(Delivered Sunday, March 13, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
Over the past few months, we have been studying our Lord's matchless Sermon on The Mount. There has never been a sermon preached on earth like this one, because there has never been a preacher on earth like Jesus. No one else knows us so thoroughly as Jesus does; and so, no other sermon is so searching as the one that He has preached. As one Bible teacher has said, this Sermon "finds us all somehow, somewhere. There is no possibility of escape; it searches us out in all our hiding-places and brings us out into the light of God."1 I have certainly found that to be the case; and I expect that you have too.
And this morning, we come to the very sobering passage. To be perfectly honest, I believe that it is the passage that has been misinterpreted, misquoted and misapplied more than almost any other in the Bible. You could say that it's the favorite passage of Scripture in all the Bible among the unbelieving people of this world. This is especially true in our day, when so many people wish to justify their own sin and insulate themselves from any accountability for their behavior. Such people love to quote this passage in order to protect themselves from criticism; although they terribly misuse it when they do so.
What passage am I referring to? Jesus said,
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why to you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck fro your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:1-5).
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Everyone has an opinion about these words. And a lot of confusion is created by the fact that people so often twist these words around to their own advantage. But you want to truly understand it in an objective way, I suggest a good way to do so is to first look at Jesus. If you know what Jesus is truly like, then you'll get a much better understanding of what He means by the words "Judge not, that you be not judged." He Himself modeled what He calls us to do in this verse.
The Bible tells us that, as the Son of God in human flesh, Jesus Christ is the Judge of all. He discriminates between right and wrong, good and evil. He is not "tolerant" of sin; but promises to judge it in an ultimate and final sense. Jesus said of Himself, ". . . The Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son . . ." (John 5:22); and that the Father "has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man" (v. 27). He was "ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42); and as Paul once preached to the people of Athens, God "now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead" (17:30-31).
This is a very sobering truth about the Lord Jesus. It's to be a great motivating factor in our lives as Christians, and is to be a great motivator in our work of preaching the gospel to others. As Paul has written, we are to make it our aim "to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men . . ." (2 Corinthians 5:9-11). No one else is qualified to be the judge of all the earth but Jesus. He came the first time to be the Savior, but He will come the second time as the Judge; and no one who rejected Him as Savior will be able to stand before Him as Judge! (Rev. 6:17).
This is absolutely true about Jesus; and if we say anything otherwise about Him, we are not believing in Jesus as He truly is. But please also notice something else about Jesus that is equally true. He is a Judge who is immeasurably merciful. The Bible shows us that, to those who cry out to Him and seek Him as Savior, no other judge was as as full of compassion, mercy, tenderness, grace and forgiveness as He is. He never turns away in judgment from anyone who genuinely turns to Him for mercy. He said, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out" (John 6:37). The Bible teaches us that, when it came to the most despised and forsaken people in this world - the kind of people that the rest of the world turned its nose up to and condemned to judgment - Jesus showed Himself to be the greatest Friend.
Jesus once quoted something that His enemies said about Him: that He was "a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 11:19). I love that about Him, don't you? His enemies meant it as an insult; but could sinners like you or me ever hear a sweeter name for the Judge of all the earth than that He is "the Friend of sinners"? Christ Jesus is certainly the Judge; and woe to those who experience this Judge's wrath! But praise God - there is now "no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1)! This greatest of all judges is also our greatest Friend!
I don't think you could find a greater affirmation of just what a wonderful Judge Jesus is than we find in Romans 5. There, we read,
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Rom. 5:6-10).
When we think of Jesus, we must never forget that He is truly the Judge of all the earth. We must never ignore the testimony of the Scriptures - that there is a day of Judgment coming; and that this Judge truly will judge the earth in an ultimate and final way. But we also must remember that we - who most deserve His judgment, but have cried out to Him for mercy - have found Him to be loving toward us, and accepting, and pardoning, and gracious, and merciful, and the greatest Savior and greatest Friend we could ever have!
As I said, you cannot understand what Jesus is teaching us in the words of this morning's passage, if you don't first understand how He exemplifies for us what He commands in it. And that brings us to how His words in our passage this morning impact us personally. When we think about Jesus as "Judge" in these terms - when we see Him as He truly is - then we realize how wrong it would be for us to ignore sin and merely "tolerate" it. But we also see that it would be utterly wrong for us to go to the other extreme and become "judgmental" toward others in the process!
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Let's look at these words from our Savior a little more closely. And let's begin first, by considering . . .
1. THE COMMAND AGAINST JUDGING OTHERS (v. 1a).
Jesus says, "Judge not . . ." Those two words give us the crux of the matter. They constitute a command from Him who is the authoritative Judge of all the earth. If we don't understand what He means by these two words, we wont understand anything else in the rest of this passage. And yet, I suppose that they are the two words that people are most inclined to misunderstand of all the things that our Savior has ever spoken.
