Summary: One of the most often quoted bible passages outside of church is from Matthew 7. Does this mean that Jesus expects his followers to never, ever make any kind of judgment of anyone or anything? Let’s find out.
Probably one of the most quoted scriptures in our culture is “Do not judge.” This is usually used in the context another determining that what someone else says or does is wrong. But is that really the intention of the passage or has the verse been sort of “proof-texted?” You know—I have a point that I want to prove (or a viewpoint) so I look for a verse to support my presuppositions.
We have just looked at two chapters of Jesus’ teachings. Let me ask you. Were there any passages that we looked where Jesus either suggested or flat out declared that a particular attitude or action was wrong or goes against what is his ways? If so, what are some of those things? Remember the Shema of Jesus is to what? Love God and love others. So anything that goes against loving God and especially loving others, which is the major focus of the collection of teachings for Matthew, goes against Jesus. But how can you determine if something goes against the teachings of Jesus if not through judging them? You can’t. There must be some element of judging or determining right and wrong.
The way of Jesus tells us to treat others with love—relational integrity. We should see others as beings made in the image of God even our enemies. We are not to look out for our own interests but to the interests of others. For when we are a blessing to others we store up treasures not on earth but in heaven.
So what do we do here with this passage? Is it a contradiction? No, I don’t believe so. It may appear so if one simply reads the words removed from the original context. But a little study of the language and context reveals some insights into understanding this passage.
Let’s begin by understanding three words with similar ideas and meaning.
First there is a word that we often translate as discern. Discernment is called a spiritual gift. It is the ability to discern truth and lies. Right and wrong. Sound ideas and false ideas. The corresponding virtue is wisdom—not earthly wisdom but godly wisdom. Here lies a great difficulty. We are called to discern right and wrong. It is wrong to murder and it is wrong to hate your brother. In fact Jesus said it is wrong to write them off—to condemn your brother saying, “You fool.” We must understand when something is wrong especially for us and for those that we are in community with to be doing, saying, and acting. We need to have some idea of this. However, it is how we determine this and then how we use this determination that makes a world of difference.
This is the word used here. In other contexts it often but not always has a connotation of condemnation or seeking to punish wrong doing. Here lies our great difficulty. When God created humans we seem to have no knowledge of what was right or wrong. Anything was allowed in the garden except partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (which is a symbol of God’s very nature). Basically, there wasn’t much trouble to get into except to try to be like God. Yet that is what Adam and Eve did. They wanted to be like God. They tasted of the tree. Just enough to see that they had really messed up and wanted to hide. And this has been our problem ever since. We have just enough taste to vaguely determine right from wrong. Except we often get it all mixed up so we rationalize and justify our wrongdoings (sin is what the bible calls it) and we make excuses and blame others so that what is right is wrong and what is supposed to be wrong is right.
Thus Jesus warns us against judging others and condemning others because we rarely use the same standard of judgment for ourselves that we do for others. We think we do. But we don’t. For example. This passage is often used to exhort people to be tolerant of others. Which I very much believe Jesus is teaching. Here’s the thing. Some of the people that I am most intolerant of are those who are intolerant. Especially when they are brothers and sisters in Christ especially when they are leaders and especially when they (in my opinion) should know better. There is a tension for me here because I am not always using the same measure in judging others (especially others that I do not know personally) that I judge myself.
In fact I have found that we I judge others there is usually something in me that either I am dealing with or have dealt with and that is why I can see it so clearly. We’ll look at that next week.