Jesus now comes to address the thorny question of human relationships—our tendency, in particular, to judge one another, to feel superior to each other, and to cast aspersions about each other’s moral performance and spirituality. In some ways, verse 37 these days is the most famous verse in the Bible: “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” Does this, though, mean that we are not to exercise any sort of critical faculty? Are we to be gullible?
Clearly, Jesus cannot be in favor of leaving our brain on the coatrack along with our coat when we go into church, or not using our minds. In order not to judge, we must be able to discern when we are judging and avoid it! No, Jesus is not saying avoid any attempt to use our minds. What is he saying is explained by the immediately following phrase: “condemn not, and you will not be condemned.” Jesus is talking of the sort of judging of other people that takes the role of God over their lives; that decides whether they are “saved” or not; that puts ourselves in the role of The Judge, and condemns people based upon our standards of right and wrong.
This sort of judgmentalism, hyper-criticism, spiritual dictatorship of other people, is always a mistake. It is a mistake for very practical reasons—other people will treat you the way you treat them! (6:37-38). If you are ever tempted to judge another person in this sense of condemning them, simply remember that in all likelihood if you go around condemning people, then at some people you will be condemned by people yourself. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword. There is a normal human rule whereby the person who plays god with others people’s lives, and casts around anathemas like bitter candy at every opportunity, that person will at some point or other find that their failings are rather bitterly condemned too.
On the other hand, the person who is gracious and kind—who by no means downplays God’s standards in the Bible, but does not use those standards to play God with other’s people’s lives—the person who is Christlike and loving and indeed generous and forgiving, that person will find that in all likelihood other people will treat them in that way too. “The measure you use it will be measured to you.”
But not only does it make practical sense, it also makes spiritual sense (6:39-42). The reality is that we all have sins in our lives. We are all worthy of condemnation in our own natural selves, outside of Christ, if we were not saved by grace. So when we look at the “speck” of moral failing in our brother’s eye, all we are really doing is (for those with eyes to see) underlining the great big “log” in our own eye. Those who tend to be very picky about other people’s sins tend to have sins in their own lives that they are not able to face up to and find healing and grace for in Christ themselves. Trying to do spiritual surgery while you have a log in your own eye as you attempt to remove the speck in someone else’s eye is as absurd in the spiritual realm as it is in the medical one. Don’t do it! We all, every one of us, need to come to the Great Physician for healing and help for our failures, sins, and brokenness. Once we have done that, once we are on the path of grace, we will find that we are more able genuinely to help those around us.
Then we will be more like the fully trained disciple, able to follow the Teacher Christ, and exercise in some pale reflection his ministry of healing and help and proclamation of the good news of the gospel.
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