“Judge not, and you will not be judged;
condemn not, and you will not be condemned…”
It is so important that we understand this in its context because if it’s allowed to act as an unqualified principle, it will not only become unlivable, but it will stand in contradiction to the rest of scripture.
Elsewhere Jesus taught that we should be able to discern people by their fruit; that we should be on our guard against false brothers and wolves in sheep’s clothing; that we ought to be discerning about what others teach as truth, and that we should assess others claims to being spiritual authorities over us.
The challenge, however, is that all of this is utterly impossible to obey if Judge not, and you will not be judged is upheld without any context or qualification.
Considering The Context
Taken as a whole, vs.37 reads like this,
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
This tells us that we are NOT to be quick to condemn in our personal dealings with people. We are to show mercy to all we interact with. We are to be patient, charitable and forgiving.
Jesus unfolds this lesson here just as he was urging his hearers to consider how God the Father has dealt with us.
So in looking to the context – which is vital – we see that Jesus was teaching about dealing with peers, and personal offence.
Remember that in the preceding verse (vs. 36) Jesus had commanded His hearers to:
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
In light of this verse, it follows that we must take our cue for interpreting v.37 from how God has treated us.
Considering The Father’s Mercy
We were all, once an enemy of God; we were at war with him and had sinned against him with little to no regard. Yet God’s actions toward us are remarkable. Instead of putting you in His crosshairs and reducing you to ash on the floor, He chose mercy.
He chose to bare our offence Himself. Not only did He put up with us, not only was he merciful to us, and not only was he very patient toward us – He did more – He took our offence upon Himself. In Jesus Christ he made the frightful journey to the killing tree, became a curse for us, and died the death we should have died.
That is mercy and that is what Jesus is asking us to emulate.
What has GOD done for you?
Think on that; be deliberate in your thoughts about the mercy of the Father toward you. Let them be big thoughts, thoughts that scare you with how weighty they are, how impacting they are, how deeply they must be felt.
How merciful was He toward you? And then ask yourself, how merciful are you toward others?
Can you look at God and not see his extravagant, lavish, infinite mercy that He in Christ would suffer an eternity of Hell, on the cross in a few short hours, that you might go free?
Are you numb to that? Are you unmoved by that? Are you unprovoked by that?
Does that consideration lead you to have mercy toward others?
Considering The Vast Disparity Of Cost
When we, as Christians, find ourselves suffering some offence, we ought to likewise find ourselves (almost) smirking at the thought, that it could be so easy for you to forgive, show mercy and judge not – especially in light of how much it cost God to forgive us. It is far, far, far easier for us to forgive our offenders than it was for God to forgive us.
For us to forgive that offensive driver, or that person who pushed in front of us in the queue, or that person who affronts us by slandering us, manipulating us, abusing us, etc., only costs us our pride. Let me re-emphasise that, it only cost us our pride.
With God however, of course it wasn’t his pride that was the challenge, it was the fact that it cost him the life of his Son. For God to forgive us cost God infinitely more. Christ, became incarnate, suffered the daily pangs of a sorrowful life and at the end of it all He swallowed the entire cup of God’s wrath till it’s last drop.
On account of that, judge not, be endlessly forgiving and be merciful.
Considering The Gravity Of Our Offence
Now of course we may sense that to forgive some people will be beyond our power and I have no intention to diminish people’s pain and minimise the abuse some have suffered unjustly.
We move now, past the petty offences that batter us daily to the big, truly nasty evils which occasions us in this world.
Some people have suffered quite unthinkable pain and torment from the evil actions of the most rotten, vile miscreants alive.
Yet perspective here is important or we’ll risk missing Jesus’ point.
We must take a sombre moment to reflect on the truth that no matter how harsh others may have been to us, how badly they hurt us, no one has ever offended us to the degree that we, by our sin, have offended God.
That’s an extremely provocative thing to say, (I do not say it lightly) and yet the reason it is so jarring, is because we entertain such small ideas of how bad sin really is.
Because of God’s infinite holiness, inestimable righteousness and perfection, any sin against Him, no matter how minor it may seem to us, is beyond reckoning in offence to Him.
The sinfulness of sin isn’t just judged by how horrendous the act is, so much as WHO the act is committed against.
I may sin against you and it is offensive, hurtful and shameful, but when I sin against God I commit cosmic treason. There’s no higher Person to offend, mock, shun and rebel against.
What horror… what unbelievable horror every single, seemingly minute, sin in reality is.
Yet how did God react to these unthinkable crimes against Him? What did He do to you in return?
He forgave, He restrained His right to condemn and He took upon Himself the offence and became both the offender and the offence that we might be freed, saved, redeemed and eternally innocent.
Considering Our Response
If you are a believer and have enjoyed this amazing grace, it appears God, in Christ, has something to ask you in return.
Could you find it in your heart to look at your neighbour, your friend, your brother or sister, that work colleague, that business partner, that ex-wife, ex-husband, that parent, that child, and your worst of all enemies… and could you, in God’s name, by God’s example, forgive them?
This is what Jesus is commanding here,
Judge not, condemn not and forgive.
He is not calling for a lack of prudence, or a lack of discernment to allow abusive people back into your lives without any recourse of self-protection. We all have to be on our guard against people who will victimise us and those we love. But we can forgive them, and leave them in God’s hands.
And this we must do, if we intend to be followers of Jesus.