It’s been over five decades since the Manson family brutally murdered several people. It was not only a shocking crime but it rocked countless lives as both the brutality as well as the horrific nature of the acts came to light.
Did that sound “judgey” to you?
If it didn’t, then please read it again. What right do I have to state an opinion on things that happened at a different time, in a different state, involving people I’ve never met?
But then, why would I NOT be able to cast a judgement? Why would I not be able to offer my opinion based on what I have read, heard, and seen? Why should YOU not be able to do the same?
Some people might cite Matthew 7:1-2: 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.
Those two verses have been used countless times to justify behavior – either our own or that of someone else. And yet, I think we would easily state that when it comes to ‘judging’ someone like Charles Mason, Adolph Hitler, or Genghis Khan, we are quick to convict. After all, we ‘know’ they are guilty. It’s not judging as much as it is simply stating a fact, right?
For those who follow the Way (Christians), we must remember the challenge of God’s living and active Word. In order to understand His Gift to us, we need to read it in context and culture. We must also never forget that God’s Word begins with “in the beginning…” It finishes with “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” Between those opening words in Genesis and concluding with the final blessing in Revelation, we have a total of 66 books written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit using 40 people from shepherds to a doctor to everyone’s favorite IRS agent, Matthew.
The amazing thing – and one of the things that helps us to understand how the Holy Spirit was at work – is to see the connectivity of God’s Word. From a man named Moses who went from Pharaoh’s palace to become a shepherd in the wilderness to a man named David who went from being a shepherd in the wilderness to becoming king, we have threads. These threads connect together to form a picture of a Messiah Whom we know as Jesus.
We meet Him in the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – and we then read of the beginning of the Church – not a building, but God’s people in Jerusalem, Ephesus, Galatia, and many other places. Then we read of a revelation, given to John, of Jesus’ return and the restoration of all things.
My point is simple. To understand God’s Truth – especially about something like judging another, we have to read all of it.
These verses come in what scholars have placed as the final third of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is telling His hearers of the difference between Law and Grace. As He attempts to drink more deeply from the living water, Jesus mentions judging.
For context, let’s remember that the Pharisees had added over 600 bonus laws to Scripture (the Old Testament). Even their prayers – often made in a loud voice so that others could hear – contained judgments of others (See Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:9-14). In other words, Jesus’ hearers knew what it was like to be judged.
And so, in light of that, Jesus speaks:
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. Matthew 7:1-2
It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? If you choose to judge someone else, then expect others to judge you with the same filter and lens. If you criticize someone’s clothing, expect someone to judge yours. If you just someone’s appearance, expect the same. Whatever measure you use when looking at another person will be the same measure that points back at you.
We then have two different illustrations. The second one might be a bit odd to our ears, but still clear.
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
Dogs were considered scavengers. You would see them wandering about, sniffing, and generally eating whatever they could find. It may sound a bit strange, but there is a bit of “disrespect” that we associate with our canine friends. They are beggars. We joke that our dog, Coco the Wonder Dorkie, doesn’t even taste food. She sucks it down – whatever it is.
So, when we are dealing with sacred things, we should give them to people who will not respect them. If I take two hours to talk with someone about faith, I don’t want them to disrespect that time by then going and laughing about it with their friends. Even if we disagree, there should be that level of “this is special to that person”.
Pigs were unclean animals. Jewish people did not eat them and, to remind us of how bad the prodigal son became, part of the giant scandal was the shock of him not only working with pigs but also wanting to eat their food. Pigs could also become quickly violent. If you threw them pearls, they would realize it was not food and turn on you.
It’s the first illustration, though, that I’d like to spend a few more minutes considering as well as some related texts.
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? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7: 3-5
The illustration is clear. If you have a plank – a sin – in your own life, stop worrying about the sin in your brother’s life. Take care of your own sin first. Jesus uses the label “hypocrite” for this type of person. The word literally means “an actor”. If you dig around on the word origins, it points you to the two words that were put together: “interpreter” and “underneath”. That may not make much sense until you remember that Greek actors wore HUGE masks. They would speak or act behind those masks. The hypocrite holds up the mask and says, “I’m fine but you are not.”
Again, in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls out a lot of people. He calls out those who give, who pray and who fast to get noticed. He calls out those who are living for money. He calls out those who worry and stress. He tells them – grace is better. Living in relationship with God is better.
And, if you are one of those people who has the spiritual gift of criticism and judging and ripping others down, SURPRISE! Those are actually not gifts. Worry about your own sins, your own struggles, your own issues. Deal with those first.
