Judge Not? (1)
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Matthew 7.1, 2
Judging and judgment
We saw in Part 1 of this study, To Judge the World, that God has structured human society such that exercising judgment is inevitable, and exercising just or sound or righteous judgment is the way to shalom. That the rulers, judges, and elders of Old Testament Israel largely failed in their task did not mean that God scrapped His original plan for humankind.
Instead, He sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to show the way of righteous judgment, to bear the judgment of God against unrighteous sinners, and, with the Father, to send the Holy Spirit so that we might know sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16.8-11). And Jesus, for the continuation and expansion of that shalom which He achieved and bestowed on His Church (Is. 9.6, 7; Jn. 14.27), appointed pastors and elders to judge the people of God, so that all His followers might learn sound judging and exercise righteous judgment in all their doings.
Still, we must look more closely at Jesus’ words in Matthew 7.1, 2, for many people continue to stumble over this text by insisting that judging has no place in the life of faith. If we take verse 1 by itself, as an absolute, then we must agree that Christians ought not exercise judgment, especially with respect to whatever they might observe in others.
But a right understanding of Scripture requires that every verse be considered in its larger context, and in the case of Matthew 7.1, that context is verses 1-5, as well as the rest of Matthew 7 and all the other teachings of Jesus on the question of judging and judgment.
So let’s have a closer look.
Standards of judgment
Matthew 7.1, “Judge not, that you be not judged,” is not an absolute proscriptive. It’s more like a warning or a reminder that, whenever we may be inclined to make a judgment – especially where others are concerned – we should remember the general principles of judgment which Jesus exemplified and taught.
The idea of verses 1-5 is that we must take care to see clearly into the rightness or wrongness of some attribute or behavior before making any judgments. If this verse were an absolute proscriptive, then the world would be more filled with raving sinners than it is at present, since no parent would be able to correct a child, no teacher to assess a student, no judge to condemn a criminal, and no supervisor to evaluate a worker. In saying, “Judge not,” and in the light of what follows, Jesus is not forbidding all judgment, but calling us to think carefully about what we are about to say or do, whatever act of judging or judgment we may be considering.
Jesus explains that there are standards for exercising judgment, and that ultimately, God will perfectly and finally judge all people, based on His assessment of the judgments they have practiced throughout their lives (cf. vv. 21-28). A “narrow way” marks the path of sound judgment (vv. 13, 14), and those who walk that way, carefully attending to how they think, speak, and act, will bear the fruit characterizing those who, like Jesus, and following Him, exercise judgment according to divine criteria (vv. 15-20).
Before we judge anyone or anything, therefore, it is important that we learn the standards of sound judgment that God Himself employs, that Jesus exemplified, and that He instructs us to learn and obey. By heeding His Word and seeking Him diligently in prayer (vv. 7-12), we may discern that way of sound, just, and righteous judgment that leads to shalom in this life and eternal glory and shalom in the world to come.
If we see matters clearly, as God sees them, then we will judge all things as Hewould, and as we would want to be judged ourselves. Which is to say, we will judge with righteousness and love.
God is love, and God is holy. All His judgments are righteous and loving, especially His decision to send Jesus for our salvation. In Jesus the righteousness, love, and judgment of God come together perfectly and completely, marking the path we must walk if we would be true followers of Christ (1 Jn. 2.1-6). However Jesus judged, God judges; and we also must learn to judge this way, for He has appointed us to judge the world.
Thus, before we judge anyone or anything, any action or decision or choice, we must make sure that our eye is not clouded by unrighteousness or mere self-love. We must put ourselves in the place of God – where, indeed, He has seated us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2.6) – take up the mind of Christ and of His Spirit (1 Cor. 2.16; Rom. 8.5-9), and judge righteously, justly, and with love (Jn. 7.24).
Is this not how we want others to judge us? Truly? Fairly? Righteously? And with love? We cannot not exercise judgment; but we can judge wrongly, and the more we do, the more we will veer from the narrow path that finds us bearing Christ-like fruit in all our judging and judgment.
In this part of our study, therefore, we will examine more carefully the criteria by which we must carry out our appointed task of judging the world.
1. How do the righteousness, love, and judgment of God come together in Jesus?
2. Why is the way of Jesus a narrow way? Can we expect to walk this way fruitfully apart from exercising sound judgment? Explain.
3. How do prayer and the Scriptures factor into learning to judge with righteous judgment?
Next steps – Transformation: Today, keep an account of all the time you have to exercise any kind of judgment whatsoever. Jot these down on a note card or in your smart phone. At the end of the day, review them before the Lord, asking Him to show you any areas of judging and judgment where you might improve.
T. M. Moore
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This week’s study is part 2 of a 4-part series, To Judge the World. Each part consists of seven lessons and is available as a free PDF download at the end of the study. In the tag for part 7, we’ll give you a link to download part 2, Judge Not?
An excellent companion to this series is our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics. Here you’ll discover the basis on which Christians learn to judge with righteous judgment. You can order a copy by clicking here.And when you order, we’ll send you a free copy of Bricks and Rungs: Poems on Calling.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.