“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (verses 1-2)
What’s the most famous verse in the Bible?
I previously would have answered by quoting John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …” But I’ve heard it said the scene has now changed. There’s a new verse that’s more famous, at least in the non-churched world – more famous, and certainly more quoted.
It's found right here in this passage. “Do not judge.” It’s the retort that is commonly given whenever some aspect of contemporary life is critiqued by the standards of biblical ethics. “Who are you to judge?” the argument goes. “Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Do not judge’?”
Yes, the challenger is absolutely right. The Bible does indeed say that – right here in this passage. In fact, the words are Jesus’ own.
The irony, of course, is that Jesus was very free to critique the culture of his own day, condemning some of its thinking, as he’s done in the preceding two chapters. For instance: “You have heard that it was said … ‘Do not murder’ … But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement” (Matthew 5:21-22). Or: “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”(Matthew 5:28). Or: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites …” (Matthew 6:5). Jesus unabashedly calls people out, exposing their shortcomings, and naming them as sin.
So, the common understanding of the phrase “Do not judge” is found wanting. From Jesus’ own example it is clearly not prohibited to name certain behaviour as sinful, nor is it somehow “judgement” to uphold biblical standards of right and wrong. On the contrary, the whole point of Jesus’ teaching is that we each need to be shaped more and more by God’s standards, rather than our own. Indeed, Jesus’ standard is immensely high: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Yet the statement “Do not judge” stands as a rebuke to our own natural inclinations. Isn’t it true? We so easily get offended by the sins of others even when we give ourselves a free pass. Jesus hilariously describes the person who has a massive wooden beam protruding from his own eye, but somehow manages to critique the tiny speck of sawdust in someone else’s. How did they even manage to manoeuvre close enough to get a “look see”? Deal with your own stuff, Jesus says.
And realize that the standard you use for others will be applied to you. If you presume to know someone’s inner attitudes and the motives of their heart – assuming the worst – this is the very judgement you yourself will receive. If you show no mercy, then mercy will elude you. If you extend no grace, none will be extended to you.
What standard should we use, then? Why, Jesus’ own, of course. His standard challenges our thinking and behaviour, as Matthew 5-6 makes clear. Our only hope of living up to his standard comes by leaning into him, receiving his forgiveness and salvation, as well as his empowering presence. When we truly understand we are sinners saved by grace, then judgement must be set aside, for we ourselves are in the same boat with all humanity.
So, do not judge. Hold to Jesus’ teaching. Live in his salvation. Follow his ways. Live in grace. Extend it to others.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you have extended forgiveness and grace to me. I choose to walk in your paths. Alert me, by your Spirit, at every point that judgement of another rises within me. Help me to live by grace.
Reflect: Ask the Lord for insight. Are you currently living with a judgemental attitude to any person or group? If so, confess it. Pray the Lord’s blessing and grace on those you had previously condemned.