What We Do When We Judge: Jesus on Judgment, Part 2


“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)

Last week, looking at the phrase “Do not judge,” we said that judgment is a fact. It will come, and it will be God who judges.

That historical truth—that ultimate judgment will happen at a set time in history—is the context for everything else the Bible says on this topic.

That’s evident in the continuation of what Jesus says, because he moves on from “Do not judge” to give very self-interested reasons not to do so.

This, by the way, sets talk of judgment and acceptance apart from the way other philosophies treat it. Many Eastern-based philosophies assume there is no right and wrong; therefore we should not judge, because all judgments are illusions.

The biblical worldview assumes right and wrong are real and measurable and that everything will be called to account, but that we are not fully qualified to do the measuring.

What We Do When We Judge

Yesterday I sat on a friend’s back deck overlooking Lake Erie, and we talked about what we do when we judge.

Since judgment is NOT the same as seeing something for what it is (i.e. “that is a sin” or “that behavior is going to hurt you”), and it’s not the same thing as discernment, what is it?

My friend and I concluded that judgment happens when we cross the line from seeing to leveling consequences, whether we can actually enforce those consequences or not.

Jesus and the Pharisees could both clearly see that the local prostitutes were sinning and also hurting themselves.

The Pharisees leveled consequences: Because you are doing these things, I will not speak to you, will not associate with you, will not bless you, will not pray for you. Because you are doing these things, I choose to cut you off.

Jesus said judgment could wait till later and went about trying to save and dignify these women instead.

The Pharisees had labeled and socially exiled Zacchaeus. He was a traitor and a thief. Jesus invited himself over for dinner and transformed the tax collector.

(You have no hope of changing a man or woman you have declared your enemy. But you can have bottomless influence on a friend.)

The “sinners” might have deserved the first response. The second response was grace.

Setting Our Own Standards

Jesus warns us off the first response because none of us are without guilt. When we judge, to some degree we are setting the standard for our own lives, and God will take that into account at the judgment.

What exactly judgment will look like for us as Christians is not totally clear to me, but we WILL stand judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10), and in that day, Jesus says the measures we used, the judgments we judged, will come into play.

James and the Law of Freedom

In the short book bearing his name, James goes round and round on a few subjects, one of which is judgment.

Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge … Who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12b)

James is saying that when we judge, we change our positioning relative to God’s moral law. Instead of being people primarily concerned with keeping the law ourselves, we become people primary concerned with enforcing it.

There are people who HAVE to do this. Judges and juries have to do it. Rulers have to do it. But we are not all judges and juries and rulers.

There is a divine law, and we are to see ourselves as doers of it: people responsible to carry out the Word of God in our own lives.

We are NOT to see ourselves as judges of it or of one another: people capable of so fully understanding both the law and the hearts and actions of our neighbours that we can confidently pass sentence.

James says elsewhere,

Speak and act as those who will be judged by the law of freedom. For judgment is without mercy to one who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12-13)

The interesting inference of James and Jesus both is that we can expect God to be more merciful than we are. We can expect him to account for all factors, including the ones we can’t see; we can expect him to act in love.

Of ourselves, we unfortunately can’t have the same expectation.

(This is Part 79 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)


Water in the Wilderness …

You are a committed follower of Jesus, in this for the long haul … but spiritual life is not always simple, easy, or painless. Dry seasons, when the voice of God seems silent and our own hearts arid, can cause even the most faithful to wonder if something is drastically wrong … if God has forgotten us, or if we are cut off from him.

I am no stranger to dry seasons. Since my own journey with Jesus began as a teenager, I have experienced decade-long stretches of dry. Yet, it was there, in the wilderness, that I learned some of the most life-giving lessons spiritual journeys can give … lessons that enable me to hear God’s voice even in silence and to KNOW that I am his beloved child.

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During those years, I wrote dozens of articles (published by Focus on the Family) to chronicle my journey and the priceless pearls I found along the way. The best of these are compiled in two ebooks, STILL PRAYING IN THE WILDERNESS and NOW FOR THE NOT-YET.

I would love to share my journey with you. Buy now to get both ebooks in multiple formats (readable on your computer and for Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, and more).

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