TO JUDGE OR NOT TO JUDGE
Our culture sees Christians as judgmental. In fact, one survey claimed that nearly ninety percent of young people said that “judgmental” accurately describes Christianity today (Kinnaman, UnChristian, 2007, 182).
Ninety percent! That’s the perception, whether right or wrong, of the generation coming up in our nation today. Some of that judgmental reputation is not deserved and is because we stand for God’s standards which they hate.
But some of it is because Christians judge in a way that we are not supposed to. We can have hearts and words that attack a person, and not just the sins that they are committing. We lash out like unsaved politicians slinging mud at their opponents.
Is this what being a Christian supposed to look like? To be as mean and vicious as Pharisees and politicians?
We need to learn when we are to judge and when we are not to judge. We need to listen to Jesus carefully here in Luke 6—
37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged:
condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned:
forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:
38 Give, and it shall be given unto you;
and shaken together,
and running over,
shall men give into your bosom.
For with the same measure that ye mete
withal it shall be measured to you again.
39 And he spake a parable unto them,
Can the blind lead the blind?
shall they not both fall into the ditch?
40 The disciple is not above his master:
but every one that is perfect
shall be as his master.
41 And why beholdest thou the mote
that is in thy brother’s eye,
but perceivest not the beam
that is in thine own eye?
42 Either how canst thou say to thy brother,
Brother, let me pull out the mote
that is in thine eye,
when thou thyself beholdest not the beam
that is in thine own eye?
cast out first the beam out
of thine own eye,
and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out
the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.
Luke 6:37a Judge not, and ye shall not be judged:
Here we have perhaps the most well-known Bible verse in our culture today. It’s also the most misunderstood.
Unbelievers and even many Christians use this verse when they are confronted with their sin. “Don’t judge me!” they will exclaim, “How dare you judge! You are supposed to love, not judge!”
Can we judge or can’t we judge? To answer that question, let’s start by
What does Jesus mean by not judging?
Does Jesus mean that we aren’t supposed to confront others about their sin? If you only read this one verse, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged,” you might think so, but you need to read the Bible in context to correctly understand it.
The rest of the passage will help us see that Jesus doesn’t mean that you can’t confront someone about their sin, as we’ll see.
Also, Jesus himself even specifically stated there are times to confront someone about their sin. Look at Matthew 18—
15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone [don’t gossip about it; don’t consult twenty friends to pray about it]: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. (Matthew 18:15–17)
This is exactly what people think that Jesus means that we shouldn’t do—yet it’s Jesus who says that we should do it!
Furthermore, in Matthew 7, Jesus tells us to beware of false teachers. How can one beware of false teachers if you don’t evaluate what they say and make judgments about it? Do they have labels on them that read, “I am a false teacher?”
Jesus even says that false teachers will come in sheep’s clothing, so it’s even more important for Christians to critically and carefully evaluate a person’s teaching. They will look good, they will do good, they will sound good—but we need to dig under that and see what they are really teaching.
The Bible clearly tells us that Christians need to be discerning, to think critically about what we hear, and even confront people about their sins.
THE FORBIDDEN KIND OF JUDGING
Then what does Jesus mean by “judge not”? What is the forbidden kind of judging? This is what the rest of our passage will help us to understand.
Luke 6:37a Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned:
What is the difference between judging and condemning? Judging, in the best manner, is to evaluate the evidence and make a decision. The judges at the county fair look at the exhibits, evaluate them, and decide who gets first place, second place, third place.
Condemning, on the other hand, is stronger than judging. It’s the next step after making a judgment—it’s to render a guilty verdict. In the case of Christians, this would be equivalent to consigning a person to Hell. They may well be on their way to Hell, but our job not to help them go to Hell. Our job is to help them see the way to Heaven.
Or take how some Christians often talk about politicians or others. They attack them personally, “She’s a snake.” Now, if we disagree with their ideas, just say you disagree with their policies—“I don’t like what she says about tax reform.”
