Didn’t Jesus say to “judge not”? This is Part 2 of a 5-part series in which UMAction Director John Lomperis examines the very important, but so widely misunderstood, teaching of Jesus Christ in Matthew 7:1-6.
If we really want to understand Christ’s teaching against judgmentalism, we need to look carefully at the whole passage of Matthew 7:1-6, in which Jesus elaborates on what exactly He means by His warning against judging others.
One of the things we notice right away is that Jesus does not question the existence of unacceptable spiritual and moral evil in people, symbolized by wood in people’s eyes. In fact, Jesus makes clear that the spiritual and moral evil in people is such a problem that it needs to be taken out.
Already, we see that the biblical, Christian basis for avoiding judgmentalism is very different from our 21st-century American culture’s knee-jerk reaction against anything that may be labeled “judgmental.”
Our American culture today says “I’m okay; you’re okay.” Labeling something as “judging” can be a very quick way to silence almost any sort of disagreement or disapproval.
But again, it is simply impossible to follow our culture’s logic consistently so that we refuse to morally disapprove of any sort of action. The fact is that everyone, including people who rail the most against what they call “judgmentalism,” makes moral judgments all the time.
We simply cannot escape our responsibility to support some moral standards. All that is accomplished by claiming that we are not supporting any particular moral standards is that we become much less honest and thoughtful about the particular moral standards we are, in fact, supporting.
Jesus offers a much more honest, and ultimately more hopeful, approach. He realizes that things are not really “okay” with people. No matter how “successful” they seem. None of us has completely been the men or women we have wanted to be. We strive for beauty, truth, justice, and joy, but cannot find anything in the world that satisfies us, at least not in a reliable, lasting way. We fill our schedules with activities or our bodies with substances, hoping to distract our minds from the pain, disappointments, and personal failures that our lives in this fallen world are so full of. But we cannot hide from the hard facts of reality forever.
Churches are far from being the only places where people feel the need to “fake it” and act like everything is awesome, even if their lives are falling apart. But churches that are truly following Jesus have very unique resources for allowing us to be safe and honest about our brokenness and wood in the eyes.
This is not about matters of preference. Like if your neighbor has brown eyes and you think brown eyes are ugly. The sort of judgment that looks down on, demeans, or excludes people because of things like their skin color, ethnicity, accent, education, cultural background, or socioeconomic status has no place in any Christian church. NONE of those sorts of things make any of us any more or any less created in God’s image. Acts 17:26 teaches that all the people groups of the Earth are made from “one blood,” descended from one common ancestor. Galatians 3:28 teaches us that, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I daresay that no place outside of the Christian community has as strong a foundation for the sort of “unity in diversity” the world loves to talk about in the abstract but rarely does a good job of in practice.
Also, over time different strands of the true body of Christ have developed different understandings on some very specific, extra-biblical details for the best way to live holy Christian lives. Some have found that it is helpful to engage in certain spiritual disciplines, such as fasting every Friday, or abstaining from certain things, like never going to movie theaters.
If Christians see a brother or sister in Christ DOING something that is not clearly forbidden by Scripture, or if we see them NOT DOING a spiritual discipline that is not clearly commanded by Scripture, we generally need to be very hesitant about insisting that they change their behavior. We need the humility to not think of ourselves as better than those whose Christian practices are a little different from our own.
But with his wood-in-the-eyes analogy, Jesus is talking about clearly bad things in people’s lives.
For a Christian, any moral judgments must begin with the recognition that we are ALL sinners. We are all guilty of having chosen not just isolated actions, but an entire orientation of our lives that is fundamentally selfish and unloving towards so many of our fellow people. We have been horribly ungrateful and disrespectful towards the Creator Who gives us everything. Even our outwardly “good” deeds, like helping others, have been tainted by impure, selfish motives.
Remember, Jesus’ teaching on judgment occurs within a longer passage that records Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon, Jesus made plenty of moral commands. So clearly, Jesus would not have been trying in this passage to condemn the whole idea of moral standards, as our popular culture loves to misrepresent Jesus.
Remember, the moral standard of the Sermon on the Mount is INCREDIBLY high. If anyone feels like a relatively “good person” because they have never murdered anyone, Jesus tells us that we are similarly guilty for those times in which we have spoken hatefully against our brother, or even harbored unreasonable feelings of anger against him. If anyone looks down on others who have, unlike themselves, had sexual relations outside of God’s boundaries, Jesus tells us that we are similarly guilty for every time we have looked upon someone else with lust.
We do not have to look at Jesus’ moral standard very long before it becomes obvious that, in the words of Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Earlier in that same chapter of Romans, Paul paints us a very ugly picture of the character of you, me, and every human being apart from Christ, quoting various parts of the Old Testament,
10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
That is how seriously God takes our sin.
But God looked down on the arrogant little people who had so rudely turned our backs on Him. He undertook the most undeserved project of love that has ever been done. He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to come to Earth. Jesus, who is one with His Heavenly Father, fully experienced all the sorts of challenges, pain, and physical limitations you and I face, and yet never once sinned. He taught truth where there had been so much confusion, healed where there had been so much suffering, and offered compassion where there had been so much isolation and hostility. He suffered a tortuous death on the cross, choosing to fully pay the penalty we earned for our sins. Later that same weekend, he physically rose again, declaring His victory over death.
Christians are those who have accepted the unearned gift of forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with God, and new life in Him that are all offered through the price Jesus paid for us.
This Gospel truth means that Christians are the last people on Earth who should look down on others, because we know the truth about ourselves.
Christians must never forget our own unworthiness.
THIS must be our starting place for any sort of moral judgment.