Alfred Place Baptist Church

6:37-42 Christian – Do not judge

Luke 6:37-42 “‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ He also told them this parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,” when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’”

Six verses on the theme of not judging others seemed to me initially rather unexpected. Also we know that this theme is found elsewhere in a similar sized section in Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1-5), so that in two places in the New Testament the Son of God is warning us of the wickedness of judging others, and in both cases the exhortation, “Don’t judge” is accompanied by an implied warning, “and you will not be judged”, that is, no condemnation if you yourself don’t condemn others. Don’t you think that such amplification of this particular sin to be rather excessive? We think we understand that judging is wrong; we’re aware of that fact, but it is hardly mentioned in the ten commandments, is it? We’d expect to find some reference to its sinfulness somewhere, for example, tucked away in a series of comments like, “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (I Thess. 5: 20-22), with the words, “And don’t judge others,” tagged on to that list, but it is not like that at all. Our Lord pauses and opens up this subject at length in two places in the New Testament. Judging others is as wrong in the eyes of our Lord as hating others.

Here we find two major sins being expounded by our Lord and laid on the consciences of his hearers. They are here in this sermon which is before us. You see the basic simple structure of the sermon don’t you? Look at it from the twentieth verse; first, there are the four beatitudes; they are followed by the four woes; then there is the sin of hating your enemies opened up in no less than ten verses. Jesus then turns to this sin of judging people which we have to deal with now. Then there are the two sections left, the tree and its fruit, and the final parable of the two builders; the sermon is then over. Its heart, I say, is found in Jesus pointing out the heinous reality of these two sins. Some of the marks of a person living the blessed life are shown in not hating others and not judging others. You are in fact living a woeful life if you are hating and judging others. I believe I understand something of the importance of not hating people, but not judging them, is it all that important? That requires more thought.

I feel the danger will be that I will explain that it does not mean A . . . B . . . C . . . and then the searching stringent impact of this command will be weakened by all my A’s and B’s and we’ll feel, “Oh, well, that wasn’t so bad. I am keeping this commandment more or less,” whereas we need to leave here feeling, “If it were not for the Saviour who never judged another wrongly, and who gave his life to the judgment of God that I might not be judged how could I possibly get to heaven?” One great purpose of this passage of Scripture is that we feel rebuked and corrected and instructed in righteousness, and that we are mighty glad we have a Saviour whose blood cleanses us from all our sin. Many times we need to leave a service quietly, thoughtfully and convicted. You say, “But I come here to be encouraged,” and I come here to be encouraged too, but I tell you there can be no true encouragement for you if you are defending and even feeding in your heart a critical spirit towards other Christians. That sin has to be exposed, understood and mortified. You are not to judge others. Read my lips. It is wicked of you to be judging. It is sinful, just like committing adultery is sinful. It is as much a sin as murder is a sin. God puts people who judge in hell, Jesus says. Stop judging other people. You are destroying yourself and your family, your friendships and the congregation by your judging. “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven,” said the Son of God.

1. WHAT JESUS’ PROHIBITION DOES NOT MEAN.

i] Our Lord’s prohibition is not intended to belittle having deep convictions about right and wrong, truth and error. We are living in an age in which the greatest sin (after racism) is to say that another opinion or religion or ethic or practice other than the Christian faith is ‘wrong.’ In Britain we are still being permitted as Christians to believe what we want, behave as we choose and to evangelize – though we have to be vigilant that more of these God-given rights won’t be taken from us by Caesar. Where we confront the greatest hostility today is when we make the claim that Christianity is the only true revelation from God, and those who don’t believe these things are wrong and they are lost people. Our age puts such convictions at a discount. It is an age which dislikes absolutes and dogmas; we live in a nation that is overwhelmingly relativist, from the highest echelons of government. New Labour came to power by skillfully hiding what its convictions were, and the Tory party has decided that if it is to gain office at the next general election then it must do the same. What does its leader believe passionately that is different from the leaders of other political parties? We find it very hard to pass judgment on our politicians because we are no longer told what their principles are. Everything today is relative and that result in there being no search for the truth. When our Saviour says do not judge he is not encouraging us all to be bland, middle of the road people.

