IF “Judge not” does not mean that we must not or never judge anything, any situation, and any action, never arrive at conclusions nor apply them, what then does it mean. Surely our Lord’s emphasis in not this. Certainly He is not telling us not to make any assessments based on judgment. But He is very much concerned about the matter of condemning. In trying to avoid this tendency to condemn, some Christian have swung right over to the other extreme, and so again find themselves in a false position. The Christian life is not quite as easy as that. The Christian life is always one of balancing.
There is a great deal to be said for the point of view that to walk by faith means to walk on a razor edge. One can fall on one side, or, the other; to avoid the fall one must keep on the dead centre of truth, avoiding error in the one side and on the other. So that while it is right to say that it does not mean the refusal to exercise any discrimination or thought or judgment, it must be added immediately that what is does warn against is the terrible danger of condemning, judging of motives, of pronouncing judgment in a final sense.
To understand what all this means calls for a sober reflection on the mind of Christ toward Pharisees. He often told his own people not to be like the Pharisees in their view of the law and their ways of life. Pharisees misinterpreted the law of God. They were boastful of their self righteousness or sanctimoniousness and demonstrative of their giving of alms, and, in their prayer attitude, and in making broad their phylacteries and made public their fasting. The Lord Jesus not only condemned all this but emphasized the error in the picture He created in Luke 18:9-14 of the Pharisee and the publican who both went up to pray. The Pharisee said, “God, I
thank thee that I am not as other men or even as this
publican…” It was that judgment and condemnation by the Pharisee of others, that was very wrong.
The NT makes it painfully clear that such an attitude was not exclusive of the Pharisees. It was something that constantly troubled the early church; and has been troubling the Church of God ever since. It is even troubling the Church today, and as we approach this subject, we should remember our Lord’s statement in this connection when He said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone” (John 8:7). Of a truth, there is nothing in the whole teaching of the Lord in the NT (particularly in the Sermon on the Mount) that comes to the Christian with such a force of the sense of condemnation as this statement which is under discourse here. How guilty we all are in this respect. There is a tendency for it to spoil all our lives and to rob us of our happiness! What havoc it has made, and is still making in the Church of God. It is a Word for every Christian. It is a painful subject, but indeed a very necessary one. This subject and the final statement about judging given by Jesus in John 8:7 is an important reminder to all Christians, though painful it is, this danger calls for further analysis, and not cursory discourse on it, if we want to be purified and healthy, we must give it serious thought and let it play a paramount part in our spiritual fellowship with God, and, with fellow men. It is a putrefying sore in the soul of every one.
What is this danger against which our Lord Jesus Christ is warning all Christians or all believers? It can be said first of all that it is a kind of spirit – a spirit which manifests itself in certain ways. It is a spirit of condemnation, a spirit of self – righteousness. Self is always at the back of it, and it is always a manifestation of sanctimoniousness, a feeling of superiority, and a feeling of being right and alright while all others are wrong and not alright. These
then lead to censoriousness, and a spirit that is always ready to express itself in a manner derogatory of all others. Accompanying this, is the tendency to despise others, to regard all others with contempt. This is a short description of all Christians who have the spirit of the Pharisees.
Further, it appears, that a very vital part of this spirit is the tendency to be hypocritical. Now there is all the difference in the world between being critical and being hypocritical. True criticism is an excellent thing. Unfortunately there is very little of it in the Church and outside the church. True criticism of literature, or art, or music, or anything else, is one of the highest exercises of the human mind. It is never meant or merely destructive. It is constructive, it is appreciation. At the risk of repetition, but for emphasis: there is a world of difference between exercising. criticism and being hypocritical. The man who is guilty of judging in the sense in which our Lord uses the term, is the man who is hypocritical, which means that he delights in criticism for its own sake and enjoys it. He is a man who approaches anything which he is asked to comment on with the expectation to find faults and indeed hoping to find them.
The simplest way, perhaps, of putting all this is to consider what Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor. 13. Look at the negative of everything positive which Paul says about LOVE. “Love hopth all things” but this vile spirit hopes for the worst; it sets a malicious, malign satisfaction in finding faults and blemishes. It is a spirit that is always expecting faults, and is always disappointed if it does not find any; it is always on the look-out for faults, and rather delights in them. The hypocritical spirit is never really happy unless it finds faults. And, of course, the result of all this is that it tends to fix attention upon matters that are indifferent, and, to make them matters of vital importance.
