When Jesus Forbids Judging – What is He Forbidding? #182
Hello friends and happy Saturday to you! The world is burning, but may the fire on the altar of prayer in our hearts and in the House of God never go out . Keep praying!
Today’s Bible readings include the amazing song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, Psalms 119:120-144, Isaiah 58 and Matthew 7, home of the John 3:16 of today, “Judge not.” Everybody – atheists, Christians, space pilots, space invaders, pirates, merchants, cobblers, hoopers, coopers, blacksmiths, rocket scientists, brain surgeons, jesters, village idiots, agnostics, physicists, hucksters, fishwifes, bailiffs, bowyers, uber drivers, costermongers, fletchers, innkeeps, bootblacks and submarine captains all know that Jesus said, ‘judge not.’ What is less common, however, is the understanding of what exactly ‘judging’ entails from a biblical perspective. Many people assume that judging means the declaring of something wrong. Consider this hypothetical conversation:
Cobbler Joe, “You know who I really hate? Scandinavians. They look funny, smell like fish, tower over the rest of us with their above average height, and are dumber than Irish potato candy.
Starship captain Spiff: Joe, you are being racist there, and you should know that Irish potato candy isn’t Irish and usually doesn’t have any potatoes in it at all, but coconuts and cinnamon.
Cobbler Joe: DON’T JUDGE ME, the Bible says NOT TO JUDGE, Spaceman Spiff! Also, you are making that up about Irish potato candy.
Starship captain Spiff: Just Google it, racist.
I know, I know – I should be writing screenplays with such brilliant and realistic characters and dialog, right? But alas, I’m stuck doing a daily Bible podcast. Maybe one day Warner Brothers will call! Anyway, what were we talking about? Irish potato candy? Actually, we were talking about judging. Let’s get back on track and read Matthew 7 to hear what Jesus has to say!
7 “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged.2 For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use.3 Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye?4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye?5 Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.6 Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces.
So, in our hypothetical but gripping conversation above, we had some clear racist behavior from Joe the shoe repair guy and when he is confronted with his racism, he attempts to protect himself by quoting Jesus here in Matthew 7. Is he right? Are Christians here forbidden by Jesus to call out racism, abuse, sexism, violence, bullying, etc.? And the answer is: OF COURSE NOT! It is NOT judgment for Christians to agree with and share what the Bible calls sin. The Bible expressly ,implicitly and explicitly forbids racism, certain sexual behaviors, lying, haughtiness, abuse, theft, drunkenness, and many other things. It is not being judgmental to agree with, teach, and exhort people with what the Bible says. Let’s go to Sam Storms (and John Stott too!) to help us understand this passage better:
Never has a passage of Scripture been so utterly abused, misunderstood, and misapplied as this one. Non-Christians (and not a few misguided believers as well) use this text to denounce any and all who venture to criticize or expose the sins, shortcomings, or doctrinal aberrations of others. One dare not speak ill of homosexuality, adultery, gossip, cheating on your income tax, fornication, abortion, non-Christian religions, and so on without incurring the wrath of multitudes who are convinced that Jesus, whom they despise and reject, said that we shouldn’t judge one another!
This problem is due in large measure to the fact that people hate absolutes, especially moral ones. To suggest that there really is an absolute difference between good and evil, truth and falsity, is to risk being labeled as medieval and closed-minded. The irony, of course, is that in judging us for judging others they are themselves violating the very commandment to which they want to hold us accountable! To insist that it is wrong to pronounce others wrong for embracing a particular belief or moral practice is itself an ethical position, a moral stand. To insist on uncritical tolerance of all views is extremely intolerant of those who embrace a different perspective.
What, then, does Jesus mean in Matthew 7:1–6?
It would appear that Jesus is prohibiting the sort of judgmental criticism that is self-righteous, hypercritical, and destructive. He is prohibiting the kind of judgment we pass on others not out of concern for their spiritual health and welfare but solely to parade our alleged righteousness before men.
Jesus is prohibiting not loving rebuke and constructive criticism, but rather self-serving censoriousness. To be censorious, Stott explains,
“does not mean to assess people critically, but to judge them harshly. The censorious critic is a fault-finder who is negative and destructive towards other people and enjoys actively seeking out their failings. He puts the worst possible construction on their motives, pours cold water on their schemes and is ungenerous towards their mistakes” (176).
To sum up, says Stott, “the command to judge not is not a requirement to be blind, but rather a plea to be generous. Jesus does not tell us to cease to be men (by suspending our critical powers which help to distinguish us from animals) but to renounce the presumptuous ambition to be God (by setting ourselves up as judges)” (177).
But we must not stop with verse 7:1, for Jesus has much more to say on this subject in the verses that follow.
The reason he gives for not judging others in a self-righteous and censorious manner is that “with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (v. 2). The problem here is determining whether this refers to the judgment we experience at the hands of men or of God. I’m convinced it is the latter.
When we set up a standard to which others must conform, we are no less obliged to keep it than they are. That is why humility and love must govern our judgments. All criticism must be preceded by confession. Before we point out a fault in others, let us first confess its presence in our own lives.
An illustration of this principle is given in Matthew 7:3–5: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye,” asks Jesus, “but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is 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 brother’s eye.”
This principle applies to any number of situations, such as denouncing the external, visible sins of the flesh, like adultery, theft, murder, in order to excuse or minimize the internal, less visible sins of the heart, such as jealousy, bitterness, greed, or lust. Related to this is the tendency to point out the faults of others precisely to throw them off the scent of our own sin. This form of judgment is nothing more than self-justification. We think that if we can just make known to others the gravity of their sins, we will by comparison come out smelling like a rose.