This is a tricky passage. On the one hand, we can feel that we cannot make any comment about another person. On the other hand, Christians are perceived as being judgemental (and with some justification.) And how many times have you heard a Christian saying, “I know I shouldn’t judge, but…” and then go on to say something negative about someone?
Do you know who Thokozile Masipa is? [Show picture.] Is it possible that she is a Christian? I don’t know if she is or not but she can’t be because Jesus said, “Do not judge”?
That might sound stupid but it illustrates an issue with interpreting the Bible. Leo Tolstoy, for example, said, “Christ totally forbids the human institution of any law court” and then said, He “could mean nothing else by these words”.
Tolstoy thought it was very plain, but few Christians would agree with that interpretation. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Do not judge”? It is made a little trickier because in v.6 He said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.” How can we know if people are dogs or pigs without judging? A little later in this chapter (in v.15) Jesus said, “Watch out for false prophets.” How can we know who the false prophets are without making some judgements? In fact, Jesus said, “By their fruits you will recognise them.” He tells us how to judge: look at their fruits.
What does all this mean? Did Jesus contradict Himself within a few verses? Was Jesus confused or do we tend to get confused about this topic?
In a court, once the evidence has been heard, a judge does two things: she states her verdict and she sentences. Oscar Pistorius received the verdict was presented on September 11th. He was convicted of culpable homicide. The sentencing is happening now.
Think about those two actions of the judge. The verdict is about weighing up the evidence and making an assessment of guilt or innocence. It is about truth. The sentencing is about punishment. Furthermore, the sentencing could be harsh; designed to hurt, or it could be humane and even merciful and designed to rehabilitate. Consider these four sentences. Which category do they come into?
- He judged the distance perfectly
- He is a poor judge of character
- I felt judged
- He judged them by the colour of their skin.
Which category do the following come into?
Was Jesus forbidding all three of those categories, or two, or only one? If only one, which one?
Making assessments is simply about being discerning and wise. In scripture, we are often told to distinguish truth from error, good from bad. We are to test spirits. We are to reject what is evil. We have to make judgements about what is right and wrong; about how we will respond to certain people or situations; about keeping ourselves (or others) safe; about truth and falsehood. That is very positive. If we didn’t distinguish right from wrong, we would be gullible fools. It is good to make judgements.
However, what Jesus did forbid was the sort of judgements that hurt people; that diminish people and question their worth. He was talking about being critical, finding fault, condemning, being negative and destructive, seeking to hurt.
That sort of judging is not permitted for several reasons:
- We have no right to hurt people whom Jesus loves.
- We cannot see their hearts or their motivations. Only God can and therefore only God can judge.
- God hasn’t made us judge over other people. They are God’s servants, not ours.
Romans 14:4 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
- We are fallible and weak. We are in no position to condemn others when we are just as deserving of condemnation.
Why do people criticise or spread gossip? To make another person look bad and, perversely, we somehow believe that we will look better if others look worse. People criticise to show their superiority. The thinking is: “I want to hurt this person.” That is what Jesus opposes.
As John Stott says, we are not commanded to be blind. We are commanded to be generous.
And actually, negative judging is self-destructive. We will reap what we sow. If we criticise, we will be criticised using the same measure. If we hurt, we will be hurt.
By other people. People don’t like critical people because they suspect that they will criticise them also as soon as their backs are turned. Besides that, negative people are just depressing to be around.
But maybe also by God. Is Jesus saying here that if we judge others, God will judge us – perhaps in much the same way that Jesus had earlier said that if we don’t forgive others, we won’t be forgiven?
Let’s consider an example. How should Christians view homosexuals? Jesus said we have no right to talk in ways that hurt or diminish or condemn. And the church has been guilty of acting very hurtfully. Homosexuals are people of infinite worth in God’s sight. God values them and loves them and treats them with dignity and we should also value them and love them and treat them with dignity. Christians need to think long and hard about their attitude to homosexuals because much of it has not been Christ-like.
On the other hand, we are to be discerning; we are to seek the truth. That will mean that Christians study the scriptures to see what they say about homosexuality. In my understanding, the scriptures are extremely clear in saying that homosexual behaviour is wrong. The Bible says that in the strongest terms and it says that practising homosexuals will not enter the Kingdom of God. We would be foolish not to know that.
