Do not judge

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

– Matthew 7:1-5

Do not judge – that’s pretty straightforward and uncompromising.

I wish that all the people who insist on taking the Bible literally, would take this saying of Jesus as seriously as they take some other passages of Scripture. Because “Do not judge” is a saying which I take with the utmost seriousness myself.

If we took this morning’s reading literally, as true and universal and binding upon all Christians, the church would be a very different place. The world would be a very different place.

When you called me here to Springfield to serve as your pastor and shepherd, you told me there were three things that you all agreed on for the future of this meeting. Do you remember what the first of those three things was?

I remember. The first thing you said was, “We want to be non-judgmental.” That was at the top of the list.

Just so the rest of the three things you said stay in your memory, can anyone remember what number two and number three on the list were?

We want to grow. And we’re willing to change.

I have taken all three of those priorities seriously for the last year and a half, and I won’t let you forget them. Because I agree that they’re part of what holds the future of this meeting. We want to be non-judgmental. We want to grow. And we’re willing to change.

But being non-judgmental isn’t just something that’s socially polite. It doesn’t change with the times. It’s a commandment of Jesus Christ. Our Lord, who we accept as Savior, the one in whose name we pray, told us, “Do not judge. . .”

But it’s so hard to give it up. Because judging other people is one of the most delicious pleasures we have.

It makes us feel superior to other people. It justifies our being angry with them, and not forgiving them. Why should I forgive somebody, when I have tried them in the court of my own opinion and found them guilty?

Judging other people makes us feel righteous — even though we know that self-righteousness is dangerous. And, of course, we despise self-righteousness in others. Judging makes us feel good. And we do it all the time.

We judge other people by the way they speak and by the clothes they wear, even though the Bible specifically tells us not to do that.

We judge people every day by the color of their skin or by the country they came from, even though there’s not a person on earth who can help those things.

We judge people by their wealth or poverty. We judge each other by our political opinions and our education. We judge people all the time by their gender, and we pay people less or even not at all for what we think of as women’s work.

We judge people because they’re from the North or the South or the Midwest or some other part of the country. We judge other people because of their religious beliefs. We call them stupid or unfaithful, even when most people really are trying to be as faithful as they know how, and even though it’s God who will judge us all for our faith or our lack of it.

We judge people because they have mental health problems or physical limitations. We judge people severely because of addictions which they would gladly be free of.

The list goes on and on. You can add to it, easily. Because judging is something we do all the time. We delight in it. It satisfies us and confirms us in our prejudices.

Some of you might have heard the old Native American proverb, “Don’t criticize anyone until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins.” That’s good. And there’s a practical side to that proverb. If you walk a mile in their moccasins, and people get angry at you, then you’ll be a mile away, and you’ll have their shoes!

But seriously, there’s a lot of wisdom there for us. We don’t walk in other people’s shoes. We don’t know the journey they’ve been on. We don’t know what suffering people have experienced. We don’t know what fears they have, or what rejection they’ve faced. We shouldn’t judge.

People are all very different. Being different doesn’t mean they’re bad. The Bible says we’re all sinners. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re bad people. It means we all miss the mark. It means we’re hurt and broken and make mistakes. Being sinners means that we all need help, from God and from each other.

So, judging is not good, even though we all love to do it, one way or another.

But then Jesus really emphasizes his point. He says, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and the measure you use, will be measured to you.”

That’s a sobering thought. The exact same judgment which I make towards someone else, will be applied directly to me. The same standards by which I judge others, are the standards I will be judged by.

If I call someone else foolish, or prejudiced, or a liar, I’d better be careful. Because God is going to look at me with a critical eye. If I condemn somebody else for being arrogant, or unmerciful, or two-faced, God will judge me for those same exact things.

Then, because Jesus always liked to make people laugh a bit, he drew an exaggerated example.

Jesus said, “Why do you see the tiny speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye, and say to them, ‘Hey, let me help you with that! Give me the tweezers! Let me take that speck out of your eye! I can see it’s bothering you! I can see how much it obstructs your vision! I’m sure you’d be a lot better off without that tiny speck of dust in your eye!’”

“And at the same time,” Jesus says, “you don’t see that huge log, that big piece of firewood, that whole tree trunk, sticking out of your own eye!”

“How can you do that?” said Jesus. “How can you tell your neighbor, ‘Let me help you, I’m better than you are,’ when you’ve got a whole huge load of firewood stuck in your own eye all the time?’”

See, that’s the thing about judging and prejudice. We’ve all got this huge blind spot, that says we’re better than other people. When really, we’re much the same. My failings and shortcomings may very well be worse than anybody else’s.

Jesus was saying the same thing, when he told a story about two people who went to the Temple to pray. It says he told this story against people who were “confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.”

The first person, Jesus said, was a holy person. He stood all by himself at the front where everybody could see him, and he said, “Look at me, Lord! I fast twice a week. I make a big show of giving to charity. I’m so glad, Lord, that I’m not a robber, a thief, or an adulterer. Thank you, Lord, that I’m better than everyone else!”

Everyone who was listening to Jesus that day probably laughed, because they recognized that type of person in the story.

But then, Jesus said, the second person prayed. The second person knew they weren’t so good. Instead of standing up front, the second person stayed at the back, in the back row, not even in a pew but back against the wall in a corner. The second person didn’t even dare look up to God, Jesus said, but beat their breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

“Which one of those two people,” Jesus asked, “do you think went home right with God? You tell me – which prayer do you think God listened to?” (Luke 18:9-14)

I’m not saying you do this, and I don’t. We all judge other people. It’s one of the hardest human habits to get rid of. But I want you to think about what happens when we let go of judging each other.

One of my favorite devotionals is a little book called The Imitation of Christ. It was written about 600 years ago, just before the Protestant Reformation. I carried it in my pocket for a year one time, and read from it every day.

One of the things it says is right in line with Jesus’ teaching. In the Imitation of Christ, it says: “Turn your eye towards yourself, and beware of judging the deeds of other people. Whoever judges others, labors in vain, often makes mistakes, and easily sins; but whoever judges and examines themself first, labors fruitfully.” (Imitation of Christ, Book 1, chapter 14)

I’m not saying that I succeed at this all the time. I don’t. But I’ve discovered that the more I try to let go of judging other people, the more free I feel.

It’s tremendously freeing to let go of all that self-righteousness and just be ourselves. It’s exciting for a community to learn to accept people without judging them or condemning them.

That doesn’t mean we have to like everything that other people do. That doesn’t mean we have to be stupid about their acts and intentions. Some people do mean us harm. Some people are difficult, or unpleasant, or manipulative.

But it’s really liberating to let go of some of our prejudices. And it really changes a church when we make it a point to welcome people just as they are.

If you ask people who aren’t Christians what offends them about Christianity, a lot of the time they say that it’s the self-righteousness and judgmental attitude of church people that turns them off. People see us and hear us, and they don’t want anything to do with Jesus. And that makes me sorry, because I don’t want anyone to be turned away from Christ.

That’s a lot to think about. But I think it could change us, if we listen to Jesus today. It would change us. It would change our church. It would change our culture, if we do what Jesus says, and not judge.

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