"Do not judge..." - What did Jesus really mean ?

Luke 6 v37-45
I was recently part of a conversation in which the person to whom I was talking quoted Luke 6:37 "Judge not, and you will not be judged.". And yes, I own up, that person was talking about me !

This made me think - using the word judge in its everyday sense means I've been judging all my life. I make judgements all the time over who I want to talk to, the actions people take, whether or not I believe or trust someone and much more. Does this mean that I'm violating, almost hourly, one of the most often quoted passages in the Bible ?

As I guess many of us do today, I Google'd Jesus said do not judge what did he mean to see if someone could help me and I found this article by Skye Jethani immediately. (If you've never heard of this guy, as I hadn't, then you can learn more here

I also went to the All Souls Langham Place, a widely respected London church, website and looked at their Sermons section and found this sermon Listen to Rob Turner's Sermon 'Judging Others' which you can hear by clicking the link.

Both of these sources make it clear to me that judgement is far from wrong provided it is done according to Christian guidelines.

My understanding of what Jesus was teaching in these verses has changed significantly. If you are challenged by the meaning of this often quoted Bible text, then I strongly recommend reading the article and listing to the audio. As a taster for both, I pick out key bits of the article and include a transcript of much of Rob Turner's sermon.

Skye Jethani's article

The writer makes the point that we need to understand what the word judge means.

The key is recognizing that the word judge can be used in two different ways in the New Testament. Sometimes judge is used to mean "judge between things," to differentiate, or discern. In this case we judge between right and wrong, good and evil, righteous and unrighteous.

Discernement is definitely right - indeed the Bible commands us to do just this. We must judge between good and evil. But the second meaning of judgment , "..sitting in judgment on people (or even condemning them)" isn't ! The writer explains..

Jesus is calling us to not condemn people, to not pass final judgment and declare them irretrievably guilty. This is an incredibly important idea if you understand the context in which Jesus was speaking. The entire culture of his day was predicated on the notion that some people were acceptable and others were not. And the way you defined yourself, your identity and place in the world, was by comparing and contrasting yourself with others.

The article ends with this chilling warning.

When we see other people as wrong, not just about what they believe, but in their core identity as people-then it's easy to convince ourselves that we don't have to love them; we don't have to serve them; we don't have to respect them. This exclusion and condemnation of others fuels so much of what's broken in our world today. It's what convinces one group to kill another; or one person to abuse another.

These are only a few of the points he makes - please read the full article !

Rob Turner's Sermon Recording

What follows is a transcript of most of the recording - for those who want to skim the content and get many of the main points without listening to the fast-paced 15 minute sermon !

We like to Judge !

Reality TV is popular because we like to see how people judge themselves and others. We have made judgments and we want to see if other people agree. Judging dominates real life and we are doing it all the time. We judge those we work with, those we socialise with, our own families. We judge just about everyone.

Sometimes we may have to admit our judgments were wrong, but mostly we think we are right. We even judge ourselves, albeit mostly favourably. What does Jesus say about judgement ? What does Jesus teach us when it comes to forming judgements about other people and ourselves ?

In this passage there are 4 very simple, clear, direct and inter-related instructions - good for us who live in a world dominated by judgmental attitudes.

Point 1 Do Not Judge

37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 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. Luke 6 v.37-38

But what does Jesus mean by this ?

Judge can mean a number of things and Jesus goes on to explain what sort of judgement he is referring to. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you.

So when Jesus talks about judgement he is talking about a judgement that condemns. Instead we should be forgiving, generous and merciful.

Our moderated judgement isn’t just to get moderate judgment back in return from God ! We should replace judgemental attitudes with generous and forgiving ones. So often our judging is negative and fault-finding. Rarely do we fully assess the situation and look upon it with generosity and forgiveness.

But hold on - is this saying we can never express an opinion about others ? That Christians should suspend all their critical faculties in relation to other people ?

Well of course not, that would be ludicrous as well as impossible !