Somehow we have to hold those two truths at the same time: both love for the people and awareness of God’s truth. It is easy to slip too far one way or too far the other. In practical terms, what does it mean to know the truth and to love the person?
It certainly means treating them with respect and gentleness but true love will also mean a concern for their salvation and a desire to talk to them about the truth. It will mean challenging their lifestyle. True love could not be unconcerned about their salvation. That is the restorative part of judging.
Jesus used the image of wanting to get a speck of dust out of someone’s eye while having a massive plank in our own. It is a ludicrous image. How would you do the delicate job of removing something tiny from someone’s eye if you had a plank in your own and couldn’t even see what you were doing? [2 cartoons]
With that ludicrous image Jesus points out the hypocritical nature of trying to fix some small issue in another person’s life while we have much larger issues in our own that have not been faced. Jesus is saying, “You check out your own life before you start correcting other people. You show the humility required to be honest about your own faults and to allow God’s Spirit to change you, not the pride of thinking you can fix other people.”
But notice that he doesn’t say not to take the speck out of the other person’s eye. Removing something from a person’s eye is an act of kindness. Helping someone overcome a weakness or a fault is an act of kindness. We do have a brotherly responsibility for each other. We are told to talk to people who have sinned against us. Jesus is just saying to do it with the right attitude – humility, gentleness.
The eye is a very pertinent image because the eye is so sensitive and so easily hurt. So are people when we want to talk to them about a speck in their eye. If we were removing a foreign body from a person’s eye, we would go gently, gently, gently. Let it be true that, when we address something in someone’s life, we also go gently, gently, gently.
How should Christians address a person’s homosexuality? Lovingly, humbly, gently. Not as a judge but as a brother. But we should do it. It is not loving to say nothing knowing what God’s word says. Our motive should always be to restore; to help; to see something positive.
My daughter told me a story about a woman pastor in her church who was beginning to relate to a young lesbian woman. One day, the young woman asked, “What does God think of me as a lesbian?” The pastor quickly prayed and felt led to focus on the first part of that question: What does God think of me?
She said that God loved her dearly; that she was His creation and he longed to know her etc.. That was the primary response. The question of her lesbianism was addressed in terms of it not being what God wants, but it was a secondary issue. First and foremost, God loved this young woman.
What about those within the church who want to either practice or promote homosexuality? I think that is a very different matter. We should still treat people with respect but…
Read 1 Cor 5:9-13.
We are not to judge those outside the church. That would mean leaving the world but Jesus has sent us into the world to live alongside these people. We are meant to be rubbing shoulders with the unsaved but it is not our job to judge them. That is God’s job.
But we are to judge those within the church. This is perhaps a surprise to some Christians. Within the church there are to be standards that are maintained; there is to be discipline. It is very firm: do not associate with those who claim to be brothers and sisters but are immoral. Expel the wicked person from among you.
There is still a right way to do it. In Matthew 18 Jesus spelled out a careful, respectful process but, if there is no repentance, Jesus said to treat that person as you would a pagan or a tax-collector. He doesn’t say to hate them or destroy them. He says to treat them as if they are no longer part of the fellowship.
Are we to judge? Absolutely we are to judge but we are not to seek to hurt people. Even with church discipline, the desire is to see the person redeemed and restored. The desire is that strong action will cause the person to face the truth. If that is not our motivation, then we have fallen into the negative, destructive type of judging that Jesus forbade.
Then there is v.6: do not give what is holy to dogs or throwing pearls to pigs. Is that connected to the verses we have just read? What on earth is Jesus talking about? What are the pearls and who are the pigs? And, isn’t this surprisingly judgemental language, especially in the context of the Sermon on the Mount?
Maybe the pearl reminds us of the pearl of great price. Is Jesus talking about the Kingdom or the Gospel? Maybe He is saying there are times to simply shake the dust off our feet and move on when people are violently opposed to the gospel.
Maybe, in context, one of the precious things we can offer is correction. Anyone who want to grow will value correction, offered well. But others will react badly.
Proverbs 9:7-9 7 Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
8 Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
rebuke the wise and they will love you.
9 Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
teach the righteous and they will add to their learning
The big title over this series of sermons is “Living Like Jesus”. What did Jesus do? Did He weigh things up? Did He know the truth? Clearly. Did He harm and destroy people? No. Did He challenge people? Yes, He did – sometimes very forcefully – but His motivation always was to restored; to bring them to a better place. Let that be our motivation as well.