“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
“You can’t judge me!” Ever heard that line before? It’s usually thrown down as a challenge when someone has done something wrong, he knows it, but he doesn’t want to feel guilty about having done when he is around another person he knows agrees it was not the right thing to do. And in our hyper-tolerant society these are some of the only words of Jesus that receive a glowing, unconditional acceptance. But what do they actually mean? Maybe not what you think they do.
Now, at first glance, it seems like what Jesus is saying here ought to be clear. Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. That’s about as plain as you could make it. But is it really?
Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not trying to suggest that there is somehow a hidden meaning in Jesus’ words that you have to be a high-level member of the club before you gain access to the good stuff. I’m no gnostic. I think what He’s saying really is plain to see for everyone. I just think you’ve got to read a little more carefully than most people do in order to see it. When you take the full context in mind rather than cherry picking this one verse, it becomes clear what might be His actual point. Thus, I included an extra verse here and tomorrow, Lord willing, we’ll take a look at the next couple of verses just for good measure. Let’s get back to today, though.
Again, when Jesus starts with do not judge so that you won’t be judged, He was saying that for a reason. And he didn’t have our kind of modern tolerance that allows for people to do whatever they want without the expectation of anyone’s moral sensibilities being offended by it in mind. In His culture, judging people was something that happened all the time, but not just their actions were evaluated.
You see, there are a couple of different kinds of judgments we can make about a person. One is what we generally think of first. We can pass judgment on the moral rightness or wrongness of a particular action. We hold it up against the standard of behavior we have accepted for ourselves, or which we believe the broader culture has accepted as valid, and determine how closely the action aligns with it. If the fit is poor, we pronounce it illegitimate, and treat the other person accordingly depending on just how bad the fit is.
The other kind of judgment is of a person’s ultimate worth or value. This is where we consider a person or even a whole group of people as worthy or unworthy of a basic respect and dignity of life. Do we treat them like a fellow person, or like a piece of trash?
These are two different kinds of judgment. Unfortunately, they often get conflated with one another, and in situations where one seems appropriate, we make the other, or we make one judgment correctly (particularly the first), but then treat the person like we have made the second kind of judgment either as well or instead. In other words, if I don’t think you’ve done the right thing in a given situation, I treat you like you are somehow less of a person because of it. Ironically, in our culture that professes to value tolerance above all else, if you behave in a manner deemed intolerant, you can quickly be judged to be subhuman and no longer worthy of the dignity and respect of the position.
I am convinced that in this passage, Jesus is talking about both kinds of judgment, but not at the same time. This will become even more clear tomorrow when we look at the next couple of verses. When you set Jesus’ words here in the context of the whole of the Scriptures, it becomes clear that He is talking here only about our making the second kind of judgment.
And, as a quick aside, setting Jesus’ words in the context of the whole of the Scriptures and specifically the New Testament is an okay thing to do in order to understand them better. You will occasionally hear someone argue that the words of Jesus should be given special attention relative to the rest of the Scriptures. These so-called “Red Letter Christians” sound really holy. But they are usually trying to justify accepting as morally permissible something other places in the Scriptures suggest is not by arguing that more weight should be given to Jesus’ words (which, conveniently, don’t mention the issue), and less to the rest. But, if all Scripture is God-breathed, then all of it is of equal importance. Jesus’ words were spoken directly by God, sure, but the rest of it was spoken by God as well and should be given the same weight and authority.
Let’s talk about why Jesus is probably talking only about the second kind of judgment here. After saying that we should not judge so that we are not judged ourselves, Jesus follows up by saying that we will be judged with the same standard we use for others. What’s He talking about? Well, if we judge someone harshly, we can expect to be judged harshly ourselves. Or, more generally, if we are unkind or ungracious with the people around us, we can except them to show us the same in their dealings with us.
But wait, I thought Jesus said we weren’t supposed to be judging. Why does He immediately talk about judging one another? He’s dealing both with what is ideal and what is real here. In the ideal, we would not pass any judgment on the worth or value people around us. What that means is not that we would treat them as nonentities, but that we would assume on their value being high. We will assume the same worth to them that God Himself assigns. In reality, though, we judge the worth and value of the people around us all the time. I don’t just mean we assess the rightness or wrongness of their actions. We assess the worth of them. We don’t necessarily mean to, but we do. It’s automatic. We can’t help it.
So, there’s the ideal of what we should be doing, but given the reality, here’s what we should be doing instead. And what we should be doing instead is keeping in mind that the standard we use will be the standard that gets used for us. The criteria by which we assess the value of the people around us will be the criteria they use to assess our value.
So, what do we do with that? Well, how do we want people to assess our value? As generously as possible, right? So, rather than sitting back and waiting to see how they treat us to determine how we will treat them, we go active. We are actively gracious and kind and generous in our assessment of them. We actively assume the best even when evidence points to the contrary. We actively look for ways to encourage and boost them up no matter how they’ve treated us.
When we do this, we will find ourselves receiving the same kinds of treatment from the people around us. Now, this won’t be without exception as some people will be unkind because that’s simply who they are in a given moment. But if we will default to kindness ourselves in our estimations of the people around us, we will find that we will gradually receive more of the same than not. What we can come to understand here, is that Jesus didn’t really mean we shouldn’t ever pass any kind of judgment on the people around us. Rather, we shouldn’t make negative assumptions about their value. Why? Because then they’ll likely do the same thing to us. We don’t want that. So let’s not do it.
That’s all on making that second kind of judgment. Tomorrow we’ll get more into Jesus’ thoughts on making the first kind of judgment. Don’t miss that one. See you then.