especially these days.
So often we hear today, especially in Christian circles when controversy comes calling, “Don’t judge. That’s the unloving thing to do. Jesus calls us to love.” True enough. No one would support the idea that Jesus calls us to hate, even though some people would accuse us of doing so in His name.
Let’s explore this whole judgment thing. The old saying, “A text without a context is a pretext” may apply here. If we don’t view the scripture on not judging in its context, it can be used to shut down legitimate discussion about morality and other topics people fear will create discord and offense.
Let’s begin with the familiar verses from Matthew 7:1-3: “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 your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
These verses are very simple. Look at the larger context: These verses come from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus is laying down the principles of the Kingdom of God. Just as Moses came down off Mount Sinai carrying the stone tablets inscribed with God’s commandments, so too does Christ stand on the mountain with the new commandment of God: to love one another.
So, in this context, love rules. We want mercy from God but how we love to mete out justice to others. I want to keep my eye, but I want to take off your hand. No. The Law of Moses arbitrated relationships, between us and God first and then with each other. Fairness, mercy and compassion underpinned Moses’ Law.
Jesus’ Law is no different, except that love is the operational force, in addition to fairness, mercy and compassion. Thus, how you treat others will directly affect how God sees you. The same standard you use will be then the same standard He uses.
I want mercy, God.
Fine. Show mercy.
I want understanding for my shortcomings, Lord.
Fine. Show understanding for others’ shortcomings.
I want to do right, but when I fail, I don’t want to be punished beyond reason.
Fine. When others fail, offer a punishment that is for their restoration, not destruction.
My shortcomings are not as bad as that person’s—I deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Fine. But your prideful plank has blinded you to the seriousness of what you do.
But he’s got the sawdust of sin in his eye! I must remove it!
Fine. But your prideful plank will not allow you to see his failures objectively. Focus on you. I will focus on him. I am the Great Physician.
Now let’s look at Luke 6:36-8: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
Again, fairly straightforward. Mercy is love applied to justice. Yes, people sin. Yes, people hurt one another. But Jesus is saying that judgement and condemnation are not in the vocabulary of the Kingdom of God. The word He is presenting is “forgiveness” only because that is what His Father does. If we are His children, we must follow the Father, knowing that our Father knows best.
Now, I could end right there. You could say, “There it is! We all need to love one another! When someone is sinning, who are you to say anything?”
But there’s more. Let’s go to the verses in John 5:9-15:
So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what
he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the
Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even
greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. For just as the Father
gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. In addition,
the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, so that
everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son
is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him. I tell you the truth, those who listen to my
message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for
their sins, but they have already passed from death into life. And I assure you that the time is
coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God.
And those who listen will live."
Jesus moved, taught and judged us all with permission from His Father. All He did was in fact under commission from His Father.
We, who follow Jesus, can and should do no less.
If we are called to make a judgment, it must be based on what the Father has revealed. The Father has revealed His will in the Bible. So, if we judge, it needs to be based on that; culture, modern thinking and what makes us feel good is not the foundation upon which we judge.
What is the word "judge" mean in the Greek? There are three meaning: One means to judge, as in a court of law.
The next meaning to critically evaluate something, or to be discerning. One of the spiritual gifts is discernment, so using it is part of our walk. We need to make judgments as we navigate this world. "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matt. 10:16) Shrewdness comes from evaluating a situation fairly and objectively; snakes do not run into rocks. So, discernment is part of judging. We need the Holy Spirit's revelation of the Father's will in order to be discerning and wise.
The third meaning is a judgement that condemns. We cannot take God's authority, cloak ourselves with it and then act in His stead. He and He alone will judge the world.
So, does that mean we cannot judge at all?
No. Look at John 7:24: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." We cannot issue condemnatory judgments, but judgments based on mercy, love and compassion.
Mercy calls sin, sin, but also factors love into the equation, as Jesus did.
Love speaks truth, but also factors patience for change into the equation, as Jesus did.
Compassion takes a person's hand, and if that person is willing, leads them into freedom by leading them to Jesus.
Thus, we must make an inventory before we speak, and look without wavering into our motivation for saying what we want to say. Let us ask with bold honesty:
- Are my words based on the full counsel of God (Acts 20:27)? Or have I cherry-picked verses to satisfy my position?
- Have I prayed for the right words in the right tone? The right words delivered in a harsh tone will destroy their potential for a positive message.
- Have I prayed for the other person's heart to be open to the words I say? Pray for tilled soil in this person's heart, so that the seed of the Word will fall into a productive place. Only the Spirit can prepare the soil. No argument ever won a person to Christ.
If the answers fall in line with His Word, then I must speak, trusting that:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Is. 55:10-11)
Walk in His authority and in His love. The two are inseparable, as we and the Lord should be.
I am indebted to Lloyd John Ogilvie's The Greatest Counselor in the World--A Fresh, New Look at the Holy Spirit for the part on the three meanings of the word "judge."