ii] Our Lord’s prohibition does not mean that Christians oppose courts of law. That was the idea of the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. He said this, “Christ totally forbids the human institution of any law court,” and that Jesus “could mean nothing else by these words.” Now that cannot possibly be our Lord’s intention. He himself submitted to Jewish and Gentile law courts and never condemned the institution and procedure though both courts trying him were deeply corrupt. His own apostle teaches us that the powers that be are ordained of God, and that state officials do not wield the sword in vain for they are God’s servants. In our text Christ is certainly not speaking about courts of law but about the responsibility of individuals to one another. Tolstoy’s own personal life was shockingly immoral.

iii] Our Lord’s prohibition does not mean that we suspend our God-given and Scripturally enlightened faculties in evaluating men and women. A man comes up to you and says, “Will you marry me?” So would you say, “I mustn’t judge and so I will have to say yes!”? No, you wouldn’t reply like that. You would at least size him up. A church is looking for a new minister and a man comes and preaches, and he is the right age and everyone can hear him clearly and so they give him a call without attempting to find out what he believes. In defence of their foolishness they plead Jesus’ words, “Judge not.” That is not what our Lord was referring to. A man knocks on your door and when you open it he tells you he is a healer who, if he laid hands on you, could cure you of your every disease . . . for just a small fee. Do you let him in and allow him to lay his hands on you because Jesus said, “Judge not”? Of course you don’t. You suspect he is up to no good.

Every day of the year and almost every hour of the day we are required to pass judgment on information, ideas, claims and people. That is good and essential. It is a sin to be naïve. It is disastrous to refuse to discern between truth and error, goodness and evil. Part of being made in the image of God is that we discern. Adam had to judge between one tree, whose fruit he was to refuse to eat, and all the other trees whose fruit he could pluck. When Satan came to him Adam was not to say, “I mustn’t judge between the words of Satan and the words of the Lord. All words are the same.” It was Adam and Eve’s failure to judge and condemn the serpent’s insinuations that brought about the fall of man. And many of us in our lives have fallen because we didn’t make a good, necessary and wise judgment of people, ideas and feelings.

In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel we are told that Christian worship is to be radically unlike that of the Pharisees. Jesus said, “Pass a stern judgment on their practice of praying loudly in public, and plastering their faces with ashes when they are fasting, and vigorously throwing handfuls of coins into the public receptacles so that all men might hear from the clatter how generous they are. Don’t you be like them.” That is what Jesus said. He called them hypocrites, and white-washed sepulchers, and a nest of snakes. They put heavy burdens on people but they did not bear burdens themselves. How can we possibly learn from Jesus to shun such sinful Pharisaic attitudes ourselves if we don’t exercise our critical faculties and evaluate the follies and sins of religious men? Jesus is warning us of the danger of being blind men (v.39). You cannot guide others if you are blind yourself. You will end up falling into a stinking open sewer and also those you are leading if you don’t keep your eyes open. Jesus tells us not to give what’s holy to dogs, and don’t cast pearls before swine. So you have to judge whether someone is a dog or where are the swine, and that you aren’t holding in your hand a pebble but a pearl. Jesus said that Herod in his cruelty was that ‘fox.’

One of the great warnings of Jesus was to be wary of false prophets. When Paul left the church at Ephesus he warned the elders to watch out for teachers of error who would seek to infiltrate the church. So every time a stranger arrived in Ephesus and announced himself to be a Christian teacher the elders would remember the warning of Paul and quiz him, “What do you believe?” They sought to ensure that he preached apostolic doctrine. The church in Galatia failed to do this when heretics turned up, and those men perversely influenced the congregation. Soon that church’s leadership was insisting, “You have become a follower of Jesus Christ? Good; and now you have to be circumcised.” The failure in Galatia was a lack of critical biblical discernment.

So we have to resist thinking that these words of Jesus are teaching that we are never to make judgments concerning the truth or morality of what is confronting us. Imagine a man with such an attitude driving along in his car and being stopped by a policeman and being told that he’d been traveling at 45 miles an hour in a 30 miles an hour zone. How do you think that policeman would respond if this person wagged his finger at the officer and said to him, “Judge not that you be not judged”? The traffic cop would say, “Sir, I am not judging you. My radar camera and the law of the land have been judging you, and they are greater authorities than my fallible assessment of the speed of your car. I am simply charged with the responsibility of making sure that the law of the land is being enforced.” God has given us the Scriptures and part of their task is to instruct us in what is right and wrong. In their light we must all judge the difference. I say we’d better! John the beloved apostle of Jesus Christ said, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Clearly, then, Jesus’ words shouldn’t be taken to mean that we are forbidden from judging behaviour on the basis of God’s word, and shouldn’t be calling heresy ‘heresy.’

