“You can’t judge me … Jesus said so … only God can do that!”
How many times have you heard a variation of this righteous pronouncement? It’s usually used by people who are on the receiving end of a reproof. They feel attacked (maybe even convicted), but they don’t want to deal with it. So they drop this nuclear bomb of a verse to end all discussion. I mean, how do you argue against Holy Scripture, for heaven’s sake?
But did Jesus really mean that we are to look the other way when someone displays abhorrent behavior? If you own a business, should you hire people without resumes or references; otherwise you would be judging them? Should singles never use some kind of judgment to determine if a date would make a good spouse?
It’s kind of funny when you think about it: when people tell you not to judge, they have just made a judgment. They are judging you for saying something they consider wrong. At the opening of Matthew 7, Jesus tells us not to judge, but then spends the next few moments revealing how to judge correctly.
What’s going on here? Are we supposed to judge or not?
In my previous blog, I wrote that it’s always a good idea to get some context when you are reading the Bible. One way we can do this is to not isolate one verse from its neighbors. Read the entire passage. In this case, we need to peruse the verses after Matthew 7:1. When we do so, we get a complete picture of what judgment is really about.
In Matthew 7:2, Jesus says, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” In other words, those who judge with a hard spirit will be judged the same way. At some point, there will be payback. In Luke 6:37, Jesus gives an even stronger version of this principle: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” The idea behind the word “condemned” is to harshly pass judgment on someone, quite often unfairly. Sometimes we do not have a clear picture of the people we judge severely – they may be under temporary duress, suffering from mental illness, or lashing out from past hurts. Jesus goes on to say, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
It would seem pretty straightforward in Matthew 7:1 that Jesus is telling us to not judge. Period. End of story. But if you hop over to John 7:24, He says, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” Here the Lord reveals that righteousness is the key to proper judgment. This simply means that we are to judge as rightly and carefully as we can. Judging people without grace will eventually boomerang on us. But If we are humble and gentle, speaking the truth in love, we can be confident that we are practicing righteous judgment, mirroring the heart of Christ.
Do You Wear A Mask?
In ancient Greek theater, an actor would portray several characters. To denote roles, he would place different masks in front of his face. He was a hypokrites, a play actor. Eventually, the word made its way into the English language as “hypocrite,” someone who hides his true nature behind a public persona.
In Matthew 7:3-4, Jesus uses painful hyperbole to blast hypocrisy: “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? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”
We see this kind of hypocrisy all time. A celebrity who champions climate change reform gets around in limousines, yachts and private jets. A televangelist who rages against sexual sin is caught with a prostitute. Closer to the homefront, do we tell our kids that they have to eat their fruits and vegetables, but we snarf down carb-loaded junk food every day? Ever gotten mad at someone who swerved into your lane while texting, then a couple of minutes later, you’re click-clacking on your phone because your best friend wants to know if you’re down for happy hour? How about railing against a thief who broke into your home, but you have no problem with taking home pens and envelopes from work?
Nowhere in Scripture are we told to cast a blind eye to sin. Jesus simply commands that we take that hunk of wood out of our eyes before we try to remove a mote in someone else’s. Theologian Eric J. Bargerhuff puts it this way: “Jesus does not forbid all moral judgment or accountability. Rather, he forbids harsh, prideful, and hypocritical judgement that condemns others outright without first evaluating one’s own spiritual condition and commitment to forsake sin.”
Nothing is more obnoxious than Christians who wear their faults on their sleeves, only to smugly point out the peccadilloes of others. That is hypocrisy, and Jesus roundly condemns it.
Jesus concludes his teaching with this striking picture: “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 turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6).
Our Lord knew all too well the futility of engaging people who are full of flesh and worldliness. That is why he sparingly answered the priests who tried him and Pilate who interrogated him. He would not cast pearls before swine.
When we feel we have rendered a proper, biblical judgment, but someone won’t receive it, we do not need to keep pressing. It is good to speak the truth, but we shouldn’t waste valuable time or provoke harassment from those who are openly belligerent. Jesus wants us to learn the difference between those who are teachable and those who are callous-hearted. Sometimes, we may not know until we reach out to someone and get flamed. If they refuse to listen, that’s on them. Jesus pointedly orders us to “shake the dust from our feet” and leave these kinds of people (Matthew 10:14).
Years ago, I set up a meeting with a church member whom I considered emotionally and verbally abusive. At one point in our discussion, I told him that my father had doled out the same kind of abuse when I was a kid and I wouldn’t tolerate that kind of mistreatment.
His response: “Your father probably should have abused you more than he did.”
I stood up and said, “I think this meeting is over.” I held out my hand, but he wouldn’t take it, storming out of my office. After that, I interacted with him as little as possible. While we are to be servants, that doesn’t mean we have to be slime on the bottom of someone’s shoes.
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None of us are perfect, of course. We must always keep that in mind when we approach someone with correction. We should always do so with a holy heart, dealing with the brokenness of others in the same spirit of grace that God displays toward us who are broken. If we are not judicious with our judgments, we will come across as a swarm of annoying mosquitoes – and nobody likes those.