Faithlife Sermons

To Judge or Not to Judge?

Preaching through the NT  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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One of the most familiar and often quoted verses in the Bible is Luke 6:37, "do not judge and you will not be judged." Almost everyone can quote it from memory, whether they go to church or not. The trouble is, this favorite passage is often misuded to deflect conversations about our sinful choices. As we explore the passage, we will first look at what Jesus doesn't say, then we will be ready to hear his challenge about our tendency to harbor a condemning and judgmental attitude towards others.

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To Judge or Not to Judge?

We’re going to see who’s awake this morning. I’ve put together a list of some of the most common and familiar phrases that we hear all the time. You probably use some of these in your everyday conversation. I’ll read the first half of the phrase and if you recognize it, your job is to finish the second half of phrase. Let’s try this out…
· The apple doesn’t fall… (far from the tree)
· He really hit the nail on… (the head)
· Beauty is in the… (eye of the beholder)
· A rose by any other name… (would smell as sweet)
· There’s no place like… (home)
· This is going to cost me… (an arm and a leg)
· March comes in like a lion… (and goes out like a lion? / not sure how that one goes)
How did you do? I imagine most people have no trouble recognizing these phases. These words been ingrained into our vocabulary. We may not know the history or the background or the speaker, but we can finish the sentence. We might find ourselves using some of these phrases without even thinking about it.
There’s one more phrase I have for you: “judge not… (lest ye be judged). This is the focus of our sermon this morning. Luke 6:37 is one of the most familiar verses in the Bible. It’s become very popular in our world today, maybe even more popular than John 3:16. We hear it used in conversations all the time. We read it in articles, or see it on Facebook. It is the world’s favorite verse. Whether a person has ever been to church or not, they can probably quote these words. They may not know where it’s found in the Bible, but they know it’s in there, somewhere. They may not understand the point Jesus was making when he spoke these words, but they understand the point they are trying to make. And that’s the problem; the verse is frequently taken out of context.
When we isolate a single phrase from the verses that surround it, it’s very easy to distort the intended meaning, to fit our own agenda. Unfortunately, that’s how this verse is often used. When people quote these words they may have little interest in following Jesus or learning his ways, but it becomes a convenient way of shutting down conversations about our choices and lifestyles. Maybe we’re talking with a friend about spiritual things, and we find ourselves feeling a little convicted. Instead of wrestling with the issue on a deeper level, we deflect by quoting our favorite verse. “Hey, doesn’t the Bible say, ‘do not judge, not and you will not be judged?’” But is that really what Jesus had in mind?
Even though this a familiar verse, it is also one of the most misused, misapplied, and misunderstood passages in the Bible. And so as we unpack the message this morning, we first need to look at what Jesus isn’t saying, and then we will be able to understand the challenge that he is making to us.
This passage is from a section that is called the Sermon on the Mount. We find it in Matthew chapters 5-7, and a more abbreviated version here in Luke chapter 6. This is one of the more famous messages that Jesus preached in the gospels. It came during the first year of his public ministry. He has just recently chosen the 12 disciples, and his popularity is starting to spread throughout the land of Israel. He has not yet faced much opposition from the religious leaders, although very soon he will. While he was traveling through the region of Galilee, large crowds of people were coming out from the towns and villages to him to hear him preach and to see his miracles. There were probably thousands of people sitting in the field to listen to his words and he spoke to them for hours about what it means to be a disciple.
It’s interesting that he doesn’t lower the standards from the OT. He doesn’t water down God’s truth. In a sense, he actually raises the bar. In Matthew 5 Jesus quotes a list of commands from the Law of Moses and tells the people that God is not only concerned about outward obedience, but he cares about the inner condition of our heart. He makes the statement, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’…But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court” (Mt. 5:21-22). Or, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5:27-28). That kind of thinking was different from the religion of the Scribes and Pharisees. They were mainly focused on outward appearances, but Jesus was showing us that we need more than religion to be right with God; we need to be transformed from the inside out. Jesus tells the people that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven our righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees I’m sure that didn’t go over well with the spiritual leaders of the country, but he was showing them that righteousness and self-righteousness are not the same thing. We need God’s cleansing and forgiveness, and then we are able to pursue a life that is pleasing to him.
And so that should give us some insight into the context of Jesus’s words in our passage.

