“Judge Not Lest You Be Judged” – Is it a Sin to Judge Someone?
“Judge Not Lest You Be Judged” – Is it a Sin to Judge Someone? – by Garrett Kell
Did Jesus Teach that We should not Judge Others when he said “Judge not lest you be judged”? In a culture that doesn’t know much about Father Abraham, Noah’s Ark, or the 12 apostles, people seem pretty sure that the command to not judge is found somewhere in the Bible. In fact, I think it’d be safe to say that if there’s any verse in the Bible that most people would know it’s the one that says “Judge not.”
Now, this may be due to the fact that we live in a day where the chief value of our culture is tolerance. Our culture and our hearts often preach to us that true love is an accepting love. True love is one that’s tolerant with other people’s choices and lifestyles, and any attempt to speak a word of correction to another person is seen as a closed-minded, arrogant and bigoted posture. After all, even Jesus said, people shouldn’t judge.
The call to not judge others is popular, even among some household names. The late Mother Teresa once said that “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Charles Barkley in an interview on CNN said about Christians that “they’re not supposed to judge other people, but they’re the most hypocritical judge of people we have in this country…” Bob Marley had a song called “Judge Not” and of course in his 1996 album All Eyez on Me the late great theologian 2Pac Shakur proclaimed that “Only God can judge me!”
So what should we think about the idea of judging other people? Should it always be avoided? Is it always arrogant to point out things in other people’s lives especially if they don’t ask your opinion? What about in the court of law? Can we judge others there? What might Jesus have to say about all of this?
To help us think about this topic I’d like us to consider 2 major questions: What did Jesus say about not judging others? What did Jesus say about judging others particularly in a court of law?
What did Jesus say about not judging others?
The famous quote “judge not” I referenced at the beginning of this devotional comes from one of Jesus’ teachings in the Bible in a book called The Gospel of Matthew. So what I’d like to do is read through His teaching line by line and then we’ll decide exactly what Jesus said and how it should apply to us today.
Matthew 7:1-2 Jesus says, “Judge not, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, 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? 4 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? 5 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.”
In the first 2 sentences Jesus gives a very clear statement…“judge not” and then He gives a clear reason why “or you too will be judged…” Jesus’ command to not judge others is given as a motivation for us to avoid judgment ourselves. It’s important however for us not to stop the discussion there because Jesus didn’t. Let’s listen to the illustration Jesus used to clarify even further what He meant when He said “Judge not.” Matthew 7:3-5 “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? 4 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? 5 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.”
So, what is Jesus teaching against? The mere act of judging others? No. Jesus didn’t teach against judging. He taught against a specific kind of judging. The type of judging he spoke against was a blind, ignorant, hypocritical, self-righteous judging that overlooks one’s own faults, failures and sins and only sees faults, failures and sins in other people. And the picture He uses is supposed to be kind of funny. There’s two guys in a wood shop…one guy looks at the other guy and says hey you’ve got some sawdust in your eye…all the while the dude’s got a 2×4 sticking out of his eye.
The issue Jesus is going after is the pride that was in the people’s hearts which made it easy for them to see other people’s faults, but be blinded to their own. And notice what Jesus called them “you hypocrite.” Now, what’s a hypocrite? Someone who pretends to be something they aren’t. In the 1st century you usually only had one or two play actors would use different masks to play in different roles. They’d pretend to be something they weren’t. Here Jesus is going after people who wear a mask of piety over a heart that was judgmental, critical, and self-righteous toward others.
Jesus wasn’t telling people not to judge. He was telling people not to be a hypocrite when you judge. He’d been speaking to a crowd about what true righteousness is. He’d been talking about issues of the heart and about what makes a person pleasing before God. He was teaching against people having a critical, condemning, self-righteous, judgmental attitude toward other people. It was what some people might call social or spiritual B.O. That pompous posture of looking down on others because you’ve got it all together and they certainly don’t. That kind of judgmentalism was found in the hearts of many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and among the crowd who was listening. And if we’re honest, it’s an attitude that’s present in our own hearts.
If we’re honest, we find ourselves being critical people by nature. We tend to think that we see things rightly and that others are wrong. We tend to think that our reasonings and our perspectives are at least just a little better than people we disagree with. We seem to be quick to find fault and condemn people.
Why do you think that is? I’m sure there are lots of reasons. I know there have been seasons of my life when I judged people because I was intensely insecure. So I found comfort in tearing others down so that I’d feel better. There have been other seasons when I judged people because I thought I knew better than they did. I remember a time I judged a friend named Dave who talked to me about Jesus, and I thought he’d become some religious freak who was on his high horse because he’d stopped smoking weed and having sex. All of us can find reasons for judging others, but the reality is that many of those times our judgment has been hindered because pride or ignorance blinded us from seeing things rightly.
