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Who Are You To Judge?

Judge Not, That You Be Not Judged

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 7, 2001

Selected highlights from this sermon

Jesus did not prohibit judging, in fact, the Scriptures demand it of us. But first and foremost, we must discern our own hearts. Judging ourselves ensures that we are not hypocritically judging others. 

When we judge, we judge with humility, avoiding condemnation and presumptions, focusing on biblical issues. We should avoid silence concerning sin, but we must shun a judgmental attitude concerning disputable matters. We must aim to think critically using the Scriptures as our foundation. 

So, who are you to judge? Who are you to say that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ doctrine is wrong? Who are you to say that there can’t be loving homosexual relationships that are approved by God? Who are you to judge? Who are you to judge that when people are slain in the Spirit, falling on platforms because they are touched by some teacher or evangelist, who are you to judge and say that that’s not done by the Holy Spirit of God? Who are you to judge?

The most quoted verse in America from the Bible is not John 3:16. It’s Matthew 7:1: “Do not judge lest you be judged.” And so we live at a time when people are hesitant to make judgments. Now there are times when we should be hesitant, as we are going to learn today. But the problem is, having bought into the spirit of our age, the word that characterizes this generation is the word that our kids used to always say: ”Oh, whatever!” Whatever.

So there are two kinds of people. There are those who will not make any judgments, perhaps because they’re not in a position to do so. But they just want to live and let live, and they love the word “whatever,” and then there are those who are so quick to judge because they have a critical spirit. And what they are looking for is to pick away at things that happen to be their own preferences. Jesus speaks to both of those issues in the seventh chapter of Matthew.

So open your Bibles to Matthew 7, the famous verse quoted so often: “Who are you to judge?” It says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” I’m going to stop there. Later on we’re going to look at what Jesus has to say beyond that, but I need to ask a question. Does this mean that we should not make judgments? It’s impossible for Jesus to mean that. Of course he’s not saying that. You say, “Well, how do you know?” All that you have to do is to keep on reading. I’m going to skip to verse 6: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”

How could Jesus possibly expect us to obey that verse unless we make judgment so that we recognize the people whom He characterizes as dogs and pigs? You don’t give a pearl necklace to a pig. You have to be able to recognize who it is that you are dealing with. And in the very same way, He is using some very strong language here, and if you don’t recognize who these people are, you are lacking in judgment and you would not be able to obey what Jesus is trying to tell us.

Or let’s skip to verse 15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves...” How could you possibly look out for false prophets unless you recognize them? Our problem today is that we don’t recognize them. That’s why there is one message in this series on false prophets where I’m going to give you five characteristics of a false prophet so that you could watch him on television. You watch him over a period of time and you check out the characteristics and you can say this is a false prophet because the Bible says this is the way in which false prophets teach and do their work. If you weren’t to make judgments, what sense could we possibly make out of what Jesus is saying.

And then you look at the rest of the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul is writing to the church at Corinth because they would not deal with immorality in their midst. There was a man who was having an immoral relationship and Paul says, “I have already judged him, and you should have judged him, and you should have excommunicated him because he’s not repentant.” Obviously one of the responsibilities of the church, and particularly church leadership, is to make judgments. It’s throughout the whole Scripture.

Later on in the next chapter (in chapter 6), Paul goes on to talk about Christians taking other Christians to court. And he says, “Most assuredly you should not do that. Do you not know that we will someday judge angels?” And he says, “If we’re going to have those kinds of responsibilities in judgment, surely you can judge matters that pertain to this life.” And as evangelicalism has more people in it that are hard-hearted and unrepentant, and have never been broken by the cross, the number of lawsuits increase year by year as people take one another to court.

Just the other day somebody was telling me about a denomination who is suing a Christian man, and they filed this lawsuit without even communicating with him and trying to resolve the matter between them because it was resolvable. And now suddenly everybody’s involved. And sometimes you even get supposed Christian attorneys who sue other Christians under the guise, to quote one, who are able to get around these passages of Scripture. But what we need to understand is that the Bible is filled with the need to make wise biblical judgments, so that’s not what Jesus could be saying. What is Jesus saying when He says, “Do not judge, lest you be judged”? What Jesus is saying in context, and as we shall see, is basically that He’s talking about Pharisees. He’s saying, “Don’t be like the Pharisees. Don’t be Pharisaical in your judgments.”

And so what I’d like to do in the next few moments is to give you five important principles of judgment that are going to help us and guide us in this series of messages. This happens to be message number two in a series of ten messages, so as we think about this matter of discernment and judgment, or as I put it last week, “bailing water out of the sinking evangelical ship,” these are the principles we should stick with.

