"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, 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” (Matthew 7:1-5 ESV).
They called him “Daddy King.” When Martin Luther King, Sr. died in 1984, he was eulogized as the father of the civil rights movement in America. One black leader said, “If we started our own country, he would be our George Washington.” In his 84 years he endured more than his share of suffering and hatred. During his childhood in Georgia, he witnessed lynchings. The first time he tried to register to vote in Atlanta, he found that the registrar’s office was on the second floor of City Hall—but the elevator was marked Whites Only, the stairwell was closed, and the elevator for blacks was out of order.
He is mostly remembered for the accomplishments of his son, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.—leader of the nonviolent civil rights movement, cut down by an assassin’s bullet in 1968. One year later, his second son drowned in a backyard swimming pool. The crowning blow came in 1974 during a church service. As his wife played The Lord’s Prayer, a young man arose in the congregation and began shooting. Mrs. King collapsed in a hail of gunfire, while Dr. King watched in horror from the pulpit.
Near the end of his life, reflecting on the loss of his wife and his oldest son, he spoke of the policy of nonviolence he had come to embrace. “There are two men I am supposed to hate. One is a white man, the other is black, and both are serving time for having committed murder. I don’t hate either one. There is no time for that, and no reason either. Nothing that a man does takes him lower than when he allows himself to fall so low as to hate anyone.”
But how can a man not hate when his wife and oldest son have been murdered? It seems natural and even proper to hate killers, doesn’t it? The answer comes back, “There is no time for that.” To hate is to live in the past, to dwell on deeds already done. Hatred is the least satisfying emotion for it gives the person you hate a double victory—once in the past, once in the present.
No time to hate? Not if you have learned how to forgive. Forgiving does not mean whitewashing the past, but it does mean refusing to live there. Forgiveness breaks the awful chain of bitterness and the insidious desire for revenge. As costly as it is to forgive, there is only one consolation—unforgiveness costs far more.
I wonder how many of us have gotten in trouble because we gave in to our anger. Perhaps we have said things in a moment of tension that we later lived to regret. Marriages have been broken, families broken, friendships ended, careers destroyed, and churches split because we lost our temper and said and did things we later regretted.
The Sin of Judging Wrongly
Behind our anger lies a problem we rarely talk about and therefore rarely face. We have wrongly judged another person and have sinned in the process. In our rush to judgment, in our haste to make sure someone else takes the blame, in our zeal to find the guilty party, we have violated the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (ESV). The words are simple and clear. They are plain and unambiguous. Because they are familiar we tend to forget about them. Or worse, we find a way to explain them away. Perhaps it will help to hear this verse in a different way. Listen to the words of The Message by Eugene Peterson: “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment.” And this is his version of verse 2: “That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.” That’s not really a translation but it is entirely faithful to the meaning of the text.
There are several ways we can approach a text like this. We could spend a lot of time talking about the illustration Jesus used about the speck in your brother’s eye and the log in your own eye. It’s funny and ironic and when Jesus spoke these words, I’m sure his hearers laughed out loud. I’ll return to that illustration shortly but first let’s just focus on verse 1. What exactly did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not"?
Perhaps it is easier to say what he did not mean. Jesus is not saying we should never pass any sort of judgment. Every day we make hundreds of judgments about things around us. It is not wrong, for instance, to sit on a jury and render a verdict. Nor it is wrong for an admissions committee to decide which students to accept and which to reject. Nor it is wrong for an employer to decide who gets a promotion and who doesn’t. Nor is it wrong for schools to judge certain students worthy of high honor at graduation. Nor is it wrong for Glenbrook North High School to expel the students who participated in that ugly hazing incident and to ban them from attending graduation ceremonies. We all have to make decisions every day that involve other people. We pass judgment on appearance, behavior, speech, deportment, attitude, work ethic, productivity, keeping or breaking a promise, guilt or innocence, which person we believe and which person we do not believe. Whatever the words of Jesus mean, they can’t mean that we never pass judgment in any sense at any time.
What, then, did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not?” The word translated “judge” often means to condemn. It means to come to a negative conclusion about another person and then to condemn them. That is what Jesus is forbidding. Let me be a little more specific about this.
First, we are not to pass final judgment on any person. Final judgment belongs to the Lord. We are not in the condemning business. If anyone needs to be condemned, God himself can take care of that. We should have no part in it.
Second, we are not to judge the motives of others. The Bible says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7). Often we are quick to come to negative conclusions about others based on why we think they did something. But try as we might, we see only the outside. God alone sees the heart.
We can judge what people do; we cannot judge why they do it.
We can judge what people say; we cannot judge why they say it.
Only God can judge the hidden secrets of the heart. Leave that judgment to him. You don’t even know your own heart, much less the heart of anyone else. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV). Sometimes when little children have been caught disobeying and you ask them why they did it, they will reply tearfully, “I don’t know.” That’s not a cop-out; it’s a profound theological truth. We are so wicked by nature that we don’t know why we do what we do. All of us can remember times when we did or said something foolish, and looking back we can honestly say, “I don’t know why I did something stupid like that.” But if we can’t understand our own heart, how can we ever presume to understand anyone else’s?
