You and I make decisions every day. In other words, you and I make judgments. We judge to do this thing or to do something else; to say this or to say something else (or to say nothing); to go out or to stay in; or to pursue one direction in life or perhaps another.
We are constantly making decisions – which means we are constantly judging things and people in accordance to our priorities and, by extension, our values. So when a person says, “I don’t judge,” we have to assume that what is meant is something a bit more specific. Does he or she mean that I have no opinion on the worth or value of a course of action? That would be impossible since every moment he or she is either opting for chocolate or vanilla, country music or pop or hip hop, Ford or Chevy, Democrat or Republican.
So in that sense, we are all making judgments. So what does Jesus mean in Matthew 7:1-2 when He says, “Judge not, that you be not judged”? Does He mean that we are to render ourselves indifferent about the worth of different things in life on which we spend our time, energy, and resources? Does He mean that all paths are equal and render each choice as non-important? No, of course not. How could He mean that when certain choices (judgments) can lead to death while some lead to health?
Jesus is speaking there to a particular aspect of judgment: that of condemnation of others. The problem isn’t that we make decisions or that all paths are of equal worth and therefore to be equally upheld, but that we take on ourselves the position and posture of God Himself, forgetting that we are all fallen sinners equally in need of the Savior. In other words, none of us are perfect.
I often hear Matthew 7:1-2 quoted, but usually out of context and applied to accommodate a desire to dodge personal responsibility for choices being made that are contrary to the will of God. This misappropriation of Matthew 7:1-2 generally is utilized to render it difficult or impossible for others to criticize our position (because we like to do what we’re doing and don’t want to feel God’s conviction about our doing of it).
Jesus instruction to us here is that of not assuming the position of a person who feels empowered to mete out the condemnation (rejection, discarding, or hatred of another) of others while at the same time not accepting responsibility for his or her own sinful inclinations and need for God’s forgiveness. He was addressing the human inclination to objectify others as being deserving of punishment as if we ourselves were morally superior and closer to God looking down on others by His side.
Sad, isn’t it? Especially since this is what our society has become today. It is consuming us in fact and is applied to just about any topic you can imagine. People are “judging” others (as inferior or contemptible) about any and all things. Vaccinators versus those who opt out of vaccinations, public schoolers versus homeschoolers, maskers versus non-maskers, and so on and so forth.
We have reached the point that we do not seem to be capable of civil conversation at all and if we cannot be civil toward one another no matter the difference in our opinions, then the argument follows that we have ceased to be civilized at all. We are losing our civilization.
This is not a reference to a particular worldview or theological mindset (that is another discussion for another time). It is simply an acknowledgment that we are not only accepting of uncivility, we applaud it, pursue it, and embrace it.
The Bible goes to great lengths on how Christians, as citizens of the Kingdom of God and especially as children of God, must flesh out civility (e.g., Ephesians 4:25-32). It is true that some paths are better than others. It is true that some choices are wrong and sinful and reject God’s plan. But instead of hating others for their confusion on these points, God would have us reach out redemptively.
In Matthew 7:3-4, Jesus goes on to speak of our judging others, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own wye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Lett me take the speck out of your eye, when there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
This basically means that when we disagree with another, we first do the work of prayerful self-examination, taking our attitudes, thoughts, habits, words and actions to the Word of God for careful and humble review. We will find that a lot of our assumptions and subsequent behaviors need a lot of work. But as we do so, we can reach out redemptively to others with truth, patiently accepting that the God Who has been working in my life is also working in theirs to bring about heart change and clarity, wisdom and love.
And it leaves to God what is only God’s: the role of ultimate judge. Only He can judge in the spiritually legal sense. Only He knows the eternal destiny of others. In the meantime, we love others, we share the truth of God’s Word with others, and we trust God with others to work in them the transforming work of His Spirit.
(Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 24 ½ years, is the author of Led by Grace, The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com.” Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed are the work of the author.)