*The Duty of Discernment and Judging in our Tolerant “Judge Not” World*
/Preached by Pastor Phil Layton at Gold Country Baptist Church on August 17, 2008/
If I were to ask you what was the most quoted Bible verse in America through the middle part of the 20th century, what would you say? (John 3:16 probably)
Now what about the last few decades?
According to Josh McDowell’s research, the most quoted Bible verse now at least in this country is Matthew 7:1.
The most quoted verse is no longer John 3:16, or Psalm 23 (or the Hebrew /shema/ historically) or Romans 8:28 or others.
The most quoted verse is also the most misquoted verse: Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not lest you be judged”)
Matthew 7:1-5 (NASB95) 1 *“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.* 2 “For *in the way you judge*, you will be judged; and *by your standard* of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but *do not notice the log that is in your own eye*? 4 “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 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.
You can understand why this passage is quoted so often and yet if it is not understood in its context of this passage and in context with Christ’s teaching as a whole you can also understand why it is so often /mis-/quoted.
Is all judging forbidden here?
What about judges in legal courts?
Leo Tolstoy, Russian novelist, said based on verse 1, “Christ totally forbids the human institution of the law court … [he] could mean nothing else by these words.”
But of course, the Sermon on the Mount is discussing personal ethics and traits, it’s not talking about government and judicial systems which Romans 13 supports.
You find this verse in surprising places.
- This is one verse I’ve seen printed out in secular newspapers on more than one occasion, it may be the only verse you might see quoted on those terrible TV talk shows I won’t even name or reality shows, sometimes with the reference but more commonly just part of the verse anytime when accused of sin or wrong.
I found a website that say this is a frequently occurring verse in reggae (the same is also true in R&B and even rap songs and other genres)
- If you’ve heard of the theologian Bob Marley, I read this week where he reportedly began his recording career with “Judge Not,” recorded in 1962 when Marley was about 17, a song at least loosely based on Matthew 7
/Don't you look at me so smug and say I'm going bad. /
/Who are you to judge me, and the life I live?
/I know that I'm not perfect And that I don't claim to be /
/So, before you point your finger /
/Make sure your hands are clean./
/Judge not, before you judge yourself, /
/Judge not, if you're not ready for judgment/
That resonates with many and is a good illustration of how many understand this NT phrase “judge not”
- Some are bolder, such as a song from another genre celebrating someone’s immorality and prostitution lifestyle on the weekends, but saying “it’s none of your business … [judge not] … there’s only judge out there and that’s God so just chill and let my father do his job”
There’s this great comfort many take that God is the judge, not man, and He will do is job (“so back off me and leave me alone”).
But if you really understand who God is and that He is a righteous and Holy Judge who will do His job of eternally punishing all unrepentant sinners, that shouldn’t comfort you, that should terrify you!
Far better to have a mere man judge your heart or actions wrongly here on earth, than to have the God of the Universe judge you rightly and give you what you deserve and to punish you for what is really in your heart, and for all eternity!!
God’s Word says it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God! Too bad /that verse/ is not so well known!
I used to be much more immersed in pop culture and television (which I rarely watch now, although I have enjoyed the Olympics this week), but I’ve seen enough in the past how this verse is often used to essentially say “no one has a right to tell me my lifestyle is wrong, in fact you’re the one who’s wrong for judging.”
On talk shows highlighting people’s ridiculous behavior and disputes, inevitably someone with great emotion will let loose with “You can’t judge me – the Bible says Judge not”
Should they really take comfort that God will judge them, not man?
Is this what Jesus intended by these words?
Is He pleased to be the poster child and proof text for the postmodern redefinition of tolerance to excuse any sin?
Webster’s definition of tolerance: “to recognize and respect [others’ beliefs, practices, etc.] without sharing them … to bear or put up with [someone or something not especially liked].”
It’s one thing to say everyone has a right to their belief, but the “New Tolerance” of our day says /every belief is right./
One of the world’s most well-known philosophers defines it this way “All opinions are equal, and there is no rational way to discern between them.”
United Nations “Declaration of Principles on Tolerance” says “Tolerance … involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism.”
In 1981 they adopted the “Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief” (what about “intolerant Christians”?)
Robert Simon, Professor of History at Hamilton College in Indiana, said he had never met a student who denied that the holocaust happened, but that what he is seeing increasingly is something that’s far worse – nearly a quarter of his students cannot bring themselves to say that the killing of millions of people is wrong.
He says “Upwards of 20% of my students are reluctant to make any moral judgments, even about the holocaust … while these students may deplore what the Nazis did their disapproval is expressed /as a matter of personal taste, of personal preference not moral judgment./”
As one student said “Of course I dislike the Nazis but who is to say that they are morally wrong?”
I heard a radio talk show where the host was talking with a caller who didn’t believe in moral absolutes – he asked her “is it ever right under any circumstance to molest or torture human children just for fun?” and the caller just could not bring herself to say yes.
Josh McDowell who has studied this trend extensively and spoken on it made the statement in light of such relativistic nonsense:
“America as a whole has lost the right to judge that what the terrorists did on 9~/11 is wrong.”
