“Who are you to judge me?”
“Don’t you know, Mr./Ms. Christian, Jesus said to you, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged?”
“Christians are so judgmental!”
I came across a wonderful meme on social media not long ago. It was a delightful picture of Maggie Smith as her character, Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, in Downtown Abbey. She sat primly and properly with her hands resting in her lap. Her face had that “I-just-ate-a-truckload-of lemons” look with pursed lips and condescending eyes. The words underneath declared,
“People are so judgmental. I can tell just by looking at them.”
Yeah, I fell out laughing!
But is it truly wrong to judge other people? Did Jesus really teach that we’re never to judge other people? Why does the world reserve the right to judge and not be judged and demand Christians be judged and not judge?
Because the world is run by a bunch of ill-educated, reprobate toddlers. I can tell just by looking at them.
Okay, silliness aside, let’s talk about judging. Here is the verse most people know and often misuse. I’ve italicized it in its context. But those who brandish this quote often don’t finish the rest of the verses, which makes a heckuva lot of difference.
“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First, take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them with their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7:1-6)
Hey, now! Didn’t Jesus just make a judgment about some people being dogs and pigs right after telling us, “Don’t judge?” Something’s amiss here. So, let’s unpack this, shall we?
Jesus’ command isn’t about not judging. It’s about how we should judge properly. The following verses make that clear.
Jesus’ point is we should be careful how we judge. His supposed restriction in verse 1 doesn’t mean we should never make judgments about another person. How do we know that? Because judgment about a person is required to obey His admonition in verse 6 to not “give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs…”. Also, Jesus calls out hypocrisy in Matthew 6:16. Isn’t calling someone a hypocrite a judgment?
So, what is judging? The Greek word in this verse means “to separate, pull asunder, pick out, choose.” The idea is to discern and pronounce an opinion concerning right or wrong or to pass judgment on the deeds and words of others.
The problem is only God is uniquely qualified to judge anyone perfectly. We can’t ever determine absolute truth about another person because we can’t possibly plumb their inner thoughts or feelings. Therefore, motivations are very hard to determine. But not impossible.
Motives often have a way of sneaking out and revealing themselves, for “A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (Luke 6:45).
Let’s face it. We have a hard enough time knowing our motives, but God knows all. “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it? I, Yehovah, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Therefore, we must be very cautious about how we judge another person’s choices or temptations, or sins. But we’re still allowed to judge.
But we should be cautious when making a judgment, “So that you should not be judged.” The original sentence structure here carries the meaning, “Be careful how you judge, criticize, and condemn others because God is your judge.” See? You can judge. Just remember the Judge who judges you as you judge others.
Okay, Bible students, Jesus’ principle is in verse 1. In verse 2 He gives us the “why.” “For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” We’ll be judged by God at the same level and standard we draw a conclusion or condemn others. The Greek word for “measure” here is where we get our word “metric.” So, by the metric we use, we will be measured. In our judging, are we harsh or merciful, strict or lenient? God’s judgment is tempered with mercy. Is ours? Are our judgments according to Jesus’ perfect word or according to our flawed, subjective, and biased standards?
This same idea is reflected in the Lord’s prayer. The “measure for measure” standard is found in “Forgive us our debts/trespasses as we forgive others” (Matthew 6:12) In other words, we’re asking Jesus, “Lord, judge me according to the same measure of judgment I use with others.”
Wait! Was that a yelp of pain I just heard?
If we’re to righteously judge another, we need to do so as God would, only according to His standard of justice tempered by His character of love and mercy.
So now we have the standard for proper judging. Now we need to be prepared before we judge. “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).
Before we judge another, are we in any position to do so? Jesus speaks of specks and logs. This is a typical rabbinic exaggeration, intended to punch up a point. A speck is another’s minuscule fault or infraction that may not even be a sin, while the log is a humongously obvious fault or infraction that very well could be a sin. Are we squinting at a speck of sawdust in their eye while we’re blinded by the glaringly obvious log obscuring our vision?
