You’re Not the Judge of Me

You’re Not the Judge of Me May 17, 2019
Do not judge, so that you will not be judged (photo courtesy of Victor Hamberlin / flickr)

Have you ever tried to have a conversation about sin only to have someone say, “Hey, Jesus told us not to judge!” For this person, any attempt to classify an act as sinful is a judgment that Jesus expressly prohibited. This is based on Jesus’ words in Matt 7:1, “Do not judge, so that you will not be judged.” Is Jesus’ statement really a sweeping prohibition against making judgments? If you answered “no,” you are correct. Instead, Jesus is actually explaining the best practices for making good judgments. In today’s blog, we’ll unpack this entire section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7:1-6). By doing so, we’ll learn how to be the kind of judges Jesus taught us to be.

There’s Judging and There’s Judging

In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, it’s plain to see that God’s people were, in fact, supposed to make judgments. In the Old Testament, God gave his people instructions by which they were to live, i.e. Torah. Once they were settled in the Promised Land, members of the local communities were required to make judgments when people didn’t follow these instructions. Torah even included instructions about the penalties the people were to impose on the disobedient.

This is continued in the New Testament. In Matt 18:15-20, Jesus provided instructions for how the community of believers should handle the problem of a sinning brother (or sister). Likewise, in 1 Cor 5, Paul also provides instructions for the community regarding a brother who is living in sin. Later in NT, Jesus tells the church in Thyatira that their failure to deal with a false prophetess in their midst is something he holds against them (Rev 2:20). Thus, it is clear that God wants his people to make judgments and even impose consequences.

It should be noted that these judgments are about participation in the community of believers. For God’s people, there are behaviors that disqualify someone from full participation in the community. God has charged his people with making these judgments and acting upon them. Judging disobedience has two functions. First, it is meant to train people in righteousness. In order for people to grow, we have to help them see the areas in which they need to grow. We can’t do this without judging. Second, it is to protect the body. Those who refuse to live obediently to Christ represent a threat to the health and strength of the body.

By contrast, the one judgment that God’s people don’t make is what we might call final judgment or condemnation. This judgment is God’s alone. When God’s people make a judgment, it is not condemnation. Restoration and reintegration into the community is always a possibility (see 2 Cor 2:5-11). By contrast, scripture states that there will be a final judgment that, for the disobedient, will result in condemnation. That judgment is for a later time and Jesus will be the judge (Acts 17:31).

Judging Rightly

God didn’t just instruct us to judge and then leave us to figure it out by ourselves. That would be a recipe for disaster. Through Jesus, God has given us instructions for making righteous judgments.

First, we need to make sure we’re not guilty of the sins we’re calling out in others (Matt 7:1). If we declare that someone else is guilty when we are doing the same thing, we are declaring our own guilt. The apostle Paul echoes this in Rom 2:1-3. If we don’t want to experience the same judgment, we need to take care of our own business first.

Second, we should use the standard of judgment we would want used with ourselves (Matt 7:2). Personally, I want my brothers and sisters in Christ to show me grace and patience. Transformation and growth into maturity take time. I hope that those around me will note my transformation and growth. Even though I haven’t arrived at full maturity, I hope they will see that I am more mature than I was earlier in my Christian life. If this is the judgment I wish to receive, I must practice it with others.

Third, if we want to make righteous judgments, we need to get in some practice. No one would go to a doctor who hadn’t done a period of residency. In the same way, we need to develop our judging ability before putting it into practice. The best way to do this is to first practice on ourselves. This is what Jesus meant when he said to remove the board from your own eye before trying to help someone else get the speck out of his (Matt 7:3-5). If we can’t make good judgments on ourselves, how can we help someone else? We’re more likely to do harm than good. Once we’ve demonstrated our competency to make good judgments in our own lives, then we can move on to help others.

Don’t Give Pigs Margaritas

This sub-title is a little joke. The Greek word for pearl is margarita. The thought of a pig sipping a margarita on a beach makes me smile.

Jesus’ final instruction is “don’t give what is holy to dogs and don’t throw your pearls before swine,” (Matt 7:6). I think this is a fitting addition to the issue of making right judgments. The saying itself is somewhat cryptic. Nor is its connection to judging obvious. However, there are some clues that may help us decipher its meaning.

