Didn’t Jesus say to “judge not”? This is Part 3 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.
Romans 3:10-18, noted earlier, contains God’s very harsh description of our characters apart from Christ. Any of us who call ourselves Christian (myself included) should re-read that if we ever find ourselves looking down on someone else, disliking someone else, or thinking they are unworthy of your love, compassion, or understanding.
Let’s look again at what Jesus actually said about judgment in Matthew 7:1-6:
Vv1-2: “1Judge 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.”
When it comes to our sins, we are so quick to do whatever we can to rationalize and minimize our own evil. We cite all kinds of “extenuating circumstances,” and say “well, look at the situation I was in.” We are desperate to convince ourselves and others that we do not need to take full responsibility for the wrong we have done, and the good we have left undone.
But then when it comes to OTHER PEOPLE’S sins, especially if they were committed against us, or if these other folk were people we were already inclined to not like anyway, we want to dismiss all those nuances. We just want to say, “regardless of whatever circumstances they were in, they did still an inexcusably bad thing, they should not have done this, and that was so bad of them.”
It is very dangerous to go down the road of setting a higher bar for extending forgiveness to other people than we would want God to set for us. If we do that, we are inviting God’s judgment on ourselves every time we pray the very prayer Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6, which includes asking God to “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Jesus told a parable about this later in Matthew 18:23-35.
As Christians, we are in the position of that first lowly servant, who owed the King ten thousand talents. Now in that time, a talent was a unit of money worth twenty years of wages for a worker. He could have worked his whole life, devoting every last penny to that debt, and not even come close to paying off one half of one-tenth of one percent of it. The point here is not to get caught up on the number 10,000. Rather, it’s how by our sin, we have owed God a debt that is so unimaginably greater than what we would ever be able to repay. But God has chosen to forgive us that debt, sending Jesus to pay it for us. Forgiveness is inherently costly. Because forgiveness means whoever is doing the forgiving is essentially giving up their right to receive the repayment they had had the right to receive, and just absorbing the cost himself.
As a side note, in human relationships, we sometimes get confused about the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. It only takes one person to forgive. If someone wrongs me, I don’t need them to ever apologize, repent, or seek any sort of restored relationship for me to give up my right to demand repayment. But in any number of extreme cases, it would be wise to hold off on trusting the person again until they have demonstrated a genuine, long-term commitment to repentance and rebuilding trust.
So the first servant, the one we are supposed to identify with, has been offered both forgiveness and reconciliation with the King. But then he meets a second servant, who I believe Jesus wants us to understand as owing the first an infinitely smaller amount than what he had just been forgiven. To do some rough math, being forgiven an immeasurably large amount of money plus being down a very small, limited amount of money equals still being in MUCH better shape than you were before!
But then the first servant is so cruel to the second servant, physically assaulting him, then choking him. Even when the second servant humiliates himself, throws himself down, and pathetically begs for patience, the first servant shows no pity, mercilessly having the second servant thrown into a dirty dungeon.
We want to scream, “what a jerk!” As the King noted, he had all that debt of his own forgiven! Shouldn’t he have then in turn shown his fellow servant the tiniest fraction of the mercy he was enjoying for himself??! This is one of the most spectacular stories of someone blowing a golden opportunity by being unbelievably selfish, short-sighted, and just plain stupid.
But remember, we are in the position of that first servant. And we are being just as “wicked,” to use Jesus’ word, as that first servant when we refuse to forgive other people who have wronged us. Jesus paints a very scary picture of the anger we provoke from God when we do that. This is not your gentle Jesus.
I don’t know who first spread the idea that Jesus Christ was some passive, weak, and completely inoffensive guy who went around saying “there, there” and who had nothing more to say than that everybody should be nice like Him. But whoever it was wasn’t reading this gospel.
Among other things, this parable helps us see that the sort of judgment we are to avoid is a too high view of ourselves, and an unlovingly and unfairly negative view of others.
The first servant judged the second servant as someone he could just completely dismiss from any sort of compassion, concern, patience, or understanding. The great forgiveness this first servant was enjoying, and the relative pettiness of the forgiveness he was withholding, made his attitude incredibly unfair and self-serving.
Somebody else’s sin may or may not be against us. Or maybe there is just something about their personality that “rubs us the wrong way.” In any case, Christians must absolutely avoid viewing the entire person of another human being God created in a blanketly negative way. Or else we are inviting similarly harsh judgments on ourselves.
To be a Christian is to be a person who understands that we have received GREAT mercy. What we all deserve is God confirming our selfish choices to turn away from Him, so that we will ultimately spend all eternity apart from Him in Hell. But God instead offers to give us not what we deserve, but rather something more amazing and wonderful than we could ever imagine.