“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Brothers do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting on judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?”James 4:10-12
Only when we can claim the love of the crucified Christ with heartfelt conviction, the love that transcends all judgments, can we overcome all fear of judgment. When we have become completely free of the need to judge others, we will also become completely free from the fear of being judged. The experience of not having to judge cannot co-exist with the fear of being judged, and the experience of the nonjudgmental love of the crucified Savior cannot co-exist with the need to judge others.
– Henri Nouwen, Here and Now
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. 38Give, 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.”
39He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.
41“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.Luke 6:37-42
After admonishing his followers to love their enemies, Jesus continues on in his theme of mercy towards others. According to what Jesus says here, we should not judge, condemn or withhold forgiveness from people under any circumstances. Think about that for a moment. I am left wanting. The church has sadly oftentimes stood wanting.
Here is the principle Jesus hinges this teaching on: “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” But what about those [Godless] liberals/[closed-minded] conservatives; those [cold-hearted] border control proponents/[culture-destroying, anti-family values] activists? Keep going, you can come up with these black/white, good/evil, enlightened/ignorant (depending on perspective) contrasts all day long. Flip on any news channel or scroll through certain social media exchanges to take in some savage commando punditry and pontificating if you need help with the inventory of personal polarization.
We live in a culture of condemnation. Condemnation that goes beyond the principle at stake (which we can indeed and should judge through the lens of Scripture) to the person espousing the principle or belief. The Henri Nouwen extract suggests that this is a source of our persistent fear and lack of peace. We are in bondage in need of being set free.
God, through Jesus, extends his costly mercy and love towards us even when we deserve judgment and punishment. As followers of Jesus, we are held to account to extend the same grace to those around us, both friends and enemies alike. This includes those we vehemently disagree with.
Jesus’ logic for this is hard to refute. We are typically equally broken and blind – though usually in other areas – relative to the brother or sister that we are tempted to judge. We are not only morally deficient, but we would be the ultimate fool if we believed our self-generated conclusions and positions on issues containing genuine ambiguity (this is not referring to those made clear to us in Scripture) represented the only possible correct interpretation of what is true. The blind cannot lead the blind.
An important point here is defining what Jesus means by judgment or condemnation. Are we supposed to just keep our mouths shut if we see a brother or sister we love engaged in destructive behavior or unrepentant sin? This “live and let live” interpretation would conflict with other teaching on correcting, rebuking and encouraging repentance. But this is done in love, not judgment, where our desire is to see peace, healing and reconciliation with God for our brother or sister. For example, a married brother or sister conducting an affair would be well-served by concerned friends in the community, but not by having a “hellbound adulterer” scarlet letter invisibly stamped on his or her forehead. Any of us is equally capable of such an act, so, while we don’t mince words about the destructiveness of adultery or the sin it represents, we seek to lovingly confront and humbly encourage our brother or sister to repentance and changed behavior through our words and faithful prayer.
On matters of principle, do we have a fuzzy morality where we hold our tongue and pretend there are no absolutes; are we silenced from vigorous debate or engagement on issues of importance? Not at all. But we must remember that the debate is about the principle or idea, not whether our sparring opponent is good or evil or about establishing our own moral superiority. The judgment that Jesus refers to here is taking it upon ourselves to judge another person’s motives and inner heart – which only God can do – and then “judge” through words of condemnation and/or from a position of superiority (pride). This includes not only our words, but also our thoughts. Yikes.
This may appear to be a fine line in practice, but approaching such a situation with love, humility, prayer and a genuine desire to see healing (or even clearer thinking) in the person’s life is very different from the typical “judgment” that comes so easily (e.g., criticizing the person in conversation with others, not in their presence).
Jesus then uses his famous sawdust/plank analogy. Note that he does not stop after asking whether we can remove sawdust from our brother’s eye when we have a plank in our own. Rather, he encourages us to take the plank out of our own eye, so we can then help remove the speck from our brother’s eye. This suggests that our sequencing should be to repent of and overcome our own sin before taking up the sin of our brother. This perspective is part of our sanctification and also a practical way to approach things from a position of utter humility. Through our own repentance and transformation, we become equipped to lovingly help our brothers and sisters.
Jesus gives us a very practical lens to govern all our interactions if we are truly seeking transformation. If we really believed that the measure we use on others is the measure that will be used on us, our lives would look very different – we would be more loving, merciful, giving, patient, faithful and encouraging and less judgmental, harsh, stingy, unloving and pre-occupied with our own need to be right.
Imagine how God could transform a city with a community of followers of Jesus living their lives seeking to use the measure Jesus used on us to interact with others. With God working in us, there indeed is hope for us . . . and hope for our city and world.
“Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.’”Proverbs 9:7-12
“My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish. Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me! Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.”Psalm 26:15-21