Now, what about when we CAN judge?
If we are trying to understand passages, as I said, we need to go to the immediate context. For this passage, it is within the Sermon on the Mount. We can also go to a larger context and, in this case, it would be within Matthew’s Gospel. We’d want to look for other passages that talk about the same or similar things. For example, we can look in Matthew 18.
In this chapter, we have the fourth block of Jesus’ teaching shared by Matthew. In the immediate context, someone comes to Jesus and asks who is the greatest. Jesus pulls a child to the front and says, if you want to be great, be like this child. Be humble. Be innocent. Be receptive to God’s teaching.
Then Jesus says, and don’t mess with the innocent. It would be better to be drown than to hurt one. He then illustrates going out to find the lost. If you have 100 sheep and one is missing, leave the 99 and go find the one. Restore it back.
What a wonderful word! We can think of a family home, a bit ‘broken and battered’ after the passage of time. And yet, after it is restored, it can be a gift to the next generation. HGTV has made program after program of people buying a dilapidated home, restoring it, and then flipping it to another person.
Jesus gives us beautiful images of restoration but we might miss the beauty in the next one because it follows…
Wait for it…
Yes, it follows “judging”.
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Matthew 18: 15-17
We believe there is a sin by our brother. We judge it. We go to him to try to correct the sin and restore the relationship. If it doesn’t work, we try with someone else. If that doesn’t work, we try the Body of Christ. If that doesn’t work, then – and I LOVE when Matthew says this, “treat him as a pagan or a tax collector”. Matthew knows!
But we are to judge if we believe there is sin by a brother in the church. We judge NOT with the goal of condemning but with the goal of restoration.
There is a lot more that could be said, but for the sake of time, let’s focus now on this aspect of judging in the church. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. His first letter addressed many things that were getting out of hand. He was clear:
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 1st Corinthians 5:12-13
A long time ago, I heard a pastor say, “Why are we surprised when sinners sin?” That’s a pretty great question. Yes, we are all sinners. We all mess up. But the question was really directed to those outside the church.
If someone is not a believer, then don’t be surprised when they don’t act like one. They are going to shock and surprise us.
That said, go ahead and BE SURPRISED when someone who claims to be a Christian does NOT act like one. If you see them getting drunk, wonder what’s going on. If you hear them cursing worse than a sailor, wonder what’s going on. If you see them living a bad lifestyle, wonder what is going on.
And don’t be afraid to judge them.
But when you do, be sure to heed Jesus’ words in Matthew 7. Check out your own life first. Are you doing the same thing – OR WORSE?
If I criticize and judge someone for driving too fast, I’d better be driving slower. If I criticize someone for getting drunk, I’d better not be. If I criticize someone for gossiping, then I had better be controlling my own tongue. And, when you do judge, make sure your goal is restoration.
How do you know when to judge and when not to judge? What is the bottom-line? It’s tough, but let me give you some simple guidelines.
First, is it a sin? Does God’s Word clearly state that whatever it is that the person is doing is wrong? And when I say that, I don’t mean that we take things out of context. A ‘popular’ odd, “am I sinning” question follows an Old Testament prohibition against wearing clothing with mixed fibers. That’s a sin. Well, in culture and context, that was referencing a problem with the pagans. They did stuff with clothing that was wrong. Without going into details, let’s just say that God gave His children a prohibition against it. If you, as a parent, have ever wondered about something your son or daughter was wearing, it’s kind of the same thing. (But it is not a sin today to wear clothing of mixed fibers!)
If it is a sin, then is it your business? Here’s what I mean. If Bert goes to Ernie and tells him something that Big Bird did, it’s not yet Ernie’s problem. Bert needs to go to Big Bird first. Then, following Matthew 18, if it is a sin, then Bert and Ernie can go to Big Bird. What do we call it if someone just runs around blabbing? GOSSIP!
So, if it is a sin and it is your business, then go to the person in Christian love. Don’t be cruel. Be kind and loving. Don’t challenge them but ask them about it. See what’s going on. Love your neighbor.
From there, seek restoration. Seek to help the person move forward. Don’t seek to keep beating them over the head. Seek to heal and restore them.
Why does that matter? Because that is what Jesus did for you.
He didn’t sin. I did. I broke God’s Law and my relationship with Him.
Jesus is the one who, in love and mercy, came and did what was required to restore it. That’s what Law and Grace are all about.
Yours in Christ,