Jesus’ teaching is not a call to never think or form opinions about others but rather a call to exercise caution in our approach to others. Always taking care that we are not condemning but showing this generous measure of forgiveness.

And how can we be sure of this – well it’s the second lesson – we need to be discerning. (Discern = 'the ability to judge well')

Point 2 We need to be discerning

39 He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.Luke 6 v.39-40

Jesus makes it clear that we are not to lose our faculty of judgement. We are not to be judgemental but we are to be discerning - illustrated with two simple analogies. If we are not discerning, how can we avoid following the blind man and falling into the pit ? Discernment is key. Jesus does not want us to follow any old fad or fashion. Jesus wants us to weight up different situations. To test them with prayer or Christian friends. Jesus wants us to be sure we make the correct judgements so we don’t fall into the pit or follow the wrong teacher.

So much of the world today wants to lead us away from Jesus and his truths. There is much to lead us away from the Bible. So many choices. We are always having to make judgements and all of us face difficult decisions or judgements that we have to make very day. Follow Solomon, pray - as in 1 Kings 3 v.9 ‘So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong’ - that God will give us a discerning heart, enabling us to distinguish between right and wrong.

Point 3. Do not be hypocritical

41 “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? 42 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.Luke 6 v.41-42

When we look at the rights and wrongs in the lives of other people, we are not to be hypocritical. Imagine a blind eye surgeon operating on someone ! We are terrible at seeing our own faults v.41– those planks in our own eye. But we are brilliant at picking up the smallest things in other people's lives.

So we maximise the faults of others and minimse our own faults - in every kind of situation, at home and even in church. And we all do it.

So if we are not to be hypocritical then we must engage in self-examination before we even begin to engage in judgment or discernment. Verse 42 First take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. So we have to judge ourselves before we judge others. We need to make sure we are as critical of ourselves as we so often are of others. And as generous to others as we are to ourselves.

Have we got any planks obscuring our vision at the moment ? Dealing with these planks can be very difficult. Rarely do we like to look in and focus on our own faults. So when we are in a disagreement with someone, we may think they are arrogant – but what about ourselves ? It is often difficult to back down.

So we have seen three lessons for us as Christian disciples over what we must do when it comes to forming opinions and making judgements about others. And while we may try and change our own judgemental attitudes, it is often very difficult to change the attitudes of those around us.

Point 4. Practise discernment that is clearly Christian

So the fourth lesson from this passage is that when others continue to judge us, they need to be able to recognise us as Christians . So we need to be recognisable.

43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Luck 6 v.43-44

Therefore when people judge us, they must recognise us as a good tree . They must see good fruit. And what does this fruit look like ?

Jesus tells us that we speak what the heart feels. There is an undissolvable link between our life and our beliefs. And as Christians we do know that our lives need to be different. We know that we no longer need to fear God’s ultimate and final judgement because Jesus faced it for us when he died on the Cross and that he came through it when he rose three days later.

We should therefore know all about forgiveness and generosity and judgement because we know about God’s ultimate forgiveness and generosity . So, if this is what we know in our hearts then it should impact what comes out of our mouths. But this is incredibly tough at times - however if we are able to do this we will be recognisable as Christians because we won’t be judgemental but we’ll look at others with forgiveness and generosity. We’ll be modelling this incredibly generous and forgiving attitude that God shows to us Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6 v.36)

Does following points 1 to 4 make us a Christian ?

No, not at all !

We can’t do anything ourselves to become a Christian. We only become a Christian because of God’s mercy, his forgiveness and generosity in judgement, which was shown to us by sending his only perfect son Jesus to face the judgement that we rightly deserve so we don’t have to face it. So the result is that if we accept this mercy then in response and gratitude we will want to live lives that are not condemning, not hypocritical, full of discernment and ultimately lives that model God’s forgiving and generosity to those around us .

So if we are a Christian we need to ask ourselves , is that us ? Are we doing that ? Do our lives model God’s forgiveness and mercy ?

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