The pithy statement, “Do not judge,” has become a mantra in a world both unwilling to own up to fault, and unable to discern the simplest matters. “The call not to judge has made its way deeply into popular imagination: ‘Who am I to judge?’ Unfortunately the applications people often make … probably have little to do with the intention of either Jesus or the Gospel writers. In a postmodern context there can be a siren call to a radical pluralism.”
Jesus’ command, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” is anything but a call to radical pluralism. He is not suggesting we set aside discernment. In fact, in the context of that statement in Matthew 7:1, Jesus has just spent a great deal of time explaining to His followers how to better discern the intention of the Law! It should be clear that Jesus is not dismissing the need for a judiciary, either. The judge of all the earth would never say no one should be held accountable. So, it is not the practice of choosing between right and wrong or between better and best that Jesus is setting aside in this command. He is instead commanding us not to pass sentence. The Greek word Jesus uses here – in fact, “the whole word group…is used overwhelmingly for the eschatological judgment of God.” It is not discernment, but the practice of condemnation of another that Jesus speaks against.
God created the world in just 6 days. He did that by speaking it into existence. And He created us in His image and afforded us power and authority over the rest of physical creation. Consequently, our words also have power. Obviously not the power of creation or authority over time and space as God’s words do, for He is God and we are most definitely not. But our words still carry a certain weight, and we recognize that every time someone says “I give you my word.” Yet if that is true for all people, then for God’s people’s all the more; for we are alive spiritually as well as physically. Moreover, Christ gave us His authority to expand His Kingdom. Therefore, when we glibly pass sentence of our own accord (that is, without Scriptural support for saying so), by saying, “You’ll never amount to much,” or “You are a loser,” or “You fate is certainly to burn in hell,” we are effectively condemning a person God made in His image for His glory. Someone for whom Jesus suffered on the cross.
Such talk has no place coming from the mouth of a child of God. Jesus already warned us against this in Matthew 5:22, “anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” God takes His Word seriously, and we should take our words seriously too.
All the more so considering the context that Jesus gives us His command not to judge.
Remember that Jesus had just said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” The disciple of Christ must know we will never find or bring about His Kingdom by speaking what is effectively a curse over that which God has made for His glory and one He may yet redeem. Rather, our role in regard to others made in His image is to do all we can to plant and grow God’s Kingdom within them – not the polar opposite. To this point James later said, “From the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”
The disciple of God must never curse others. It is given to us to judge past behaviour that cannot be changed, but it is not given to us to pass sentence on that which might yet be completely altered by the grace of God. Amen.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.the Apostle Paul (from Romans 12:14)
Look for opportunities today to lift people up by your words, to speak God’s peace and grace upon them and to in all ways honor Christ before them.