Judge Not? What Did Jesus Mean?

One of the most widely quoted teachings of Jesus is from Matthew- “Judge not, lest you be judged.” 

What did Jesus mean by this?

No one likes that feeling of being judged. It feels terrible to know that someone doesn’t like you based on a decision or even just based on hearsay and gossip. Just not wanting to be judged is enough to make me not want to make anyone else feel that way! But, what did Jesus actually mean by judge not, lest you be judged? Well, as with anything we hear anyone say, we need to take it within the context of what he was saying at the time, as well as with what he taught consistently throughout his ministry. We also need to read it in the context of the full counsel of the Word of God. 

For example, if you were heading out to work and leaving your teens home to do distance learning, you may give them a couple things to do before you get home. You may say, “Please take the trash out on your lunch break. Also, can you put away your laundry in the laundry basket in your room?” 

Half way through the day, you remember a quick errand that you want to ask your 17 year old to run for you before you get home. “Can you please run over to the neighbor’s house and get a dozen fresh eggs from them, please? I need them for dinner tonight.” 

When you get home, you find the eggs on in the fridge, but the house smells strongly of rotten trash and the laundry still isn’t put away. When you ask you dear son about these overlooked chores, he says, “Oh. You texted to get the eggs. Since I was short on time, I thought you were saying you wanted me to do that instead of the other chores.” 

I am sure you have experienced this in some form as a mother. “No, Dear. It would take you a total of 5 minutes to do the things I asked you to do. I did not give you a new errand to replace the old chores. I gave them in addition to them.” 

When Jesus teaches on judging, he does not exclude all the other teachings he gave in the same sitting and override them with this confusing directive. Let’s look at the passage to understand what he means in context – the same way we would want someone else to take our words in the context we meant them to be taken.

Matthew 7

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “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? 4 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? 5 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.

6 “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.

Jesus teaches here to make sure that you are not pointing your finger at someone and doing the same thing yourself. Are you accusing someone of being a liar and yet you lie? Are you angry with politicians for calling names, yet you call people names? Are you pointing your finger at someone for adultery, yet you inwardly have a fantasy life about someone who is not your spouse? 

In this passage, Jesus does give people permission to help someone else to overcome sin. Notice the intention of the directive- to overcome sin. Our job is not to just point our fingers at someone else’s weaknesses to feel our own superiority. Christians should be concerned for the hearts and souls of others. Our goal is to help people to be reconciled to God through Jesus. So, our calling is to walk with clear vision so we can help others see Jesus clearly. 

But, what is necessary for this? How do we accomplish this? We need to make sure we do not have our own blind spots caused by our own sin. If you have the log of lust in your eye, how can you ever help someone overcome it? Jesus does give exception to this. He says, be sure to remove the log from your own eye first. Allow the Lord to open your eyes to your own personal need. When you have this inward walk of honesty before God, your spiritual sight will be restored and you will be able to help someone else from a place of humility and grace. 

To truly understand what Jesus means here- we need to read the entire sermon on the mount. Jesus addresses all kinds of sin. By saying do not judge Jesus does not intend that we are not allowed to make a spiritual judgement of right or wrong based upon what God has told us. 

God is the judge. He has already declared right from wrong. It is not our place to say something is not a sin that God has already deemed a sin. That in itself is being an evil judge. We need to humbly walk in the light of his Word. This gives me a lot of relief! To know that I do not need to decide what is right and wrong, but I simply need to trust in Jesus’ standards takes off a lot of pressure. God judges sin. 

Another temptation is to judge the motivations of a person’s heart. This happens all over the internet. People have world view filters. They put them on and see everything through their own interpretive lens. When we do this, we make one of the most fatal mistakes- to assume what another person’s motivation and heart is. We can pigeon hole a person, even over the smallest things when we assume that we know why they do what they do. For example, if someone is late you may assume they don’t value your time. You may not know they tried their hardest to be on time only to be foiled and frustrated again and again. You may have a child who has a different personality than you do. This child may be less goal oriented than you are. Different things motivate her than motivate you. Is it right to call her lazy or accuse her of not caring, if she has a more laid back personality? Is that judging?

Maybe someone else doesn’t post a response to a national or political crisis on Facebook. Do you assume you know the reason for silence is that they don’t care? Perhaps they are overwhelmed by social media and it gives them anxiety.

There is another way that we can be an evil judge. To say someone is hateful when they agree with God on an issue concerning sexual sin is to make an assumption that the person is motivated by hate and that God is motivated by hate. Instead of falling into the extreme trap of making assumptions about a person’s motivation or heart- give your thoughts and heart to the Lord. God judges the heart. We do not. 

The best thing we can do as believers is to leave judging hearts to the work of God. Sin? God has already judged what is sin. Our job is to agree with him. Whether we do or not will not change reality on judgement day. 

Finally, remember that our goal is to be uplifting and strengthening. We are to approach any teaching or correction of another person or from another person with humility, love, fear and trembling. If the Lord has helped you to remove a log from your own eye- perhaps he will give you clarity to help another. Give that person the same grace and mercy you loved when you were delivered from a spiritual blindness. Remember that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through himself. God’s approach to our sin was to humble himself and carry our burdens upon himself. Humble love is the only approach that is spiritual or helpful in helping someone to repent. 

Let’s not be like the teen that only does the part of his mother’s work that seems fun or pleasant. Let us remember our Father’s full counsel and not detract from it. Read the full Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7 to see how much Jesus calls out sin. Jesus’ calling out of evil judging is meant to stop the church from prideful and harsh double talk and lead them into a more self-assessing, reflective, humble and righteous work for the kingdom. 

Let us follow Jesus in his good work. 

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

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