Judgment or Judgmental-ism – Part 1

Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV) 1  “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

You cannot walk with the Lord for very long and not be confronted with the accusation of judgmental-ism.  Even within the church this seems to be the case as there is an ever-present movement within, that wants to reject doctrine as unnecessary and judgmental.  So, that would mean we are not to criticize or judge anyone for anything. We live in a world that hates theological and moral absolutes. So, we tend to resort to simplistic interpretations of this passage to justify that position of judgmental-ism. The last thing we want to become is a “judgmental Pharisee.”

So, that takes us right to the heart of the passage.  This passage is a “criticism,” a harsh and piercing “judgement” from the mouth of Jesus concerning the hypocritical self-righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees in direct opposition to the true righteousness of God.  They had a self-imposed righteousness that looked piously religious, but never rose to the righteous standards of God (Matthew 5:20).  The emphasis here was on  their “self-righteousness.”  It was a standard that was outside the revealed truth given in the Scriptures. They had developed their own standards, that reflected their own corrupt spirituality which they had an irresistible need to justify. The end result  was that when they develop their own standards of religion and morality, they inevitably judged everyone by those self-made beliefs and standards in order to prove their own superiority.  They had lifted up a tradition and at the same time voided the Word of God (Matthew 15:6) in the process. As a result, they had become obsessively judgmental.  An example here might help. If, as a Jew, I had spit in the street on the Sabbath I would have violated the prohibition of not working on the Sabbath because I had plowed a furrow in the dirt! This kind of self-righteousness seemed to know no bounds and sought to arbitrarily set them apart from others as spiritually superior. They were the elite, the unforgiving, unmerciful, unkind, lacking any kind of compassion or grace.  It was a judgment based on appearances and superficiality.  It was a self-justifying judgment meant to lift themselves up at the expense of others.

Luke 16:15 (ESV) 15  And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

There is probably no better narrative of this behavior given in the Scriptures than the parable given by Jesus in Luke 18:11-14. The scene is one of a Pharisee and the tax-gatherer who went to the Temple to pray. “The Pharisee stood and was praying; “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” (Luke 18:11-12).  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 (vs.13).  The Pharisee could only see the sins of others and especially the tax collector.  But the tax collector could only see his own sin.  Jesus’ response was that only the tax collector went away justified (vs.14).  The Pharisee justified himself and condemned the tax collector. The Pharisee elevated himself and judged the tax collector. Hence, our Lord’s response in verse 14; “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” This kind of behavior and judgment was self-induced, on a standard of carnality, with the goal of self-justification and self-exaltation!

This narrative in Matthew 7 is a far cry from those who say any judgment or discernment at all is a form of unloving judgmental-ism.

We live in a world that abhors theological and moral absolutes.  In our modern culture we don’t want to hear about that which is right and wrong. Truth has been distilled down to an all-inclusive love-fest, spiritual compromise, and ecumenical unity. If you stand firm on the witness of the Scripture on any certain topic, especially moral, you are accused of being judgmental or bigoted. What those who accuse the Christian fail to see, is that they are guilty of the very thing they accuse the believer of doing.

This kind of thinking has crept into the church, and in many cases has paralyzed church discipline and drowned the teaching of sound doctrine.  To a great many Christians who have been infected with this malady, critical thinking and sound Biblical convictions are condemned under their banner of love and unity.  They see doctrine, truth, and moral clarity as divisive and unloving.

What is missed here in their construct of judgmental-ism in Matthew 7, is that the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount was meant to demonstrate the complete and utter distinction between true religion and false religion, between spiritual truth and spiritual hypocrisy. Jesus places God’s perfect and holy standards beside the unholy and self-righteous standards of the scribes and Pharisees and declares that those who follow those unholy and self-righteous standards have no part in God’s kingdom (5:20). No more controversial or judgmental sermon has ever been preached.  This is the danger of “cherry picking” the Scriptures.

The contrasts between the reality of the judgmental, hypocritical religion of the Scribes and Pharisees are set at odds to that of true religion which asks us to discern and judge between Biblical truth and falsehood, between that which is reality and a sham, and most certainly, that which is truly righteous and unrighteousness. This Sermon of which our text in Matthew 7 is found, is a challenge between God’s way and all other ways. A case in point is our Lord’s warning to beware of false prophets just a few verses later.

Matthew 7:15 (ESV) 15  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

There is no room for the  hallow inclusiveness of our day in the “Sermon on the Mount”, when our Lord’s words speak of discernment and sound judgment. One thing should be clear; there is no real spiritual unity where there is no agreement on sound doctrine.

Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV) 15  “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Romans 16:17-18 (ESV) 17  I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18  For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.

1 Corinthians 5:11 (ESV) 11  But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

Every message we hear is to be judged as to whether it is sound in doctrine.

Galatians 1:8 (ESV) 8  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

2 John 1:10-11 (ESV) 10  If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11  for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

It is also true that it is not an act of love when we refuse to bring loving correction to a brother or sister.   This kind of neglect is a form of hatred.

Leviticus 19:17 (ESV) 17  “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.

Our passage is not saying not to judge, but rather not to judge unrighteously like the Pharisees, who sought only to condemn simply because the actions of others didn’t square up with their man-made traditions. The judgments of the Scribes and Pharisees was unfair, capricious,  and self-serving, based on human standards and human understanding, not God’s. It was a condemnation with a lack of self-judgment (vv.3-5). They saw the sliver in another’s eye while ignoring the log in their own.

-Michael Holtzinger

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