Jesus’ remedy is simple. Deal with your own stuff first – sins or otherwise – before you conduct your in-speck-tion operation. How can we who have turned a blind eye toward our problems help someone with theirs? That makes us blind surgeons who presume to operate on “our” patient. And that makes us…
Yes, according to Jesus’ take on such blind behavior, He strongly and justly judges us as hypocrites. (Whatever happened to that sweet, lowly, Jesus I learned about in Sunday School?)
Based on the context of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5-7, here are some great self-evaluations to remove possible “log jams” in our eyes before we offer to help others. Hang on, you might not like this.
You who judges others as murderers, are you nursing anger against someone? Does venom spill from your lips, or from your fingers on Facebook and other social media?
You who judges others as adulterers, are you involved with pornography or the lingering gaze that undresses the object of your lust?
You who judges divorcees, how is your marriage? Are you trying to be a blessing to your spouse rather than a curse? Is your divorce for the right or wrong reason?
You who judges liars and deceivers, do you break your word or “fudge the truth” for your advantage?
You who judges those who offend you, do you retaliate or reconcile with those who hurt you?
You who judges show-off givers, pray-ers, and fast-ers, do you even give, pray or fast? Do you sincerely talk with God or blabber to Him mindlessly? Do you even talk to Him at all? Are your words and deeds just for show, to give others the impression of how spiritual you are?
What rewards are you seeking – earthly and short-lived or heavenly and eternal? You who proclaim to be godly, are you generous – reflecting your Heavenly father – or stingy – reflecting nothing of God? Do you embrace the things of this world or the things of heaven?
You who proclaim great trust in God, do you worry about your wants and needs when your Father has already promised to care for you, or do you commit to living your King’s way while you patiently ask and wait for His provision?
As Matt Damon says in Good Will Hunting “Ya like apples? How d’ya like them apples?”
Finally, there comes a point when judging is proper and heeding a good judgment prevents us from wasting our time and efforts trying to help some people. I know that’s a shocking thing to say, but it’s true. Assuming our conscience is clear, logs have been removed from our eyes, and we’re able to judge clearly, we may now want to help someone with their speck. However, they may not want their speck removed or for you to be the “Speck removal person.” For this we conclude with Jesus’ words in verse 7:6, “Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them with their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces.”
Again, Jesus invokes hyperbole. He’s equating certain people with dogs and pigs. No, Jesus isn’t being mean. In the Torah (God’s Law), dogs and pigs are ritually (spiritually) unclean animals. They’re unacceptable to God as temple sacrifices.
In Jesus’ illustration, the “dog” and “pig” people are unrepentant sinners, unwilling to let go of their faults, infractions, and spiritual offenses. A dog doesn’t know or care what is holy, and pearls mean nothing to swine. You can try to help someone, but if they don’t see what you’re offering them is godly or valuable, they’ll spurn your help and may even attack you for doing so. Yes, I see you nodding your head because you’ve already experienced this, right?
This is why we can judge others but must do it properly. It’s not to condemn the person or to exalt ourselves. But we have to first judge ourselves to prepare us to see clearly how or if we can help the other person. The Intervarsity Press commentary says, “Correcting those who will not receive correction is futile (vv. 1-5; Prov 9:8; 23:9); we should discerningly continue to offer wisdom (or the gift of the kingdom) only to those willing to receive what we offer, just as God does (Mt 7:7-11, Italics Author).”
We’re most certainly allowed to judge others after making sure we have godly lives and clean consciences. After that, we can also judge whether our help will be received or not.
So, when someone quotes to us the “Judge not, lest ye be judged” verse, it’s usually a way to wave off the Holy Spirit’s conviction. If the opportunity arises, offer to tell them God’s truth.
But be careful. They may not want to hear it. Some people are just that way.
I can tell just by looking at them.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts