Is there something in my hair?

Judge not lest you be judged.

How many Christians does it take to screw in a light bulb? Ten, one to change the light bulb and nine to judge whether he did it right.

Many of you laughed, some of you winced because the simple fact is that Christians are famous for “judging” others. Often when a Christian comments on a person’s behavior, a common retort is “Don’t judge me!” This phrase has become so cliché that even people who have never read the Bible use it. Unfortunately it is taken out of context and misapplied often.

“Do not judge” is found in the middle of The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1. “Judge” has two meanings that can be applied in this context. The first meaning has to do with “condemning” a person to a death sentence; in other words, damning someone to hell for what you determine to be worthy of death. Many scholars believe Matthew intended this meaning because when one “judges” that a person is going to hell, then one is essentially “playing God” and only God has the authority to judge humanity. This contradicts Biblical principles, however. Hebrews 9:27 says that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” There are no exclusions; everyone will be judge by God after death. If we apply the above meaning to Matthew 7:1, then we negate Hebrews 9:27. If we define “judge” as “condemn others to hell,” then wouldn’t that mean that we can avoid God’s judgment if we obey the command in Matthew 7:1? Whether God judges us to spend eternity in heaven or hell, judgment is unavoidable (Revelation 20:12-15).

The only other Scripture that mentions avoiding judgment is Luke 6:37. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Notice that there is a distinction between “judging” and “condemning.” If Matthew really meant “condemn,” he would have used the same word Luke used for “condemn;” instead, he uses the same word Luke uses for “judge.” The Luke passage thus confirms that we should not condemn others to hell, but it also confirms that there is more to the meaning of “judge” than merely condemnation.

The second meaning of judge is “to express an opinion about, criticize” (BAGD). In other words, it is one thing to determine if an action is right or wrong, but forming an opinion about someone based on what little you know or heard about them has its consequences. The next verse tells us what the consequences are: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (7:2) So the way you judge others is the same way they will judge you and “the measure you give will be the measure you get” (BAGD). If you criticize others relentlessly, expect others to criticize you relentlessly. If you give people the benefit of the doubt when they screw up, people will be more likely to give you the same benefit.

Verses three to five basically make the point that if we are too busy finding fault with others, then we will not notice our own faults. It is like telling someone they have something stuck in their teeth when we have an arrow sticking out of both sides of our head. Jesus is making the point that we all have faults that others can criticize, but rather than spend our time pointing out what is wrong with the world, we should worry more about our own vices and how we can find deliverance from them in Him. Maybe then they can overlook our errors as they wipe the splinter of wood from their eye.

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