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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Jesus continues His Manifesto (aka The Sermon on the Mount). Jesus is getting close to wrapping it up. Jesus doesn’t let up. There are some big deal things left to say. Jesus is going to say them. We need to hear them and obey them. This is crucial as we live out our faith at work. As we profess that Jesus is our master, our co-workers will look to see our actions. Are they aligned with what Jesus commands?
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ | Matthew 7:21-23
Many evangelistic churches make a big deal about the “profession of faith” and it is not to be diminished. That is only the beginning. When all we hear, Sunday after Sunday, is about the profession, we may need to find a new church to spend time in. Perhaps we are not learning as disciples should.
Jesus is beginning to wrap up his Manifesto (aka the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7). Jesus now lays out for us the summary of all summaries. Jesus says “this is the Law and the Prophets”. Jesus gives it to us at the highest level. This is what is known as the “30,000 foot view”. It is also traditionally known as the “Golden Rule”.
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” ~ JesusSource: Matthew 7:12-14 (ESV)
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!Source: Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV)
Jesus continues the lessons from His Manifest (Matthew 5-7)
God, my heavenly Father, is more than ready. God is not a grumpy old man who doesn’t care. God is our example of what love is all about. If it is in my best interests, God will do it.
God is in a good mood. God is like our parents. God wants the best for us. I’ve always given my kids what I could. You are the same way. This rings true and we know what it means.
This Jesus saying is a part of what I call the Jesus Manifesto (Matthew 5 – 7) aka the Sermon on the Mount. It eats at the religious life myth of leading a good life.
Jesus warns us that it won’t be easy. Jesus is pulling no punches here. It will be hard.
For example, it may be easy to not commit adultery. It will be hard not to lust. Few are actually going to find God. Most Christians won’t.
I didn’t know how tough it would be. May I be one of the few. May you be one of the few.
Jesus can be very straightforward and direct.
His suggestion on criticizing and judging others is to not do it if we have the same problem ourselves. Period. End of story. No other advice. In other places He elaborates why but the reason here is pretty compelling.
The issue, however, is not about judging but about hypocrisy. How can we judge if we have the same challenge in our lives? Jesus is clear, we can’t.
We need to focus on our own issues and heart, not others.
Judge not, that you be not judged. —Matthew 7:1
Jesus’ instructions with regard to judging others is very simply put; He says, “Don’t.” The average Christian is the most piercingly critical individual known. Criticism is one of the ordinary activities of people, but in the spiritual realm nothing is accomplished by it. The effect of criticism is the dividing up of the strengths of the one being criticized. The Holy Spirit is the only one in the proper position to criticize, and He alone is able to show what is wrong without hurting and wounding.
It is impossible to enter into fellowship with God when you are in a critical mood.Criticism serves to make you harsh, vindictive, and cruel, and leaves you with the soothing and flattering idea that you are somehow superior to others.Jesus says that as His disciple you should cultivate a temperament that is never critical.
This will not happen quickly but must be developed over a span of time. You must constantly beware of anything that causes you to think of yourself as a superior person.There is no escaping the penetrating search of my life by Jesus. If I see the little speck in your eye, it means that I have a plank of timber in my own (see Matthew 7:3-5).
Every wrong thing that I see in you, God finds in me. Every time I judge, I condemn myself (see Romans 2:17-24). Stop having a measuring stick for other people. There is always at least one more fact, which we know nothing about, in every person’s situation.
The first thing God does is to give us a thorough spiritual cleaning. After that, there is no possibility of pride remaining in us. I have never met a person I could despair of, or lose all hope for, after discerning what lies in me apart from the grace of God.
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