What Jesus isn’t saying

When he says, “Do not judge…” Jesus is not doing away with moral standards. He is not telling us that we are free to define right and wrong for ourselves, or that there aren’t any absolutes, or that no one has the right to question or choices or lifestyle. This is how the verse is often used, but it wasn’t what Jesus had in mind.
Picture a man who knocks on the front door at the house of a friend. His friend opens, and says, “hey, what’s going on, I wasn’t expecting to see you today?” The man tells him, “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by. I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something. It’s not easy for me to bring this up, but I’ve noticed change in you lately. You’ve been drinking a lot, going to the bar almost every night, stumbling into work in the morning hungover, and I’m really concerned about you. You may not realize it, but it’s getting out of control. It’s hurting your relationships with your family, and the people who love you. It’s hurting your performance at work. I overheard the boss say if you’re late one more time you’re going to get fired. I’m worried about you, and want you to know I’m here for you. I know some guys who attend the local AA meetings, and it’s really helped them to talk about their struggles. Maybe that will help you. What do you say?”
The man stands at his doorway quietly, for a couple of moments thinking about what he has just heard, and then he takes a couple of deep breaths before responding. He looks at his friend and answers, “I can’t believe what I’m hearing. You came over to my house to accuse me of being an alcoholic? What kind of friend are you? I don’t have to listen to this. It’s my life and no one’s going to tell me how I should live it. If I want to go to the bar every night, that doesn’t concern you. Who are you to judge me? You’re always talking about the Bible, well doesn’t Jesus say ‘judge not lest you be judged?’ I would appreciate it if you mind your own business, and leave me alone.” And he slams the door.
That’s how a lot of people use (or I should say misuse) the verse. One author writes,
“Those who mishandle this verse often use it as a “shield for sin,” a barrier to keep others at bay, allowing them to justify living as they please without any regard for moral boundaries or accountability. Their objections sound like this: ‘Aren’t we all sinners? What gives us the right to make moral judgments about someone else? Isn’t that God’s job?’ However, when we take a closer look at the context of [the passage] and the teachings of the rest of Scripture, it is clear that this verse cannot be used to substantiate unrestrained moral freedom, autonomy, and independence. This was not Jesus’ intent. He was not advocating a hands-off approach to moral accountability, refusing to allow anyone to make moral judgments in any sense. Quite the opposite, Jesus was explicitly rebuking the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who were quick to see the sins of others but were blind and unwilling to hold themselves accountable to the same standard they were imposing on everyone else.” (Bargerhuff, Eric J. “The Most Misused Verses in the Bible,” p.25-26)
The buzzword of our culture today is “tolerance.” We’re told everyone is supposed to be accepting of everyone else’s decisions. “Who are you to tell me how I should live my life?” If you disagree with someone, they call you judgmental. They say, “It’s okay, do whatever makes you happy. Just follow your heart, and pursue your own unique truth.” But that is not what Jesus is telling us. How do we know? Because he challenged the people to turn from a life of sin to follow him. Yes, he loved people and he was willing to meet them where they were. That’s one of the things that separated him the religious leaders of the day. But he also loved people too much to leave them were they were. He called people into a relationship that would transform their lives.
Think of the woman caught in adultery. In John 8:3-5 (NIV) we read,
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him…”
In these verses we see their harsh and condemning attitude. They didn’t care about this woman. They didn’t even care about what the Bible actually said. Their only concern was finding a way to trap Jesus in his words. But Jesus cared about her and responded in a way that exposed their own sinful attitude. In John 8:7 (NIV) he answered, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” You know what? One by one, they all walked away. They had come to pronounce her guilt, but now their own guilt was exposed.
John 8:10-11 (NIV) tells us, “Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” Notice that he wasn’t condoning her lifestyle. He wasn’t affirming the choices she had made or telling her that it was okay to sleep around. He acknowledged her sin, but offered mercy. He was honest with her. The way she had been living was not pleasing to God. But he offered forgiveness, and showed her a better way.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus called people to turn from their lives of sin to follow him. He never compromised his message, or water watered down the gospel. He always spoke the truth in love, and he calls us to do the same.
There are times when God does lead us to talk to someone about the issues in their life, like the example of the man talking to a friend about his battle with alcohol. It takes courage to do that, and wisdom, and a loving heart that wants more than any to see the person experience God’s healing and restoration. The church is certainly called by God to proclaim his truth in a world where everyone wants to define truth for themselves. Again, we courage and wisdom. Don’t let people bully you into staying silent. Speak the truth, but in the spirit of love that Jesus modeled for us.
So now that we’ve explored what Jesus is not saying in Luke 6:37, we need to go back and listen to what he does say.

