What is the favourite verse of those who are not Christians but have some familiarity with Christianity? What I hear quoted most frequently is Matthew 7:1, usually just the first two words.
1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Matthew 7:1 (NKJV)
A number of years ago three of us were having coffee at work (okay, I was having tea). Two of us were believers, the third commented on someone we knew now living with her boyfriend and there plan to get married in the future. I commented that they had it backwards and needed to do the wedding first. She said, “It’s not our place to judge.” That is, she referenced Matthew 7:1. Yet what had she just done? She had judged my view as wrong and hers as right.
We are always assessing things and judging them right or wrong. The liberals judge the conservatives for being too conservative and the conservatives judge the liberals for being too liberal. It reminds me of a little cartoon I used to use in teaching conflict resolution. It was the little ants and the child ant asks his father what a stereotype is and the dad ant responds, “It’s a label we put on someone so we can hate them without having to understand them.”
So, when we take a closer ‘look’ at Matthew 7:1 what is Jesus actually saying to us? What is the context? Jesus statement comes as part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). A few verses later Jesus references the need to remove the plank in our own eye before seeking to remove the speck in someone else’s. The idea of not judging is to not pass sentence on or condemn someone. We also have Jesus comment in John.
24 “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” John 7:24 (NKJV)
Here Jesus addresses the religious leaders who condemn Him for healing on the Sabbath while they circumcise on the Sabbath. His point is that they miss the heart of the law, the spirit, while still violating the letter and passing judgment on Him for doing what they are doing.
So how do we look at others? Jesus is clear that our heart approach is to be one of love. That does not mean condoning sin. In John 8:3-11 we have the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. Now there was hypocrisy here (think judgement) because those who brought the woman violated the Law of Moses by not also bringing the man. Jesus did two things in this passage. He first pointed out that there was sin in the lives of the accusers (Jesus judged their hearts because He knew them) and after telling the woman He did not condemn her (pass sentence on her) Jesus told her to not continue in her sin. That is Jesus was clear that her behaviour was wrong but He was giving her forgiveness.
So what does this mean for us? We are not to pass sentence on others because we do not know their hearts. We are not called to go around pointing out all the sin we see, that is a wrong focus. We are however called to respond and we cannot condone sinful behaviour. So how are we to respond? Paul tells us, we are to respond out of a heart of love and compassion recognizing that we could fall in the same way.
1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Galatians 6:1-3 (NKJV)
What is the law of Christ? Jesus summed up all the Law and Prophets in a paragraph.
29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 30 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 (NKJV)
Paul further condensed it.
10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10 (NKJV)
As did James.
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; James 2:8 (NKJV)
We are to walk in love toward others, which means helping people deal with their sinful behaviour through repentance, embracing Jesus forgiveness and supporting one another to walk uprightly before our Father. This means not judging hearts but helping people deal with their behaviour and looking to them to help us with ours.
As a fellow shared with me one day at the fitness centre, he doesn’t trust those who don’t have a limp (he was referencing Jacob in his wrestling with God and coming out broken). So, are we viewing others as being just like us, broken people who need grace, forgiveness and support?
How am I looking?