LIVING GRACEFULLY (5): JUDGE NOT
Intro – Someone has said, “The only thing good about being imperfect is the joy it brings others.” I suppose that’s one way to look at it. But those who joy in condemning others are like the snake who asked his companion, “Are we poisonous?” The second snake replied, “I don’t know. Why?” The first replied, “Because I just bit my lip.” I fear there are a lot of Christians biting their lip and poisoning themselves through their joy in judging others.
So here is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted passages in the whole Bible. The world loves to quote, “Judge not,” as the ultimate deflection of accountability. So, is that Jesus’ point? Throw values out the window?! I think not – but He did condemn something. The lesson is 4-fold. We are to be Slow to Condemn; Quick to Forgive; Ready to Give and Sure to Receive.
I. Slow to Condemn
V. 37, “Judge not.” The word “judge” comes from a root which means to separate or divide, thus to discern between right and wrong. But it also came to mean to fault-find, criticize and condemn. That’s how it’s used here shown by Jesus’ next explanatory phrase – “Condemn not.” The two really cannot be separated here. He is instructing against being judge, jury and executioner regarding some real or perceived wrong that we have suffered.
The word is used in this sense in Jas 4:11-12, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” James is saying, “You’re a doer of the law, not Lord of the law. Worry about yourself. If they’re unworthy, so are you!” James condemns the spirit of moral superiority that declares others guilty and never points them to God. We’ve assumed the role of God – a role God never intended. Another name for this is a critical spirit. We all have it – it’s just a question of degree!
Jesus is not suggesting we never confront wrong. In v. 42 He notes that you can “take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” – after you’ve dealt with the log in your own eye. In I Cor 5 Paul upbraids the Corinthians for their failure to judge the immorality of a member who was sleeping with his father’s wife. But it is to be done with a spirit of mourning, not haughtiness – and with a view to restoration. In Matthew 18:15-18 Jesus give specific instructions how to deal with someone who has wronged us – first by going to them, then by taking someone along and finally by taking the matter to the church. We’re not to act as though nothing happened. We are to discern the sin, but deal with it properly – not with condemnation. It may come to that, but that is God’s prerogative, and we are not God. “Judge not” is all about not playing God in the lives of others for personal wrongs suffered.
In John 7:24: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” So how do we judge rightly without being judgmental? Four thoughts to help.
Not personally, but biblically – “Judge not” doesn’t mean throw discernment to the wind and say “Anything goes.” But it does mean, “Don’t judge by appearances”. We don’t have the freedom to condemn because of personal hurts. Our standard is conformance with Scripture! After Paul left Galatia, false teachers followed. Paul was adamant in his comments about the false gospel they taught. He says in Gal 1:8-10, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” You can almost hear some 21st century relativist come along and said, “Oh, Paul – there you go judging again!” Wouldn’t have bothered Paul! He was not defending his own rights; He was defending the integrity of the Word with all the vigor he had. He was judging rightly.
Not harshly, but lovingly – “Judge not” does not mean just let sin go; it doesn’t mean that. But it does mean, address it lovingly. Gal 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” If we are spitting nails when we go to confront someone – harsh and accusatory, we are out of line. “Judge not” prohibits a critical spirit determined to “set others straight”. Ask: do I have a genuine concern for the other person, or am I out for my own satisfaction? Critics demonstrate moral superiority, without patience or a genuine concern for the other person. Criticism kills – it kills the critic. Social critic Matt Arnold died and Robt Lewis Stevenson said, “Poor Matt. He’s gone to heaven, no doubt – but he won’t like God.” Arnold was always right at the expense of everyone around him, had a total critical spirit – exactly what Jesus is attacking here.
Not condescendingly, but humbly – This is so critical. “Judge not” condemns the arrogance that stands in the place of God for someone else with no recognition of one’s own vulnerability. Gal 6:1 addresses that: “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.” “Judge not” is a call to acknowledge that we are not perfect either. To judge without humility is foolish. Jesus makes that point in v. 41, “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? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” To judge rightly is to judge me first. Even when I have been wronged, I need to ask what part I’ve played? “Judge not” means to find the log in yourself before you go looking for the speck in someone else. Judge rightly.
Not with condemnation, but with hope of restoration – Matt 18:15, “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” I Cor 5:5, “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Gal 6:1, “restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” II Cor 13:9: “For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.” Get the picture? Confrontation must be for the purpose of restoration and renewal, not so we can get our kicks bringing someone down! Anything else violates Jesus’s command. Condemnation is God’s prerogative; ours is restoration.
Christian psychiatrist David Powlison writes, “We judge others – criticize, nit-pick, nag, attack, condemn – because we literally play God. This is heinous. [The Bible says,] "There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you to judge your neighbor?" Who are you when you judge? None other than a God wannabe. In this we become like the Devil himself. We act exactly like the adversary who seeks to usurp God's throne and who acts as the accuser of the brethren. When you and I fight, our minds become filled with accusations: your wrongs and my rights preoccupy me. We play the self-righteous judge in the mini-kingdoms we establish.” That’s the spirit Jesus condemns.
Now, a test. You turn on the TV. A talk show is addressing the sordid tale of Roman Polanski, the movie director who raped a 13-year-old girl, has lived for over 30 years in Europe to avoid prosecution and wants to come home. There is an evangelical minister on the program who evaluates the issues from a biblical perspective. Then the host turns to a well-known media pundit and he says, “Well, is that the way that Christians really ought to think about this?” The pundit responds right on cue, “Well Jesus said, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’” Is that the right application of this passage? Certainly not.
