A sermon preached at United Reformed Church of Clifton,
March 29, 2020
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor,‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is 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 neighbor’s eye.Matthew 7:1-5 (RSV)
This morning we come to the part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Judge not that you be not judged.” This is one of the most well known and most misused verses in the whole Bible. It is a favorite verse when someone is doing something morally questionable and they want to tell others to mind their own business. “You can’t tell me what do,” they say. “Only God can judge me. Judge not that you be not judged.”
But is that what Jesus was trying to tell us or does it mean something more? So this morning I want to discuss three things with you.
- What does it NOT mean to say “Judge Not”?
- What DOES it mean to say, “Judge Not”?
- How Can We Overcome Our Tendency to Be Judgmental?
What It Does NOT Mean to Say, “Judge Not”
When Jesus said, “Judge not lest you be judged,’ he did not mean that we shouldn’t hold each other accountable for wrong doing and misbehavior.
Accountability is a part of life and that is a good thing.
Suppose your 8-year-old shoplifts a candy bar from the 7-11 store. What do you do? If you are a good parent, you march them back to the store to apologize to the shopkeeper, even though they are so ashamed that they can barely get the words out. You pay for the candy bar and when they come home, you give them a loving hug, and then tell them they must never do that again. Then you give them a week’s worth of extra chores so that they can pay you back.
Now suppose on the way to the store, your daughter loudly protests, “You can’t judge me. Jesus said, ‘Judge not lest you be judged.’” Would you say, “You’re right, honey, I have no right to judge you. Please forgive me.”?
No, way! If my child said something like that, I’d come this close to committing a much more serious sin… murder! I’d explode. “How dare you use Jesus’ words as a shield for your wrong doing! You did something wrong and the best thing that I can do for you as a parent is to make you face the music!” Accountability, judgement, is a necessary and good part of family life. The same is true in all of life.
Furthermore, Jesus actually expects Christians to hold each other accountable. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus says, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” The Apostle James adds, “If one of you should wander from the truth, someone should bring him back. (James 5:19)”. And Paul says in Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently (Galatians 6:1).” We are not to excuse sin; we are to confront it so that we can restore a wandering soul.
Jesus commands us to be accountable to each other, both to encourage and to correct. The only way we can do that is if we use our “judgment,” to recognize that someone is doing something harmful to themselves or others.
So if Jesus’ word, “judge not lest you be judged” does not forbid us from holding each other accountable, then what does it forbid?
What DOES It Mean to Say, “Judge Not”
John R.W. Stott, in his book, Christian Counter Culture gives a good answer.
What did Jesus mean by Judge not? In a word “censoriousness.” The follower of Jesus is still a ‘critic’ in the sense of using their powers of discernment, but not a ‘judge’ in the sense of being censorious. The censorious critic is a fault-finder who is negative and destructive towards other people and enjoys actively seeking out their failings. They put the worst possible construction on others’ motives.John R.W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture, 1978, Inter-Varisty Press
In other words, the censorious critic is a judgmental soul, who is miserable and makes everyone else around them miserable. The difference between accountability and censoriousness is that accountability seeks to help people grow, judgmentalness only seeks to destroy.
John Stott says three things about judgmental critics.
First, they are “fault-finders who are negative and destructive.” They never look for the good in others, but always the bad. Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse in a pamphlet entitled “First Things First” says “[Sometimes people criticize because they love to criticize. Too often,] if a critic’s accusations prove to be false, and the neighbor is innocent, the critic looks for something else to criticize.” (quoted in, James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount, 1972, Baker Books, pp. 226-227). Critics are chronic fault-finders who never admit when they were wrong; they just move on to criticize something else.
Second, judgmental critics “enjoy actively seeking out the failings of others.” The key idea here is that they “enjoy” finding-fault. Yves I-Bing Cheng, a pastor with the Korean community in Montreal, says this
Criticizing other people makes us feel good. Don’t you agree? Criticism boosts our own self-image because when we gossip about other people’s failures, it makes us feel that our own lives are better than the person who failed. It shows how strong we are because of course, we don’t do these kind of things. We are better than that, at least in our own eyes.http://www.meetingwithchrist.com
Third, judgmental critics “put the worst possible construction on other people’s motives.” Perhaps that’s what lies behind road rage, the assumption that someone deliberately cut you off. However, it also happens every day in conversations around the office or home. Someone says something and we assume that it was a deliberate insult. However, if you always assume the worst, you will never be happy and neither will everyone around you.
