Bad Judgment

These posts are rough summaries of the Sunday messages.

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. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

Matthew 7.1-6

We can all agree that judgment can be a destructive and dangerous thing. It destroys community causing gossip, cold shoulders, and misunderstanding such that people ‘despise’ one another (Paul’s language, not mine). It also destroys our witness, since the church already suffers with a reputation for judging everything that moves. But what have we to do with judging outsiders (again, Paul’s language)? And most importantly, it’s displeasing to God who looks upon our hearts and dislikes the pride he sees.

The trouble is, we’re not likely to listen too well to a message on judgment for a couple of reasons. The first is that, as sins go, judgment is a particularly sneaky kind of sin. Even in listening to a message on judgment the likelihood is we’re thinking, ‘So-and-so really needs to hear this.’ But second, the feeling may be that I’m speaking to the choir because surely there is no more powerful ethic in modern society than this: Judge not! In fact, we believe so vehemently in a message of non-judgment that we judge those who we deem judgmental. So, I need to begin with some clarifiers on what judging is not.

‘Judge not’ does not mean ‘God is relaxed about sin, and you should be too’. While the modern world swings between no belief in God, and a belief in a mushy all-loving god made in our own image, there ought to be no question that Jesus does not weaken or lower the bar on holiness.

‘Judge not’ does not mean ‘You shouldn’t have an opinion about others’. Many feel that not judging means adopting a stance of indifference towards others and how they choose to live; a kind of blanket acceptance. But to my mind, this indifference is the very opposite of love. Instead, it is a symptom of western individualism — the idea that I am king of my destiny and owe nothing to the family, the community, the society, but what I choose to give. Communities only exist where there are clear boundaries, whereas indifference flourishes where there is selfishness and individualism. It is not in the least bit loving to not care how others choose to live.

‘Judge not’ does not mean ‘Don’t ever challenge sin in another person’. How often this verse is quoted as an attempt to justify sin. People say, ‘I thought you weren’t supposed to judge’ and what they mean is, ‘Let me sin if I want to’. That is a horribly twisted understanding of what Jesus is saying.

What then does Jesus mean?

1. You should not be judgmental

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. (v.1-2)

There’s a difference between judging, and being judgmental. There’s a kind of judgment that is important in certain contexts (1 Corinthians 5.12, for example). In fact, Jesus calls for us to exercise judgment right here in this passage (you have to decide who the ‘dogs’ and ’pigs’ are!).

How then are we to understand the command, ‘Judge not’? It helps to recall the background in Pharisaism. Jesus criticised the Pharisees because they prized outer behaviour over internal motives and heart desires; he criticised their belief in works-righteousness (the idea that you can be good enough for God); and he slated them for their self-righteousness (the belief that they were good enough for God). All of this, Jesus shows, leads to pride and superiority (see Luke 18.9f.)

We Christians know all of this is anti-gospel, but how subtly we allow this same Pharisaism to creep in. Do you ever assume the worst in others, rather than the best? Do you ever jump to conclusions based on limited evidence? Do you take pleasure in finding out about the wrongs of others? Do you speak about the wrongs of others, even if only by insinuation (‘Oh, he’s a great guy, but, you know, I wouldn’t necessarily trust him.’) Do you distance yourself from others based on assumptions? All of this is the same kind of judgmentalism.

The thing we must remember, first and foremost, is that none of us is God! When Paul echoes Jesus’ teaching here, he reminds the Romans that they will stand before God’s judgment seat (Romans 14.10-13). The point is, there’s no need to judge one another because we’re simply unqualified. I can’t see your heart, and you can’t see mine, but God sees both. And further, God is more compassionate and merciful than we are; He knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103.14).

Jesus also attaches a warning: it will be measured back to you. Perhaps God will find a way of humbling you in this life, disciplining you as his child to knock the pride out of you (see Hebrews 12.4-11). Or perhaps we are to be more fearful of the final judgment. Anyone who fosters a judgmental spirit is in serious danger of never really being saved themselves. Why? Because nobody who has truly seen their sin and tasted God’s grace could remain so proud and superior.

2. You should not be a hypocrite

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? (v.3-4)

While Jesus is using a ridiculous image to exaggerate the issue, the point is deadly serious. We tend to compare ourselves horizontally (with other people) rather than vertically (with God) and so find it much easier to see another person's sin than our own. But Jesus wants us to have our attention fixed on our own hearts, living in a constant state of repentance. AW Pink’s challenge is relevant:

The contrast pointed by Christ is between one who allows some lust to prevail over him and yet presumes to criticize another for some infirmity or minor offence.

3. You should work hard to uproot sin wherever you find it

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (v.5)

Despite all that we’ve said, there is still a duty for Christians to help one another by searching out sin in each other’s lives. It’s part of what makes the church community kingdom-like. To help a brother is a rescuing, tender, loving, and even heroic act. It’s Christ-like. And we are to do it with great wisdom and gentleness.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6.1-2)

But this work requires the greatest care. Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it well:

The procedure of getting a mote out of an eye is a very difficult operation. There is no organ that is more sensitive than the eye. The moment the finger touches it, it closes up; it is so delicate. What you require above everything else in dealing wit it is sympathy, patience, calmness, coolness. That is what is required, because of the delicacy of the operation. Transfer all that into the spiritual realm. You are going to handle a soul, you are going to touch the most sensitive thing in man. How can we get the little mote out? There is only one thing that matters at that point, and that is that you should be humble, you should be sympathetic, you should be so conscious of your own sin and your own unworthiness, that when you find it in another, far from condemning, you feel like weeping.

The crucial thing is that we be prepared people. We have removed the planks from our own eyes. Is your conscience clear? Are your secret sins less bad than their public sins? Yes, we want to help one another, but it’s so important we begin with repentance.

We need to remember how our Heavenly Father has dealt with us. He is perfect in his holiness, and yet how gentle he has been towards us in our sin!

    The LORD is merciful and gracious,
        slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
    He will not always chide,
        nor will he keep his anger forever.
    He does not deal with us according to our sins,
        nor repay us according to our iniquities.
    For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
        so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
    as far as the east is from the west,
        so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
    As a father shows compassion to his children,
        so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
    For he knows our frame;
        he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103.8-14)

It is only as we have been humbled and felt God’s kindness towards us that we can weep over the sins of others rather than judge them. May God bring about such a spirit of grace among us as we keep coming back to his great grace poured out at the cross of Christ.