”Judge not, and you will not be judged . . .” is arguably the best known and most quoted statement of Jesus, at least in the west. Yet most people probably do not have a clue as to where he said this, who he was speaking with, anything about its context or where to find the reference. So I will not judge you for not knowing some of this 😉, but let’s take it in context.
Matthew 7 and Luke 6 both report this statement by Jesus within the so-called “Sermon On The Mount,” a basic outline of Kingdom Principles that were intended to guide His followers into living in right relationship with Father, with each other, and with the world at large. The more comprehensive summary of His teaching is in Matthew, so I will confine my remarks to the apostle’s report.
To get a feel for this “sermon” I recommend you read from 5:1 to 7:29 at a single sitting without interruption. Or even better, have someone read it aloud to you and pretend you are one of those first listeners hearing this One teaching “with authority and not like the scribes” (7:29). If you ever attended a synagogue you will understand that the “authority” of the rabbi rests on his knowledge of “Rabbi ben So-And-So who said that when Rabbi ben You-Know-Who explained what Rabbi ben Whats-His-Name meant when he was writing about what Rabbi ben Etc was really meaning to say that etc etc etc.” Their authority always rested on what someone else said in their history. Now along comes Jesus and says, “Yeah, I know what the rabbis told you, but I say to you . . .” Now that was Authority.
If you do not take my recommendation to read the Sermon for yourself, or have it read to you, you will just have to take my word for what The Rabbi said and meant. 😊
The sweep of this sermon is to reorient our thinking from the narrow, limited view of what will work in this life to get what we want, to thinking from an eternal view of what will please a Daddy who is in Heaven. A navy lawyer once told me that all the laws on all the books in all the countries of the world are simply a reflection of our human inability to obey the Big Ten. Jesus explanation of the Ten Commandments did not make them easier, but rather He went to the heart of the matter, why we seem unable to obey them.
Beginning with an upside-down world in which things people wanted to avoid, like poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, hunger, persecution, He asserted these were the Kingdom Principles which would most satisfy. Then He goes on to redefine righteous living beyond the obedience to Pharisaical traditions and call us back to the Creator’s plan.
Then comes the “Judge not” phrase. However, read in context, Jesus did not command us not to judge, but to do so carefully. “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (7:2). What He is telling us here is to realize that when we judge we must mix judgment with mercy the same way Father does, because the tape measure we use to size others up will be used on us. After all, he goes on to say, “Do not give dogs what is holy and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (7:6).
How can you tell dogs from pigs without judging? Back up a couple sentences and we will find His answer: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (7:3-5). An interesting consideration a dear friend brought up as we discussed this idea: when a speck is in your own eye, does it not feel like a log? Perspective covers a lot of ground here; when you hold your thumb close enough to your eye, you can block out the sun even though our star is big enough to hold 1,300,000 earths!
While Jesus words are specific for “speck” and “log” (as a wise friend says, Don’t be impressed, you can look it up), the idea is clear that to overlook one’s own flaws in order to straighten out someone else is a recipe for disaster. But look closer and you will see His point which has nothing to do with ophthalmology. What He is looking for is restorative help when someone’s vision is blocked.
He never intended for us not to judge. He only wanted us to mix judgment with the mercy for which we hope, to judge with the intent for restoration. The warning then is given that those who will not respond to loving correction will attack you if it is offered, so be careful to whom you offer corrective advice, even when it has been learned in a crucible of your own correction. It hurts to have something in your eye; it always feels much bigger than it is; it is frightening to let someone else go poking and picking in your eye to help, but it is the best way to get rid of the specks and logs. We rarely do it on our own. “It is one thing to take a splinter out of my own finger, and quite another to offer it to a physician and let him decide how much it will hurt.” (C.S. Lewis)
So if you wish to correct me, just come to me with the intent to restore me to a right relationship with Father. That is what I want most in this life and the next. “Any of you, by the way, are free to criticize anything I say. If you do, I might learn something.” (Isaac Asimov)
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