“Judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matt. 7:1)
It’s the newest hot-button issue. The world loves this verse. Heck, so does the church. We’re throwing it around as a means to fend off anyone who wants to talk about morality because as a society, we’ve decided morality is so last century. I’ve been praying about this one for a while, because there are some scriptures in the Bible that seemingly contradict this one, and we’re all a little confused.
Because this is such a delicate issue, the authority of scripture is the basis of all commentary presented, and I hope this blog reads more like an expose. I also hope you understand that I have spent hours researching scripture and praying over this. I don’t claim to know it all, just want to present the scriptures and I pray the Holy Spirit leads you to the truth of God’s Will.
Let’s just begin here, with Matthew 7:1-5. I’m going to use the NIV text for ease of reading. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Ok, we have the topic of judging, alongside the topic of hypocrisy. This is a great place to start! Most of the time, this text is quoted in part. In effect, “Don’t judge me. The Bible says that.” But look further and you will notice that in differentiating between your plank and your brother’s speck, Jesus is referring to one thing: seeing your own sin. Christians should be introspective about sin before they discuss it out loud. They should know their own sin and then deal with it. To paraphrase, “take care of your sin first.” Christians should not speak of sin if they don’t have a healthy prayer life involving repentance. If we don’t know our own spiritual depravity, we shouldn’t try to help anyone else. When you come to know the depravity of humanity and what you are capable of, you can approach the topic of sin from a place of humility. Humility is so important, especially when discussing sin with unbelievers. When we have a nonexistent or weak relationship with Christ, we cannot help others understand topics such as repentance, forgiveness, and grace. There is no salvation from sin without these.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He says “deal with your sin first, then help your brother.” This is where things can get a little uncomfortable. Because we are called to talk about sin … no one likes that truth. For a more in-depth understanding of what Jesus meant, let’s follow Him to the scene of another group of church members discussing someone’s sin.
It’s important to understand, however, that the same Jesus who said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” also said, “Go and sin no more.” Let’s take a look at John 8:2-11:
“At dawn he appeared in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in the act of adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
“But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’
”Again, he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away, one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’
“’No one, sir,’ she said
“’Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’”
Ok, that’s a lot to digest so let’s take it in a little slower. It starts with the representatives of the church, those specifically entrusted to carry the Word of God to the world … the Pharisees.
They caught her in the act and decided something had to be done. According to the law, they would have been justified in stoning her. They were zealous for God, and loved righteousness. In this, they weren’t wrong. But when they picked up the stones, the true motives of their hearts were revealed. They didn’t want to redeem her from her sin. They wanted to punish her for it.
We still do this. I shake my head at Christians every day on social media who, zealous for God, only quote the law and lambast the transgressions of everyone who is not in line with it. Jesus dealt with the Pharisees by again pointing out their hypocrisy. He encourages them to take a hard look at their own lives. It’s a humbling thing, to be sure! The bottom line is this: we cannot talk to the world about sin if we do not have an understanding of our own sinful nature apart from the saving grace of Jesus. Because one thing the world is not wrong about is that we Christians also sin! What separates us from the world is not our purity, it’s our repentance. If we aren’t repentant, we are not pure!
The Pharisees also made a public spectacle of this lady. They pointed out her sin in front of a crowd of onlookers and demanded Jesus do something. What they failed to understand is that this approach did not make the woman repentant. It made her ashamed. People who are publicly shamed are more apt to be bitter and hardened to any effect the Holy Spirit might otherwise have.
Therefore, I believe the church, if we must speak of sin, should do so in a way that brings that person to Jesus in private. It is hard to be naked in public, people!
Finally, her redemption happened when everyone else left.
We don’t have to hang over people to see how things pan out after we bring them to Jesus. They will be much better off alone with him than with us anyway. Ultimately, redemption is the work of the Holy Spirit. We can and should present the Word of God without error, and we should pray with and for people. But we are not responsible for anyone’s salvation once we have presented the truth. Their blood be on their own heads. However, if we refuse to share truth because we’re scared of the world’s reaction, their blood will be on us. “When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood” (Ezek. 3:18).
Listen, I know it’s uncomfortable. I’ve been dodging this bullet for years. The world is so well-versed on the “Don’t Judge” scriptures. But having read scriptures, we can see that talking about sin is not judgment. Jesus says to help a brother out with their speck after you have dealt with your own. He also addresses the woman’s sin after dismissing the mob. Discussing sin is not the issue! The issue is how we do it! That is where judgment creeps in. When we confront sin with an attitude of superiority, we stand in judgment over our fellow man. When we confront sin with an aim of seeing punishment afflicted, we stand in judgment. When we relish hatred in our hearts toward unbelievers, we are so guilty of judging them. Condemnation is a satanic tool; it resides in the heart of “Christians” who love justice without mercy. We also have to be aware that people are comfortable with their sin, and often love their sin. We cannot destroy them in the process of trying to “help” them. When Jesus said, “with the measure you use it will be measured to you,” he was talking about the measure of grace you extend to others. The measure of mercy. That’s a dangerous thing, church, to mete out judgment! If we aren’t extending love and mercy in our hearts, we are measuring out our own condemnation. That’s scary!
The crux of the matter, then, is this: “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sin” (James 5:20). This verse right here should be the driving force of any conversations we may have about sin. It is true: you can catch more flies with honey. We have to be aware that quoting scriptures will never be enough. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). When we speak it in the authority of of God, with the love of God in our hearts toward people and the attitude of Christ about sin, that’s not judging. Speaking truth in love is a possibility. No, more than that, it’s a mandate according to Ephesians 4:15. For that, we should never apologize. But we should tread lightly and for God’s sake, put down our stones!