To Judge And Not To Judge

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned;  pardon, and you will be pardoned.    Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:37,38 NASB)

This is one of those passages that gets thrown around, used as a “defense”, and basically misused a lot.  Because of this there is a responsibility that believers have which we’ve abdicated.  And because we’ve abdicated this responsibility many people never come to repentance.

Like other statements of Jesus in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, these statements about “judging others” have reciprocating elements.  Do not judge and you won’t be judged.  Jesus is saying that how we treat others will be what we can expect from God.  Keep in mind this immediately follows a call to treat others as God does.

The Tension

The conveniently forgotten problem with interpreting Jesus’ statement here is Paul’s use of “judgement” in his letters to the churches.  It seems that we’re not the only believing generation that has had trouble understanding this statement.

In his letter to the Corinthian church, the first of two letters we have, Paul states that he does not count the judgement others have of him of great value, and that he doesn’t even judge himself (1 Corinthians 4:1-5).  The context of this is Paul’s ministry and specifically his motivation for ministering.

On the other hand, in the very next chapter of the same letter, Paul clearly condemns and calls the people of the church to also condemn one of their own known to be living in incest (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).  So clearly, Paul’s use of “judging” and the concept of “judging others” is not applied in a universal sense, but with specific meaning and intent.

Resolving The Tension

Keep in mind that Jesus’ comment about not judging does not keep Him from calling out the Pharisees.  And yes, He’s God, but He also said to Nicodemus in John 3, that even as God He had not come to judge the world.  So, I believe that Jesus has something else in mind here as He warns His disciples about judging others.

So how do we interpret one from the other?  How do we know when to judge and when to leave judgement to God?  Well, when I examine these things I apply two rules: 1) Keep it simple, 2) Look at the context (i.e. what else is said around it?).  Granted, as anyone following these blog entries knows, I don’t always keep it simple.  But where there seems to be a contradiction in what’s being taught, and especially where the two apparent contradictions appear very close together, I figure there’s something simple I’m missing.

The Simple Context

There are four things combined or linked by Jesus in this passage: 1) judging (negative – don’t do it), 2) condemning (negative – don’t do it), 3) pardon (positive – do it), and 4) giving (positive – do it).  The simplest approach would to be to seek the understanding from the connection between these four things.

Judging is related to condemning in a legal sense.  The same is true with pardon, but not so much with giving.  Giving puts this all in another context.  The other three are clearly legal, but adding the fourth seems to pull in the teaching from the preceding passage (as does the balance, two don’ts and two do’s).  So, perhaps when in such a “legal” setting, let the teaching from the previous passage influence how you behave.

Basically, when I have a legal foe on the ropes, I’ve beaten them, they’re in my power and I can extract my revenge…don’t.  When it’s in my power to condemn someone, to judge them, to call punishment on them…forgive instead.  Could it be?  Could this passage, in context with the preceding one, really be about forgiveness?  “Give and it will be given to you…” It doesn’t sound like that necessarily, it’s only in context.  But that would mean, maybe it’s not about tithing?  (I can just sense a bunch of pastors with raised hackles right about now).

In Conclusion…

Keep in mind that even when Paul calls on the church in Corinth to expel the immoral brother, it’s for his repentance.  He wants it be done so the man will repent and return to God. So it’s never been about whether or not to condemn someone to hell or damning someone’s eternal soul or whatever.  That’s always been God’s job exclusively.  Ours is to forgive, and possibly get out of the way so God can have a clear shot at His wayward child.

So, judging is something we only do to help another brother repent and relent toward God.  And in that process we forgive them whatever wrong against us, “divorcing” our resentments, so that they can return to God and to us.  Then to the extent we “give” them our forgiveness, our Father in heaven will give to us, only even more, pressed down into the measure, and running over the top into our laps.  See? Simple.

P.S. – On An Unrelated Note

To those pastors out there with their hackles up thinking their offerings will plummet without this statement about giving being applied in the financial realm:  Get over it.  Do you really think that believers who change their hearts and minds to conform to the forgiving, giving spirit taught here by Jesus will withhold anything from His body, the church?  And they will do so without the expected “return on investment” that misusing this passage implies they will receive.

And now, let’s hear from other views through the knothole!

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