Or if they are involved in a moral sin, don’t attack the person, state your disagreement about their sin. Say “The Bible says that homosexual activity is wrong” instead of all the mean and disgusting things that you can think of calling a person.
It’s saddening to me to listen to Christians who are so mean with their words. Instead of praying for their salvation, they sound just like the unbelievers they are attacking. It’s sad that a lot of unbelievers follow Jesus’s teachings here better than Christians do!
You might object and say that Jesus called people names, like the Pharisees. Yes, but what does Jesus call you to do? Do not judge. Do not condemn. Love your enemies.
Stating what you believe the Bible says about a person’s sin, or your disagreement about a person’s ideas is a correct kind of judging. To attack the person brings you closer to condemnation, and it’s certainly not loving others or your enemies like Jesus told us to do.
Remember this distinction: you are not judging someone improperly when you evaluate their beliefs and behavior and tactfully and lovingly confront them on that. You are judging and condemning someone when you dismiss them as a person.
This wrong type of judging and condemning is what we call judgmentalism.
Judgmental people exist on both sides of the spectrum of believers. Normally, we think that people who have “stricter” standards are the judgmental ones. But the truth is, the ones with looser standards can be just as judgmental. The person who thinks that it’s okay to sleep around before marriage can be very judgmental towards those who don’t.
Some of the most judgmental people are those yelling, “Do not judge!”
Judgmentalism has nothing to do with your standards—it has to do with your attitude towards others. What we’ll see here is that Jesus is concerned with our attitude and manner when we have to point out the sin in someone else’s life.
In this passage, Jesus shows you…
WHAT YOU NEED TO HAVE TO JUDGE RIGHTLY
1. Have A Forgiving Attitude
Luke 6:37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:
This particular word in the Greek (ἀπολύω), means to pardon or set free. In the context here, Jesus is saying the people you feel the need to judge (incorrectly) and condemn are people you should set free from your judgmentalism.
Then there’s another positive statement—
Luke 6:38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
The image that Jesus is presenting here is how a seller, if he was honest and generous, would take a measure and fill it with grain. Then, he would shake it a bit and press it down, so that he could fit more grain in the measure. By doing so, he made sure that the customer got the full measure.
In the same way, we need to be generous with our forgiveness, our pardon, of those who offend us or who are against us. This only makes sense, because God is this way with us. Jesus said in verse 36—
36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. (Luke 6:36)
How merciful is God with us? Let’s just say, that when he measures out mercy, he fills the measure, stomps it down hard, and fills it again. So we also should be the same way with our forgiveness, grace, and mercy.
32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)
Think how much God forgave you. You were a sinner. A sinner…not just a person who made a few mistakes. A sinner is a God-hating, self-centered rebel. The Bible describes us before we were saved:
10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Romans 3:10–12)
That is what God forgave through the blood of Jesus Christ!
Have you looked at your sin and seen it like God sees it? Have you come to the cross and cried, “Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner!”? If the Lord is dealing with you now, repent of your sin and believe in Jesus.
If you have been saved, then you ought to look at other sinners with eyes of pity, not condemnation. You ought to have a desire in your heart to see them saved like you were. As such, you’ll have a forgiving, generous heart toward them. Your own forgiveness by God will manifest itself in a forgiving heart toward others.
In order to judge others rightly, you need to have a forgiving attitude and also you need to…
2. Have Good Mentors To Learn Good Judging
Luke 6:39 And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?
Luke 6:40 The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.
The basic idea isn’t too difficult—if a blind man led another blind man down the road, they are likely to fall in a ditch.
The word “perfect” in verse 40 does not mean sinless; it means mature or complete. A disciple will and should become like his master (or teacher/mentor). If your mentor is blind, where does that lead you? Into the ditch! But what does this have to do with not judging or condemning people?
The Pharisees were the most judgmental people around. In Matthew 23, when Jesus pronounces woe after woe on the scribes and Pharisees, he refers to them as blind guides. Jesus was warning his disciples not to follow their example, so they would not become judgmental also.
