Our noontime Lenten prayer passage is in Matthew chapter 7. It is the passage that every non-Christian loves to quote: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 6“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. ~ Matthew 7:1-6
This is arguably the most quoted verse in all of Scripture: Do not judge, or you too will be judged. Certainly we can conclude that this is our current culture’s favorite verse. It is music to their ears. But what is fascinating is that when people (mis)quote verse 1 they don’t continue reading just five verses down where Jesus turns around and immediately judges others as dogs and pigs! Do not give to dogs and do not throw your pearls to pigs!
Do you hear what Jesus is saying? He’s saying, “Don’t judge anyone you swine! Don’t call anyone any names and be sure to stay away from those dogs!” What is going on here?
The Principle Behind Judgment
The rap against Christianity goes something like this: “See that’s the problem with you Christians, you are always judging people and the Bible says right here you aren’t to judge.” Or the ever popular, “Christians are so judgmental! I don’t believe you should judge anyone or correct anyone’s behavior. I think you should let people just find their own way. That’s what I don’t like about you Christians you are always judging others.” To back up their argument they will quote (misquote) Matthew 7 above. So what do we say to that?
Well the first thing we say to the person who says, “I don’t like the way Christians are always judging others” is this: Do you realize that what you just said is also a judgment statement? To say that people should never judge others—is in fact judging others!
But that’s the problem. We all make judgment statements all the time. It’s unavoidable. We cannot live life apart from judgment statements. So if its impossible to live life apart from judgment statements (and it is) what did Jesus mean by Judge not? Well, in a word we are to avoid censoriousness! What is censoriousness? Listen to how theologican John Stott describes censoriousness. He writes, Censoriousness is a compound sin consisting of several unpleasant ingredients…It does not mean to assess people correctly…but rather to condemn them harshly…The censorious critic is a fault-finder who is negative and destructive towards other people and enjoys actively seeking out their failings…(to be censorious) is to put the worst possible construction on other people’s motives (not thinking the best)…it is ungenerous towards their mistakes. Worse than that, to be censorious is to set oneself up as to claim the competence and authority to sit in judgment upon one’s fellow man. To be censorious is in fact to try and play God.
So how do we know if we have moved from making judgment statements into a posture of censoriousness? Let me offer three litmus test questions.
1. Do you confront others apart from caring for others?
When you try to confront someone, if you are not sensing some apprehension/discomfort in your confronting him/her perhaps you shouldn’t be the one who confronts or perhaps you haven’t gone deep enough with the person in relationship (yet) for the person to hear from you.
2. When you judge someone do you Dump and Dash?
Do you judge someone to his/her face and basically walk away from his/her life? We are not to confront someone unless we are willing and able to deepen our level of involvement with that person. When you confront someone (pointing out something sinful in that person’s life) you are essentially inviting that person to go deeper into a relationship. If you aren’t willing to go deeper with that person (spending more time with that person /spending more resources) you ought not to confront that person.
3. When you critique/judge do you assign motive to their actions?
‘Judgmentalism’ (to be censorious) goes beyond what can be documented and assigns motive. Censoriousness tells people the truth in order to push them away. A brother warns people by telling the truth but does so in order to bring them closer in relationship with himself and in closer relationship with The Lord.
Offering Judgment and avoiding Censoriousness
Speaking judgment statements (when done right) is to redeem the person and not to punish the person. People have to see that you are utterly invested in them. Because when you offer judgment statements, you aren’t after their approval, you want something higher/better for that person’s life. You want their holiness and health and joy. You are not against them. You are for them. You are with them. If that isn’t coming through something is missing.
To sum up, the command of Christ to judge not is not a requirement to suspend judgment (that’s an impossibility) but rather a plea to be generous with others!
One more note. In verses 3-4, Jesus also tells his famous little parable about specks of dust and logs in people’s eyes. It is the picture of somebody struggling with the delicate operation of removing a speck of dirt from a friend’s eye while a vast plank in his own eye entirely obscures his vision. This parable is humorous to be sure. Yet when the caricature is transferred to our own lives and our own petty, ridiculous fault-finding, we do not always appreciate the joke.
As people, we have a fatal tendency to exaggerate the faults of others, while at the same time minimizing the gravity of our own. We seem to find it impossible when comparing ourselves with others to be strictly objective and impartial. Jesus has a name for such people. He calls them hypocrites and such behavior is defined as hypocrisy.
This kind of hypocrisy is a Pharisaic vice that exalts ourselves while disparaging others in order to achieve a cheap moral superiority. So we have the warnings: Do not be jugmental (censorious) and do not be hypocrites. But the fact that censoriousness and hypocrisy are forbidden – does not relieve us of communal responsibility with one another.
The standard that Jesus sets before us in regards to relationships is that in all of our attitudes and behaviors toward others we are to play neither the judge (by becoming harsh, censorious, or condemning) nor the hypocrite (blaming others while not recognizing the sinfulness in our own behaviors) but to be the brother in Christ.
In other words…we are to approach someone who is in sin not as a foe or adversary, ready to exact a penalty from that person until he cries uncle and repents. No. We are to approach a brother in love in the same way that a physician seeks to provide care to a wound. We do so with grace and with mercy.