Before judging, check your motives

Look at Luke 6:37.
We have to wonder if Jesus was looking right at the Pharisees when he spoke these words. He was describing their prideful condemnation of others. I’m sure there were exceptions, but many of the spiritual leaders in his day were arrogant and self-righteous. They carried around the rule book making sure everyone was keeping all of their customs and traditions to the letter. Having the Scriptures wasn’t enough for them. They wrote volume after volume adding extra Laws. It seemed like they enjoyed pointing out the failures of others. There wasn’t a tone of gentleness in their voice when they offered correction, they were smug and condescending.
We see that throughout the gospels. When Jesus or the disciples did something that wasn’t up to the standards of the Pharisees, they pounced. “Your disciples picked a piece of fruit on the Sabbath, and that’s not allowed according to our traditions.” “Your disciples didn’t purify their hands before eating, and that violates our traditions.” I’m sure at times Jesus shook his head and thought, “guys, that’s not even in the Bible, you’re just making this up.”
It’s not just the Pharisees who were quick to criticize. Sometimes we’re all tempted to do the same. There is something in our fallen human nature that enjoys pointing out the faults, or calling attention to their mistakes. Maybe we do it to feel better about ourselves. By focusing on how other people have messed up, we momentarily distract ourselves from how the ways we have messed up in our own lives. “Hey, I’m not such a bad person. At least I’m better than this guy; look at all his problems. I’m sure glad I’m not him. And I’m way better than that guy over there.” We might say it in those words, but subconsciously, that’s what we’re doing when we criticize and condemn.
This takes me back to my days in college, during my junior year, when I became an RA, resident assistant. My role was to make sure other students were following the rules, I even had the power to write fines. That power began to go to my head, and I was nagging my friends all the infractions they were not quite but almost committing. “You’re walking to fast. There is no running in the halls!” “You dropped a Cheerio from your cereal bowl. There is no throwing food in the cafeteria!” One of my friends was upset so I threatened to fine her for arguing with an RA. Eventually, the RD, resident director, had to have a talk with me. He explained, “I’m glad you’re concerned about the rules, but maybe you’re taking it a little too far. This is Grace Bible College after all.” Why was I acting like that? Pride was getting the better of me. There is a part of us that enjoys pointing out the mistakes of others because it makes us feel good about ourselves, at least for a little while.
Hold your place here, but turn a couple of pages to Luke 18. Jesus told a parable to warn the people about harboring a prideful and condemning attitude. In Luke 18:9-14 he says...
We can picture the scene. The courtyard of the temple was a busy place, and there all types of people who went there to pray. In one corner stood a pharisee, a religious leaders and a teacher of the law. He would have spent a lot of time in that place. A devout person observed three times of prayer throughout the day: morning, noon, and evening. He probably chose a place where he would be noticed by all. Gazing around at the other worshippers, he couldn’t help but pat himself on the back and boast in how spiritual he was. I’m sure he prayed in a loud enough voice so others would hear him. “Thank you Lord I am so much better than all of these little people. I am so spiritual, unlike other men, especially that greedy tax collector over there. Seriously, why does even bother to show his face in the temple? It’s not like you would listen to his prayers.” The Pharisee was motivated by pride. You would think a religious leader would care for the spiritual wellbeing of others, but he was too busy admiring himself.
Meanwhile the tax collector humbled himself, calling out to the Lord for mercy. Jesus said it was the tax collector, not the Pharisee, whose prayers were heard.
That should serve a warning to us not to be overly confident in ourselves while looking down on everyone else. God is not nearly impressed with our self-righteousness as we are. In fact, it doesn’t impress him at all. It is a humble heart that is pleasing in his eyes.
And so when we do find ourselves in a position where we feel God leading us to approach a friend or family member or church member about some issue in their life, we must do so cautiously, checking our motives. Am I doing this out of concern? Or am I doing it out of pride?

