Do Not Judge: What Did Jesus Really Mean?

canstockphoto3646738Jesus said, quite straightforwardly, “Do not judge, so that you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

Darn! We like the last part—I mean, who likes to be judged?—but judging others is so…satisfying. Maybe even fun. Certainly natural. It comes so easily to all of us.

But that first part. There must be some way where we can still get away with judging others without being judged ourselves.

Fortunately there is no shortage of biblical interpreters out there to help us along. For instance, some will say that Jesus wasn’t telling us not to judge others, but to avoid hypocrisy.

One such writer says that the verse is actually a condemnation of hypocrisy, not judgment. We have to judge, but we shouldn’t be hypocrites in doing so.

Whew! So when Jesus said “judge,” he didn’t mean “judge,” he meant “don’t be hypocrites.” The statement could thus be read, “Don’t be hypocrites, so that you will not be hypocrites.”

Well, it’s hard to argue with that logic, but…

Others like to balance this verse with John 7:24—“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

So there is the wrong kind of judgment, and the right kind of judgment.

Hypocritical judgment is wrong.                                                           Superficial judgment is wrong.                                                                      Self-righteous judgment is wrong.                                                               Harsh, unforgiving judgment is wrong.                                                       Condemnatory judgment is wrong.                                                              .

As long as you can avoid those types of judging, by all means, go ahead and judge others.

It’s all right to judge others, as long as you do it right.

But that’s the rub, isn’t it? I mean, it stands to reason that if we could do it right then Jesus wouldn’t have had to say, “Don’t judge.”

But we’re pretty bad at it, which is why Jesus said, without qualification, “Do not judge.”

I mean, as long as we are bringing in other Scriptures, not long after Jesus said the thing about judging with right judgment, he said, “You judge by human standards; I judge no one.” (John 8:15)

No one.

Which pretty much is in keeping with, “Do not judge.”

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. In the next verse he says, “Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.”

Ah. So judging with right judgment is a God-thing. At least we know what the qualifications are for right judgment.

Thus Jesus said of the Holy Spirit—“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8 ESV)

The Holy Spirit convicts others of sin. Not us.

But…but…but…if we don’t say something, then these people will just get away with their sin! Well, no, clearly it says that the Triune God will take care of any judging and convicting. It’s his job.

And we trust him to do his job, right? Right?

Or maybe we’re afraid that he’ll just let bad people off scot free, just throw around grace and forgiveness like they grow on trees.

Like he did with the evil city of Ninevah in the book of Jonah.

Here’s a thought: maybe Jesus, by telling us not to judge others, is trying to protect us from being like Jonah, mad at God for relenting of his judgment of the people of Ninevah.

Jesus doesn’t want us to be hypocritical or self-righteous or superficial or unjust. He wants us to be discerning, and if possible to help a brother or sister overcome their addiction to sin.

But he when he says those things—and he does, numerous places—it’s not in place of what he says about judging, and it’s not to  qualify his unqualified statement about judging.

He’s very clear: Do not judge, or you will be judged by the same standard by which you judge.

And I promise you, no one wants that.

Jonah’s problem was that he expected God to be forgiving when Israel repented, but unrelenting when Ninevah repented. Israel should be judged by a different standard.

Nope, said God. One standard. Sow judgment, that’s what you will reap. Sow forgiveness, you’ll reap forgiveness. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15)

It’s hard, this not-judging thing. That’s why we keep trying to qualify it or insist that Jesus meant something else.

But it’s also why Jesus followed up his statement on not-judging and speck-seeing with this promise: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7-8)

He wasn’t saying that if you just ask he’ll give you nice clothes and fancy cars; he’s saying that you’ll need help with not-judging, but God will give you the help you need if you really want it.

And I guess that’s the question: do we really want it?


Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Colecanstock

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