Third, we are not to be faultfinders. One source defines a faultfinder as “one who finds much to criticize or complain about, esp. of a petty nature,” (from Wordsmyth.net) and lists these synonyms: malcontent, scold, nag, and critic. Related words include grouch, grumbler and bellyacher. Proverbs 11:12 tells us, “It is foolish to belittle a neighbor; a person with good sense remains silent” (NLT). The Message is even more pointed: “Mean-spirited slander is heartless; quiet discretion accompanies good sense.” Faultfinding is the “venom of the soul.” It destroys our joy, drains our happiness, and prevents us from having close friendships. No one likes a faultfinder because no one likes being around a nit-picking critic. This sin comes partly from spiritual pride and partly from disguised envy. We criticize others in order to bring them down to our level. Or worse, we tear them down to prove they are really beneath us. Faultfinding is a deadly disease because if not kept in check, it turns us into cynics who expect the worst from others. The faultfinder expects failure and secretly gloats when he finds it. Is it any wonder that the faultfinder almost always is a gossip and a talebearer? First we spot the flaws of others and then we can’t wait to spread the news. There is such a thing as a spiritual vulture. Like the vultures of the air that live off dead, rotting flesh, these sad individuals thrive on the mistakes and sins of others. They fly across the landscape, keeping a close eye out for the failures of others. Then they swoop in for their daily feast.
Early this morning, before the first service, I met for prayer with a group of men in my office. During his prayer, one of the men broke through to total honesty when he said, “Lord, too often I am so hard on the people closest to me.” Many of us could say the same thing. Husbands are hard on their wives. Wives mercilessly criticize their husbands. Parents tear down their children and strip away every vestige of self-esteem. Friends attack friends, Christians criticize each other, and many families are held together by the glue of mutual disdain. Why is it that we are so hard on those we say we love the most? But if a person we don’t know offends us, we’re quick to let him off the hook. It makes no sense.
A Few Examples
Jesus said, “Judge not!” There are so many ways in which we break this command. Here are a few examples:
Blowing small things all out of proportion.
Maximizing the sins of others—their faults, foibles and their petty ways.
Coming to quick, hasty, negative conclusions.
Making mountains out of molehills.
Getting involved in situations where you should not be involved.
Passing along critical stories to others.
Having a strong bias to find others guilty.
Being too harsh even when speaking the truth.
Adding aggravating remarks when telling a story.
Dismissing an unkind remark by saying, “I was only joking.”
Saying something critical and then trying to cover it up.
Being unkind and then quickly changing the subject.
Telling too many people about what others have done to us.
Taking pleasure in condemning others.
Telling the truth in order to hurt, not to help.
Putting others down in order to make yourself look better.
Minimizing your sins while magnifying the sins of others.
Note that it is quite possible to have a judgmental spirit even while telling the truth. Some people use the truth as a club to beat others over the head. Simply saying, “Well, it was the truth, you know,” does not get you off the hook.
Our judgment is wrong when it is—
As I have been thinking about this topic all week long, one thing has bothered me: I see far too much of this in my own life. If I am honest with myself, I know that I’m far too quick to pass judgment on others. I see too much of myself on this list, and that makes me very uneasy.
Eating in Total Silence
Here is a simple guide to help guide our speech. It’s an acrostic based on the word NEED.
N—Is it necessary?
E—Will it encourage?
E—Will it edify?
D—Will it dignify the other person?
When I shared that in the first service on Sunday, a friend told me that when his family eats dinner, they have a similar rule: The TKN rule.
T—It is true?
K—Is it kind?
N—Is it necessary?
If the statement doesn’t meet the rule, it doesn’t get said. It might be a good idea if every family in our church adopted that rule for mealtime conversation, although it might mean most of our meals would be eaten in total silence. But silence would be preferable to breaking the Lord’s command.
And that brings me back to the speck and the log. It’s easy to see the speck in your brother’s eye, much harder to see the log in your own. In dealing with the faults of others, our greatest need is clear vision. That’s why Jesus said in verse 5, “You hypocrite, 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.” First, we must see clearly. And we cannot see clearly until we have removed the impediment from our own eyes.
First Things First
Christian love is not blind. God never says, “Ignore the faults of others.” But he does say, “Take care of your own faults first.” Look in the mirror! Ask God to show you your own sins. The familiar words of Psalm 139:23-24 come to mind: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” If we would pray that way and mean it, we would do a lot more confessing and a lot less judging.
