It was 7:00 p.m. on a Halloween night. Amidst a flurry of 6 year old Frozen princesses and 13 year old Walking Dead, our perpetually late letter carrier showed up. My first thought was to drop a candy bar in his bag and say, “Well, don’t you just look like a real mailman in your little costume!”
But I didn’t. I bit my tongue. Because one of the worst things I’ve experienced in life is the judgment of others, so God forbid I should do it myself. But, oh, I was tempted! Why? Because we’re wired to make judgments. We judge whether to go to the market or wait till the rain lets up. Whether to open our front door to the guy in the Metallica t-shirt who says he’s “from the gas company.”
And yet, how many times have you heard someone say, “You’re judging me!” as if it were a universally bad thing? Where did it come from, this ban on something we so frequently do?
He’s the one who put the negative spin on the whole judgment thing. It was Jesus who said (in Matthew 7:1), “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Resulting in untold numbers of conversations like:
A: You need to stop playing video games 16 hours a day and get a job! B: There are people who make a living doing this. Stop judging me!
A: I saw you take that new laptop from the company mail room! B: Do you know how little they pay me? Stop judging me!
Without further insight, many are quick to turn Jesus into a roll-me-a-doobie savant whose message is, “Just do your own thing, and don’t tell anybody else what to do, dude!”
But Jesus did explain what he meant. In the very next verse, he says: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” And then he illustrates with an intentionally sarcastic metaphor: “Why do you focus on the speck in your brother’s eye and ignore the log in your own? First pull the log out of your own eye, and then you’ll be able to see clearly to pull the speck out of your brother’s!”
His point? It’s why we judge that’s the issue. In fact, elsewhere he commands us to “judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). But judging in the Matthew 7:1 sense is judging with wrong judgment. Because its purpose is condemnation, and God is in the correction business, so if your goal is condemnation, you’re in the wrong business, dude.
Condemnation doesn’t fix anything, it merely makes the accuser feel superior, and in dong so, harms both. “I’m better than you” is the small print Jesus exposes when he says, “Why do you focus on the speck in your brother’s eye?”
Three words are used for judge in the Old Testament. The first two mean to “govern” (shaphat) or “correct” (yakakh). But the third (duwn) signifies “final judgment,” and is used exclusively of God—with one ominous exception: Genesis 4:16 prophesies that a descendent of the tribe of Dan “will judge (duwn) like a serpent.” Because of this verse, Saint Irenaeus concluded that the Antichrist would come from the tribe of Dan! Jesus uses the equivalent term when he warns, “Anyone who says ‘you fool’ (i.e. who passes judgement on another’s character) is in danger of hellfire” (Matthew 5:22).
I once produced a short film entitled The Limited, in which a “good man” dies and finds himself boarding a train en route to see The Judge. On board, he ends up seated across from a hungry, unpleasant woman. He avoids conversing with her or offering her food. When the train arrives, he climbs a long set of stairs and finally meets his Judge…
The woman from the train.
To read Part Two, click here.