I’ve never done any surveys on this, but I’ve got a great candidate: Matthew 7:1.
I’ll bet you know it.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
And that’s typically how you’ll hear it quoted, in good old King James English. It sounds so forceful.
But it’s not especially meaningful. Or helpful. Not like that.
In my relatively-limited experience, this verse is usually quoted by people who don’t even believe in the Jesus who spoke it, or by professing Christians who don’t know why he did. People usually wrench this verse from the Bible, like Excalibur from the stone, and wield it with deadly intent and total ignorance of its purpose.
Christ-followers cower, and their opponents crow.
These things need not be.
Chucked like a hand-grenade into the middle of a conversation, this verse stuns us into thinking that all opponents’ views have been destroyed. But if we can think past the initial shock, we’ll discover that it’s really a dud.
Imagine what it might mean:
“Have no opinion about anything”
“Have no preferences or convictions”
“Don’t sit on a jury to help convict criminals and exonerate honest folk”
“Be amoral. Don’t call anything right or wrong”
“Be agnostic. Don’t consider anything true or false”
Is that what Jesus meant? Forget Jesus; is that really what anyone means? These are all consistent with “Don’t judge.” Isn’t that what they mean?
Actually, no. At least, I hope not. I think most people who (ab)use Matthew 7:1 really mean something like this:
“I don’t agree with you”
“I find your opinions offensive”
“I’m not going to take a stand on this, and I don’t think you should either”
“I’m not willing to have a calm, friendly, rational discussion about this right now”
Meaningless. Not helpful. Adds nothing.
But every now and then, someone grabs this verse and uses it well. When that happens, here’s what it means:
Don’t be judgmental.
That’s a good message because it’s exactly what Jesus meant. He never intended his followers to abandon all reason, to give up the ability to discern between two or more options, to absolve themselves of all responsibility to choose the good over the bad or the true over the false.
If he had, he would not have said – with his next breath, no less – “Don’t give holy things to dogs or precious things to pigs.” Someone’s got to judge what is holy and precious. Someone’s got to determine who are the dogs and pigs. And he wouldn’t have told us how to make that determination, when he said that we would know them by their fruits.
And there’s no way John 7:24 would have made it into the Bible.
You know, the verse where Jesus said, “Don’t judge according to appearance. Judge righteous judgment.”
God is judge.
Users of Matthew 7:1 are quick to point out that God is the judge, not us. They’re right. What they miss is that God has already judged many things and found them to be good or bad, true or false. The Ten Commandments are a great example.
When God said “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” he judged adultery to be bad. When a man has sex with a woman who is not his wife, he has committed adultery. (That’s just the definition of the word.) It can hardly be judgmental to call that man (or that woman) an “adulterer.”
And if we believe God, it cannot be judgmental to call such a person a “sinner.” We are exercising our judgment, true, but only by comparing a person’s behavior to God’s law. He is the judge, and as long as we believe that, we have only to agree or disagree with him. Or, as Jesus said, “Judge righteous judgment.”
To put it another way, if it is not judgmental to agree with the dictionary (“adultery”), how can it be judgmental to agree with the Bible (“sin”)?
Judgment. Not judgmental.
Unless you’re prepared to throw all morality out the window.
I don’t think most people want to do that, but I do think most people are uncomfortable with calling someone else a “sinner” when they have plenty of problems themselves.
Ironically, they don’t seem to have a problem calling “judgmental” people “hypocrites.”
Which is exactly what Jesus meant when he said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” He was talking about hypocrisy. He was talking about people who insisted upon finding fault with others without stopping to judge themselves. Of course, none of us is without fault, and so that would seem to rule out all judgment.
God is love
But that’s not very loving, and if Jesus is anything, he’s love.
Jesus certainly meant that we would take stock of our own sin, but then he meant for us to take care of it and move to help others. Our sense of our own sin should drive us to him in faith that his grace can save us, but then that faith should also work itself out in love towards others. When I’ve gone to Jesus to have the plank removed from my eye, he then means for me to help pull splinters from the eyes of others, so that together we may all behold his glory.
It is not judgmental to say to another human being, “I am a sinner, and so are you. Christ saved me by his grace, so that you could share it too.”