ROM COMPETITIVE SHOWS such as American Idol and Survivor to life-under-the-lens shows such as Hoarders, there are hundreds of reality programs on television. The problem with such programming is, for the majority of us, this is not reality.
Most of us live without fanfare, accolades, or bravado. We go to work, obey authorities, pay our bills and taxes, and find happiness in our faith, families, and communities. For a culture fixated on being “real,” it is amazing we have become obsessed with shows that are anything but real.
Rather than pretending to be something we are not, one of the marks of Christian living is being genuine. In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus speaks to “hypocrites”—those who judge others while hiding behind a mask. If we take off the mask, the one judging is as bad (or worse) as the one being condemned.
As a pastor, I have seen this kind of deception and misdirection in local churches and on the national stage: One person falls into sin, and the vultures swoop in. In many cases, the one with the loudest, most judgmental voice is guilty of the same or worse.
As Christians, Christ wants us to live authentic lives; becoming agents not of judgment, but of salvation.
“Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).*
The misapplication of this verse could, in some people’s minds, give us an argument for dissolving our entire judicial system. After all, if we are not to judge each other in any instance, then who is to say what is right and wrong? What makes telling the truth admirable, and stealing a crime?
Jesus’ statement does not condemn the critical faculty God has given us to discern right from wrong. Think context. Jesus teaches us to judge between the “narrow” and “wide” ways (Matthew 7:13-14), and between real and false prophets (vv. 15-20).
“Judge not” obviously has to do with a critical spirit. It has to do not so much with judging acts, but with questioning motives and sincerity. Several passages commend honest judgment:
“Why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?” (Luke 12:57).
“Judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
“Distinguish between what is morally good and what is evil” (Hebrews 5:14 Amp.).
“For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:2).
We find here the spirit of the fault-finder, the nitpicker, and the bean-counter in full force—always looking for the inconsistencies and failings in others. This individual always questions the motives, pours cold water on the plans, and is unforgiving toward the mistakes of others. Let’s take a look at several truths about when it is wrong to judge:
1. It is wrong to judge another when it is outside your responsibility. Paul asked, “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).
2. It is wrong to judge prematurely. The motives of a person’s heart are known only by God, even more so than by the man himself. We can’t know what is in another person’s heart. The Lord will reveal at His coming the worth of the works and motives of others, according to 1 Corinthians 4:4-5.
3. It is wrong to judge another person presumptuously. This happens when you accept hearsay and rumor, and pass judgment on the conduct of others. As a pastor for many years, I have seen reputations ruined, careers trashed, marriages crumble, and lives destroyed because of careless judgment.
4. It is wrong to judge hastily. When people took it upon themselves to construct the Tower of Babel, “the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built” (Genesis 11:5). If the God of the universe who sees all from His throne still chooses to come down and investigate human affairs, who are we to pass hasty judgment without investigation, empirical facts, and testimony of our own eyes? Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.”
5. It is wrong to judge personally. We tend to judge others on the basis of our own personal convictions. In Romans 14:10, Paul asks, “Why do you criticize your brother? Or you again, why do you look down on your [believing] brother or regard him with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God [who alone is judge]” (Amp.).
6. It is wrong to judge unmercifully. To condemn another without the hope of pardon is wrong. A graphic illustration of wrong judgment is found in 2 Samuel 10, when David sent servants to King Hanun of Ammon to comfort him on the death of his father. Hanun was persuaded by false witnesses that David’s emissaries had evil motives. Judgment was passed on David’s men, the result of which was a horrible war. As this story bore out, when we misjudge the motives and attitudes of others, it can lead to disastrous results.
“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).
Jesus says the person doing the judging is worse than the one being judged. In the attempt to get the splinter out of someone else’s eye, this person is ignoring the 2-by-12 in his own eye! If we have unconfessed sin and unresolved guilt in our life, we are in no shape to censor someone else.
Being a “restorer” is conditional. Galatians 6:1 says, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”
We should commit to helping restore another person only if we realistically understand the weakness of their own flesh, and the fact we could be subject to similar temptations. One of the worst church fights I ever saw took place when some carnal men tried to keep another carnal man from being elected to the deacon board. Criticism for past failures were brought up, and all of the families involved ended up leaving the church over the incident.
“Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).
When your heart is clean and your motives are pure, you are in a position to correct and help someone else who is wrong or struggling. With this word comes a warning: At the Final Judgment, we will be judged based on how we judged others (v. 2). The standard we use to point out and judge the faults of others will be applied to us when we stand before God. “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1).
We are recipients of grace and mercy; they should characterize our lives. Any lawyer will tell you that ignorance of the law is not a defense against prosecution and penalty; it is much less so for the person who sits in judgment, creating an illusion of righteousness, all the while being as guilty as the accused. However, God wants to set you free from, well, yourself. If you will get off the critic’s seat, God can set you free to love others as they are and, in the process, become an agent of healing, reconciliation, love, and restoration.
* Unless noted otherwise, all Scripture verses are from the New King James Version. Ron Phillips is pastor emeritus of Abba’s House in Hixson, Tennessee. This article is adapted from his book, The Sermon: Keys to Living an Uncommon Life (Pathway Press).