment. No one would argue that what Arial Castro did in kidnapping and abusing his three victims for more than 10 years was not evil. I’m so thankful that these girls were freed and this terrible crime was stopped….and that it was judged accordingly. And if it’s true that this man was also abused as a child the whole story is doubly tragic because as we know…abuse often begets abuse.
There have been many times in my life when I have received constructive criticism that has helped me to grow as a person. I don’t know about you, but I find that I’m best able to receive it when it comes in a spirit of humility! There have been moments, when I have had to make judgment calls too…when I’ve had to challenge a person who was hurting himself or someone else. On several occasions, Jesus judged the religious professionals who disliked the fact that he healed on the Sabbath, or had dinner with tax gatherers and others “sinners.” He did not deny the fact that he spent time with broken or sinful people. Instead he kept saying that this was his mission…to be a physician to the sick, not to the self-righteous and those who think they are healthy.
Recently I’ve been talking with a guy who has informed me that God speaks through him… directly; and it has been pretty clear that he has felt called to straighten me out. He informed me one day at the gym that I was not really walking with God…I think it was because I was having too much fun talking to one of my other friends and didn’t seem spiritually serious enough to him. He even criticized how I did my pull ups…the nerve of this guy! One day he delivered a message to me in a Fed Ex envelope for me to read. It was a rambling work about 10 pages long…but the gist of what it said was that focusing on the body is selfish and ego-driven but focusing on the spirit is the way to purity and God-consciousness (not sure why he’s in the gym every day, and telling me this). Anyways, he had a laundry list of spiritual secrets that would ensure that I was freed from my ego-body and becoming a spirit-led man. When I saw him again I told him that I had read his words… I told him that while I agree we can focus too much on our bodies, Christ came to us in a body, the Bible says physical exercise is of some value…and that as a Christian we affirm the value of the body and God’s creation, and not just disembodied spirit. But more importantly, I said that my confidence about my relationship with God is based not upon my ability to climb incredible spiritual heights through secret mind-expanding exercises, but because of what Christ has done for me publicly through his life, death, and bodily resurrection. I asked him if he had this same confidence? Well, let’s just say he was disappointed. He was convinced he had the answers that I needed and I wasn’t getting it. I believe God was calling me to make a judgment call based upon the truth of Scripture, and my own sanctified common sense. At the same time, I believe God was calling me to stay connected with him, and to speak gently, even while I disagreed with him. Oh yes...and he had another envelope for me this week! I winced but accepted it...knowing that this conversation is "to be continued."
Is there a relationship in your life that you would like to pronounce a final judgment upon? Do you need to make an apology to that person through a letter or a face to face conversation because you recognize in yourself a judgmental spirit? On the other hand, is there a situation that you need to confront in a spirit of humility and in full recognition of your own sinfulness and fallibility before God? One thing is certain, even as we practice discernment and try to make good judgment calls in the midst of our daily lives, we have the peace of knowing - as Karl Barth put it - that Christ is our Judge…the God who was willingly judged in our place and took upon himself our terrible judgment…and in Him there is therefore now “no condemnation.”
Almighty God, forgive us when we have judged others self-righteously, prejudicially, and without a deep awareness of our own sinfulness. We confess that we have tried to sit in the final judgment seat, the place where we have pronounced ourselves innocent and others guilty. Help us to remove the log from our own eyes before trying to find sawdust elsewhere. At the same time, we pray for discernment, that we may be ready to offer help to those who are in danger of hurting themselves or others by their words or behavior. This we humbly ask, knowing that it is before the Righteous Judge that we stand, who was willingly judged in our place, and who suffered our judgment on the cross. In Christ, there is therefore now no condemnation! Amen.