Didn’t Jesus Say Not to Judge?
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Hard Questions: Didn’t Jesus Say Not to Judge?
Understanding what Jesus Christ taught about judging is important if you want to be an authentic Christian.
[Gary Petty] It is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. It comes up in conversations which usually go something like this.
“Don’t judge me! Jesus said not to judge. I love my boyfriend and moving in together has made me happy. Jesus said to love. Love is what is important.”
“I know I’ve been drinking too much, but who are you to judge me? You don’t know what I’ve been through. If you were really a Christian you would obey Jesus and not judge.”
What does it mean when according to the Bible Jesus said, “Do not judge” in one place and in another place said, “…judge with righteous judgment?”
It’s one of the Hard Questions: Didn’t Jesus Say Not to Judge?
It’s an accusation you hear all the time. “Jesus said not to judge so why are you judging me?” Even Christians will sometimes defend themselves with the same argument when another Christian points out a fault or sin.
How do you answer when someone says to you that Jesus said not to judge when you say that abortion or sex out of marriage is wrong?
Jesus did teach “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). But, He also told His disciples to “…judge with righteous judgment…” (John 7:24).
Is Jesus contradicting Himself? Is Jesus teaching that none of us can ever say that someone else’s actions are against God’s instructions?
Understanding what Jesus actually taught about judging is very important if you want to be an authentic Christian.
Let’s find the answer by reading what Jesus actually said in Matthew chapter 7.
It’s in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount and here’s what 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” (Matthew 7:1-2).
So let’s think about this for just a moment. Is Jesus saying that there are no absolute truths, no absolute definitions of right and wrong, no absolute line between good and evil? Did Jesus teach that each of us must determine for ourselves what is good and evil?
If Jesus is actually teaching that there are no absolutes then no true follower of Jesus could judge stealing, rape or even murder as wrong. If this is what Jesus is saying then He isn’t much different than Friedrich Nietzsche or other atheist philosophers. And Nietzsche’s teachings were used to support Nazism.
When we take an honest look at what Jesus said about “Judge not…” we see that this statement isn’t all that He said. The next statement is, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” He wants us to understand that how we judge others is how God will judge us.
How do you want God to judge you? With mercy? Kindness? Forgiveness? God wants us to apply those same principles when we deal with others. But does that mean that we are not to judge anything as right or wrong, or good or evil?
Jesus actually explains His meaning with an illustration. Here’s what he said.
“And why do 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 from your brother's eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).
In this illustration the speck in the brother’s eye is real. The mistake or sin of the brother is not an opinion, but it’s reality. The point of the illustration is that before you point out somebody else’s fault you need to humbly, before God’s standards, look at yourself. Jesus use of a plank is hilarious. Can you imagine a person with a two-by-four sticking out of his eye knocking people down, breaking things every time he turns his head while trying to help get a speck of dust out of someone else’s eye?
The speck and the plank both represent standards of right and wrong. Now here’s the important question. Who determines those standards?
The teachings of Jesus in Matthew 7, what we just read, are part of what is called the Sermon on the Mount which is recorded in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. It is important to read Jesus’ statement of “Judge not” in context of the whole sermon, the rest of His sermon.
Let’s look at some of the comments Christ made just a little bit before His statement about judging: "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
Jesus clearly teaches that God has absolute standards of right and wrong. The command against adultery is one of the Ten Commandments. Jesus says that God’s standards even go beyond the Ten Commandments. Standards of right and wrong, good and evil aren’t just actions but are rooted in thoughts, emotions and motivations.
And then notice what He says next: "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 [this is Jesus] that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Raca means to consider a person as totally worthless. Jesus judges adultery and lust as sins before God. He judges murder as sin before God. He judges hatred as sin before God. He also judges that we, you and I, can’t determine if a person is worthless before God.
So this begins to help us understand Jesus’ statement, "Judge not, that you be not judged” and His statement in the Gospel of John to “judge with righteous judgment.” Followers of Jesus are to learn God’s standards of right and wrong and judge those actions and motivations first in our own lives and then in the lives of others. At the same time, Christians do not have the right to determine someone else’s eternal judgment. That judgment is reserved for Jesus Christ.
