Perhaps I should stop saying that [this] one or [that] one is popular. After all, that is part of the point of the ‘common.’ Nonetheless: this one is widely believed and thought true by many Christians and countless unbelievers too.
“Don’t judge” comes in many forms including:
“I don’t mean to judge, but ____________________”
“Only God can judge me”
“Stop judging me! You can’t tell me what ________________!”
In fact just typing them gives me a bad taste in my mouth, and I feel I should cleanse my palate with ginger and water.
Where does the idea come from? In my honest opinion I think it comes from gross individualization, and overpronounced postmodern existentialism. In simple terms: selfishness. It’s sad that such arrogant self-focus can be shoved onto the teachings of Jesus, but that’s what happens. Already convinced that “my way is most important” and that “nobody can tell me what I can/’t do” indoctrinated into us American people by our psychologized parents, we read passages like Matthew 7.1-6:
“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.
And we automatically assume it means. Never tell someone “no.” Never correct someone. Never rebuke someone. A lot of good that would do our corporate world—with no just grounds for employee evaluation or dismissal from jobs; indeed with no grounds for ethical legislation. You’d see a lot of… well, what we see now: people suing others left and right (and the very reason that they sue discredits their own case). We would see legislation that attempts to make everything acceptable except for deeming something inacceptable. We would see the intolerance of so-called ‘tolerance’ which demands (not just coexistence, but) co-agreement while pulling the trap-door lever beneath them. All the while remaining positively blind to their own illogic.
“First walk a mile in his moccasins” or some variant of the Native American proverb assumes a ‘second’ action. First walk… then talk. And the same with Jesus words: first remove your obstruction, then remove theirs.
The Bible constantly teaches that there is judgment we must make in everyday life. Judge this day whom you will serve. Does the passage actually say “choose”? Maybe, of course if you don’t know Hebrew, how would you know how closely related choose and judge are? The fact is every decision is an act of judgment: I choose this thing which means I choose against that thing. Sometimes there is no choice which is ‘more right’ than another, but sometimes there is. And removing the possibility of judgment across-the-board will absolutely help no one.
What if Jesus is talking about condemnation? What he means: Don’t condemn someone because they will condemn you. And don’t even try to remove their speck. At least not until you’ve removed your plank. After you’ve removed your plank, then help them remove their speck. But make sure you do it with the right person--the one who won't trample your gracious correction and then attack you with condemnation (and violence). The idea of judgment-condemnation in this passage is distinct: it entails an upfront, unapologetic criticism. But Jesus invites us to judge. He invites us to judge-discern whois a worthy recipient (v.6). He tells us that are responsible for choosing rightly. He tells us that we are to correct our sinful neighbors. He tells us that we are responsible for judging amongst Christians because we will one day be set as judge over his messengers (poss. angels). He tells us that he is the ultimate judge. And one day he will judge! Oh, that we would accept the judgment of our neighbors before we approach his judgment throne! Oh that we would accept the correction offered by his servants before the great judgment when we cannot turn back. Judging rightly is a blessed gift that God has given his rational, moral creation, and Oh, that we practiced it rightly instead of maintaining our state of insolence with the wrath of God hanging over our head.
In the words of my friend Alex, “You would so much rather me judge you than God.”
Other articles in this series: