Judge Not – Or Should We? 

 In Jason Bunger

After meeting and trying to rationalize a clearly misguided person or an unexplainable situation do you ever find yourself uttering the familiar words, “Well, who are we to judge?” After all, Jesus said, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”

As much as we say that we are not judgmental people, we repeatedly make and expound on our judgments of others.  We are constantly judging and are sometimes even entertained by it.  Many popular shows (America’s Got Talent, Cake Wars, etc.) and athletic events (diving, figure skating) are designed around judging.  When I visit a restaurant or stay in a new hotel, you better believe I read the review or “judgments” of previous patrons.  When I leave an establishment I’m often asked for my feedback – another form of judgment. We live in a world where everyone has an opinion (or judgment) and we are often invited to share it.    

In Matthew 7:1, Jesus does tell us to “judge not!”  Surprisingly, a few verses later, however, Jesus speaks of how we should judge people. In Matthew 7 in verses 15 thru 20, Jesus tells his followers, 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” 

Why would Jesus tell us not to judge people, and then tell us how to judge people? What did Jesus really mean when he said, “judge not?” In these verses it does seem to me that Jesus is telling us how to deal with the apparent failings of others in a Christian manner.  Here is my best judgment of what Jesus may have meant.   

We should judge people in the way we would hope to be judged.

7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

If we want to be judged with mercy then we must extend mercy to others.  We must ask, “If that person were me and I were to fail in a similar manner, how would I want others to look at me?”  In the United States we may find ourselves standing before a jury or serving on a jury.  No matter how hard our systems may try, we will never be certain we have all the facts nor can we understand or be certain of intent. When we don’t have all the facts or are unable to determine motive or intent, trials end in hung juries. Since you cannot be certain what you would do in a particular situation and because we are unaware of what internal struggles others are fighting, we must judge with mercy.

Judging with mercy begins with choosing to assume the best of other people.  This does not mean that others will never let you down.  For certain, we will sometimes be disappointed. But assuming the best of others will keep relationships healthy and allow us to sleep better at night. Here is how it works:  Suppose you planned to meet with someone at a particular time/place and they don’t show up. If you choose to believe that they did it on purpose you are assuming the worst of them – likely ending in hostile words or suppressed anger. However, if you choose to say something like, “Hey man. I thought we were supposed to meet this afternoon. You didn’t show up and I just want to make sure that you are ok.”  I guarantee you will receive a kinder and more honest answer. Approach the person as you would want to be approached. 

We should judge ourselves before we judge others.   

Jesus says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the 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. (3-5) Jesus uses a comical exaggeration here.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the 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.” 

Jesus tells us to first remove the log from our own eye.  Judging others should force us to first evaluate ourselves.  Do we struggle with the same issues?  Is there a similar area that we wrestle with in our own life? 

But don’t miss this, Jesus does tell us to remove the speck from the eye of our brother.  But we can only do it effectively, when we have first taken care of the log in our own eye.  We best help our brother by sweeping around our own doorstep before we sweep around another’s doorstep.    

We should share judgment only when it can be received.

Choose carefully to whom and how you share concerns, advice or pass judgment. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Matthew 7:6

Sadly, we live in a world where wisdom seems to be shared rarely and heeded even less.  Our own immaturity sometimes prevents us from seeing or heeding the wisdom we are sometime offered.  Each of us has had a time in our lives where others genuinely wanted to help us, but we simply were not in a position to hear them.  A good friend recently shared with me that her career is back on track after being stuck for nearly 10 years! I asked her what was different now.  She said, “Someone tired to help me when I started out. They told me to do exactly what I am doing now.”  I asked “Why now?”  She replied, “Because I was not in a place to hear my mentor back then. Everything she said was right. I simply could not hear what she was trying to tell me, even though it was for my benefit.”  Most of us can relate to the ignorance of our youth. 

But some people (or pigs to follow the metaphor) never grow out of it.  Like pigs with pearls, they trample on the advice you throw at them – even attack the one offering the pearls of wisdom! I have come to the resolution too late, that some people just can’t hear what we say, and some won’t hear it.  It seems we live in a world where people often choose only to hear enough in to allow them to misrepresent and mistreat you.  If we have learned anything from Cable News and Social Media, it is this – people really don’t want to hear the ideas of others.  They simply want to shout down the characters or misrepresentations of their ideas. Howard Hendricks writes:  “Most people don’t think—they just rearrange their prejudices.”   

I don’t know much about pearls.  But I do know this.  If you have pearls, you know the exact occasion to display them, and you know when it is best to keep them hidden and safe.  Our discretion and wisdom is the same.  When we recognize how valuable it is, we recognize when to display it and when to remain modest.    

So, in my best judgment, Jesus seems to be saying that we should judge others as we want to be judged, get our own house in order before helping others, be certain our judgments are loving and be very deliberate about how and with whom we share them. 

If you find my best judgment to be wrong, please do me the courtesy of judging me the way that you would want me to judge you. 

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