On Sunday morning we returned to the Gospel of Luke. I preached from 6:37-42, which begins with what may be both the most used and most misunderstood words of Scripture: “Judge not.” You sometimes hear this command of Jesus wielded like a weapon to silence any criticism of one’s actions: “You can’t tell me that’s wrong – judge not!” The satirical Babylon Bee perfectly captured this misuse of these words in an article entitled Brilliant Theologian Condenses Entire Bible Into Two-Word Facebook Comment. That facebook comment, of course, was “Judge not.”
Yet Jesus did command us not to judge, and we must take heed of it. But the judging our Lord prohibits is not an appropriate, biblical moral evaluation or the use of spiritual discernment. Rather, what he means is clear from his following words: “condemn not, and you will not be condemned” (v.37). To judge in the way Jesus forbids is to set yourself up in the place of God and pass a sentence of condemnation against another. If in a harsh and censorious spirit I put you down for your sins, I am guilty of judging.
As Christians, we may be tempted to look down on others, especially on those whose lives are marred by sin. And this attitude soon becomes judging. But if we do that, Jesus gives us a sober warning: if I don’t repent, God will turn the tables on me and judge me with the same measure I used to condemn another.
The answer is to look to the cross and remember that it was my sin for which Jesus died. I am nothing apart from God’s grace but a helpless sinner. What basis do I have to self-righteously condemn another human being? I have none. God is the judge, not me. I am called to forgive others and show mercy (vs. 36, 37).
Yet there is “good” sort of judging. One, we are to judge ourselves. Jesus tells me I am to take the log out of my own eye (v.42). That is a call for honest self-examination. I must hold up the Word of God to my heart and life and see where it falls short. By God’s grace, I will see the massive beam protruding from my eye and by repentance, remove it.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He tells us of another right way to judge. After taking the log out of my eye, I then can see clearly to take the speck out my brother’s eye (v.42). In other words, there are times when we as Christians are called to lovingly address the sin of a brother or sister in Christ. And this requires spiritual discernment and wisdom, a sort of judging. But the goal is the good of another and the glory of Christ. And I must proceed in a spirit of humility and love. As the Apostle Paul says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).
So there is a wrong way, and a right way, to judge. The more I apprehend God’s grace to me in Christ, the more I’ll judge the right way: repent of my own sins first, and then humbly seek to bring another to greater conformity to Christ.
At the evening service we continued our study of the Heidelberg Catechism, looking at prayer with the help of Lord’s Day 46.
Soli Deo Gloria!