This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
Two weeks ago, we wrapped up our series in the Gospel of John. After a week off for Thanksgiving and before venturing into another book study, I decided to take a couple weeks and revisit our “You Asked For It” Q&A series from the summer. We had a few students’ questions left in the box when the series ended, so I decided to spend last night answering one of them. The question involved whether or not we should judge those who are in sin. To find our answer, we first tried to think about what is meant by “judging” someone. That word carries a very negative connotation in our culture. When asked, my students said that it brought to mind thoughts of a holier-than-thou person laying into people they didn’t even know based upon generalizations or stereotypes. Certainly all of us have seen Christians exhibiting this kind of behavior (or even been guilty of it ourselves!) at some time or another. How do we avoid it? Should we avoid passing judgment on others altogether? What did Jesus mean by “Judge not?”
For our answers, we took a look at Matthew 7:1-6. The passage begins with Jesus’ famous words, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” This passage is among the most frequently quoted (and misused) in all the Bible. Upon first glance, Jesus seems to be saying that God will judge us by whatever standard we apply to others, so it’s best to be gracious. However, when examined in light of other parts of the Bible (Galatians 3:10, James 2:10-11) or even Jesus’ words from this very sermon (Matthew 5:17-20, 43-48), that idea makes no sense. Those passages make it pretty clear that God will judge us all by the same standard – his own holiness. So what is Jesus saying here?
He’s warning us that our standard of judgment will be turned back upon us by those whom we judge. When you point out a fault in someone else’s life, what’s the first thing they tend to do? They look for something to fire back about you. It’s human nature. When we’re told we’re wrong, we look for the opportunity to label the accuser a hypocrite so that we can dismiss whatever it is that they’re saying. Jesus wants us to realize that this is what we can expect when we point out sin in someone else’s life. So, he tells us to make sure we take care of ourselves first. He gives the humorous example of a man who tries to take a speck of sawdust out of his friend’s eye while he has a tree protruding from his own. This is silliness – and we look just as silly when we make judgments about other people’s lives while remaining blissfully ignorant of our own shortcomings.
We might be tempted to stop here, and imagine that Jesus is just telling us to mind our own business and let others mind theirs. That’s the American way, right? One of my students pointed out last night, “But if we don’t help each other fight sin, we’ll all end up in bad shape.” Very true, and that’s why we need to notice what Jesus says in verse 5 – “First take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” When we are waging war against the sin in our own lives, we will then be able to help those around us. We will have the right humility, the right attitude, and the right dependence on God that we need in order to be beneficial in the lives of others and not a hindrance.
Ultimately, Jesus is giving us a warning here, not a rebuke. Though we carry a lot of negative connotations with the word “judge,” the Greek word Jesus used simply means to express an opinion or view on matters of right and wrong. It carried no connotation of pride, arrogance, or bitterness. The word was used of those who were wise and just leaders and rulers. Jesus isn’t telling us not to stand up for what is right and speak out against what is wrong. If he was, then he’d be quite the hypocrite, since he did his fair share of both. He’s telling us how we ought to judge, putting away pride and taking on humility, and with the attitude of Galatians 6:1 ensuring that we can be used for good in the lives of the people we care about.
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