We all know that Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 7:1–2). However, this is a teaching of Jesus that is widely misunderstood. A common statement we often hear is, “Don’t judge me.” What’s interesting is that this response is the opposite application of Jesus’s lesson. Jesus is not telling others not to judge us; he’s telling us not to judge others. What others do is not our primary concern; what we do is our primary concern. Our biggest problem is not how others judge us, but how we judge others. Actually, when Jesus says, “Judge not,” he’s not really issuing a prohibition on judging others; he’s issuing a serious warning to take great care how we judge others. The Greek literally says “Condemn not and you will not be condemned.” Jesus goes on to say, “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? 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.” (Matthew 7:3–5) “How we judge others says far more about us than how we are judged by others.”
It’s not wrong to lovingly help our brothers or sister remove a harmful speck from their eye. It’s wrong to self-righteously point out a speck in our brothers or sister eye when we ignore, as no big deal, the ridiculous log coming from our own. So, Jesus is placing a neon-red-blinking sign over others that tells us, “Caution: judge at your own risk but never condemn.” It is meant to give us serious pause and examine ourselves before saying anything. Our fallen nature is usually selfish, proud, and often hypocritical, judging ourselves and others severely. We are quick to strain gnats and swallow camels (Matthew 23:24), quick to take tweezers to another’s eye when we need a forklift for our own. It is better to “condemn not” than to judge like this, since we will be judged in the same way we judge others.
Jesus takes how we judge very seriously. He is the righteous judge (2 Timothy 4:8), who is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He does not judge by appearances, but judges with the right judgment (John 7:24). Every judgment he gives issues from His loving nature (1 John 4:8). Therefore, when we judge, and Scripture instructs Christians to judge at times (1 Corinthians 5:12), we must be cautious that our judgment, like Christ’s, is always graceful. The first way to be cautious of how we judge is to be slow to decide guilt when evidence is weak or hearsay or unclear. This runs counter not only to fallen human nature, but also our media-saturated culture that encourages hair-trigger judgments. We are wise to practice something in our judicial system. In the United States, when a person is accused of a legal transgression, but the evidence against him is inconclusive, our laws demand we presume his innocence until sufficient evidence can demonstrate his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Such a decision is typically not quick or easy.
Circumstantial evidence is not placed before a “reasonable” judge who then renders a verdict based merely on his judicial common sense interpretation. Millennia of human history have taught us that appearances can be deceiving and “reasonable” people have conscious and unconscious biases that shape how they interpret evidence. “We are quick to take tweezers to someone else’s eye while we need a forklift for our own.”
Now if we’re personally involved in such a situation, our goal in confronting someone caught in sin or, if necessary, initiating a process of church discipline, is to restore our brother or sister (Matthew 18:15). Our goal is not inflictive, but redemptive. We must vigilantly remain “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave [us]” (Ephesians 4:32). Even if the guilty person is unrepentant and fellowship must be severed, the purpose remains redemptive for the offender (1 Corinthians 5:5) and for the church (1 Corinthians 5:6). If we’re not personally involved or are distant observers, we can still aim for the person’s restoration by, if possible, not saying anything! A wise rule of thumb: the greater our distance, the greater our ignorance. And ignorant commentary about a person or situation is never helpful and is usually nothing more than gossip or slander, which Jesus calls evil (Matthew 15:19). The truth is how we judge others says far more about us than how we are judged by others. This is why God will judge us in the manner we judge others, not in the manner they judge us. Therefore, we must judge with right judgment (John 7:24). And right judgment is quick to believe innocence, slow to pronounce guilt, redemptive when it must be, and silent if at all possible. And when in doubt, “don’t judge at all!” This Sunday at South Side we will continue our series entitled “The Teachings of Jesus.” This Sunday we will unpack core principles about “Judging Others.” Elevate, which is our worship time begins at 10:45. We would love to see you and your family this Sunday! We have classes for all ages, and you can enjoy some coffee with us before worship at our new “Café Connect.”
Barry Pettit is lead minister at South Side Church of Christ in Washington Court House.