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Do not judge, or you too will be judged

by on April 3, 2012

Here is a great answer to a question asked in class the other week. It’s by D.A. Carson from his recent article in Themelios. Be sure to note the beginning of the second paragraph. CONTEXT. This can usually go a long way in understanding passages and their application.

First, Jesus himself insists, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt 7:1 NIV). Doesn’t this mean that if we follow Jesus’ teaching we should refuse to make moral and religious evaluations? Certainly that view is common on the street. “I don’t mind Jesus,” we hear; “it’s Christians I can’t stand. Christians run around self-righteously telling people how to live, condemning other religions, sending missionaries off to meddle in other cultures. Why don’t they follow the instruction of the Jesus they claim to serve? After all, he said, ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged.'”

When I was a boy I learned a few of the first principles of interpreting texts. I learned, “A text without a context becomes a pretext for a proof-text.” So I suppose we better remind ourselves of the context where Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” It’s found in the Sermon on the Mount. That sermon contains quite a few teachings of Jesus. Here, for example, Jesus criticizes the man who looks at a woman lustfully, on the ground that such a man has already committed adultery in his heart (Matt 5:28). Here he teaches us not to store up treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal; rather, we must store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, knowing that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be, too (6:19-21). Here he tells us to watch out for false prophets, which presupposes we must make distinctions between the true and the false (7:15-20). Here he insists that on the last day not everyone who says to him “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of his Father who is in heaven (7:21-23). In all these utterances, Jesus is making moral, religious, and cultural evaluations. He is, in short, making judgments. So after making all these judgments, what does he mean by saying “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”? The context shows that he means something like “Do not be cheaply critical, or you will be subjected to the same criticism.” In other words, there is no way on God’s green earth that this command prohibits his followers from making moral judgements, when making moral judgements is precisely what the sweep of his teaching demands that they do. But he does insist that when they follow his instruction and make evaluations and judgments they must do so without cheap criticism of others-a notoriously difficult requirement. There must be no condescension, no double standard, no sense of superiority, no patronizing sentimentality. Christians are never more than poor beggars telling other poor beggars where there is bread. This humble tone ought to characterize all Christian witness, all Christian missionary endeavor. But to argue that Jesus wants his followers to make no judgments at all merely betrays biblical illiteracy.

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