Before judging, address your sin

Look at Luke 6:41-42
The problem with the Pharisees is that they were eager to point out everyone else’s sin, while ignoring the sin in their own lives. They told themselves, “We’re okay. We don’t have any faults. It’s everyone else who has problems.” Really? What about pride? What about self-righteousness? What about jealousy? What about unbelief? Those are pretty significant issues. How could they hope to lead others to God while they themselves were far away from Him? They were basically saying “do as I say, not I as do.” And that doesn’t work. Why should anyone listen a teacher like that?
Jesus uses a parable to show us the futility of trying to fix other people’s problems while ignoring our own. He tells the Pharisees, “You’re like a guy who notices a speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye. He is blinking his eyelid, trying to let his tears flush it out, but it’s not working very well. It’s really stuck in there good, so you decide to help. “Here, let me get that for you…” you say, reaching in with your fingers to remove the speck. But he backs away and tells you, “No way! Don’t you notice there’s a plank sticking out of your own eye? How are you supposed to help me when you can’t even see what you’re doing? First you need to take the plank out of your eye, then maybe you’ll be able to see clearly enough to help others.”
And that’s sound advice for us, as well. If we haven’t dealt with our own problems, we’re not in any condition to help others deal with the problems in their lives.
Think about who you would go to for advice if you were wrestling with anger. Are you to talk the guy next door who is always losing his temper, and yelling at the neighbor kids to get out of his yard? Of course not. He’s the last person you would ask for help. You will find someone who always manages to stay calm and cool even in stressful situations.
Think about who you might turn to for prayer, if you’re struggling with gossip. Are you go to ask the lady who is always on the phone, spreading the latest rumors? No way! She’s the last person you would ask. You’ll look for someone who uses their words to build others up, not tear people down.
So why would we try help others with their problems, when we haven’t dealt with our problems? People don’t want to hear “do as I say, not as I do.” They want real answers, someone real, who can show them how Christ has been working in us to change our lives.
That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect before the Lord can use us, but it means we have to be honest, allowing God to shape us into the people he wants us to be. We can’t ignore our own struggles while trying help others with their struggles. We have to invite him to change our heart so that we will be equipped to bring that change to others.
We would do well to make the words of the psalmist our prayer each day. In Psalm 139:23–24 (NIV84) we read, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Think about a mentor or a teacher or a leader who made an impact in your life. Chances are, it wasn’t someone who pretended to be perfect, because we can see right through that. It was probably someone who was honest, humble, authentic. You could tell that God was working in their life, and that inspired you in your faith.
One commentator writes,
If you see a fault in your brother, before you talk to him, examine your own heart to see if perhaps you may be guilty as well… Are you trying to “perform surgery” on your brother’s eye when your own eye is damaged? It is not wrong to help a brother or sister, but it is wrong if …our lives are not right with the Lord. The great danger is hypocrisy, which means pretending that we are more spiritual than we really are. In trying to help others, we must be honest with God and ourselves. (Wiersbe, W. W. “Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament” p. 162)

Before judging, remember God’s mercy

Look at Luke 6:36.
One of the reasons the Pharisees were so harsh and condemning is they never experienced God’s mercy. They were too busy trying to earn God’s favor, and spent their lives trying to measure up. They didn’t realize just how far they really were from his holy standard, and that they too needed forgiveness as much as anyone else.
But those who are touched by God’s grace have a very different outlook. We remember that we were once lost, and hopeless, deserving judgment but Christ saved us. Despite our failures, despite our past, despite all of the ways we fell short, the Lord reached into our lives and redeemed us. The only way we can respond to that is with awe. Such mercy! Such grace!
If you have truly experienced that, you want nothing more than for others to experience it as well. When we look at the world and see so many lost and broken people, we want to bring the love of Jesus into their lives. We want them to find forgiveness and grace.
So when you hear the neighbors across the street who are always fighting, don’t mutter under your breath: “what a sinner.” Pray for them, that they would come to know Christ, and experience his grace, maybe God would use you to bring his love into their life.
If we are eager for God to pour out his wrath on all the people around us, something is wrong. Our hearts should be breaking, God’s heart is breaking. We have forgotten that we too were sinners in need of God’s grace.
That was how grace impacted the life of the apostle Paul. He devoted his life to telling others about Jesus. In 1 Timothy 1:15–16 (NASB95) he says....

Conclusion: Following the Example of Jesus

This morning we are challenged to consider our attitude towards others. It is so tempting to harbor a critical and condemning spirit. But we do well to follow the example of Jesus. He always spoke the truth in love. That doesn’t mean he watered down the gospel or compromised his message. There were times he confronted people about their sin. But he did so with the right motives, wanting to bring healing and restoration to people’s lives. We need to check our motives. And Jesus was able to address people’s sin because he lived a righteous and holy life. He stood in contrast, the pharisess, who ignored their own problems while pointing out everyone else’s problems. We need to humbly admit we are not perfect, but Christ is working in us, and our goal is to be more like him in our lives each day. And Jesus showed mercy. He didn’t come to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. One day he will come in judgment, but longs for all people to respond to his message of Grace. May we bring God’s grace and mercy into the lives of those around us, telling them about the Savior who bore our judgment so we could be forgiven.
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