I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “You have no right to judge!” Sometimes they quote Jesus as their authority in saying so.
Yet all of us make judgments about people in the common course of life. We do it almost unconsciously when we look for a “good” doctor or want a “dependable” babysitter. In business, friendship, or marriage, people want someone they can trust; that means that some others cannot be trusted. And parents must often decide which of their children is telling the truth. So, what exactly did Jesus say about judging?
Right before Jesus made his famous statement about judging, he said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). So, the context of his statement about judging others was one of showing mercy to others!
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. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37–38)
In Luke 6:37 we run smack into the main problem: What did Jesus mean when he said, “Do not judge”? That question can be readily solved, if we assume that Jesus knew we would need further elaboration and that he gave it immediately. In other words, when Jesus said, “Do not condemn,” he was explaining what he meant by saying, “Do not judge.” Believers are not to judge in the sense of condemning another person with harshness and finality.
Matthew also describes the Sermon on the Mount and presents what Jesus said about judging others. Right after Jesus spoke about judging, he gave his disciples another command that made it obvious that they would not be able to avoid evaluating other people. He said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matt. 7:6, italics added).
Jesus wasn’t talking about house pets and barnyard animals; he was describing certain kinds of people. To follow this command, his disciples would have to be discerning and make value judgments about people, distinguishing the “dogs” and “pigs” from more receptive people. By using those terms, Jesus was referring to people who treated the Word of God and the miracles of his Son with contempt.
So, Jesus was not saying that we can never evaluate other people or form opinions about them. He knew that his disciples would have to do that. That’s simply part of life. But the spirit in which it is done makes a great difference; the Lord requires that mercy be infused into our judgments.
Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Excerpted from The Path to the Cross (forthcoming).