Now another scenario. Mary and Sally have been friends for 25 years. Now, Sally’s has deeply wounded Mary, who is torn up about it. She’s asking, “How could Sally have done this to me?” She consults her husband. She can’t sleep. She runs scenarios as to why Sally might have acted as she did. She finally decides, “I don’t know Sally’s motives in this. But I haven’t talked to Sally yet. Until I do, I must give her the benefit of the doubt?” Is that a proper application of Luke 6:37? Almost certainly, yes.
“Judge not” isn’t a call to overlook sin; but to address it for the right reasons, from the right foundation and with the right attitude – a concern for the other person’s welfare, not my own satisfaction. Slow to condemn!
II. Quick to Forgive
The last clause of v. 37, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Most of us look for reasons not to forgive! It’s human instinct, right? But let me address briefly what forgiveness is and is not – and 2 reasons to forgive.
First, to forgive is to let go of a wrong done. It means not to charge it to the other person’s account. It means to give up the right to exact revenge. To forgive means to do this – listen now – it means to do this whether or not the other person ever acknowledges the wrong or makes an apology or not. It means to withhold the power of that person and that event to run my life.
It does not mean you have to tell the other person. It doesn’t make the wrong right. It doesn’t mean you can’t confront the wrong. It does not mean you have to tolerate an ongoing situation of abuse. It does not mean you have to like the other person or seek a relationship with them. There is a lot of confusion about forgiveness and perhaps it will help to know that it means none of those things. It means you purposefully choose to harbor no grudge or ill-will for wrongs suffered and that you leave any vengeance in God’s hands.
Now – two great reasons to forgive. One negative and one positive. First, when we will not forgive, we pay a much higher price than the other person. In effect, we give them the keys and to our life because that spirit of revenge takes over and robs us of happiness, determines our outlook on life, changes our personality and destroys intimacy. In short, we’ve given our enemy the keys to the castle. From now on they determine who we are.
The second reason is even more compelling. It’s found in Eph 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Why should we forgive? Because we have been forgiven. Despite the fact that we have harbored murder, greed, adultery, treachery, lust and selfishness in our hearts, God has forgiven us – at the cost of His Son’s life to pay our penalty. After receiving His forgiveness, to refuse to forgive another is to trample on God’s grace by which we’ve been saved. It is to spit in His eye. Beloved, I’m not saying it is easy; it’s not. But in letting go we get focused on right, not wrong – on grace, not revenge.
Bryan Chapell in Each For the Other tells of a young Asian-American woman who was getting married. Her father had abandoned her mother 30 years earlier. But the young woman wanted to incorporate into her wedding a tradition from their country of the father being served a meal by the mother. The mother was Christian, but felt she could not do this. Her husband had left her with 3 small children requiring her to work many menial jobs even as she persisted in earning a Ph.D in child psychology and a prestigious reputation. The thought of serving that man was repulsive. At the wedding, Mom watched as her ex-husband came in with no sign of remorse or shame. Yet, somehow, knowing what it meant to her daughter, when the time came for the ceremony, the mother, to her own surprise, took the bowl of rice, knelt before her enemy and served him. Tears began to flow, but she said, “They were not tears of pain, but of inexpressible joy.” How could that be? She explained, "When I let go of my anger enough to serve my husband, it was as though I understood for the first time how much Jesus loves me. I understood the pain he endured not to hold my eternal guilt against me but to serve me by giving his own life for me. I felt the love of my Savior flood into my heart and wash away 30 years of fury that had embittered me and enslaved my heart that I had not been able to erase with all my achievements." Do you see, Beloved, by her act of forgiveness she took back the keys to her own life. But to do that, you have to let go. You have to give it to God. And it’s best to forgive quickly. Don’t let someone else live your life for 30 years.
III. Ready to Give
V. 38, “give, and it will be given to you. When wronged, we look to take back what we’ve lost, to regain our reputation, to take our revenge. But our new default as God’s child is give, not take. Give what? Give love to enemies, give blessing, give prayer, give the benefit of the doubt and give forgiveness. From a human perspective to do that is to play the fool. That’s a loser. But God judges differently. Rather than take, we must be ready to give.
IV. Sure to Receive
V. 38, “give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” This is God saying, “You give, and I got your back. You give, and guess what? It’s coming right back at you and then some. I’ve got your back. So – everything’s going to be great?! Of course not. We always limit God to our temporal perspective. God’s perspective is eternal. This is simply God’s unlimited, eternal guarantee, you’ll not be disappointed that you obeyed. Sooner or later, reward is coming.
Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” This is a 1st century grain sale transaction. The seller would pour an initial amount into a container. Periodically as the seller poured, the grain would be shaken up and pressed down, forcing it to settle, making room for additional product. Like shaking the oatmeal keg causes settling that makes room for more. Jesus’ point is, God never cheats in rewarding faithfulness. He gets in all He can! He’s only limited by the size of our container. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” The size of the reward is determined by our faithfulness in loving our enemy, being slow to condemn and quick to forgive. Do you see? The harder we defend our rights by natural means, the smaller container we give God to work with. We only cheat ourselves. Jesus is urging, give – give to your enemy, and in so doing give to God and to yourself. Radical, graceful living produces radical, graceful giving from our Lord.
Conc -- The admitting nurse at a hospital was trying to admit an elderly man with a heavy accent. It took a while to figure out that he had no health insurance. But he did claim to be a WWII vet, so she sent him off to the local VA hospital where he would be eligible for benefits. However, the next day he was back with a note from the VA admitting nurse that read, “Right war, wrong side.” Jesus is urging us – get on the right side in the revenge war. Get on the kingdom side, not the world’s side. It is poison. Don’t bite your lip by bitterness at life. Choose God’s way. Choose grace. Choose Jesus. The benefits of living gracefully will far outweigh the cost. Let’s pray.