Let’s begin, all right? Number one, humility, and not superiority—not self-righteousness. Humility. Well, let’s look at the text. We’re going to look at verse 2 in a moment but now I’m interested in verse 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? 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? 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.”

Jesus is using some humor here, isn’t He? The eye, by the way, represents the soul in Scripture. It’s the light in which we receive physical light, but also a spiritual light. It is the place of willing and thinking and doing and loving, and really like the heart. And Jesus is saying this: “You have a speck in your eye. That’s a very small sin, but then there’s such a thing as a plank and that plank, or that two-by-four, as we like to call it, is keeping you from seeing others properly, and you can’t see this two-by-four yourself.”

Let’s describe the person with the plank in his eye. First of all, he’s the kind of person who tells himself that he’s interested in truth. He is interested in righteousness. He is interested in doing things right and in honoring God. That’s what he says. But he actually contradicts himself because when he sees the plank in his own eye, he ignores it, but he’s always after the speck in someone else’s eye. If it were really a matter of truth, he’d deal with himself first, but he doesn’t do that. And, you see, it is the fact that he will look into the mirror and not see his own plank. He is incapable of seeing his own plank because that plank developed over a period of time. It was little specks of sawdust that were not confessed. It was attitudes that he’s not dealt with, and so they begin to grow, and he soon develops a critical, judgmental spirit, and even a spirit of anger, which he often denies. And then, having done all that, he looks into the mirror, and all that he can see is the fact that everything seems to be okay, but he is very keen on finding specks in other people’s eyes.

I’ll bet right now you are thinking about somebody that you know who is just like that. Aren’t you? Come on! I’m trying not to but I am. (chuckles) You’ll never understand people like this unless you realize that when they look into your eyes it’s like a mirror, and they see the plank that is in their eye as existing in someone else’s eye. It’s very important to understand that.

That’s why you can have somebody who is belligerent, unkind, cutting in their remarks, angry, difficult to get along with, unpredictable in what they may say about others, complaining about the lack of love in a church. You’ve seen that sort of thing, haven’t you? Blind to their own plank, they are looking for specks.

Now, can you imagine people like that going around trying to find these specks, when they themselves are essentially blind? Could you imagine an ophthalmologist, of all things, a blind ophthalmologist doing surgery on the speck in someone else’s eye? I mean, that’s scary, because if there is any part of the body that is sensitive, it is the eye. If you have somebody who is going to operate on your eyes you’d better know who it is that you’re having do that surgery, and you’d better make sure that all the specks and all the planks are out of his own eyes so he can see yours clearly. And then having done that, he can see clearly then to take the speck out of your eye.

If there is anything that should drive us to our knees in evangelical circles it is simply this—the lack of being willing to deal with the planks in our own eye. If there is anything that is deserving of tears, it is the fact that we as believers sometimes so quickly gloss over our own sins, and then we begin to think about the sins of others and we do not adequately deal with our own. And where sin is not taken seriously, it is not dealt with thoroughly, and so we can become angry, judgmental Christians, judging from the standpoint of superiority, and totally unaware (this is where the self-deception comes in) of the fact that we might be the ones with a bigger problem than the people that we are trying to condemn or to judge.

How do we judge? With humility and not superiority. The Bible says that if you go to restore someone who has fallen into sin, go with a spirit of meekness and take heed to yourself, because you also may be tempted. One of the things that we should do as Christians is to mourn over our own sin. “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

I cannot tell you the number of times I have had to mourn over my own sin, and mourn in the presence of God, until God restores the joy and the sense of connection again because of sin that has grieved the blessed Holy Spirit. And we are not in a position to judge until we have done that. First of all, humility, not superiority!

Let me go on with a second biblical principle of judgment, and that is we should judge according to facts, not according to presumptions. According to facts and not presumptions. How quickly we fill in the facts (Don’t we?) from time to time. How quick we are to make judgments. Listen parents, if you judge your children...I’ve learned this...if you go ahead of them, without listening to them, without hearing their side of the story, already making judgments as to what they’ve done and why they’ve done it, and you try to fill in all those blanks, what you will find is a tremendous amount of hostility and anger and frustration on the part of children who want to be listened to, who want to be understood, and who want you to make a judgment on facts and not because you think you know in advance what the thing is about. A tremendously important lesson. The Bible says in the book of Proverbs, chapter 18, verse 13, “He who answers before listening, that is his folly and his shame.”

I fell into that recently. I received an email regarding somebody and I just connected all the dots, filled in all the details, believed the email completely, and then discovered later that the person who sent it was unreliable and there was another side to the story. And I thought to myself, “How long do I have to live before I stop making judgments based on one side of the story and not hearing the whole tale?” That’s very important.

