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July 5, 2014
The Most Misused, Misunderstood Bible Verse - "Judge Not" Part One - Sin
By Anthony Wade
Judge not? Ehh not so fast...
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 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. - Matthew 7: 1-5 (ESV)
Contrary to what many professing Christians seem to believe, "judge not", is not a Bible verse. It is a two word portion of five verses spoken by Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. In other words, whenever you hear someone say, "judge not" you can be assured they are ripping that phrase violently out of the context in which it was meant to be in. Let's be honest too. It is probably one of the top "Christian" phrases used by both saved and unsaved. Judge not is a Christian defense mechanism used primarily for two reasons. The first is to not have to hear about our own sin and the second is to defend our favorite false teachers/prophets.
When it comes to sin we all know the drill. Someone has the temerity to point out to a brother or sister that they are in sin and the reflexive response is "don't judge me" or "who are you to judge!" The truth of course is that we are our brother's keeper. If not us then who? The problem is not the fact that someone tells us we are sinning. The problem is we are sinning and when we sow to the flesh, we will always reap destruction - that is what the Bible teaches us. What does the Bible specifically say about our responsibility here?
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. - James 5: 19-20 (ESV)
Yet we remain so gifted at providing Christian sound bites rather than sound doctrine - you know - what God actually says and means. Another favorite here is when people say, "let he without sin cast the first stone!" While that sounds so righteous it actually is merely one line in a much larger story. The Pharisees had caught a woman in the act of adultery. They were not trying to restore her. They were not trying to bring her back from her wandering. They wanted to stone her to death. More specifically, they were trying to trap Jesus into speaking against the Mosaic Law. So if your argument is that we should not try and stone people we find in sin - I wholeheartedly agree and more importantly, Scripture agrees. But that does not mean we ignore the sin. That is essentially what the "judge not" crowd advocates and that is not even supported by this story:
Jesus stood up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." - John 8: 10-11 (ESV)
No one is advocating for condemning a sinner because we all fall short of the glory of God. We are all sinners. But the convenient part people tend to leave out is when Jesus says - go and sin no more. Wait a minute preacher! The Book of James says who are you to judge your neighbor! Yes it does, but what is the context?
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? - James 4: 11-12 (ESV)
There's a little more here than merely don't judge your neighbor. The context reveals that James is clearly dealing with speaking evil against your neighbor. Other translations refer to this as slander. Commentaries agree that this is when someone is providing false reports or false testimonies about someone. So again if your point is that we should not provide false witness against our neighbors - I wholeheartedly agree.
The sadly ironic thing is that we get things so backwards in the church. We are constantly judging the world. They are sinners. They are heathens. They are going to hell. Look at what they are doing to this country. They have taken prayer out of schools and the Ten Commandments out of courthouses. Christians then hold up signs in protest, telling them God hates them. Then an avowed Christian falls into sin and the collective cry is - Judge not! Let us set the record straight biblically:
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you." - 1Corinthians 5: 12-13 (ESV)
Those in the world are facing the judgment of God. We are not supposed to shout about their sins but rather shout about He who can save them from their sins. On the other side, we are supposed to deal directly with the sin in our own camp. If we dig further into the context of 1Corinthians 5 we will see that the church at Corinth was turning a blind eye to someone who was committing sexual sin with the wife of their father.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. - 1Corinthians 5: 1-2 (ESV)
This is what we do today in the church. Maybe not the same exact sin but the same exact response. Blind pious arrogance in the face of what God hates. Let us be honest beloved. We simply do not mourn over our sin at all. We pay lip service to it. We seek out churches that will refuse to even talk about it. And if it happens to be pointed out by anyone we scream - judge not! Let us now exposit the whole context of the judge not verses to see exactly what Jesus is trying to say to us. Working backwards in the key verses we begin with the core revelation we all need to grasp:
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.
That's right. These verses are not addressing judging. They are addressing hypocrisy. Jesus is not saying we are not to judge. In fact, it is clear from this portion that He is saying we should judge! We should help our brother with the speck that is in his eye. We just should not do it when there is a log in our own. What does that mean preacher? That means if I am in an adulterous affair I should not be judging my brother's adulterous affair. Wow. Let this revelation sink in for a moment. Jesus understands our depraved nature so well. God understands our sinful state so well. It is so much easier to pick on other people rather than deal with ourselves. It is so much easier to call someone a sinner than look at our own sin. The miserable wretch that I am must first look in the mirror and remove what splinter might be lodged there before turning to my brother to help him with the speck in his eye. This is the essence of physician heal thyself. It also encapsulates the correct order of things for us as Christians. It reminds us that Mary has chosen the better thing. Our walk with the Lord must come first in every area of our life. Is it important to help our brothers and sisters? Is it important to spread the truth and light of the Gospel? Is it important to draw a line in the sand against sin and evil? All answers are a resounding yes but not before we first ensure we have removed the logs from our own eyes. Not that we would be perfect but rather that we not be hypocrites. We must remember that whatever we think is hidden in the darkness God will bring to light. So what good does it do to spread the Gospel and then be exposed in an adulterous affair? What good does it do to rail against the sins of the world while you are secretly committing them in private - only to be exposed at some point. What good do we think we are doing by correcting our brother or sister for a sin they know full well we are still wrapped up in? We do more harm than good. We finish with the key verses:
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
So we come to it. Judge not, that you be not judged. But it is far more involved than simply that. Jesus did not intend for this to be a sound bite to wield as a hammer, smashing any attempt to correct sin. We can tell just from this immediate context that it is the manner in which the judgment is pronounced. The discussion of another's sin should never be from a place other than love. It cannot come from a motive other than love.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. - Galatians 6: 1-5 (ESV)
The object is not to develop a critical spirit, searching for sin in everyone we meet. The object is to love one another so much, that when we see a brother or sister falling away we would be motivated to restore them. That restoration is a gentle process beloved. It stems from a place of understanding where that other person is and what they might be going through. It is easy to simply pronounce judgment and lord it over the person but that is not bearing one another's burdens. We bear one another's burden by understanding what those burdens are. Understanding the weight of them and the severity of carrying them. Not that we can physically bear them ourselves - verse five indicates we cannot. Yet we should be striving to understand the burden before we judge the sin.
Note why this is important. It prevents us from puffing ourselves up and so be deceived ourselves. How often have we seen judgment wielded as a blunt instrument with no love? Far too often. We do so because it makes us feel better about our own sin. But it leads to self deception as these verses indicate because you start to feel better about yourself when someone else is in the crosshairs. Have you ever had to deal with the super-spirituals in church? The people who are always in the prominent pew. Pray the loudest. Act the holiest. Fast to be seen. Praise to be heard. Beloved, there are no super-spirituals in the church. Your pastor is just a brother with a different calling than you. We all share the same Spirit, which is from God. We are all sinners, who thanks to the mercy and grace of Almighty God have been forgiven.
So when it comes to judge not, related to sins, it is not about one being better than another. It is not about our pride. It has to be motivated out of love. It has to be carried out in gentleness. It has to be free from hypocrisy. The judge not verses make it clear that there still is a speck in the eye of your brother and Jesus does not say to leave it there. He always says - go and sin no more. Removing the plank in our own eye first humbles us to realize we are not better than our brother or sister. It forces us to consider the burden they carry, lest we become conceited into a false sense of super-spirituality. We are our brother's keeper. If not now, when? If not us, who?
Reverend Anthony Wade - July 5, 2014