What does Jesus mean by ‘Judge not’?
I am clear on the first part of this in the Jesus Manifesto. I’ve written on it. We’ve all heard sermons on it. If you’re like me, someone may have even quoted it to you to tell you not to judge them when you were being critical of someone.
My first obligation is to “fix” myself. I have to see my own issues with missing God’s goal for my life (aka sin). I have to radically change my way of thinking (aka repent) and do something about it. I need to get right with Jesus.
Okay, then. What about the last sentence?
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. 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. ~Jesus | Matthew 7:1-5
Should we just mind our own business?
Some people suppose that in the parable of the foreign bodies Jesus was forbidding us to act as moral or spiritual oculists and meddle with other people’s eyes and telling us instead to mind our own business. This is not so.
The fact that censoriousness and hypocrisy are forbidden us does not relieve us of brotherly responsibility towards one another. The opposite is true. Jesus wants us to love and help. Ignoring something isn’t useful. Jesus doesn’t want us to be turtles and pull our heads into our shell.
On the contrary, Jesus was later to teach that if our brother sins against us, our first duty (though usually neglected) is ‘go and tell him his fault between you and him alone’. The same obligation is laid upon us here. To be sure, in certain circumstances we are forbidden to interfere, namely when there is an even bigger foreign body in our own eye which we have not removed.
Jesus commands us to reprove and correct our brother.
Once we have dealt with our own eye trouble, then we shall see clearly to deal with his. A bit of dirt in his eye is, after all, rightly called a ‘foreign’ body. It doesn’t belong there. It is always alien, usually painful and sometimes dangerous. To leave it there, and make no attempt to remove it, would hardly be consistent with brotherly love.
Our duty, then, is not to see the speck in our brother’s eye while at the same time we do not notice the log in our own; still less to say to our brother ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ while we have not yet taken the log from our own; but rather this:
- First to take the log out of our own eye, so that then with the resulting clarity of vision we shall be able to take the speck out of our brother’s eye.
- It is evident that Jesus is not condemning criticism as such, but rather the criticism of others when we exercise no comparable self-criticism.
- Nor is Jesus condemning correction as such, but rather the correction of others when we have not first corrected ourselves.
The standard of Jesus for relationships in the discipleship counter-culture is high and healthy. In all our attitudes and behavior towards others we are to play neither the judge (becoming harsh, censorious and condemning), nor the hypocrite (blaming others while excusing ourselves).
We are the brother, caring for others so much that we first blame and correct ourselves and then seek to be constructive in the help we give them.
‘Correct him,’ said Chrysostom, alluding to someone who has sinned, ‘but not as a foe, nor as an adversary exacting a penalty, but as a physician providing medicines.’
Yes, and — even more — as a loving brother anxious to rescue and to restore. We need to be as critical of ourselves as we often are of others, and as generous to others as we always are to ourselves. Then we shall anticipate the Golden Rule to which Jesus brings us in verse 12 and act towards others as we would like them to act towards us.
Can we dig deeper?
Let’s look at our Master’s illustration of this point. Jesus chose the symbol of the eye because this is one of the most sensitive areas of the human body. The picture of a man with a two-by-four stuck in his eye, trying to remove a speck of dust from another man’s eye, is ridiculous indeed! If we do not honestly face up to our own sins, and confess them, we blind ourselves to ourselves; and then we cannot see clearly enough to help others. The Pharisees saw the sins of other people, but they would not look at their own sins.
Jesus used the illustration of the eye to teach us how to have a spiritual outlook on life. We must not pass judgment on others’ motives. We should examine their actions and attitudes, but we cannot judge their motives — for only God can see their hearts. It is possible for a person to do a good work with a bad motive. It is also possible to fail in a task and yet be very sincerely motivated. When we stand before the Messiah at the Judgment Seat, He will examine the secrets of the heart and reward us accordingly.
The image of the eye teaches us another truth: We must exercise love and tenderness when we seek to help others. If you’ve had extensive eye examinations, and had surgery to an imbedded object then you can appreciate the tenderness of the physicians. Like eye doctors, we should minister to people we want to help with tender loving care. We can do more damage than a speck of dirt in the eye if we approach others with impatience and insensitivity.
Two extremes must be avoided in this matter of spiritual self-examination. The first is the deception of a shallow examination. Sometimes we are so sure of ourselves that we fail to examine our hearts honestly and thoroughly. A quick glance into the mirror of the Word will never reveal the true situation (James 1:22–25).
The second extreme is a “perpetual autopsy.” Sometimes we get so wrapped up in self-examination that we become unbalanced. But we should not look only at ourselves, or we will become discouraged and defeated. We should look by faith to Jesus the Messiah and let Him forgive and restore us. Satan is the accuser (Rev. 12:10), and he enjoys it when we accuse and condemn ourselves!
After we have judged ourselves honestly before God, and have removed those things that blind us, then we can help others and properly judge their works. But if we know there are sins in our lives, and we try to help others, we are hypocrites. In fact, it is possible for ministry to be a device to cover up sin! The Pharisees were guilty of this, and Jesus denounced them for it.
What are the other scriptures on this?
- Mark 4:24 And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure, it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides.
- Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”
- Romans 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, every one of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
- Luke 6:42 “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
It’s Greek to me!
The Greek word for judge is κρίνω krinō, kree´-no; to distinguish, i.e. decide (mentally or judicially); by implication to try, condemn, punish: — avenge, conclude, condemn, damn, decree, determine, esteem, judge, go to (sue at the) law, ordain, call in question, sentence to, think.
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