Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”. Matthew 7:1
The minister stood at the church door to greet people after the service. The sermon hadn’t been an easy one to preach. He had spoken about sexual morality, and had stressed particularly the biblical ideal of marriage - one man and one woman, for life - and he knew that not everyone would take it kindly.
(He knew too, of course, that the ideal is exactly that: an ideal. And that God is compassionate and forgiving towards those who may have failed to achieve it.)
One woman had just a very brief comment to make: “I prefer to live my life according to Matthew 7:1. Goodbye.” By which she meant, of course: “I believe in not making judgments on the way other people live their lives.”
Was her frosty comment right?
In one sense, of course, yes. We should not judge others in the sense of condemning them. We are all sinners, so the sins we should take most seriously are... our own. Jesus goes on to make this clear in his words about the speck of sawdust and the plank: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?... You hypocrite...” Point taken! Ultimately, God alone is qualified to judge.
But in another sense she was wrong. Taking Matthew 7:1 as a stand-alone text - treating it as if it says everything that needs to be said - simply creates chaos.
Somebody has calculated that the Bible as a whole contains 31,102 verses (depending on which version you use), so if that minister had had the chance he could well have replied to the woman, “Er, yes, of course, Matthew 7:1 is great verse - but what about the Bible’s other 31,101 verses? What about verses that put a different angle on the matter - shouldn’t they be taken into account as well?”
For if you take Matthew 7:1 as the only word on the subject of judging, it implies that there are no rights and wrongs at all. Somebody commits murder? Oh dear, that’s bad - but, of course, Jesus says I mustn’t judge them. Somebody operates an internet scam and robs people of millions of pounds? Mmm, that sounds pretty dodgy as well. But of course Jesus says I mustn’t judge them...
Fact: some things are right and some things are wrong. And we shouldn’t shy away from saying so.
Jesus himself wasn’t afraid to point this out: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13) Not exactly non-judgmental, that, eh?
In the early days of the church Simon Peter had to deal with a case of gross dishonesty by a couple called Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). So what did he say: “Ananias and Sapphira, you have done a seriously bad thing - but of course I am forbidden by the Lord Jesus to judge you”? Er, no. No: he spoke some quite frightening words: “... how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit...?” Non-judgmental?
A little later Saul (before he became known as Paul) was confronted on the island of Cyprus by “a sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus” (Acts 13:6-12). This man comes in for similar rough treatment: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!” Again, non-judgmental?
The fact is that when we see evil and wickedness, whether in others or mainly in ourselves, something is wrong if we don’t recognise it as such.
But, having said that, shouldn’t our main reaction be one of sorrow?
This, I think, is what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4). He wasn’t talking about bereaved people or people attending a funeral; he was talking about people who shake their heads in sadness as they look into the darkness in their own hearts, and as they survey the sorry state of our world - the lies, the corruption, the greed, the vice and immorality, the violence.
Such people aren’t self-righteous or “holier-than-thou”; no, they are people who have looked a little into the heart of God, who have been moved by the beauty and purity they have seen there, and who long for things to be different. They are people who pray, as Jesus taught us: “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) - and who add “including in my heart”.
Is that a prayer you can pray with sincerity? If it is, I think that means you can stand up for what is right, and denounce what is wrong, without being guilty of judging others where you shouldn’t.
Lord God, save me from fault-finding, criticising and condemning others. Help me to see clearly my own sins and failings - but at the same time not to be afraid to uphold what is good, right and true. Amen.
(This topic raises another important issue - how easy it is, like that woman at the church door, to misuse the Bible. I think it might be helpful to have a think about that next - so hopefully I’ll see you next Wednesday!)