The order in which we do things is crucial. We are to judge ourselves first by asking God to show us our sins. We sit and wait and pray for the Holy Spirit to show us our weaknesses, our faults, our mistakes, our bad attitudes, our foolish words, our pride, our arrogance, our need to be in control, our need to run the world, our need to tell others what to do, our desire to have our own way, our anger, our bitterness, our lack of mercy, our lack of love, our lack of compassion. Let me tell you something from personal experience, if you wait long enough, the Lord will always show it to you.
“Lord, I’m the One”
During our trip to Haiti several weeks ago, I got up early every morning and took a long walk down the rutted dirt road that led from the camp to the village. No matter how early I got up, I always ran into Haitians walking one way or the other. Every morning I saw at least one woman carrying a container of water on her head. I saw students walking several miles each morning to go to school, and I saw old men with machetes getting ready to cut the sugar cane. Being in another country has a way of changing your perspective and helping you see things clearly. The Lord spoke to me about many things, especially about my own life and my relationship to him. Almost every morning I would sing as I walked along the road. Usually I sang hymns but one morning I started singing a song that I learned over 30 years ago. In fact, it was the theme song of the greatest revival I ever took part in. In May 1970, just before I graduated from high school, God visited the First Baptist Church of Russellville, Alabama, with life-changing power. There are men in the ministry today whose hearts God first touched during those amazing days. Believe it or not, I was the song leader for the revival. Almost every night the choir sang a song by John R. Rice called, Lord, I’m the One. The chorus goes like this: “Lord, I’m the one. Yes, I’m the one. I’m the one who needs revival, I’m the one, I’m the one. Oh, it’s not the man next door, Oh Lord, I need it more, than the man next door, O Lord, I’m the one.” For some reason (I think I know why), the Lord brought that little song back to my mind during our trip to Haiti. And I sang this verse as I walked,
I thought once of the man next door, and all the sins he had,
And I remember feeling good, that I was not that bad,
And then the Holy Spirit came, and showed me all my sins,
And told me that if I got right, revival would begin.
This is God’s message for us today. Did you notice what Jesus called the judgmental person in verse 5? He called him a hypocrite. What a terrible word that is. That’s what we are when we judge and condemn others without first judging ourselves. I said the order is crucial, and it is. First, we judge ourselves. First, we are hard on ourselves. First, we ask the Lord to show us our sins. Until we do that, the “speck” in our brother’s eye will look like a log to us. And we won’t even see the log in our own eye. Once we have allowed the Holy Spirit to do his painful surgery within, once we have confessed and repented and mourned over our own sin, then and only then are we ready to do surgery on someone else. This is how you will know you have reached that point: Your own sins will bother you a lot more than the sins of others. And the failures of others won’t seem so huge to you. You’ll know you’re ready to talk to a brother or sister when you don’t want to do it any more. The person who has judged himself will display these character qualities:
The Apostle Paul perfectly described this sort of attitude in words we have all heard many times: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV).
Delicate Eye Surgery
To simply gaze on the sins of others is vain and empty and wrong. It turns us into judgmental Pharisees who are quick to condemn. But once we are cleansed and humbled by the Lord, then we are ready to remove the tiny speck from a brother’s eye. And he will be glad for us to do it because he knows we are not there to condemn but to help.
The eye is very sensitive. I know all about that because I’ve had five eye surgeries in the last few years. It takes a compassionate hand and a delicate touch to do surgery in the eye. When you have eye trouble, you need a doctor who knows what he is doing because even the slightest mistake can have catastrophic consequences. Sometimes in our haste to help others, we can cause more damage than the original speck of dirt caused.
There is a difference between someone who loves you and wants to help you and someone who puts you under a microscope only to find fault with all you do. I have found that those most critical of others tend to have the most sins. And those closest to God tend to be the most charitable. They are the quickest to forgive, quickest to restore, and the quickest to help someone who is struggling with sin.
Where do we go from here? “Daddy King” was right. We have no time to hate, no time to condemn, no time to live in bitterness. How will we get from here to there? We need the help of God to do a supernatural work in our hearts.
I’d like to suggest a simple prayer for the Holy Spirit to take over your life. Saying words alone won’t change your heart, but if these words reflect your deepest desire, then today could be a new beginning for you.
Heavenly Father, our problem is not with your Word. We know what it says. And our problem is not with other people, not even the ones who have hurt us deeply. Our problem is on the inside. For too long we have tried to solve our own problems and it has not worked. We confess that too many times we have been critical of those around us. Forgive us our thoughtless, unkind, hurtful words. O Lord, show us a better way! Without you, we will never change.
Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us how to live. Thank you for showing us how to die. Thank you for showing us how to forgive the people who have hurt us the most.
Holy Spirit, fill us with your power so that we might become truly different people. Set us free from bitterness, from anger, and from a judgmental spirit. Grant us power to love each other.
Make us like Jesus, full of grace and truth. And do it now, in this moment, as we pray this prayer. Amen.
May God grant you new life through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. And may you experience the freedom of forgiveness and the joy that comes from letting him take control. Amen.
Dr. Ray Pritchard is the founder and President of Keep Believing Ministries.