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Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Mt. 7.1-2)
The word judgment clangs in our modern ears. It sounds so old-fashioned: prudish, puritanical and antiquated. After all, we have often heard, Jesus is all about love and making everyone feel warm and fuzzy about themselves. Okay, I may have exaggerated the last phrase a bit, but a Jesus who both loves and judges is not one readily accepted by many today.
If we misapply Matthew 7.1, we will end up with just that sort of Jesus. We will have a God who is grandfatherly and harmless. One who pats you on the head and gives a wink and always has a piece of hard candy for you when you visit. God will smell of ointments, sitting in a rocking recliner with his teeth in a glass just to his right.
Is Matthew 7.1 a formula for escaping judgment? The logic would go thusly: be very careful, extra careful even, to judge no one else while you plod this Terra firma; then, when your time is up and you clock out of this life, there will be no judgment awaiting you.
That is what Jesus says, is it not? Judge not, that you be not judged?
As we pointed out in the previous post, the problem with this is that it flies in the face of so many other passages. Even, as we mentioned, pericopes close at hand to 7.1−in its same context in fact. So, unless Jesus taught something that was, not only contradictory to the rest of Scripture, but also contradictory to his own teaching, we must not interpret this verse in that way.
There are a couple of things I think that we should point out.
First, Jesus clearly teaches that we must use good judgment in this very context of the Sermon on the Mount. If we are to differentiate between true sheep and wolves masquerading as sheep, we must use good, sound judgment (cf. 7.15). Now, you may prefer to refer to this sort of thing as discernment, because the word judgment may strike you as overly harsh and abrasive; but, in the end, it is only a matter of semantics and not of substance.
In order for us to declare which tree is healthy and which is diseased, we must use good judgment (cf. 7.17-20). In order to know which fruit is good and edible and which is bad and unfit, we must use judgment.
Even still, to know who the dogs and pigs are (cf. 7.6) we must use proper judgment.
Second, we know judgment, in some fashion, awaits us all. The writer of the book of Hebrews asserts, [a]nd just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hb. 9.27, ESV). I am not concerned here to go into the differences in judgment in regards to believers and non-believers, all I am showing here is judgment is part of God’s program.
Third, when one reads the Gospel accounts and listens carefully to Jesus’ teachings, it becomes clear that judgment was a common theme in his ministry. Was Jesus a messenger of God’s love? Yes. Did he bring grace and mercy? Yes. But, he also never shied away from the topic of judgment. In fact, it probably is more prominent in his teaching than is often admitted.
For instance, in John 3, where we find the great verse of 3.16, a verse well-loved and oft-quoted, as it should be; but, what is its context? Is John 3 comprised of only one solitary verse? Here are the first two verses in the paragraph, spoken by Jesus, which begins with John 3.16:
(16) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (17) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Sounds great, right? It does . . . and is! But, Jesus did not stop speaking in verse 17. There was more that he said. The word condemn in verse 17 may sound strange and odd in many ears, as it comes after the great soteriological statement of verse 16. But, at least it is negated, for Jesus said he did not come to do that! Yet, even in these two verses there is the hint of what is to follow.
In verse 16, Jesus speaks of two contrasting ideas: perishing and eternal life. In verse 17, as already noted, he mentions the idea of condemnation and the contrast of salvation (i.e. saved through him). He is already making it clear that his message is not love in a vacuum or grace with no consequences. But, let’s probe a bit further:
(18) Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (19) And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. (20) For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (21) But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.
I am not sure much more needs to be said . . . yet, this is a blog after all, so I suppose I will!
Jesus states plainly that condemnation is already part of the equation. He did not have need to come to bring condemnation. Why? Because the world was already condemned, long before he stepped foot on the planet! The world was condemned dating back to our ancestral fall in Adam and Eve. Condemnation (i.e. sin and death) had reigned from that time forward. But Jesus came to bring salvation, a way of escape from the suffocating condemnation.
(The word used in these verses that is often times translated condemn/condemned is the same Greek word used in Mt. 7.1, translated typically as judge/judged.)
So, from just this small sampling it is clear that Jesus teaches judgment. One can see it even more with a study of his parables.
So then, how are we to understand Mt. 7.1?
Discernment is an essential quality for any disciple of Christ; however, a judgmental attitude is to be shunned at all costs. It’s one thing to reach out one’s hands to help in ministry; and another to tear down and cast stones.
Paul touches upon the same principle in Romans 2. A Christ-follower, while exercising spiritual discernment and holding to moral uprightness, is not to live life with a judgmental, critical spirit.
There is an old saying, those who live in glass houses should not cast stones. Well, in a very real way, we all have glass houses.
Affirming what God affirms (while maybe not popular) is always the right thing to do. Resisting those things that God tells his sons and daughters they must is the imperative of every Christ-follower. Yet, even in this, there are attitudes and tones we can use to show forth the grace of Christ to others.
Are there times to be resolute and unwavering in our convictions based on Scripture? Yes. Are there times to call right, right and wrong, wrong? Yes.
But in all cases, may our tone and rhetoric be seasoned with the love and grace of Christ. Even, and perhaps especially, in those times when sternness of spirit and conviction are most needed.
(In our next post, Lord willing, we will consider Mt. 7.3-5.)