The verb that's translated "judge" (krinő) is one that basically means "to separate", or "to make a distinction" between things. In our day, the word "discriminate" has a negative connotation - often justly so. But it's certainly not wrong to "discern" the distinctions between one thing and another. In a very basic sense, we "discriminate" between things every day. We couldn't make sense of life if we didn't. And the broad idea of "discriminating" between things is the basic meaning of this word. Figuratively, it refers to the act of evaluating something in terms of its rightness or wrongness, and then making a judgment-call on the basis of that evaluation.
Now, many people insist that this verse is forbidding us from making any judgment-calls of any kind when it comes to morality. For example, they say that no one has the authority to confront wrong behavior. We're never to consider anything to be a sin, they say. And whenever such a judgment-call is made in actual practice, that's when this verse is usually brought into service - inappropriately, I again say. If someone is confronted with immoral behavior, they often seek to excuse themselves from criticism by saying, "Judge not, that you be not judged!"
I have often wondered what would happen if such people were to say those words the next time they're pulled over for speeding. What if the traffic cop pulled them over, rapped on their window, and told them, "Do you realize, sir, that the posted speed limit is 35 miles-per-hour, and that I clocked you in at 50?" Can you imagine if that person stuck their head out the window and said, "Judge not, that you be not judged"? I would hope that the traffic cop would have the composure to say, "Sir, I'm not judging you. The judgment has already been made by an authority higher than either you or me; and I'm simply charged with the responsibility of making sure that it's enforced!"
As believers, it's not our duty to create the standards for right and wrong. That's already been done by our Father who is the Lawgiver. But it IS our duty to evaluate the rightness or wrongness of things on the basis of God's word, and to call sin "sin" when the Bible does so. In that case, we're not "judging"; but are simply pointing to a judgment that has already been made by One who is qualified to make it. The Bible commands us, saying, "Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil" (2 Thess. 5:21-22). It says, ". . . Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them" (Eph. 5:11). It says, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). Clearly, then, Jesus' words shouldn't be taken to mean that we are forbidden from judging things on the basis of God's word, and calling sin "sin", or falsehood "falsehood".
Even the context of Jesus' words show us that they can't be made out to mean that we must never evaluate other people's conduct. Look at verse six for example. Jesus said, "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine . . ." How could we obey Jesus' command in verse six, if His command in verse one meant that we may never evaluate people? Otherwise, how would we be able to recognize the "dogs" or "hogs" of the world?
And then, look at verses 15-20. How could we obey what Jesus says there, if we cannot evaluate other people's actions? Jesus said,
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does no bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them (vv. 15-20).
In these words, Jesus tells us to beware of false prophets. This is an authoritative command; and we don't have any right to say this is less of a command from Jesus than the command in verse one. And yet, how could we obey what Jesus commands in these verses if we take verse one to mean that we may never make judgment-calls about whether or not a self-professing prophet's "fruits" - that is, his or her works - proves them to be false prophets? If we may not "evaluate" and "discriminate", how then can we "beware"?
Let me remind you of a very serious duty that the church is to perform; that of officially disciplining sin - biblically defined - in the lives of its members. In obedience to Jesus' words in Matthew 18, the clear and grievous sin in a professing believer's life is to be confronted privately; and if they refuse to turn from it, two others are to be brought in to confront it. And if they still will not turn from it at the appeal of those two others, the leaders of the church are to be called upon and the church family as a whole is to confront it. If they still will not turn from it as it is confronted by the church family, then a very serious "judgment-call" is to be made. They must be considered to be outside of the grace of God and put out of the church; and all in the hopes that they will come to Christ in repentance and one day be restored to fellowship. This process of "church discipline" is a command from our Savior, and is to be a part of what we are to do as His church. I have to tell you in all sadness that many churches today simply refuse to do their duty in this area; and they base their refusal on the words, "Judge not, that you be not judged." And yet, I believe they misunderstand those words.
The duty of church discipline is a sacred command from the Lord of the church! But how could we ever perform that very important duty given to us by our Lord, if our Lord meant for us to never "judge" people in any respect - that is, if we are not allowed to "evaluate" and "discriminate" people's behavior on the basis of God's word? If such were the case, Jesus would be telling us to do one thing in one passage, and then making it impossible for us to do it in another! Would the Lord so contradict Himself?
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I believe that the verse that follows these words teaches us what is being forbidden in the phrase "Judge not". Look at verse 2; "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." Jesus doesn't speak here of a judgment based on God's standards revealed in His word. He speaks of a judgment made on the bases of a standard that we come up with on our own - that is, "with what judgment YOU judge", or of a measuring being made "with the measure YOU use".