One pastor tells the story of a small-group Bible study where the leader said that sleeping together before marriage is displeasing to God. “Who are you to judge?”
One student asked.
“And by the way, who of us is perfect?
We have no right to sit in judgment of someone else’s morality.”
McDowell tells story of him and close friend & conservative Baptist pastor and his daughter.
When judging came up in the conversation his daughter said “Well, I don’t think a Christian should ever judge or be judgmental about anything.
The Bible says ‘Judge Not.’”
And the pastor was beaming with pride.
My wife Jaime a few years back had a conversation with a dear Christian who she was trying to explain that just saying a prayer doesn’t make you a Christian, and my wife was immediately chastised “Hey, you can’t judge.”
I once had a conversation with someone about a situation where a pastor had sex outside of marriage while in ministry and why he should step down because he didn’t meet the Biblical standard of being above approach.
This person said to me “Well, you know Jesus said ‘judge not’ … I don’t know that we should judge.”
We had a similar conversation about women being in ministry.
Many Christians will say things like “who are you to judge?’
The implication is that you and I have no right to say “this lifestyle is wrong” or “that is heresy” or “that TV preacher is a false teacher.”
“Who are you to judge or say that?”
This is common if someone disagrees with your view, instead of responding to the argument they are attacking you, instead of challenging the /point /you challenge the person.
In logic this is called an ad hominem (i.e., “you’re just stupid” or “you’re a legalist” or “what do you know?” – a form of name-calling.)
It’s the great escape, they think – if someone confronts or paints you in a corner, bust out Matthew 7:1!
When we as Christ-followers, though, say what God and His Word says, the strength of our case is not based on who we are, it’s on the content and source of our statement.
The challenge “Who are you to say?” misses the point, because what *God* says is infinitely more important than my opinion.
I’m not making a judgment by my own authority – (“because I say it this is how it is”) – I’m appealing to Scripture which should be the final authority.
Have you ever encountered that yourself?
People who are caught up with bad teaching and~/or bad thinking – many times when you bring up a Scriptural objection to their belief or practice, instead of actually dealing with the Bible verse or argument, they’ll just say “well you’re just judgmental or legalistic … since when are you perfect”, etc. It’s a lot easier to criticize or label others so that you don’t have to think about their point.
The Duty of Discernment - What does Matthew 7:1 mean?
A few comments on the text – present general command with a negative, carries idea of “make it your habit not to be a judgmental person,” i.e., don’t be known as a professional critic or complainer
There is a different form in Greek Jesus could have used to make an emphatic absolute prohibition, i.e, never at any time under any circumstances.
Present tense often means that it is a characteristic – don’t make it your characteristic to be this kind of person.
IMMEDIATE CONTEXT: Keep reading Matthew 7. Notice that Jesus immediately tells them there are some things they need to judge or discern – look at verse 6, who are dogs, swine?
We need to be able to judge when it is not wise or when it’s a waste of time with some or with some circumstances.
Look at verse 15 – how are we to beware of false teachers if we can never judge that someone is a false teacher?
He tells us twice “by their fruit you will recognize them” (16, 20) which requires critical judgment.
If we lack judgment or discernment over doctrine, we are disobeying Jesus in the rest of this chapter.
Jesus then talks about making sure you go through the narrow gate instead of the broad gate, which of course, requires discernment and making judgments about the false way.
In Matthew 16 Jesus asks Peter “who do you say that I am?” Peter needs to make a judgment about who Jesus is.
Should Peter have said “sorry you told me not to judge in chapter 7, so I can’t make a judgment call about someone, because all judging is sin”?
What about Matthew 18:15 when Jesus says if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private?
How are you going to do that without making a judgment based on the object right-and-wrong standard of scripture?
Jesus of course as God doesn’t contradict Himself – clearly there is a time to judge and a time not, or perhaps we could say a type of judging that’s wrong and a type that’s not.
Our public scripture reading this morning was Ecclesiastes 3 where Solomon writes that there is a time for many things.
And that whole section speaks of our need to discern or judge when actions are wise and appropriate or when right or wrong.
Jesus in Matthew 19:28 uses the same Greek word “judge” to encourage his disciples that because of all they have given up in His future earthly kingdom they will sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel.
If all “judging” was sinful, Jesus wouldn’t have said that – of course Jesus Himself judges and we know He never sins, so we can’t take Matthew 7:1 to mean all judging is sinful.
This same Jesus in John 7:24 says “judge with righteous judgment” - There Jesus is commanding to judge, using the same Greek word.
“Who are you to judge?”
If you’re a Christian, the question could be “who are we NOT to judge some things?
Who in the world am I to disobey Christ when he commands me to judge in John 7:24?”
Paul also commanded his readers to judge using this Greek word:
10:15 “I speak as to wise men; *you judge what I say*”
11:13 again “*you judge for yourselves*”
In Acts 15 and 16 this same Greek word is used for the Spirit-led judging of doctrine and its practical application, which God wants
In Acts 16:15, Lydia says after she believed in Christ and was baptized, “If you have *judged me [same word]* to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.”