Today we have the wonderful opportunity to learn from many, many Christian teachers through radio, television and Internet. Who are you following? Are they judgmental teachers who constantly bang on drums of condemnation? They are blind, and will lead you into the ditch!
So, be careful and correctly judge them before they lead you incorrectly condemn others.
In order to judge rightly, you need to have good mentors to show you how and also need to…
3. Have Yourself Prepared Before Judging
Luke 6:41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Luke 6:42 Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.
Notice that Jesus is not forbidding judging here, he is showing us how to be prepared to judge rightly.
We have to make sure that what they are doing is not a “mote” or a speck compared to the “beam” or log that we are dealing with.
We do this by first asking ourselves,
1) Is what they are doing really a sin? Or is this a difference in opinions or personal convictions?
For instance, the Bible clearly says that we ought to be modest in how we dress (e.g., 1 Peter 3:2-4). But it doesn’t say anything about what sort of clothing we ought to wear…suit coat and tie or jeans?
If you need to confront someone on their manner of dress, then make sure it’s a biblical modesty issue and not a personal conviction issue.
Before you confront someone about anything—be very sure that you have a biblical issue (and one verse taken out of context is not a biblical issue!).
If it’s a personal issue, you might still talk to them about it, but as friends working out differences not with the authority of the Bible.
2) Are you qualified to correct this person? They may have an issue with something sinful, but is yours bigger?
Often, when you try to correct a person, what is the first thing they do? They point out a sin (or a perceived sin) in your life.
They might say, “Oh, really, you are upset about my watching that R rated movie? What about the off-color jokes that you tell at work?” Are you ready to deal with that? Do you have bigger sins that they could nail you to the wall with? We’re all sinners, of course, so they probably will find something to deflect the conversation off from them.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t confront, unless your sin is really a log and their sin is really a speck (and maybe not really a sin).
Be aware of your own sin when you approach someone about their sin. When we approach that person, it should be with a spirit of meekness:
1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
Test your heart:
When you hear of another Christian being involved in some scandalous behavior, how do you react? With smugness, superiority, self-righteousness?
Or is your heart grieved for that person, knowing that you are capable of committing the same sins, or worse? (Barton, Luke, 162)
It’s not judging someone to lovingly try to help them see a sin in their life. But we need to come knowing that we are capable of the same sin.
What kinds of specks are easy for you to criticize?
What logs of sin are you dealing with in your own life?
How do we know if we are judging correctly or incorrectly? I came across a helpful list to help us determine if we are not judging someone rightly.
You are judging incorrectly if…
1. You are more enraged at someone else’s sin than you are embarrassed by your own…
2. You refuse to forgive (or when you forgive you refuse to forget) To refuse to forgive someone is to be almost entirely ignorant of the enormity of what God has forgiven you…
3. You “cut off” those who disagree with you. This is the essence of judging. When you disagree strongly with someone—over something like faith or morality or politics—and because you can’t agree you cut them off…you have to love the person more than you love your position on a particular issue. That doesn’t mean you ever compromise your position or fail to state it. But it means that you stay committed to loving those who passionately disagree with you…
4. You gossip. What makes gossip so dangerous is that you are judging someone without giving them the chance to change. At least if you judged someone to their face, they could do something about it…
5. You refuse to receive criticism. Why do you hate criticism? Isn’t it because you hate to admit that you have faults? But if you understand the gospel, that shouldn’t surprise you. So when others point out your depravity, you should be able to say, “Well, of course. In fact, I could tell you a thing or two you didn’t notice!”…
Is the Lord dealing with you and speaking to your heart that you are a judgmental person? If he is, then confess that sin right now. Ask him to change your heart from that of a Pharisee to one that reflects his own heart for sinners.
Thank him that he has shown you the full measure of grace and mercy and forgiveness in Jesus Christ and ask him to help you show that same grace and mercy and forgiveness to others.