Blind, self-righteous judging is dangerous in several ways, I’ll give you 2:
1. It can cause us to wrongly interpret what is happening in another person’s life.
Maybe there’s a girl who never talks. It’s easy to judge her as stuck up or full of herself. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a pastor, it’s that we all wear masks. We all have pain. You don’t know if she’s been abused or if her father has cancer or if she’s weighed down with financial debt. We should be slow to judge others, because we can wrongly interpret what’s happening in another person’s life.
2. It can cause us to wrongly estimate ourselves.
We all have blind spots and are prone to self-deception. For example, this morning I was walking through my room and tripped on a shoe. The first thing that went through my mind was to judge my wife for not picking up her stuff off the floor. I was instantly humbled and convicted when I saw that it was my shoes—two pairs of them—that I had tripped over.
In all of this, however, I want us to hear that Jesus doesn’t say don’t judge. He says take the plank out of your eye and then judge rightly. Jesus was under no illusion that speaking truth to other people was a bad or unloving thing. He never intended to prevent His people from making insightful, wise and accurate judgments about situations or about each other. No, He knows that we were created to speak truth into each other’s lives. Truth is a good thing. I want people to tell me the truth, and so do you. If I have a big piece of food in my teeth or something, I want the truth from you and won’t be happy if you don’t tell me.
More seriously, if I go to my oncologist and on the scan he sees a lump on my spinal cord, he better tell me. I want him to speak truth, and he has a responsibility as another human made in God’s image to speak truth to me. And I want him to judge my situation rightly, because it’s best for me.
So, Jesus’ famous words about judging can be summarized in this way: Don’t go around with a self-righteous attitude that points out where others have failed while neglecting to first evaluate your own life. Don’t be a hypocrite by pretending to have it all together but call other people on the carpet for their sins and shortcomings. First, repent of your own sin, and then you can lovingly speak truth into another person’s life. You must do this because God is going to judge you, and if you have not been cleansed of your own sin, your judgmental attitude toward others will be one of the things that condemn you on that final day.
What did Jesus say about judging others in a court of law?
So that’s what Jesus meant when He spoke about not judging. So what does that mean for people who practice law? Well, a few things:
1st, Jesus in no way forbids people from judging others in courts of law. In fact, the systems of law that we have are a branch of God’s institution of government that He has given to keep order in His world. So that means that when you serve as a judge or lawyer or an assistant you are serving in a God-ordained institution that He has placed you in to uphold truth and justice as a reflection of His character. So, Jesus in no way forbids people from judging others in a court of law. In fact, He has ordained it.
2nd, Jesus would agree that all judgments should be made purely. Jesus affirmed all of the Old Testament and there are some striking words about the need for those who practice law to uphold truth and to not compromise. Deuteronomy 16:18-19 “Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. 19 Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.” And then another in Proverbs 17:23 “A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice.” And one more, Proverbs 11:1 “The Lord abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.”
God hates dishonesty, particularly among those who are supposed to be upholding the Law. Why is that? Because our laws are a reflection of common truth that God has revealed to all of us about him. Lawyers and Judges and Governments are supposed to do all things with honesty, impartiality and truth because they are supposed to reflect the character of God, which is true, impartial and good.
For those who have been given places of influence with the law, when Jesus says “judge not”, they should ensure that there’s nothing in their eye that would keep them from judging rightly. No bonus or a promotion or a headline or partnership or anything else that might blind your judgment should be allowed to remain so that you do not judge another wrongly because God will judge each of us.
Now all of this is important for many reasons, but the ultimate reason is because the Bible teaches that each of us will one day stand before God to be judged. Do you remember why Jesus said “judge not?”…“or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” According to Jesus’ words we will each be evaluated not only for our actions, but the attitudes of our heart. When we stand before the perfectly good and just God, everything we’ve ever done, thought or tried to do…and our motivations…will be admitted as evidence before God. And on that day, if left to ourselves, none of us would pass through the judgment without being condemned to an eternity in hell for our sin against God. That’s bad news!
The good news however is that God’s Son Jesus, the one who spoke these words we’ve been considering, willingly came to earth and lived a perfect life, then died on a cross receiving the judgment that we deserved. He died as a substitute for everyone who would repent and genuinely believe in him. There was no evidence of sin against Him because he never sinned…not even once. He was free to willingly take our judgment and be condemned so that we could go free to live a life that pleases Him. Let me read another famous verse from the Bible that you may have heard before.
John 3:16-18 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Jesus says that if you don’t believe in Him, the evidence is already in, and you are condemned before God. But He also promises that if you turn from your sin and trust in Him, He will forgive your sin and give you new life.
Now, if you’re reading this, some of you are certainly thinking, “this guy’s an example of someone with the 2×4 in his eye. I mean I just told you that apart from you believing in Jesus and turning from your sins, you would be condemned to hell. I understand how that sounds, and it’s been told to me before too. But what I’m asking you to do, however, is to wrestle with the words of Jesus. I’ve tried to do that and will continue to do that because if they are true, it changes everything about our lives.
By Garrett Kell
A Pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church