Clearly, the criteria for judgment that's being used is not something from God, but something we create. Jesus is speaking of those cases in which we develop our own standard of judgment; and then evaluate someone, or discriminate against someone, or condemn someone on the basis of standards of our own making.
A word that comes to mind is "judgmentalism". Any sensible person knows that there's a difference between exercising good judgment, and acting 'judgmentally'. And what Jesus is forbidding in this command is a spirit of judgmentalism. The Bible gives some very clear examples of what this sinful "judgmentalism" would look like. The apostle James, for example, wrote;
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4).
Jesus' command means that we are to "judge not" in the sense that we are not to show partiality to people based on external things. Jesus has told us elsewhere, "Do not judge according to appearances, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
Something else that James wrote teaches us about what it means to "judge not". Unfortunately, it speaks of one of our favorite pastimes. James says:
Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges a brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (James 4:11-12).
I saw a button once that said, "If you can't say something nice about someone . . . then sit next to me so I can hear you better." We're all guilty of this sort of judgmentalism at times, aren't we? Jesus' command is a call to stop gossiping about one another, or slandering one another. We're not to hold someone's faults up to others for review and critique and evaluate one another accordingly.
Now obviously, the command against "speaking evil of one another" doesn't mean that we must never call evil behavior "evil". If sin in our midst is confronted in the way that Jesus commands in Matthew 18, and a public declaration of unrepentance is officially determined, then we need to call things as they truly are. This is not the same thing as "speaking evil" of someone. We should say no more about it than what the facts clearly prove; but we should still nevertheless speak the truth about it. But when we "speak evil" of someone in a judgmental way, we're doing something completely different from that. What we're actually doing in that case is setting up a standard that is different from that which God has established. We're not speaking of things as they truly are in God's sight, but as we would like them to be understood from the standpoint of our own prejudices. We're in effect saying that God's judgments are not "thorough enough" for our tastes; and we dare to become judges of the Lawgiver! James says, "Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:9).
The apostle Paul points out another sense in which we are to "judge not". It's in the area of what I like to call "grey areas" - those things that the Bible doesn't speak to clearly, but about which we may have disagreements among ourselves in the body of Christ. In Paul's day, one of the issues about which Christians had sincere disagreements was that of eating meat that had been forbidden to the Jews in the Old Testament times. Were these foods now "clean" to eat in Christ? Some sincere believers felt that it was still wrong; and so from a standpoint of a 'weaker' faith, they were afraid to eat. But other equally sincere believers felt strong and confident in their liberties in Christ; and as a result, they felt the freedom to eat anything they wanted. Paul wrote;
Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. . . . Therefore let us not judge one another anymore . . ." (Rom. 14:1-4, 13a).
So, let's be very clear about all this. Jesus is not forbidding us from exercising legitimate judgment in the sense that we rightly evaluate things on the basis of the judgments God has already given in His word. We're not commanded to suspend all discernment of things. As someone has said, Jesus says, "Judge not"; but He doesn't say, "Think not"! Instead, what Jesus is forbidding us from doing is the act of setting up our own criteria by which we judge one another, and then condemning one another on the basis of our own criteria.
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Now, look next at . . .
2. THE WARNING BEHIND THIS COMMAND (v. 1b-2).
Jesus tells us, "Judge not"; and the reason He gives is "that you be not judged." When we judge one another in the way that Jesus forbids us from judging, we actually put ourselves in danger of being judged ourselves.
There are sincere differences in the ways this has been interpreted. For example, some have taken this to mean that if we judge others on the basis of our own improper standards, we place ourselves in the position of being judged by others in the same way. I believe that's a perfectly legitimate interpretation. After all, look at what Jesus says in verse 12; "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
Whenever someone is prejudiced against someone, or they evaluate others unfairly, or go around criticizing others, they really don't have any right to complain when it happens to them. Paul has said elsewhere, "For the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!" (Gal. 5:14-15).
But I believe Jesus meant more than to say "Judge not, so that you will not be judged by other people." I believe He surely meant at least that; but I believe He meant much more than that. I think of what Jesus has already said in His sermon, in 5:21-22:
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry withhis brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to hisbrother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall bein danger of hell fire" (Matthew 5:21-22).
Jesus warns, "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." Clearly, this isn't speaking of just receiving the same treatment from other people that we dished out to them. It's talking about a judgment before God. It's teaching us that we will receive from God what we have dished out to others. In James 2:12-13, James said,
So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:12-13).
Now, some have protested that this can't be a reference to a judgment from God. After all, as those who have placed our trust in Jesus, we are delivered from the curse of our sins. We, as the Bible tells us, "shall not come into judgment", but have "passed from death into life" (John 5:24). And that's very true. We do not need to fear that we will face the 'ultimate' judgment that will be experienced by those who reject the Savior. That's only by God's grace; and how we should praise Him for it!
