“Salt and Light”: Matthew 7 | “Judge Not….”

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

Matthew 7:1

In books that track the most misused verses in the Bible, the top of the list is always Jesus’s teaching: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

Until Jesus, there was no command in Judaism like this – an absolute prohibition: “Do not judge, ever.” Here, “judge” means what you think it means: To condemn; to harbor a critical spirit.  And the command is absolute – no exceptions – because it is given in light of the fact that Jesus said this about himself and his teachings: “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2).

If Jesus’ Kingdom is “at hand”, meaning it is here, now, that means we should obey right here, right now; in this world and not some other world that we might wish to live in.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Do not judge – do not judge at all – when:

A man leaves his wife and the mother of his children for no reason?

When a company tries to make you believe something that goes against your principles, and – in effect – forces you to quit?

When someone is destroying herself through addiction?

No, don’t judge – don’t you dare. Not now. Not ever. The trouble is that we live in a world where these tragic, evil, sometimes sinful things happen, and we can’t not form judgments about what’s going on and still pretend to love the people doing or suffering from these things.

Jesus knows the world we live in. He was betrayed and killed by people in this world, the real world – the one we know and struggle against, when we try to live out the command: Judge not.

Jesus’ concern is this: You live in a world where you will have to make judgments, so make them on the basis of Biblical values and in the spirit of the Good Shepherd. And we should remember that in this teaching, Jesus has the church, first and foremost, in mind.

This command to judge not, is about how disciples are to love one another. And the acid test is how we actually love our real brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how one pastor put it:

‘We can love our vision of what a church should be more than we love the people who compose it. We can be like the unmarried man who loves the idea of a wife, but who marries a real woman and finds it harder to love her than the idea of her.

Or like the mother who loves her dream of the perfect daughter more than the daughter herself. . . . We start loving the idea of a … church more than the church God has placed us in.

[But] Christ has put his name on immature Christians. . . . [He] has identified himself with Christians whose theology is underdeveloped and imperfect.

To say we should love the church more than [the idea of a church] means …  we should love people because they belong to Jesus, not because they’ve kept the law [perfectly], …  If you love your children, you want them to be healthy. But if you love your children, you love them whether they are healthy or not.

Paul told one local church—despite many flaws—that they were his “joy,” his “glory,” and his “crown” (1 Thess. 2:19).’ (Jonathan Leeman, https://www.9marks.org/article/love-church-more-its-health/)’

Are your fellow church members your joy, your glory, and your crown?

Do we set an example for people who do not believe, that we work overtime not to judge one another?

We are surrounded and bombarded by a shoot-first-ask-questions-later culture. The Church should be a place that defines itself against Wild West cancel culture. The church should be the place where we can seek refuge, and meet people committed to these words from the Heidelberg Catechism: In every circumstance, I should not judge rashly, but “should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.” (Q/A 112)

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