In the New Testament, the word “dog” is often used for those outside of the community of God’s people. They are people who aren’t obedient to God’s instructions. For example, in Phil 3:2 Paul writes, “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh.” Similarly, we read in Rev 22:15, “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Like dogs, pigs also symbolize the disobedient. Since pigs were unclean animals for the Jews, they also represent those outside of the community of God’s people.

What Jesus means is that we aren’t to judge those outside of the community. Those on the outside haven’t committed to obeying God. Therefore, we have no common ground for judging their obedience or lack thereof. Paul states this clearly in 1 Cor 5:12, “What have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge?” If we try to judge such people by kingdom standards, they will probably unleash their wrath on us. Therefore, judgment is solely an in-house responsibility.

Summary

As we’ve seen, God’s people are, in fact, supposed to make judgments. Thankfully, Jesus gave us instructions about how to do it rightly. We can summarize them thusly:

  • If you do the things you’re judging others for doing, you condemn yourself.
  • Judge others the way you want to be judged.
  • Practice judging yourself before you judge others.
  • God’s people only judge God’s people, not outsiders.

Jesus didn’t prohibit judging. On the contrary, he taught us how to be righteous judges. Let’s commit to becoming the kind of judges Jesus taught us to be.

About Ron Peters
Ron Peters is Professor of New Testament at Great Lakes Christian College. He has numerous publications on New Testament and Greek Language & Linguistics. He is also cohost of the After Class Podcast. You can read more about the author here.
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Faith L Sochay

    This was helpful, Ron. I have a nuance in language and I am curious about your thoughts:

    When Jesus said “don’t judge” He meant it in that we are not deciders of right and wrong. God is. Matthew 18 means confronting someone with what God has ALREADY judged as wrong. That is different than us judging or becoming judges. Rather, it is us walking out the Judge’s orders among His people. Do you hear the difference?

    We are not judges by sharing and reminding one another of God’s good laws or even when we disfellowship.

    In other words, Jesus’ Words to not judge should be taken literally. We don’t decide what’s wrong in the life of others, even believers, although we certainly call out what God has judged wrong following the Matthew 18 parameters and the other Scriptures you laid out.

  • Faith L Sochay

    I re read your blog, the verses associated with it, and tested my theory a bit against it all…including looking up the Greek word “judge” Jesus used vs. Paul’s in I Cor. 5 to see if maybe it was different. And…

    I officially rescind my theory.

  • Tommy Moehlman

    Ron, I think your post correctly identifies and analyzes the context of the early Christian documents as it relates to “judging” others. I think another key to this puzzle is thinking about the social context in which we find ourselves as readers. Do you think, culturally speaking, a modern reader’s aversion to “judging others” is a projection they put on the text? Let me use an analogy to illustrate my point about the possibility of reader projections. The OT is often noted for its violence. There’s some truth in this claim. Yet what I find perplexing is that people will read violent texts and then go watch Game of Thrones and John Wick as a form of entertainment. My theory is that for those who want to eliminate the violent texts of the OT as a way to mitigate religious violence fail to reckon with is their own social location that swims in violence as a form of entertainment.

  • Ron Peters

    I whole heartily agree that people project their own aversion to judging onto the text, as they do in many other areas. Far too often, people read the Bible in a way that mirrors their values, rather than in a way that confronts their values. They read the Bible for affirmation, rather than transformation. You’re spot on.

  • Ron Peters

    No problem.

    At a general level, I think that there’s something to what you’ve said. When we identify sin, we are simply passing on to others what God has said. We’re not making up the rules, so to speak; we’re simply informing. Even when we warn people about the possible consequences, we’re simply passing along what God has already said. Although, how often do we present the full picture? When we inform people about the possible consequences of sin, do we also inform about the blessings of repentance and reconciliation?

  • Faith L Sochay

    Great point! Painting a picture of the blessings on the other side…the goodness of God’s law! Not taking away God’s law…but remembering that it IS GOOD.

    I think there is a brand of Christianity that glorifies in getting to judge. Glorifies in a narrow path everyone doesn’t make it on. Glorifies in the “God don’t care if you’re happy” gospel. It’s… wrong. Mostly because it’s arrogant… and also doesn’t smell like the fruits of the Spirit.

    Rant over.