2. WHAT JESUS’ PROHIBITION NOT TO JUDGE ACTUALLY MEANS.

i] Jesus is condemning censoriousness. I am referring to harsh judgments, evident in a man who is a fault-finder. He is negative and destructive towards other people, nit-picking, living on their failings. He is a man who gathers others to him in condemning those who are the targets of his disapproval. He often absolutises the behaviour of a particular person as the cause of the congregation’s malaise. If only that person could be controlled, or totally changed, or removed, Ah . . . then the church might be blessed. That is his spirit. The censorious man will put the worst possible construction on his opponent’s motives; he pours cold water on his attainments; he is ungenerous towards his mistakes. This critic has set himself up as a censor, and he runs to the elders with his criticisms of a church member as if he himself had the wisdom, authority and competence to sit in judgment on one or more of his fellow believers.

Since when have they become his servants, to do what he wants in the congregation? Do they answer to him and to those he has influenced? Since when has he been their lord and judge. “Who are you?” asks Paul, “to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (Roms. 14:4). He answers to his own Master not to you. This critic isn’t God. This self-appointed judge doesn’t possess the wherewithal to pass judgment on a fellow sinner because he can’t read his heart and he can’t assess his motives.

So our Lord is speaking about being hyper-critical, the man who has got hooked on criticizing. It has become his addiction and it is ruining his Christian life. He stops coming to prayer meeting, and to the evening service. He is eaten up by this critical spirit. He looks for any opportunity, any conversation, any providence to criticize. Something goes wrong with the organ and it can’t be used one Sunday. “Typical,” he says. He generalizes from any tiny detail to utter his censorious comments. There is a mistake made and he rejoices. “I told you so,” he says. Love hopes all things but the censorious man is not happy unless he has got his grumble in.

ii] Jesus is condemning judgments made by appearance. The world around us is constantly expressing its appreciation of people in terms of their wealth, and fame, and influence, and beauty, and such criteria as that. What excitement in the church if a well-known person like that – a sportsman, a politician, a soap opera actress – professes conversion. He or she is speedily asked to give a testimony at a conference and tell a youth meeting of the Alpha Course she’s attended and what happened. These people are interviewed in Christian papers while they are still wet from the waters of baptism. However, converts who don’t possess those ‘exciting’ qualities that are loved by this sin-warped world are ignored. Elderly, working class, illiterate, middle-aged people and shy teenagers are passed over. I ask you what do the things the world raves over have to do with cross-bearing and following the Lord Jesus? Nothing whatsoever. Yet how the ‘rave factor’ excites Christian people.

We see it in the early church when there were winds from heaven blowing. Even then they were as bad as we are today. James had to write about it; “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4). So, Jesus is saying that we are not to judge people by showing partiality towards them based on superficial things. The Lord has said elsewhere, “Do not judge according to appearances, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

iii] Jesus is condemning speaking evil about others. Again, do you remember what James needed to write? He commanded, “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges a brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (James 4:11-12). Would you speak evil of the commandment ‘Honour your father and mother’? Would you dare to pass judgment on the commandment not to make a graven image? Yet you dare to speak evil of a Christian in whose heart God has written those law? The press has itching ears for evil reports of men’s falls, especially if they are vicars or deacons in a church. You might have seen a cynical button on which is written, “If you can’t say something nice about someone . . . then sit next to me so I can hear you better.” People have a fiendish joy in hearing about men’s evil actions especially if they have a certain notoriety. We speak about the falls of others because of the power of our remaining sin, and because we think their falls makes us better people – “At least I haven’t sinned that sin.” What fools we are. Jesus’ command not to judge is a call to stop gossiping about one another, or slandering one another. We’re not to hold someone’s faults up to others for review and critique and evaluation.

