“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 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. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:1–6, ESV)
This is a common verse bantered around within groups when speaking of faith and how we are to look at our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, but more often than not it is overly used and abused. In recent months I have had two experiences with it, one was not the most positive, but the other was more of a way to still further conversation on a topic that we should really discuss. What is Jesus saying here? That is the question that we should ask of ourselves when we hear it and before we discuss it.
Was Jesus calling us to truly not hold any opinion or judgment? If that be true we may find that verse 6 would be the most problematic of them all. Can we truly look at the behavior of another and not have any opinion or judgment? No, but the understanding can be based upon the whole of what is being said and looking to both what was said prior to this and what we find following. How often do people truly reflect on themselves to determine whether or not they are being faithful in their lives and living a life that honors God? Not one of us can say that we live fully in accordance to the way God desires of us, but we are called to repentance and to seek forgiveness for our shortcomings.
In Luther's Works volume 21 as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther is giving his lecture on Matthew 7 he begins with this, "In the preceding chapter we heard the Lord Christ follow His instruction regarding truly good works with a long sermon of warning against greed as a great hindrance to the kingdom of God in both doctrine and life, and as a deadly threat to Christendom. Now He begins a further warning, directed against another great and dangerous vice, called 'self-centered wisdom,' which judges and criticizes everyone."
It is this "self-centered wisdom" that we encounter often in our world. A wisdom that gives an air of self-righteousness and acts as if we have it all together while others are less and must be seen as being beneath me. There are many Christians that are caught up in this as they look down upon others and their sin. It was this haughtiness that Jesus was speaking against because it is a part of human nature. Many like to tear down others by pointing out their weaknesses and faults, but forget to be self-reflective. It is this spirit that many approach this with and use this. There are those that have throughout history picked out groups that they thought epitomized all that is wrong with the world and instead of turning to the mirror and reflecting on where they have failed and then seeking to serve others.
When we humble ourselves and determine that we are being called to serve all people we may find that our approach to the issues of the world may be different. One of the greatest uses of the "Judge Not" group are on things of sexual immorality, i.e. divorce, adultery, and fornication (which includes homosexuality). Is that what Jesus was speaking about? Unless one is penitent of their own sins, especially those within these realms, it does make any moral indignation to be hypocritical, this is true. I would say that as a pastor and Christian leader we should be more reflective of the witness that we give when we do not speak out against sin as a whole and only target specific sins, i.e. we speak against the concept of "Gay Marriage" while we say nothing about divorce, adultery, and those living together outside the bonds of marriage. If we are to have a credible witness we should first look at our own indiscretions, repent, and be open about it in our witness before we begin to speak to others that are caught up in such sin. We all must first seek the forgiveness of God and be sure that we do not judge by our own standards, but those put before us within Scripture.
Often though we are more like Jonah and hold a disdain like he held for the Ninevites against those who are engaged in a life that we feel is contrary to God's will. It reveals a prejudice in our hearts that makes it difficult to minister to those that differ from us. Jonah wanted to see the wrath of God come down upon them, if you remember. He disdained the Ninevites so much so that he was rebellious against God and tried to flee from doing that which God called him to do, hence the Jonah and the big fish (a.k.a. the whale). After God brought him to Nineveh he preached for three days the judgment of God against the city of Nineveh and then went to the top of a hill to watch the destruction unfold. When they repented and nothing happened he was angry. How often are we the same way to those that don't fit our idea of what is acceptable and good?
God doesn't approve, but He is accepting of us in our brokenness, so much so that He revealed to us His love through giving us His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, and sharing with us, His Holy Spirit. That is why we worship our God in Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unfortunately the sin of judgment is on all sides on many issues. The judgment of those that desire to be right that they forget to look to the Word of our Lord and try to turn it to fit their own message. They twist the acceptance of God to mean the approval of God or the acceptance of one who accepts to mean they approve and therefore desire to bring about their own judgment against them.
God's wrath is not ours to dictate, we are called to bring His Truth which is steady and unchanging, if it sound judgmental in the ears of the hearer (as long as it be the whole Word of God and not just a select verse) then it may bring repentance. When repentance is heard, usually reflected with fear and trepidation in the heart of the hearer, then we are to offer them the comfort that comes from the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, the one and only Savior and Judge. We are called to judge, but not in the way of making ourselves better then the other. We judge, so that we may serve. As a pastor within the confessional, orthodox Lutheran tradition of our Christian faith I am called to proclaim the Law and the Gospel understanding that the hearer of the Word should understand the deep and innate need that we all have of Jesus Christ for our salvation and with that understanding they will be driven to the cross of Calvary that they may die daily in those waters of baptism that all of us entering the Christian faith must be buried in that we may know the resurrection of Jesus Christ and realize it in our own lives.
Let us not be afraid of judging, but first we must judge our own lives and the fruits of our lives, be humbled and seek to serve the other. Luther's oft quoted last words, "We are all beggars, " should be seen as a reminder of the humility in which we are called to live.
Lord, guide us this day in our lives that we may seek first your wisdom and be reminded of the calling you have upon each of us as followers of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who came not to bring judgment, but to bring salvation to all who would hear and believe your Word as Truth. Guide us in your Holy Spirit and may we be obedient to your direction and guidance, humbling ourselves as servants knowing that we are under the Lordship of one who has made us free lords to serve as He came to serve. In your most holy and precious name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.