Jesus continues in the Sermon on the Mount, so listen to this. “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).
What? Jesus is warning people about His judgment and condemnation? Yes.
Now he literally doesn’t want us to be putting out eyes and cutting off hands. This would mean that all Christians would end up being blind and crippled beggars. His point is that if we really love goodness like God loves goodness and hate evil like God hates evil then we will strive to remove wrong actions and motivations from our lives. He expects His followers to not just judge adultery as wrong but lust as wrong. Not just murder but hatred.
In this passage the Greek word for hell is Gehenna. Gehenna was the name of a ravine south of Jerusalem also called the Valley of Hinnom. During the time when Judah was an independent kingdom the Valley of Hinnom was the sight of a cult involving child sacrifice. Gehenna became associated with God’s judgment when the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed that God would punish Judah for this unspeakable horror and turn the Valley of Hinnom into the “Valley of Slaughter.”
During the days of Jesus the Valley of Hinnom was an ever-burning garbage dump, a smoldering depository for Jerusalem’s refuse and dead animals. On numerous occasions Jesus used Gehenna as symbol for God’s judgment on the wicked.
Jesus painted a graphic word picture when he used this smoking, stinking trash heap as an object lesson of God’s punishment on those who are evil.
And yet somehow many people take Jesus’ statement to “judge not” to conclude that Jesus doesn’t judge anyone. Here in the same sermon Jesus warns us about the coming judgment of God. And what are the standards of that judgment? According to Jesus the standard are God’s Commandments and Christ’s interpretation of those commandments as they apply to the human heart.
Now let’s say that again. Please listen to this. God judges us based on His commandments and Christ’s interpretation of those commandments as they apply to the human heart.
At the end of His sermon Jesus gives a prophecy about His Second Coming. Here’s what He said. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, [this is what Jesus said, Jesus said I will say, He will say] 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” (Matthew 7:21-23).
There is no stronger statement about judgment in the entire Bible. People who purposely disobey God’s commandments without remorse or conscience will be judged unworthy by Jesus Himself.
When we put together all of the various teachings of the Sermon on the Mount we get a much clearer picture of what Jesus is teaching about judging. In Matthew 5 through 7 He defines judging with three broad principles.
First, we are not to make judgments about the actions of others based on our own standards of right and wrong but on God’s standards of right and wrong.
Secondly, we can’t declare another person as worthless to God.
The third principle is found in Jesus’ illustration about the speck and the plank. He concludes: “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye” (Matthew 7:5).
Notice Jesus used the word “hypocrite.” Hypocrisy means “acting a part.” It means to pretend to be someone you aren’t in order to gain something from another person like money or status.
The Greek word translated “hypocrite” in the New Testament was used to denote a stage actor. It was a custom for Greek and Roman actors to speak on stage while wearing very large masks.
Jesus said that if we judge others without first judging ourselves we are hypocrites. We are wearing a Christian mask while actually not acting in a Christian way.
Does this mean if a Christians makes a mistake or sins that person is automatically a hypocrite? This is what some people say. Don’t judge me, you’re just being a hypocrite.
No. Not if the Christian acknowledges their sin and repents before God. A hypocrite is someone who is acting out a part without any real conviction. A hypocrite is a fake. It is the opposite of being authentic or real. Authentic Christians know that they are not perfect. They are actually aware of their need for God’s mercy and love. They also love good and hate evil especially when they have to face the evil within themselves.
Remember, Jesus said that in His day of judgment people will say things like, “Lord, look at all the things I did in your name. I worked at the church soup kitchen and we told people about how you loved them and accepted them just the way they are and we sang hymns…” But Jesus is going to look at their unchanged lives filled with a disdain for God’s commandments and will say, “'I never knew you.”
This is why Jesus taught that before we deal with someone else’s sin we need to first examine our own lives and then deal with the other person’s problem.
Jesus told a parable about this very subject. In this parable a Pharisee, a member of a Jewish religious group that was very strict, he enters the Jewish temple to worship God. Another Jewish man, a tax collector, also goes into the temple. A tax collector wasn’t someone who collected taxes for the Jewish Sanhedrin. He was one of the most despised members of Jewish society because he worked for the occupying Roman government. He collected taxes for the enemy.