If you have to talk about something unpleasant in another Christian – if you have to I say – then say as little about it as you can, and don’t hint that there is much more you could say. You have said too much already. Speak about that one as knowing your own sinning heart, and do so with a lump in your throat. Often we colour such reportage from the standpoint of our own prejudices. In effect we seem to be suggesting that the providential way God is dealing with them day by day is not “thorough enough” for our tastes. We want an exposure and we are going to provide the exposure. But the waters close round the falling stone very quickly, and life goes on, and who are we to dive low and bring it up again? It has nothing to do with us at all. If we express our opinions then remember we have little knowledge of the facts. We might grumble about the language and behaviour of the two royal princes, but how would you handle being a son of Princess Diana and Prince Charles? We don’t take the trouble to find out the circumstances when something is alleged to have occurred. We are not prepared to listen for some explanation. We dare to become judges of the Lawgiver for his refusal to smite those people down, and so we take it on ourselves to smite them down. We will show God what he ought to be doing. Vengeance is mine; I will repay says the Lord. James cries, “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9).

iv] Jesus is condemning those who invariably put themselves in the best light. We defend our own stubbornness as ‘resolution’ – “he is stingy, but I am thrifty.” We see our unyielding un-cooperative manner as stemming from being men of principle but we consider others to be judgmental. In me something is good taste but in you it is snobbishness. My sins are beautiful while yours are hideous. I’ve got self-esteem, but you are arrogant. So many of our judgments are aimed at making ourselves feel better. We attack those we fear are better than ourselves, or have had it easier than we have, and what we are doing is trying to overcome our feelings of inferiority and disadvantage. But we don’t get better by feeling bitter. Jesus is the wonderful counsellor. He is forbidding a judgmental spirit because it is so destructive of peace and trust.

v] Jesus is condemning those who perversely distort the Christian liberty of other believers. I am talking about that whole area of culture and music and dress and food and drink in which we have been given great liberty to select or reject certain preferences. This is that grey area over which the Bible simply gives broad moral and spiritual guidelines, but it does not say, “Thou shalt not . . .” In this area there are friendly and sincere disagreements in the body of Christ. In Paul’s day, one of the issues about which Christians had sincere disagreements was that of eating the meats that had been forbidden to the Jews in the Old Testament times. Were these foods now ‘clean’ to eat in Christ? Some sincere believers felt that it was still wrong; and so from a standpoint of a ‘weaker’ faith, they were afraid to eat. But other equally sincere believers felt strong and confident in their liberties in Christ; and as a result, they felt the freedom to eat anything they wanted. Paul wrote, “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. . . . Therefore let us not judge one another anymore . . .” (Rom. 14:1-4, 13a). What soft pleading for love and unity in the body.

We are not to let the conscience of the most narrow old man in the congregation be the standard we all have to observe. We reject his judgment over us. Let him not judge the rest of us. We are not going to tarnish the reputation of those who choose to smoke a pipe, or drink a glass of wine, or possess a television, or use a different version of the Bible from ourselves, or wear more colourful ties than we do, or spend their money on a bigger house, or a more powerful car, or have a taste in music very different from our own, or whose desire is to work in the media. We do not speak evil of them for such things; that is their liberty. For freedom Christ has made them free. We tease them and talk things over with them but we don’t harp on about such matters. Judge not!

So, we have seen two things, firstly, that Jesus is not forbidding us exercise legitimate judgment – in the sense that we are to rightly evaluate everything on the basis of the judgments God has already given in his word. We are not being commanded to suspend all discernment. Jesus says, “Judge not”; he doesn’t say, “Think not!” Rather our Lord is talking about censoriousness, speaking evil of people, evaluating people by the world’s standards, and refusing believers their liberty.

JESUS URGES US TO BE OUR BROTHERS’ BROTHER.

Christ says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (vv.41& 42). One man has a little foreign body in his eye. It is a tiny speck of dust and hardly bothering him at all, but this man in the grip of a judgmental spirit has spotted it. “Do you know that you have a speck of dust in your eye, brother? I can take that out quite easily.” Now everyone is turning around and looking at this man with the tiny speck in his eye and he is shrinking in embarrassment, but the oddest thing of all is that the man announcing the presence of this speck of sawdust to everybody has protruding from his own eye a floorboard! What a picture! Imagine having your eyes tested by a blind optician! What a worthless procedure!

