When Jesus said, “Judge not, lest you be judged,” (Matthew 7:1, New American Standard Bible, NASB), where do we draw the line? Judging is a matter of human instinct.
Think of situations where judging is imperative: jurists doing their civic duty…judges rendering decisions in court…law enforcement officers making split-second decisions while protecting the public…judges in talent contests…parents using discipline to correct their children…making decisions for whom you vote into office…whether to approve or disapprove a moral issue or cause…. These examples require some kind of judgment for making choices and taking responsibility for our actions.
It is important to understand what Jesus meant when he said not to judge. Consider this: There are two kinds of judging. One, judgment of innocence. Two, judgment of guilt. From a legal standpoint, the judgment of innocence results in the reward of freedom but the judgment of guilt results in the reward of punishment. The kind of judging Jesus is referring to has to do with the latter— finding fault with others so as to pronounce them guilty and worthy of punishment. Judging for the primary purpose of condemning others puts one on thin ice seeing that none of us is perfect. And this is the point Jesus was making.
It is also important to understand the Jewish context in which Jesus was speaking. When the God was establishing the Law to Israel through Moses, judges were appointed. They were to decide cases by judging the people with “righteous judgment.” Judges were also instructed on how they were to avoid injustice as they were to pursue true “justice and only justice” in their legal decisions (Exodus 18:13-27; Deuteronomy 16:18-20).
Because he knew very well how to read human nature (John 2:24-25), Jesus was able to decide matters with “righteous judgment.” He was, after all, tempted as we are yet without sinning (Hebrews 4:15). So Jesus was perfectly qualified to tell his followers not to judge.
At the same time, Jesus could rightly judge the deeds of others. For instance, our Lord correctly judged the diabolical actions and extremist views of the Jewish leaders, calling them “hypocrites,” (Matt. 27:13-36). They were only looking out for their own self interests in the guise of their religion. Not wanting his followers to fall into the same attitude of the Jewish leaders, Jesus warned his followers not to judge others without first considering their own faults. [NOTE: This also fits the pattern of God’s law of love and the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12; 22:34-40). If we treat others the way we’d want to be treated, then we’d think twice about racing to our judgment of them.]
In John 7:24, he instructed them, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Jesus was the exact reflection of his Father’s characteristics including judging, not according to someone’s outward appearance but rather, upon their heart (For example, 1 Samuel 16:6-13). Thus, Jesus knew that sometimes appearances can be deceiving. What he knew is so true about our nature.
I was reading an interesting story about a distinguished astronomer at the turn of the 20th century who believed he’d discovered canals on Mars. Sir Percival Lowell was highly regarded for his study of the solar system. And he was particularly fascinated with the Red Planet.
According to the story, Lowell had heard that in 1877 an Italian astronomer had seen straight lines crisscrossing the Martian surface. Lowell was so intrigued with this news that the rest of his years were spent squinting into the eyepiece of his giant telescope in Arizona. He mapped out channels and canals he saw. He was convinced that the canals were proof of intelligent life on Mars, perhaps revealing an older but wiser race than humanity.
Lowell’s observations gained wide acceptance at that time. Few dared to question his assertion. He, after all, was the expert.
Now we jump to the 21st century—a hundred years later. Advancements have been made in the cosmos. Space probes have orbited Mars and landed on the surface. The entire planet has been mapped out. And, no one has found a canal. But Lowell said he’d seen them. How could that be?
Well, as someone has said, he either wanted to see the canals so much that he convinced himself over and over again that they were there, or maybe he was having some kind of eye problem that led to his conclusions.
Actually, it is now known that the renowned astronomer was suffering from a rare disease that made him see the blood vessels in his own eyes. The so called Martian “canals” amounted to nothing more than the bulging veins of his eyeballs. This malady is come to be known as “Lowell’s syndrome.” (selected)
This is a fitting illustration of the way we allow appearances to deceive us especially in the way we may judge others. Jesus warns us not to remove the “speck of sawdust” in another person’s eye without first taking out “the plank” of wood in our own eye (Matt. 7:1-3). In a spiritual sense, judging others is like Lowell’s syndrome. For if all we can see are the faults in others because we don’t want to see anything good in them, aren’t we actually missing something that might reveal a positive feature of their character? And perhaps we can’t see it them because we’re suffering from our own eye problem—or should we more accurately say “I” problem—suffered from our own disease of bias and prejudice.
There are lot of good quotes on judging others by philosophers, Christian leaders, entertainers, and well-respected authors. Here are many of them to ponder…
~ None are more unjust in their judgments of others than those who have a high opinion of themselves. —Charles Spurgeon
~We should be rigorous in judging ourselves and gracious in judging others. —John Wesley
~When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself. —Earl Nightingale
~If you judge people, you have no time to love them. —Mother Teresa
~We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started. —Henry Ward Beecher
~The least amount of judging we can do, the better off we are. —Michael J. Fox
~When you meet a man, you judge him by his clothes; when you leave, you judge him by his heart. —Russian Proverb
~To judge a man by his weakest link or deed is like judging the power of the ocean by one wave. —Elvis Presley
~Instead of judging people, we need to pray. —Joyce Meyer
~Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers. —Voltaire
~If you judge, investigate. —Seneca
~If you would judge, understand. —Seneca
~No accurate thinker will judge another person by that which the other person’s enemies say about him. —Napoleon Hill
To judge or not judge? The scriptures give us the kind of guidelines that help us to wisely answer that question:
Luke 6:37-41 Do not judge and you will not be judged….
Romans 2:1 You are not without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment…
Romans 14:10, 13 Why do you judge your brother?…Let us not judge one another anymore.
1 Corinthians 4:5 Do not go on passing judgment before the time….
James 4:11 He who judges his brother…speaks against the law and judges the law….
Speaking of judging…it is wise to remember that a Judgment Day is coming when everyone will give an account to God (2 Cor. 5:10). Remember the two kinds of judgment to which I referred? There will be a judgment for punishment upon those guilty of sin, and they will be sentenced to eternal death (Revelation 20:11-15). But there will also be a judgement of those who are pronounced not guilty, because their sins have been forgiven by accepting Jesus Christ according to the Word of God (Acts 2:38; John 3:16; Rom. 6:1-23). They will receive the reward of eternal life in God’s glorious Kingdom. It, therefore, becomes imperative that we keep this in mind whenever we are tempted to judge others without first confessing our own sins (1 John 1:9). In so doing, we will have the hope of living in God’s future Kingdom (2 Peter 1:10-11).
Here’s Hillsong United singing, “From the Inside Out,” http://youtu.be/SZ-fghqc8Oo
Good News to YOU!