So let me ask you a question. Have you ever known someone who fits this description—always finding fault, always enjoys pointing out your failures, always assuming the worst? All of us have known at least one person like that in our life. It may have been a parent, a teacher, a “friend”, or maybe even a pastor. I hope not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
Now let me ask you a harder question? Have you ever been a judgmental critic?
Now, I’m your pastor and I’ve known most of you for over 10 years. So I can say with confidence, the people of this church are loving, kind, accepting, and, most of the time, not judgmental. Being judgmental is certainly not a lifestyle for anyone in this congregation.
However, I also know myself and I know that there are certain people and situations that bring out the worst in me. In those situations, I can be as judgmental as any self-righteous Pharisee. I suspect the same is true of you.
So when Jesus, says “Do not judge,” I’ve learned not to say, “Well at least I don’t have that problem!” Instead I just assume that I am judgmental, even if I don’t recognize it. That frees me to pray: “Jesus, show me my sin and change me.”
Perhaps you remember the scripture verse that I often use in worship to assure us of God’s forgiveness after we confess our sins to God. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us ( I John 1:8)” You must have heard me say that several hundred times in the last 11 years.
What if we changed one phrase in that verse? What if it read: “If we say, “I am not judgmental,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us?” Ouch! Whenever we tell Jesus, “I am not judgmental,” I think he raises his eyebrow and with a bemused look on his face says, “Really? Maybe you’d better think again.”
Fortunately, we don’t have to be afraid to admit our faults, because Jesus is never judgmental. In the very next verse in I John 1:9 the scripture adds, “But if we confess our sins, … he will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we admit that we are judgmental, God will forgive, cleanse and help us to change.
So let me ask you again: is there anyone in your life that you have ever judged harshly? Maybe you need to have a little talk with Jesus about that. I know I do.
How Do We Overcome Our Tendency to Be Judgmental
So how do we overcome our tendency to be judgmental. In our scripture lesson Jesus gives us a comical image to make a not so comical point.
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?Matthew 7: 3-4
Eric J. Bargerhuff, in his book, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, says this:
[Here, Jesus] gives two commands: Stop judging others in a hypocritical fashion, and get the sin out of your own life. The truth of the matter is we should all be grieved about sin in our lives. And when we see it, we should address it, confessing it and forsaking it.(https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/the-most-misused-verses-in-the-bible-excerpt.html)
Ultimately, I cannot change anyone but myself. What I can do, however, is to take the log out of my own eye and ask God to help me become what he wants me to be.
But Pastor Mike, you may say, “Doesn’t that contradict the first part of your sermon where you said that we have a responsibility to hold each other accountable?”
Not really. You see there are two kinds of accountability, hierarchical accountability and mutual accountability. When I set myself up over someone else and tell them what they have do that is hierarchical accountability. Mutual accountability, however, is when people help each other to change. Christian accountability is always mutual. It says, “I’ll help you to get the logs and splinters out of your eye and you can do the same for me.”
Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, gives us an illustration of this concept when he imagines how the disciples reacted to Jesus’ teaching. He says,
They went off laughing a bit but knowing the teacher was right! A bit of humor about logs and specks made the point. They thought he really knew human nature, and they always thought that about him. They even asked each other what were the specks and the logs they noticed in each other. They listened and then they did something about it.Dr. Ralph F. Wilson http://www.jesuswalk.com/manifesto/11_judging.htm
I like that they asked each other about their own specks and logs. They were open about themselves and mutually accountable, and they did it all with a sense of humor and love.
Every Christian needs a friend who will help them grow. Someone with whom they can share their burdens, someone to whom they can admit their faults, someone with whom they can pray. The Apostle James says, “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed (James 5:16).” Mutual accountability brings healing and change.
If you want to overcome a judgmental spirit, you need to do two things.
- Work on the sin in your own life.
- Find someone who can help you with that task.
Rev. Michael A. Weber, March 29, 2020,
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