Here’s how the Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12)
You know what the Pharisee is saying is probably true. He didn’t cheat people out of money or commit adultery. He was very religious and by all appearances a good man. But he was missing something in his judgment.
The tax collector wouldn’t even look upward but bowed his head and prayed, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Jesus said that the tax collector was justified or accepted by God. He then gives the lesson to this parable, “...for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
The Pharisee needed to judge himself in relationship to the Almighty, Righteous and Perfect God. When we compare ourselves to God and not each other, we find out how much we need God’s mercy and love. Something the tax collector in this parable understood.
Remember at the same time the tax collector didn’t see God’s mercy as a free pass to sin. He asked God to give him mercy and forgiveness.
So in this context let’s go back to the example I gave earlier.
“Don’t judge me! Jesus said not to judge. I love my boyfriend and moving in together has made me happy. Jesus said to love. Love is what is important.”
Don’t be intimidated by these kinds of arguments. A statement like this shows an ignorance of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. God loves us. Christ loves us. But how does love support the actions God says are evil?
Remember what Jesus said towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” (Matthew 7:21-23).
This is the most horrible future a Christian could face! Imagine standing before Jesus Christ touting all of your religious accomplishments and having Him say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
In a moment we’ll be joined by the Beyond Today panel to further discuss this subject. So let’s review the clear teachings we learned about Jesus’ statement “Judge not” when we read it in the entire context of the Sermon on the Mount.
1. Jesus taught God has definite standards of right and wrong and He expects us to live by those standards.
2. God judges us by those standards. Jesus said that He will reject those people who say that they follow Him but practice lawlessness.
3. Christians are to examine their own lives to see if they are living up to God’s standards. We are to remove those “planks” from our eyes.
4. When we are honestly dealing with our own faults and sins then we can help others deal with their faults and sins or “specks” in their eyes.
5. Christians must be ever mindful of our absolute need for God’s grace, mercy and love.
Joining me are fellow Beyond Today hosts, Darris McNeely and Steve Myers. Welcome, guys.
Today we’re talking about Jesus’ teaching, “Judge not lest ye be judged” and what that means.
So let me ask you, how do you respond, you’re pastors you’ve dealt with this where someone, you’ve gone to someone and they say “Hey! Jesus says not to judge. Who are you to judge me?” How do you deal with that?
[Darris McNeely] I’ve always said, look it’s not a matter of ultimate eternal judgment that I have or any other human being has, it is not that, but when we evaluate behavior and we evaluate what you are doing that can be self-destructive, harmful to you and harmful to your other relationships then I think that as a spiritual guide I’m duty bound to point that out. It’s not judging in the sense of eternal judgment and that’s what Christ was talking about. That is solely God’s prerogative but we do have a responsibility to be our brother’s keeper.
[Steve Myers] I think the Bible’s pretty clear about that. This difference between condemning someone and discerning they’re two different things. So that when you want to help someone, you want them to not make mistakes that could threaten their eternal life well you have a responsibility to help and to expose that sort of thing and so the Bible talks about that over and over again. But the condemnation side of thing that’s God’s job. God’s going to take care of that. But to discern there is a standard we need to live by, boy the Bible talks about that over and over again.
[Darris] Gary, as your friend or someone else’s friend, I can come to you and I can say as I can say as a friend you need to stop. You need to cut that out and here’s why. And I can do that without judging you or without condemning you and I can do it out of friendship and we can still walk together. It’s better to have somebody stab you in the front, as the saying goes, rather than in the back. A friend will stab you in the front, in other words be honest with you.
[Gary] And I think sometimes we have to tell people, look I made bad choices in my life. I know what it is like to do destructive or sinful behavior. It doesn’t work. So I’m sharing with you this doesn’t work and I’ve actually told people before I can’t just shut up about this. I love you too much because I’d be participating in your own self destruction and I can’t do that. So I have to come try to help you.
