“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use.” Matthew 7:1-2 (CSB)
No statement from the Sermon on the Mount is quoted more often today than “do not judge.” What is viewed by many as a prohibition – an absolute one no less – is actually more sobering than that. Jesus is issuing a warning to his followers. To judge is to pronounce one guilty before God. This is more severe than identifying sin and inviting someone to repent (something Jesus graciously did and expects his followers to do). This is about putting ourselves in the position of God in relation to others. When we do this, we are violating the first commandment and making ourselves worthy of judgment by God.
Most of us don’t think we do this. It’s an unconscious process. But if we examine the beam in our own eye long enough, we will see it. Every time we think, “I can’t believe a Christian would do that,” or “there is no hope for him,” we are playing the role of God. We are deciding how far his mercy and grace is allowed to extend. That’s not to say we affirm or overlook the sin of others. We should always graciously invite repentance for that which God has clearly revealed as sin. More importantly, we must model repentance in all areas of our life.
“But they deceived him with their mouths, they lied to him with their tongues, their hearts were insincere toward him, and they were unfaithful to his covenant.” – Psalm 78:36-37 (CSB)
When their situation turned for the better, Israel again wandered back into sin. Their repentance was not sincere. It was merely an effort to avoid the consequences of their sin. It’s easy to shake our heads at Israel but if we’re honest, we do the same thing. We honor God with our lips in an effort to get him to act on our behalf. But our motives are twisted. We want something from him so we feign contrition. In doing so we rob ourselves of the joy that comes from true repentance. May we honor God with our lips and in our hearts.
“Despite all this, they kept sinning and did not believe his wondrous works. He made their days end in futility, their years in sudden disaster. When he killed some of them, the rest began to seek him; they repented and searched for God. They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God, their Redeemer.” – Psalm 78:32-35 (CSB)
Despite God’s miraculous provision of food in the wilderness, Israel was not satisfied. The nation continued to grumble, complain, and long for Egypt. Only when faced with calamity did some turn back to God. We too have a tendency to leave God out of the picture until we feel that we have exhausted all the other options. When our backs are against the wall, we are suddenly willing to cry out to God. Oh that we would remember God’s work on our behalf when times are good and when times are bad.
“I don’t like preachers who are judgmental” is a refrain I’ve heard numerous times. Many people use it as an excuse for infrequent (or a lack of) church attendance. When I probe a little, it turns out what they are really saying is “I don’t like people telling me that what I’m doing is wrong.”
There’s no denying many preachers cross the line from speaking the truth in love to manipulating behavior through guilt. There is no place for that and those who do it should be called on it. But calling believers to live according to the teaching of Scripture is not judgmental. It is the role of the pastor. May those of us who preach share the truth but do so in humility.