Judge not, that you not be judged. (Matthew 7:1)
When I was in high school, I listened to mainly rap and country. This proved my identity crisis, I guess. There I was in my blue truck, blaring Merle Haggard or Tupac, depending on the day. I remember that one of the sayings of the time among the rappers I listened to was “only God can judge me”. Man that sounded right. I can do whatever I want and disregard what people thought because only God could judge me. I think the rappers meant they could smoke weed and shoot people and only be liable to God’s judgment, which very well could have been true for some of them.
I had my own issues – don’t judge me – that I felt I could sweep under the proverbial rug by repeating a saying like that. The problem wasn’t the saying, it was the interpretation. The truth is that God is the judge, the one and only judge – but we need to do some work here.
A judge rules on the future of a person, taking stock of their character and their track record. You can picture a judge on a bench, reading glasses perched on the nose, robed arms resting on the built in millwork in front of her. She looks at the defendant and cocks her head, deciding what to do with this accused person before her. Is this person worthy of freedom?
What Tupac and teenage me got wrong is the definition of judge. We thought that to be told you’re wrong is to be judged. For someone to disapprove of your lifestyle, yeah that’s condemnation. But this is foolishness. We all make assessments of the behavior of others all the time, and this is really unavoidable. If your friend treats his wife disrespectfully, you’ll discern his behavior. You might even judge his behavior.
The judgment Jesus is referring to here is a judgment like the judge on the bench. You know the feeling. Someone does something so detestable that you want to harm them. You decide they are not even a decent human being. In this way, what you have done is as good as murder (Matthew 5:4) and you have pronounced judgment on your brother.
Not only is our judgment wrong per se – and it is – but we are missing something. When I watch the news and see some monstrous crime, it is my default mode to determine the perpetrator a monster. And you know what, they may well be – but this misses a crucial issue. The sin in my heart is as dark as theirs and I am capable of God only knows what. By his grace he has saved me and, as Jesus says in the Lord’s Prayer, led me not into temptation. Sometimes someone possesses evil that is unexplainable except that it’s just, well, evil. But before we jump there, we might consider if we were raised in their home with their severely abusive father or drug addict mother or what have you, and then we were faced with the mental illness they face, we might end up in that mug shot.
Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things and it’s desperately sick. An unrescued heart – a heart that has not been taken captive by Jesus – is capable of anything and everything. Those of us with redeemed hearts must bear in mind that: 1) our salvation is a gift (Ephesians 2:8) and 2) we are still capable of all kinds of darkness – but God protects us. You see, the credit belongs to God and his work in us, not our Pharisaical moral report card.
Lastly, it is important to consider that Jesus says that if we judge, we too will be judged by the real judge – God. That’s pretty scary, considering I have judged. So what then? Am I headed for hell? No, thank God. I plead Christ, I repent, and I bask in his grace. If we had a pass/fail test on judgment, heaven would be empty. Jesus is speaking to the heart here, I believe. If you constantly judge others and condemn people harshly (again, not their behavior, them), you would be wise to consider if you truly have been born again of the Spirit. Judgment is not a fruit of the Spirit and while we all fail sometimes, a heart set upon judgment carried in the same person whose mouth proclaims Christ is an incongruity.
We have seen this too often in our culture with the issues of the day. Hatred towards those outside the typical lines of Christendom is rampant. Slate named 2014 the Year of Outrage, and it seems 2015 and 2016 aren’t much different. We are mad at everything that is wrong with the world: candidates, bathroom classification, traffic, the church. But what we don’t seem to be mad at is ourselves. Somehow everyone is mad at someone else but no one realizes the sin in themselves.
Jesus says we have a log in our eye, while our brother has a speck. How we can see past the wood impaled through our cornea is beyond me, but we do. It’s so much easier to notice your sin than mine.
Friends, we must ask Jesus for his heart. We must ask for the Spirit to convict us deeply of judgment and warm us with grace and truth and love. We must understand the difference between spotting sin that is hurting our brothers and sisters and damning our fellow man for his misbehavior. Here too we return to the foot of the cross and we come with bloodstained hands.
Will you pray with me?
Help us, Jesus. Help us to see our judgment and renew our hearts such that we might see our fellow man through your eyes. Remove our log and help us to love our spiritual family members well enough to have the courage to tell them when we see their specks. And for those outside our family of faith, may we do as you did. May we engage with them, recline at table, and wash their feet. May we cast aside our judgment and love without restraint, knowing that you are the perfect judge, thus alleviating us for our need of the bench.