Tag Archives: pointing the finger

The Sermon, part 22: Judging

Read Matthew 7:1-5

“Then let the heavens proclaim His justice, for God Himself will be the judge.” (Psalms 50:6 NLT)

logandspeckIt’s hard to believe, but we have just entered into the last third of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where the focus shifts from our relationship with stuff to our relationship with human beings. It is important to remember, throughout all of the sermon, Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples, though he is being overheard by the crowds.

Jesus clearly knew he was being overheard and so we can draw the following conclusion: Jesus was directly instructing how his disciples were to be in relationship with their ἀδελφός (pronounced ad-el-fos’), meaning brothers. The use of the word brothers here means that Jesus is referring to how the disciples interact with other members of their fellowship. It would be accurate to say that Jesus isn’t just talking about male members and so we could say that in this case, ἀδελφός refers to both “brothers” and “sisters”, even though the word itself means brothers.

Yet, Jesus also is aware that his teaching is being heard by a multitude of other people who are not his disciples; therefore, it can be safely assumed that though Jesus is directly teaching this to his disciples, it is a teaching he intends even for those beyond his inner circle. In other words, this is a teaching of how humans, in general, should be treating each other. It is not a teaching that is exclusive to just his disciples. This is perhaps why the New Revised Standard Version translates the word ἀδελφός to “neighbors” as opposed to “brothers”.

Jesus starts this final section of teachings with an absolute prohibition. “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” There is nothing hypothetical or metaphorical about this teaching. Jesus is meaning it quite literally and absolutely. There is not gray area here, nor is there any “wiggle room”.

It is believed by some scholars that this teaching is original to Jesus, while the qualification that follows it was an interpretive expansion by the post-Easter church. The reason for this is that Jesus taught the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 24:34); however, as the years pressed onward following Easter, it became more and more clear to the church that “imminent” did not necessarily mean “in their lifetimes.” We can see this shift when we read Paul’s letters, which teach about the Kingdom soon to come, and the letters of Peter and John, who begin to understand that “with the Lord a day is like 1,000 years, and 1,000 years like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). Therefore, the church sought to expand upon Jesus’ teaching on refraining from in away that reiterated the need to follow it.

Regardless, what is clear is that Jesus absolutely prohibited judging. The question is, what is meant by the word “judge”. The word for judge κρίνω (pronounced kree’-nō) means to criticize or to condemn. In other words, Jesus prohibits his disciples and all who wish to follow him from casting criticism and condemnation on other people. Jesus then, according to Matthew, qualifies this prohibition by saying that those who judge will find themselves judged by God in the same manner and with the same measure as they judged others.

In other words, if you want to bring down God’s law on someone’s head, beware! For none of us are right with God and will face similar judgment. This is further qualified by Jesus’ question of why one would try and pull a speck or a splinter from their brother’s/sister’s eye, when he/she has a huge log or beam in his/ her own eye. Nothing gets Jesus more riled up than hypocrisy!

This should be a lesson for us as well. Who are we to judge. It is important to note that judgment is different than discernment. We can discern that we should not keep the company of someone because they are behaving in ways that are not moral or beneficial. We can discern that a certain belief is not good or not consistent with our own; however, are we in a place to judge (based off of any Law or doctrine or theology) that someone evil, or that someone is damned to hell? What’s more, even if we are right in our judgment that they are damned to hell for violation of this or violation of that, are we so sure that we are not in violation and deserving of the same judgment? Jesus’ answer to us is clear. “JUDGE NOT, so that you may not be judged.” I pray that we all learn to follow this prohibition.

“The least amount of judging we can do, the better off we are.” – Michael J. Fox

Lord, thank you for teaching of the perils of judging, for who am I to judge? Steer me clear away from it so that I may live and walk in your light, your mercy, and your grace. Amen.