This week, Governor Phil Bryant signed into law MS House Bill 1523, referred to as the “Religious Freedom” Bill. Many have opposed the bill due to a perceived attacked against the gay, lesbian, and transgender lifestyle. As is often the case with a controversial bill, people come out of the woodwork with their favorite Scripture, the first part of Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge…”
The world is guilty of taking a verse to prove what you already want to believe, and I think that is how this verse has been used. It has been twisted to convey the idea, “You live your lifestyle and I will live mine. You don’t tell me how to live and certainly don’t you try to impose your standards of morality on me.” The verse is spouted by people who have no earthly idea what Jesus meant, and I venture to say that the people who quote this verse the most are the ones who understand it the least. It just happens to fall into line with the spirit of our time. Most see it like this:
“Do not judge” has been misunderstood and taken by some to mean that faithful Christians must never exercise any critical judgment. People have bought into the lie that Christians are to be totally accepting, whatever the situation.
It is ironic that the world loves opinionated people until it comes to the conventional morality. In these matters, the world adores the nonjudgmental person.
When using Scripture, it is important that the context be considered, which is the opposite of picture above. The reasons this text cannot be made to say that we are never to judge are obvious: In Matthew 7:6, Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.” We cannot obey Jesus’ command unless we must judge who are “dogs” and who are “pigs.” He says in Matthew 7:15, “Watch out for false prophets.” This requires subtle, discriminating judgment on our part. These verses follow the oft-misused quote that people believe forbid judging, and the context supports the truth that we are required to judge.
Other Scriptures also teach the need to judge: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). “Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment” (John 7:24). In 1 Cor 5:11, Paul tells us not to associate with someone who claims to be a brother who is “sexually immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a swindler.”
Christians have an obligation to exercise judgment. Since judgment has such a negative connotation, what we are to exercise is discernment. There is a universe of difference between being discerning and critical. A discerning spirit is constructive. A critical spirit is destructive. The person with a destructive, critical spirit enjoys his position and expects to find fault. When a critic discovers faults in another, he is satisfied.
Often, the critical, fault-finding person focuses on things that are of little importance and treats them as matters of vital importance- such as the way you dress, a particular version of the Bible, and your theology agreeing point for point. This pettiness on secondary issues is condemned in Romans 14:1-4 in the strongest of terms.
When Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” He teaches that we set the standard and tone for our own final judgment by our judgmental conduct in life, and we prove by our judging of others that we know what is right. So if we do not do what is right, we condemn ourselves. If We set ourselves as authorities and judges over others, we should not be surprised or complain when we are judged by our own standard. We need to face and apply this text with all its fearful force.
How will this affect us eternally? There are two eternal judgments. One is the separation of believers and nonbelievers: “the sheep and the goats.” True believers are the sheep who will go to be with God and who will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive their proper rewards. There God will judge us as we have judged others. Judgmental believers will still go to be with God forever, but they will have very little reward, for their critical spirit will have erased much of the good they had done.
Very few of us dare to pray, “God, judge me as I judge others.” That is how He will judge us. The tone of our life is going to become the tone of our judgment (2 Cor 5:10-11). There is nothing more ungodly than a critical spirit, and nothing more un-Christlike than the false righteousness that is always looking for something wrong in someone else.
We find it so easy to turn a microscope on another person’s sin while we look at ours through the wrong end of a telescope. We use some strong term for someone else’s sin but an excuse for our own. We easily spot a speck of phoniness in another because we have a logjam of it in our own lives.
Log-toting speck inspectors are hypocrites, says Jesus (Matthew 7:5). They really do not care at all about the speck in the other’s eye. All they really care about is building up themselves in their own eyes.
When we see ourselves as we are, we see others as they are. Instead of being critical, we weep for ourselves and them. When we have removed the log from our own eyes, then we can see clearly to take the speck out of our brothers’ and sisters’ eyes. Jesus does not encourage an attitude of not caring toward fellow believers. Jesus does want us to discern the sins and shortcomings of others, but he wants us to see them through clear, self-judged eyes- eyes that are tender and compassionate.
While we are to make judgments, we must be humble, sympathetic, conscious of our own sins, and without condemnation. We need God’s mercy. We need to be people who speak the truth in love because the love of God controls us.