The best commentary in this connection is found in Rom. 14, where Apostle Paul tells the Romans, at great length, to avoid judging one another in matters like food and drink, and regarding one day above another. They had been exalting these issues to a supreme position, judging and condemning in terms of these things. But Apostle Paul tells them that all is wrong. “The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17).
The Spirit of hypocrisy and judgment in made manifest in people who always have a feeling of being pleased when they hear something unpleasant about another, conversely they regale in the news that the one they are envious, or jealous of, has made a mistake or has fallen into a big problem. Anyone in this situation of finding an upsurge of pleasure at the calamity of another has the. “spirit of condemnation … an evil spirit of judgment” It shows itself in a readiness to give judgment when the matter is of no concern to him or the church, and in doing this, he is more concerned with indifferent issues which he would strive to elevate into matters of vital importance while they, in truth, are not. He experiences a malicious pleasure in doing this.
Another manifestation of this spirit, is that, it puts prejudice in the place of principle. The Christian is to judge in terms of principle, because, otherwise there will be no discipline in the church. But a man who puts his own prejudice in the place of principle is only manifesting the spirit of hypocritical judgment. A step further, it pushes further in the tendency to put personalities in the place principles. This deals a final blow on principles – Christian principles in the issue. It is true to say that people who object to doctrine are generally those who are guilty of this particular point. And this is because they do not have a grasp and understanding of doctrine, they talk only in terms of personalities; so the moment a man stands for principle and doctrine, they say he is a difficult person. They subvert principle and this leads in turn to the tendency to impute motives which is always a manifestation of the presence and operation of the “Spirit of hypocritical judgment”.
Again a man possessed of this spirit is always in the habit of expressing an opinion on a matter without going into the task of ascertaining all available facts. He is extremely impatient. A true Christian, and indeed any men with any sense of justice, has no right to pronounce any judgment without being in possession of all the available facts. It is further indicated in never taking the trouble to understand circumstances, and never ready to excuse; it is never ready to exercise mercy. A man who has a charitable spirit possesses discrimination and is ready to exercise it. He is prepared to listen and to see if there is an explanation, if there is an excuse, to discover if there may be any mitigating circumstances.
The foregoing may end the description and bring it to its awful revolting climax by summarizing it thus: This spirit really manifests itself in the tendency to pronounce final judgment upon people as such. This simply means that it is not a judgment on what they do, or believe, say, as upon the persons themselves. It is a final judgment upon an individual. And, what makes it so terrible is that at that point it is arrogating to itself something that belongs to God. Let us draw the veritable lesson from the event recorded in Luke 9:54-56. Our Lord sent messengers into the villages of the Samaritans to make ready for His arrival, and they would not receive them. James and John hearing of the attitude of the Samaritans prayed Jesus: “Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them” That is to say, they wanted those Samaritans to be destroyed. But the Lord turned and rebuked them saying, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s life, but to save them” James and John were guilty of forming and passing a final judgment on the Samaritans and proposing their destruction.
There is all the difference in the world between doing that and expressing an enlightened, intelligent criticism of a man’s views and theories, his doctrines, his teaching or his mode or manner of life. The Christian is called upon to do the latter, but the moment we condemn and dismiss the person before us, we are assuming the power that belongs to God alone and to no one else.
This is a painful subject, and so far we have discussed only the injunction. We have not here considered the reason which our Lord adds to the injunction. We have just taken the TWO WORDS “JUDGE NOT” As we think of them, let us thank God that we have a gospel which tells us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”, that not one of us stands in his own righteousness, but in the righteousness of Christ. Without Him we are damned, utterly lost. We have condemned ourselves by judging others. But then God, the Lord is our judge, and He has provided a way whereby we pass “from judgment unto life” The exhortation is that we should live our lives in this world as people who have passed through the judgment “in Christ”, and now live for Him and live like Him, realizing that we have been saved by His wonderous grace and mercy.