Context: This verse is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus follows this verse with three examples supporting this statement: examples of people giving money, praying, and fasting, while hoping that others take notice.
Analysis: While some of the Old Testament verses addressed the pride of a nation, Jesus’ entire ministry focused upon individuals. At this point in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives examples of pride rather than simply preaching against pride itself. As I stated in the Why Use the Every-Verse Method, Jesus was not the law-giver. He is not creating new laws here in this sermon. Rather, Jesus is applying the Old Testament anti-pride verses to everyday living.
Jesus’ message here is that we should never hope to impress others with our service to God. While the Pharisees may have gone to extremes in order to be seen by others, we must be mindful of our motives even when our showing off is difficult for others to identify.
Matthew 7:1-3, “Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
Context: This quote is also from the Sermon on the Mount.
Analysis: This quote from Jesus is both well-known and controversial. It in no way prohibits Christians from judging which actions are right and which are wrong. If we were unable to judge actions, we would be unable to control our conduct. This quote is about judging people.
Unfortunately, many Christians take this verse to mean that it’s okay to judge people, as long as we don’t sin ourselves. We fail to realize that Jesus’ primary focus in the Sermon on the Mount is on the immeasurable sins of the heart, like hatred, lust, greed, and pride. While the Pharisees failed at these, they thought their sins were minimal in comparison to others, because they succeeded in measurable things like tithing and fasting. Likewise, we Christians today fail at the immeasurable matters of the heart while successfully following measurable rules. Therefore, when we consider this quote from Jesus, we should not give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and assume that our sins are minimal in comparison to others. Instead, we should refrain from judging others altogether, because our immeasurable sins may be even worse than those we judge.
Judgmentalism directly opposes the Christian way of life, because judgmentalism is the opposite of forgiveness. When a person sins, they sin against one of three entities: they sin against you or someone you care about, they sin against people you don’t know or care about, or they sin against God. When a person sins against us, what are we Christians to do? Forgive them. Every Christian knows that! But when a person sins against others, or especially, when a person sins against God, what do most of us Evangelical Christians do? We damn the sinner in our hearts by passing judgment upon them. If we are to forgive those who sin against us, are we not to forgive those who sin against others or who sin against God? A lot of Christians are willing to forgive those who harm them, but feel it is their duty to inflict some sort of verbal wrath upon those who sin against God. There’s no command in the Bible that we are to carry out God’s judgment against the infidels. God will be the judge in due time. Our role is not to be the judge, but to forgive others of their sins, since we are also sinful and lack God’s authority to pass judgment.
For an example of an appalling display of mass judgmentalism among conservative Christians, let’s look back to the 1990’s when a contemporary Christian singer committed adultery. Did conservative Christians forgive him? Hardly. They trashed his music and insisted that he be banned from the airwaves. To them, this man’s entire life’s work had become worthless, because they deemed him to be worthless. There was nothing wrong with his music. It was not as though his song lyrics described how much fun adultery is. Nonetheless, many conservative Christians argued that the singer had become a bad role model for other Christians, so they had to destroy his music to demonstrate their disapproval of his action. Had conservative Christians behaved in a Christ-like manner, they would have acknowledged their disapproval of adultery; but then, out of their faith in Christ, they would have chosen to forgive the singer and keep his music as a demonstration of forgiveness.
When somebody sins, we have only two choices: judge or forgive. The first is the way of the devil and the Pharisees. The other is the way of Christ.
Luke 18:9-14, “And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, “God I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me the sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.’”
Context: This section of Luke lists various events and sayings from Jesus’ life that are not necessarily listed in chronological order. No context is provided other than what we read in verse 9.
Analysis: We’re all sinners, yet when someone commits a sin that we believe is worse than our own, our tendency is to despise them. It has become so commonplace for Christians to despise politicians, celebrities, criminals, party-goers, promiscuous people, etc., that we are infamous, even among non-Christians, for our arrogance and judgmentalism.
Let’s consider how this might look from God’s perspective. God is perfect; we are sinful. God commits zero sins during a person’s lifetime; a given Christian will commit thousands of sins. During that same period of time, a non-Christian living the wild life might commit a few thousand more sins than the Christian will. Let’s say the Christian commits 160,000 sins and the non-Christian commits 180,000. How does that compare to the zero sins that God commits? Isn’t there a much greater difference between zero and 160,000 than there is between 160,000 and 180,000? From God’s perspective, there’s little difference between the light sinners and the heavy sinners. They are both at the opposite end of the sin spectrum from God. God is willing to forgive either one through Christ. Yet, many of us Christians look upon those whom we think are worse sinners than ourselves with contempt, rather than with understanding that, from God’s perspective, we differ little from them.
Also supporting this point is another parable found in chapter 18 (verses 21-35), but this time it’s in the book of Matthew. In it, a servant is forgiven a huge debt by a King, but then refuses to forgive someone else for a much smaller debt. Most people understand that the King in Matthew 18 represents God, the servant whose debts he forgives represents us, and the fellow servant denied forgiveness by the first represents those we are unwilling to forgive. The great debt that the King forgives represents the great chasm between God’s perfection and our multitude of sins, which I just mentioned. The small debt that the first servant refuses to forgive represents the small difference between our sin and the sin of those we see as being worse sinners than ourselves. What many of us fail to realize is that the inability to forgive another person is the direct result of our pride over our own supposedly superior righteousness. If we realize that our debts (sins) are similar in size to the debts (sins) of those we despise for their sins, then our pride over our own righteousness is eliminated and we are better able to forgive others.
Many Christians mistakenly look at the parable from Luke 18 (quoted above) as nothing more than an invitation to admit that we are sinners. We think that we differ from the Pharisee in this story, because he failed to realize that he was a sinner and we realize that we are. Ask almost any Evangelical Christian if they are sinful, and they will reply with an emphatic, “Yes.” They’re well aware of this parable and other Bible verses telling us that everybody, except Jesus, is sinful. Sadly, this admission of sinfulness is nothing more than lip service for any Christian who looks upon supposedly more sinful people with loathing. The first verse in this quote, verse 9, tells us this that this parable is directed toward those who see themselves as more righteous than others, and who look upon seemingly less-righteous people with contempt. This parable instructs us to not only admit that we’re sinners, but also to douse our pride when tempted to compare our own righteousness with the righteousness of others.
John 9:39-41, “And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind.’ Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things, and said to Him, ‘We are not blind too, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, “We see,” your sin remains.’”
Context: All of John, chapter 9, tells the story of Jesus healing a man who had been born blind. The Pharisees were critical of Jesus for doing this on the Sabbath day.
Analysis: Jesus’ response here is more than just a clever comeback. Had the Pharisees been humble in their knowledge of righteousness, they would have refrained from passing judgment on Jesus for healing this man on the Sabbath day. Ironically, the Pharisees’ judgmentalism, born out of arrogance over their spiritual knowledge, invited God’s judgment in return. Jesus denied forgiveness for the sins of these Pharisees, because they judged Him as a result of their arrogant belief that they had perfect spiritual knowledge.