But still, the fact is that the Bible does talk about a time of "judgement" for the believer. It's a judgment for our sinful deeds as believers in the sense that we experience the displeasure of our Father, and that we may suffer the loss of some of the eternal blessings and rewards that He wishes to give us. The apostle Paul writes about building carefully on the foundation of faith in Christ with a life characterized by good works. The foundation is faith in Christ, and no other! But still, it's our responsibility to build wisely and carefully on that foundation. And so, he tells us,
Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor. 3:12-15).
The fact that we, as children of God, may be disciplined by our good Father for being judgmental should keep us far away from harboring a judgmental spirit, and from condemning others in a sinful way.
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So there you have the command from our Savior: Judge not! And you have the warning behind this command: Judge not, that you be not judged. And now, let's look at . . .
3. THE SIN THAT STANDS BEHIND THIS WARNING (vv. 3-5a).
I'd like to ask you to jump ahead a little, and you'll see the sin that's the cause of it all. At the very beginning of verse five, He calls those who judge others unrighteously "Hypocrites!" There it is, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. In the end, that's the reason why we set up standards of judgment of our own creation, and then evaluate one another, and criticize one another, and condemn one another on the basis of those standards. It's because we want to make ourselves look better than we really are. We want to appear to be something that we're not. We're behaving as hypocrites! Only the Lord Jesus, who knows us so thoroughly, could put the finger on the real problem so clearly!
Look at how this hypocrisy in us manifests itself. Jesus says, "And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank that is in your own eye?" (v. 3). It's a ridiculous picture isn't it? Imagine someone trying to help someone with a speck of sawdust in their eye, while they have a 2x4 sticking out of their own! And the sad thing is that they don't even "consider" the 2x4! Someone who is presuming to judge someone else may feel that they are qualified to help them. But the fact is that, whatever fault they are seeking to help their brother with is minor compared to their own ignorance of their greater sin of judgmentalism! The great preacher Thomas Scott once wrote, ". . . In spiritual optics, a beam in the eye generally renders a man quick sighted in discerning other men's faults, and blind only to his own." What hypocrisy!!
What's more, we really can't even provide the help that we think we can provide. Jesus says, "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye?" (v. 4). Such a person can't even reach up close to pick out the speck from their brother's eye! The plank sticking out of their own eye stands in the way!
Now, we shouldn't misunderstand this, or take it to mean that we should never help a brother or sister who is struggling with a problem of sin in their lives. But we should first present ourselves to God for His examination, and ask Him to reveal the truth to ourselves. We need to ask Him to help us see where we may have a larger problem of sin in our lives that prevents us from being any real help to anyone.
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So far then, we've seen a command to be obeyed: Judge not. And we've seen the warning that stands behind this command: that we be not judged ourselves. And then, we've seen the sin that really stands behind this warning: hypocrisy. And that brings us, finally, to . . .
4. THE CURE FOR THIS SIN (v. 5b).
What a wonderful Savior! He doesn't leave us hanging as far as what to do, does He? He may not tell us what we want to hear. He may not give us cheap and easy solutions to the deep problems of our lives that make them easier to live with. But He does tell us what to do; and will help us if we will do it. He calls sin "sin"; and calls us to get it out of our lives.
Jesus tells us, "First" - that is, as a matter to be taken care of before anything else is done - "remove the plank from your own eye . . ." I take this, in this context, to mean that we are to remove from ourselves the obscuring and cumbersome "plank" of the kind of judgmentalism that springs from hypocrisy. Before we can go a step further, it must be taken from us. "And then," Jesus goes on to say, "you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot help one another so long as we are blinded by our own delusions about ourselves. So long as we look down our noses at others in the body of Christ, and think that we are better than them, or smarter than them, or more valuable than then, or more holy than them, we cannot serve them in the way that we think we can. Jesus treats the removal a judgmental spirit from our own lives as a higher priority than the our work to remove the sins of others. And if we fail to consider it, or choose to ignore it, we are behaving as hypocrites.
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In closing, may I suggest how we must deal with this? First, I believe we need to ask God to reveal the truth to us. We need to ask Him to show us if we are harboring a judgmental spirit toward others. We can be sure that, if we ask, He will show us the truth about this sin in our lives. And when He does, we must confess it.
But second, I believe we need to ask Him to fill the void in our lives. The hypocrisy and the judgmental spirit must be replaced by something else. We must ask Him to replace these things by granting us His own love for those that we may have looked down upon. If we love ourselves more than we love our brother, then we'll use our brother's faults and failures and sins to make ourselves look good - which, of course, is hypocrisy. But if we truly love them as He loves them, we will look past their faults and failings, and see what God sees in them. And when that happens, then we're finally in the position to be His servants to them.
1D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in The Sermon on The Mount (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), Vol. 2, p. 160.
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