Jesus is talking about how naturally petty judges draw attention to the small sins of others while their own sins are enormous. This man is eaten up in a campaign of sin-spotting but he’s blind to the fact that his own sin is much more heinous than any sins he’ll find in others. His sin has conquered him so totally that he has become blind to it. He is sensitive to the sins of others but desensitized to the sins in his own life. Such a spirit often begins as a defence mechanism. We are sensitive to our own failure, but when challenged about it we pounce on the sin of others – “But look at him . . .” That attitude becomes a habit and then a way of life. We’ve all come across a man who flies into a rage over some sin he spots in a congregation. Finally his resignation arrives and off he goes somewhere else. These sudden outbursts of emotion are often signs of personal sensitivity rather than a thoughtful, biblical conscience.

Let us appreciate that every one of us has that tendency to exaggerate the sins of others and ignore our own. Jesus is talking about you. You do this. Yes, you do. It is not that you did it as a young Christian but you did it in the last few days, more than once, grumbling about the behaviour of others and blind to your own harshness and pride and lovelessness. This is the fruit of remaining sin, and on your deathbed I guess you will be thinking bad thoughts about the nurse coming to attend to you while completely oblivious of your own bad attitudes and words. This is a life-long battle.

We are perverse men and women because we can perform an act of kindness in removing someone’s sin simply for the satisfaction it gives our own egos. Paul says something very profound, “If we judged ourselves truly we should not be judged” (I Cor. 11:31). Do you see it? If you have been following this sermon then you wouldn’t be putting yourself above me, judging my motives in preaching this message and demeaning my preaching by thinking, “he is getting at me; he is picking on me; he is taking advantage of being six feet above contradiction in that pulpit.” Nor would you be thinking, “I am glad that so and so is here today to hear this.” You would be saying, “Lord, is it I? Am I this unpleasant judge?” You see what Jesus says here, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (v.40). So you should be thinking, “I am a student of the word of God and Geoff Thomas is my teacher and together we are putting ourselves under these words of our Lord under the direction of his servant. We are looking at this terrible sin of judging other people. What hypocrites we all are, teacher and student alike, and all of us need a Saviour to forgive us and deliver us day by day from the guilt and power of this sin.” If we judged ourselves properly as we heard every single sermon and said to God, “Guilty as charged; have mercy upon me in the name of Jesus,” we shouldn’t be judged because we would be confessing our own personal sins to God and asking for the sheltering blood of Christ to cover them.

Then, and only then you’d be in a better state to help someone with a speck of something in his eye, because that poor man doesn’t need an old judge with a black robe and a whig on his head sitting in the judgment seat to deal with his little problem. He needs a brother! “Oh brother, you have sinned and I’m sorry. What can I do to help you at this time?” Who can say this? Who can do this? The brother who has first taken the great big floorboard out of his own eye. He can help a brother, because he has gone to God, and he has said, “Lord I am coming to thee for help. Take away this great sin of mine. Remove it from my life. I am so sorry that I did this. What a wretched man I am.” He has done that and known that his great sin and guilt in all its blame and shame has been removed, and nailed to the cross and it is remembered no more. God never charges him with it again. It is dealt with. It is forgiven. It is buried in the depths of God’s forgetfulness. So now, in the light of the mercy he has received from the Great Physician he is able to remove this insignificant speck from a brother’s life. The surgeon cleanses and purifies himself thoroughly before he’ll perform an operation on the human eye. Only we who have been washed from our sins in the blood of Christ can help a brother. You are going to handle his eye, and there is no part of the body as sensitive as the eye, and so you need the sensitivity of the compassionate Christ, the one touched by the feeling of our infirmities. “You feel you have done a terrible thing? You think you are lost for ever because of what you said? I won’t tell you what I did. You don’t need to know; no one needs to know; but God has been merciful to me and he will be merciful to you too. Where our sin abounds God’s grace much more abounds. The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanses us from all sin.” So it is the forgiven man alone who can deal with another sinner, not the judge pointing out loudly another’s sin, but the humbled forgiven child of God who loves much because he has been forgiven much.

Now you can see the purpose of what Jesus says at the beginning of this section of the sermon, in verses 37 and 38, that such men will not judge others censoriously, and so only such men will not be judged. Such men do not condemn others, and only such men will not be condemned in the great day. They are men who instead of pointing out the sins of others forgive them, because they themselves are forgiven men. They give and give and give again of their energy and mercy and love and pity and patience, and do you know what happens, grace upon grace is given to them in return. God giveth and giveth and giveth again, “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (v38).

29th June 2008 GEOFF THOMAS