You know, there’s an old story that’s been told a thousand times, and each time it’s told, it’s told a little differently. I assume, though, that it does have its root in reality. It’s about a man on a bus. You’ve probably heard it. He had several children and the children were out of control and they were bothering everybody else. They were crying and he didn’t know how to discipline them. And people were so upset because some people wanted to sleep. And others—you know they’d give him those ugly stares, making all kinds of judgments—here’s just another American parent who can’t control his children.

And then the man said to the people around them, “You have to understand I just buried their mother. My wife died and I’m just trying to learn to take care of the children and to help them process the anger and the fear that they are going through.”

Wow! That sure changed the atmosphere. You see, we’re so quick to make judgments. We are so quick to look at people and think that we can size them up. And we do not have all the facts, and therefore when it comes to making judgments, let us make them according to facts and not presumptions.

Number three, we can only judge words and actions, not motives. We’re not prepared to be able to do what only God can do. You see, we can look at what people say and we can look at the way in which they act, but at the end of the day, we’re not in a position to make any final judgment upon them, because that rests with God. The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4, “Judge nothing before the time because when the Lord comes He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts.” Only God can do that. And so what we need to do is be content with the fact that God makes final determinations, and all that we can go on is what people say and the way in which they act. And so we are constantly judging with a sense of grace and mercy because we know that at the end of the day, we can’t see the heart.

When we talk about false teachers, as we will, one of the questions you might have is, “Well, you know, these people aren’t preaching the Gospel, they are not true to the Word, but are they Christians?” And at that point I have to back off and say, “I don’t know because I do not see the heart.” There are situations that we get into where we see people’s conduct. We hear the things that they say and it does not square with Scripture, but in terms of their motives or who they are down deep inside, we must say that’s a God thing, and leave it there.

Let me give you a fourth principle, and that is that we must judge biblical issues and not preferences. Biblical issues, not preferences. Folks, there are some things that are always wrong. No question about it. There are some things that are always right. It is always right to love. It is always right to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. But there are some things that are in between. There are things that are sometimes not wrong in and of themselves, but they may become wrong if we become stumbling blocks to someone. They may be neutral issues over which Christians may have some strong disagreements.

For example, in the early church, sometimes some of the meat that was eaten or purchased in the marketplace had been devoted to various gods, so there were some Christians who said, “I can’t eat meat because this meat was offered unto idols.” Another Christian said, “Wait a moment now. Don’t make that jump so quickly because really when you stop to think of it, the idol is nothing. I take this meat home. I give it over to God. I say grace. I give thanks to God for it, and so I can eat it. And so what you have is disputes. People say, “I can’t believe that So-and-So is eating that meat.” And somebody else says, “Well, I...”

Listen to what Paul says: “Accept him whose faith is weak without passing judgment.” Do you see? He says, “Without passing judgment on disputable matters.” Romans 14:1 says,
“One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. He says, ‘I’m staying away from this meat that’s been given to idols.’ The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant. To his own master he stands or falls.”

And yet it’s in that realm of neutrality that we have some of the strongest opinions and the strongest judgments. And there are some people who will be very, very critical. I mean I don’t want to mention anything that’s as touchy as music, but having mentioned it, you’ve now heard me mention it. (chuckles) People will say, “You know, it has to be this kind, or it has to be this kind,” and so they develop all kinds of theories to justify their preferences when, in point of fact, there has to be some elasticity here. And we have to recognize that there may be differences of opinion, and we need to walk along the same trail together. The real issue that we’re interested in in this series of messages is: Is truth being denied biblical truth? We want to take the Bible and point to verses of Scripture. Is truth being denied? Is it being ignored? Is it being substituted? What does God say about what is being done and what is being said?  That’s the fourth principle.

The fifth is we judge temporally. Our judgments are limited. They are limited to time not eternity, and we recognize that. And we say, “God, you make the final judgments. We don’t.” We have the responsibility of judging. We do not have the responsibility or the privilege or the ability to condemn. We let God do that. That’s what I think Jesus was talking about now when we look at verse 2 of our text. “For in the same way you judge others you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

What is Jesus really saying here? When He says that in the same way you judge others, you will judged, and you, too, will be judged, there are two ways to interpret it. Some people say, “Well, that means we’re going to be judged by others.” If you are very strict and condemning, people are going to be strict and condemning with you. And there is some psychological truth to that. You know, you find somebody who has a very, very hard line. I know somebody who is coming to mind now as I am preaching. Many, many years ago. A very hard line in judging others. Inflexible when it came to certain standards. And then he ended up violating his own standards. And so, you know, everybody was kind of waiting for him and saying, “He’s the guy who judged others. Now look at him.” And that’s true but I don’t think that’s the real essence of what Jesus is saying because there are times when maybe you aren’t judgmental where people still judge you anyway.