[Steve] And so oftentimes when you consider this we get so influenced by society around us so we say everything is acceptable but that’s just not the case. It is not that way. God says there are behaviors and actions that are unacceptable, especially if we claim to be Christians. So to point that out and recognize this is God’s standard. This is what God says. I’m not judging you but when you look at the word of God we’re to judge ourselves by His standard.
[Darris] I think you’ve brought out a good point that if you do bring that out to somebody, you do go to your brother, always remember that you’re susceptible to the same problems and go in a spirit of humility not condemnation, not harshness, but out of sincere concern.
[Gary] So why is it so easy for us as human being when someone brings us a problem even if we sort of know we’re wrong, our reaction tends to be hey who are you to judge me? Why is that so easy for us to do?
[Darris] Because we don’t like to admit we’re wrong. We don’t like to admit that we are doing something that can be harmful to us, wrong, even violating the word of God, the commandments of God. Human nature.
[Gary] You used the word discern a minute ago. How do we learn to discern? I mean this is all about looking at what God says and what is right and what is wrong. How do we learn to discern that in our lives?
[Darris] You know Gary this whole discussion comes down to whether or not there is a standard based upon, in our case, the Word of God. Does the Law of God represent an undeniable, unbendable standard for human behavior yesterday, today and forever? And if we can agree to that then we can look to see what it says. If we throw that out and we have no standard of behavior then it is every man doing what’s right in his own eyes and cultural values trump past societal values or anything else and it’s what I think is right, what’s good for me or feels good and really there’s no discussion based on that.
[Steve] The Bible talks very clearly that standard is the standard of Jesus Christ that we’re all to come to the measure, to the fullness of the stature of Christ. That’s the standard and when we judge ourselves by that standard Paul told the Hebrews that we exercise our senses. In other words we put that discernment into practice. In other words, am I measuring up to the standard of Christ? And when I don’t I better repent, I better change, get myself in line with God’s standard once again. When I do that then I’m practicing this action of discerning how this Word of God applies to me and my life.
[Gary] You said the standard of Christ. Some people say, Oh as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. But that’s not what Jesus said. He said lust is a sin. Just like adultery. Hatred. Well you say hatred doesn’t hurt anybody else. Well it hurts you and it comes between you and God, doesn’t it?
[Darris] It comes down to understanding exactly why Christ said what He did for our behavior and that is we are created in the image of God. We are created for a purpose and that is to become the image of God in this flesh in this life as God lives His life within us and that’s why Jesus gave the teaching that He did and why He will judge us based on that and that’s the judgment we should be most concerned with Christ’s judgment based on His Word.
[Steve] And you can’t forget who knows best. God created us, He is our Creator. He knows what is best for us. He wants what’s best so do we know better or does our Creator know better? Well He knows. He is omniscient. He knows everything so we need to follow what He says.
[Gary] That’s so important to understand. God wants what’s best for you! When He judges us it’s first to tell us don’t do that. It’s harmful. He wants us to change.
Throughout today’s program I’ve covered an important difference between what Jesus Christ really said about judging and what people really believe.
In reality there are various other teachings of Jesus that conflict with what many Christians have believed their entire lives. If you want to discover the true teachings of Jesus Christ then study His words. To help you, we have prepared a free Bible study aid entitled Jesus Christ: The Real Story. This valuable booklet will help you better understand who Jesus Christ truly is and what He actually taught during His 3½ year ministry. Please don’t assume you already know. You may be shocked by what you learn.
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Again, to order your free study aid: Jesus Christ: The Real Story and your free subscription to Beyond Today magazine call: 1-888-886-8632. That’s 1-888-886-8632. Or go online to beyondtoday.tv to read or download these informative publications.
When we take an honest look at what Jesus said about “Judge not…” we see that He wants us to understand that how we judge others is how God will judge us. Jesus clearly teaches that God has absolute standards of right and wrong. God judges us based on His commandments and Christ’s interpretation of those commandments as they apply to the human heart.
God has your best interest at heart. He wants us to be happy by doing good and hating evil. He expects us to discern right from wrong. Those who love God will love His values and His commandments.
Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in continually praying, “Thy kingdom come.” For Beyond Today, I’m Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
[Narrator] For the free literature offered on today’s program go online to beyondtoday.tv