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We live in a society today that has abdicated critical thinking for catch-phrases and slogans. Too often people are more concerned with being right, than thinking through issues and  getting it right. Some of these catch-phrases and slogans are issued almost like punch lines in a dialogue. Like the final punch that KOs the opponent to your view. When it’s dropped, discussion is over! One such phrase is, “Jesus said ‘Don’t judge’ so don’t judge me.” I hear people say this, I see it posted on Twitter and Facebook – and quite honestly I’ve had enough. Let’s use the minds that God has given us and think through this idea of ‘judging’ and whether or not it is something we ought to do.

1. What Does It Mean to Judge?

There are several definitions of the verb ‘judge’:

  • to hear evidence or legal arguments in order to pass judgment
  • to form an opinion or come to a conclusion about something
  • to make an assessment or careful estimate

In a ‘pursuit of pleasure’ society, it’s easy to see why people don’t really like the idea of judging. We are not as interested in the pursuit of virtue (the classical view of ‘happiness’), we are more interested in pursuing things that bring us pleasure. And when someone tells us that our pursuit of pleasure is morally wrong, we don’t like it. Even within the church. Many people do not want other people forming opinions of their behavior and character unless it agrees with and affirms them. But is that what we are supposed to do? Simply affirm everyone’s behavior and agree with whatever everyone wants to do? Let’s look at what Jesus has to say.

2. What Does Jesus Actually Say About Judging?

I am beginning with Jesus and the passage that many like to quote snippets from found in Matthew 7. What is interesting is how often Jesus’ own words are cut off, lines are drawn, and implications are left out. In vs 1 He says, “Do not judge, (which is where people usually stop – but let’s continue) or you will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” 

So the same measure that we form opinions and make careful assessments of others is how it will be measured back to us? That seems about right to me. If you use fair and measured balances in your life, what have you to fear? Let’s continue.

Jesus continues with this illustration, “3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust (not a very obvious thing) in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye (a very obvious thing)? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Bold-Emphasis Mine)

I don’t know how someone doing an honest reading of the text can walk away and think that Jesus is explicitly instructing us to not judge, period. Which is usually what people mean when they say ‘Don’t judge me.” This would be inconsistent with Jesus Himself, who often judges others: in verse 6 He says ‘do not give dogs what is sacred’ – sounds like a judgement to me. In verse 23 He says, ‘Away from me, you evildoers!” Whoa! Jesus calls the Phoenician woman a ‘dog’ in Mark 7 and he lays into the Pharisees and teachers of the law on nearly every occasion He speaks with them. And what about the clearing of the temple courts? Jesus straight up WHIPS people! Sounds like He made a few judgement calls wouldn’t you agree? Even later the Apostle Paul tells the Church of Corinth to expel someone from the Church in 1 Corinthians 5. Wow…how judgmental of him.

The context of Matthew 7 is not that Jesus is saying don’t judge, period. But rather Jesus is calling us to not judge hypocritically. Notice in verse 4 that Jesus says, ‘and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’ He’s not saying don’t make judgements, but rather don’t be guilty of the very thing that you are judging another for. He is setting boundaries on how we ought to make judgments. Because he very clearly does not say, “leave the speck in your brothers eye so he won’t be offended.” NO! He says you should take it out – just don’t be guilty of the same thing!

I think an important key to understanding what Jesus is saying here is that we’re always more willing to judge others than to judge ourselves. When we make judgements of others, we’re also judging ourselves. So we must remember to not judge hypocritically, and I believe we should also judge graciously.

3. We All Make Judgments Everyday

When I see or hear someone say, “Don’t judge” I immediately want to ask, “Why are you judging other people for judging!?” It’s self-contradictory to make that statement unless you qualify it. I further want to ask, “If we’re not to judge, then why do we make judgments everyday?” Because if we’re not to judge, period, then how can we say what happened at Sandyhook Elementary School is wrong? How can we say that terrorists flying planes into the towers was wrong? If you say those things were wrong, wow, how judgmental are you? You just judged them and came to an opinion or assessment about their behavior. And you did so on the basis of the moral law God has placed within us all. If you’re a Christian, you did so more explicitly by measuring their lives against the teachings of Scripture. You really shouldn’t be so judgmental.

We make moral judgments every single day don’t we. But nobody stands up and says, ‘You shouldn’t judge that man at Sandyhook” do they? Of course not! I have found that usually saying “Don’t judge” is a way of deflecting the spotlight of truth from our own lives. 

My point here, is that it is inconsistent to say “Don’t judge” when we all make judgments every single day. The only time we usually have a problem with it, is when it involves us, our own behavior, and our own decisions.

4. You Haven’t Experienced What I’ve Experienced

Someone might say, “Well you haven’t experienced what I’ve experienced, so don’t judge me.” Sometimes women who are pro-choice use this type of argument. “You’re not a woman, and if you’re not a woman than you can’t judge this issue.” (Personally, I would further respond to this specific objection by saying, ‘Well, you are not a fetus. But that’s for another time.) 

This is a very strange form of argumentation to me. It’s like saying I have to go home and beat my wife before I can make a moral judgment and tell a man who is beating his wife that what he is doing is wrong. That is no different than saying I have to fly a plane into a building before I can make a moral judgment and say flying planes into buildings to kill innocent people is wrong. Really? Do I really have to experience something before making a careful assessment of it?

See, this is what happens when we abdicate critical thinking for catch-phrases and slogans. We think we find safety behind them, but really, they are just a smoke screen to hide behind and they provide no tangible protection. A small breeze of reason can blow them away.

5. Saying ‘Don’t Judge’ Is, Itself, A Judgment

As I mentioned briefly above, when a person says, “Don’t judge!” what are they doing themselves? They themselves are judging!  That statement doesn’t stand up to it’s own standard. It’s like saying, “All English sentences are false.” Well…is that English sentence false too? You see what I mean?

When people say, “You shouldn’t preach at people.” Well, isn’t that statement preaching at people as well? This is why it is so important for us to think about what we say before we say it. And why, as believers, when we stand up for what is true we don’t need to fear the comments about judging.

Conclusion

So the next time someone tells you, “Don’t judge me” you’ll know how to respond. Not with crass or rudeness or an intellectual eliteness – but with reason and thoughtfulness recognizing that phrases like this are merely smokescreens people throw up to justify their own decisions and behavior. I believe that we ought to be gracious just as God has been gracious to us all. Grace and justice meet at the cross, and Jesus died to endure God’s judgment for us all. None of us are perfect, and that is exactly why we need one another. We need people to help point out the specks of sawdust in our eyes when we miss them. As we live self-examined lives, we need one another to come along side us and with graciousness (and maybe a bit of firmness), to help point out the things we’ve missed. We need others to help point out the dirt pile under the rug that we have swept everything under and don’t want to deal with.

When I’m looking for something, I can walk in a room and it can be right in front of me and yet I can’t see it. My wife walks in, looks at me as if to say, “Are you joking? The vacuum is right in front of you.” How much sense would it be for me to blow up at her for my lack of vision to see what was right in front of me? It wouldn’t. I acknowledge that I missed it, I didn’t see, and then I grab the vacuum and finish cleaning. May we be as gracious as my wife is to me when she sees I clearly looked over something. And may we be willing to admit that we have looked over something in our lives, and move on in the right direction.

I hope you have found this blog post clear and thoughtful. Feel free to make your own judgment. 🙂

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