I think what Jesus is saying is that the stricter we judge others, the more strictly God will judge us. It says in Romans 2:1: “Who are you that condemns another?” because when you condemn another you condemn yourself because you are doing the same thing. In other words, if we’re going to hold a high standard in certain areas of our lives, let’s understand then that God is going to keep us to that standard. We think to ourselves that we are really knowledgeable about the Scripture. Fine. We’ll be judged as those who are knowledgeable. We think to ourselves that we’ve attained a certain level of spirituality that is above others, fine. That’s the measure by which we will be measured. This is very sobering, and so that’s why we should be hesitant in making judgments, and we recognize that our judgments are temporal whereas God’s are eternal because God knows all the facts, and we don’t. Therefore, we are careful in the judgments that we make. We do not easily make judgments.

And by the way, this is thrown in without any extra cost to you personally, except a moment of your time. You know, when it says that if you judge others you too will be judged? I was talking a moment ago about the fact that there are people who are dishing out judgment, and then when you dish some judgment back to them, it’s a principle of human nature I’ve seen over and over again. The people who are strictest with others are the last ones to be able to accept strictness from others back again. Have you ever noticed that?

I remember someone who wrote a letter to me. A woman wrote a letter to me about the worship service because she was very critical of one little thing that happened once. And it was a very, very critical letter. It was far too much of an over-reaction. And so I decided to reply, and I might have replied a bit in kind, fulfilling this verse. And she just became so angry that she just left the church. In other words, “I can make my judgment, but don’t you dare make a judgment on me.” It is human nature that can be seen over and over and over again.

The bottom line, though, is this. Our judgments are temporal. I am sure that we all fail from time to time. We try to go by these principles, but we’re not God. And there comes a time when we recognize that at the end of the day, we have to commit to God the wider picture of judgment. We’re commanded to judge. We’re commanded to be discriminating. Discrimination is a bad word today, of course, if it’s applied in the wrong situations—racial discrimination and so forth, and we’re opposed to that—but there’s a sense in which being discriminating is the essence of spiritual growth.

What is the bottom line? The bottom line is simply this: That being discriminating is so important that it determines your destiny. Discrimination determines your destiny whether or not you are going to be in heaven or in hell. That’s how important it is for us to know what we believe, and why we believe it. The next message in this series is on doctrinal discrimination and I’m going to show you how the issue of salvation is central to the New Testament, and to use that as kind of example of principles that can be used to apply to doctrinal discrimination. But what you believe about salvation determines your entire destiny. See, we’re not preaching these messages to condemn people or to put people down. We’re preaching these messages, first of all, to help people to walk righteously and to love God’s Word, and to be in obedience to what it teaches and the way in which we are instructed to live. That’s our first and only agenda. And then, of course, to warn others about all that’s out there today that is wrong, that many Christians subscribe to and believe and accept. How important is making judgments?

Listen, in this very same passage where Jesus is speaking (Matthew 7), He says, “Not everyone who says to me (I’m in verse 21), ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers.’”

Do you see how close it is possible to get to the kingdom, to call Christ Lord, to do miracles in His name, and still be banished from His presence forever? Do we need to judge right from wrong, the broad way from the narrow way, the right kind of miracles versus the wrong kind of miracles, the right kind of profession of faith versus the wrong spurious confession of faith? It’s at the heart of who we are as believers, and so I’m going to ask you to do something today. It’s very clear based on what we’ve said. I want you to begin. Will you now judge your own heart? What plank is there in your heart, in your eye, in mine? What speck is there that needs to be taken care of so then you will be able to see clearly (more clear) to help others in this business of judging?

Let’s pray together.

Our Father, your holy Word says that if we as believers judge ourselves, we will not be judged by you and condemned with the world. And so we pray, Father, grant us honesty. Show us the logs, the planks in our eyes. Help us, Father, to humble ourselves. Oh, Father, we pray that you might help us to be rigorously biblical in our judgments, and grant us a wisdom that has to come from your loving hand.

Now, before we close in prayer, what is it that God has said to you that you need to talk to Him about? Are you hesitant to make judgments because you know that you are committing some sin, or do you make judgments, not realizing that it may be from a self-righteous spirit? You talk to God right now.

Father, we are so needy. Please bring us to repentance. Grant us an honest spirit, Lord, that you might reveal to us what you see in our hearts that we might be fully confessed and forgiven, yielded, so that we are in a position to make important distinctions in the midst of a confused world. Help us, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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