Judging Forbidden

by Spiros Zodhiates

Spiros ZodhiatesJesus began His next imperative (v. 1) with the words "do not" (nasb) to put a restriction on the moral judgments we make on other persons. Because we are not omniscient, we do not have the right to evaluate our fellow human beings, although elsewhere, we are commanded to "judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24) and to "prove all things" (1 Thess. 5:21).

God's commands are absolute. The verb "judge" (vv. 1-2), from the Greek verb krno (2919), means generally to separate, to discriminate between good and evil.

We can better understand this root verb when we examine some compound verbs derived from it: anakrno (350), to judicially investigate; diakrno (1252), to separate thoroughly, to discriminate; egkrno (1469), to approve; epikrno (1948), to criticize; katakrno (2632), to judge against, to condemn; and hupokrnomai (5271), to speak or act under false identity. A related adjective, eilikrines (1506), means sincere.

The noun dikrisis (1253), from the respective verb above, also carries the idea of penetrating judgment, thorough discernment. The Spirit of God grants to some believers "discernment [diakrseis] of spirits" (a.t.; 1 Cor. 12:10). This is neither a psychic gift nor guessing of people's motives, plans, or attitudes.

John reminds us that the judging of a spirit is necessarily tied to that spirit's verbal confession concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world" (1 John 4:1-3).

The present imperative m krnete of verse 1 can be translated, "Do not be judging," forbidding a pattern of action. Our lives should not be characterized by negative judging of beams, motes, hypocrisy, etc. Condemning our brother for a "mote" in his eye is an example of a superficial judgment (see John 7:24).

We can make significant mistakes when we judge superficially. Apart from what people reveal about themselves, we do not know the thoughts and motives of others. All this is below the surface. People can be self-deceived or consciously lying. If they do not tell us their motives, we have nothing concrete on which to judge. We can as easily guess their motives from the color of the clothes they are wearing. Sinners hide their sin-which is guilt, and righteous persons hide their righteousness-which is humility. Each group seeks anonymity in their own worlds, the first to avoid being caught, the second to glorify the name of Christ alone. We are simply in no position to measure integrity.

The reason to avoid continual judging is now assigned: "that ye be not judged [krithete, the aorist passive subjunctive of krno, to judge]." The comparison between the present and aorist tenses of "judge" is dramatic: "Do not continually judge in order that you will not be judged once for all," a picture of the final judgment following death (Heb. 9:27; see also Matt. 10:15; 11:22,24; 12:36; etc.). In general, believers will be sentenced in accordance with their sentencing of others during their earthly lives.

The present tense of "judge not" conveys the idea that we should not look for faults. We should rather keep looking until we find something praiseworthy in others. God will judge all of us individually (hékastos, each one), as Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 5:10.

We must remember that God will judge according to holy perfection, not only external actions but also internal motives-simple and complex. Since this day is inevitable, we should avoid the superficiality of negative judgments and concentrate on living pure lives before God. Let us set our minds on the perfect judgment ahead and look for God's graces-not His judgments-in all people.

Verse 2: Often we are able to see a legitimate "mote" in someone's eyes, and Jesus affirmed that the mote exists. The problem does not seem to be our discerning faculty so much as the penal judgment (krma; the suffix -ma indicating the result of judgment) we apply as we judge. When we judge others negatively, we punish them by avoiding them, gossiping about them, getting even in some way, or correcting them (v. 4). But we do not consistently apply the same punishment or correction to ourselves.

The warning here is that the same measures will be applied to us: "With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged [krithesesthe, the future passive of krno]: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."

On the Day of Judgment, God's standard will be the sinless perfection of the Son of man. So the first judgment we make in this life that has any bearing on our eternal destiny and rewards is our judgment of Jesus Christ. To judge Him short of perfection, to criticize Him, is certain death. The next class of judgments we make-on peers, fellow believers (v. 3), or other people (v. 12)-will be judged on the basis of inconsistent application (James 2:12-13; cf. the author's commentary on James, entitled Faith, Love & Hope).

Verse 3: Jesus now qualified the inconsistency-our bias to favor ourselves: "And why beholdest [from blépo, to see, but lacking the perceptive depth of the comparative verb horo, to see and perceive] thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest [from katanoéo, to thoroughly understand] not the beam that is in thine own eye?"

The two present tenses correspond with the present tense of "judgeth" in verse 1. Jesus addressed those of us who by continually gazing at others' motes miss our own beams. Self-deception is rooted in proud, external judgments.

The illustration shows the blinding effect of mote-gazing. The problem is not the use of different scales, since we gazers are not even aware of beams to measure. "You are not considering," Jesus said. The distraction of our looking at, if not looking for, others' sins blind us to even thinking about our own. Scrutinizing others overpowers self-reflection. It's not that we measure our beams with a different scale; we're altogether blind to their existence.

Though we may not even be conscious of something to measure, our sin is measurably worse-this by Christ's pronouncement. Our fellow believers have "motes" (krphos, little splinters) of dry wood, straw, or chaff in their eyes, while we ourselves have "beams" (from doks, logs used in buildings, rafters) in our own. The size difference between a splinter and a beam is tremendous, so the point is well taken. We who judge are blind to our own huge sins by the small offenses of others.

Verse 4: "Or" (e) introduces a comparative thought, the transition from condemning and punishing others to correcting them: "Or how will you say to your brother, Let me pull out the mote that is in your eye'?" (a.t.).

Whether our intention is to punish or correct, the rationale for our actions is the same-self-justification. We believe we are holier than others. We preemptively seize the power to condemn or correct, blinded to the beams within our own eyes by our perpetual gaze at others' motes.

Verse 5: While Jesus did not endorse condemning and punishing, He did offer instructions on how to correct people and avoid hypocrisy. By "first casting out" (from ekbllo) the logs in our own eyes, the Lord told us, we will be able to "see clearly" (from diablépo, literally, to "see through") to take the splinters out of our fellow believers' eyes. God now grants access to their hearts, because this access is no longer blocked by our focus on their sins.

Obviously, we should first decide to take our critical gaze off our fellow believers. If we don't take this first step, we're hopeless. Our gazing blinds self-reflection. And if mote-gazing blinds us to the truth of our own beams, think how blinding beam-gazing will be. (Certainly, our brothers have beams as well as motes.)

The order of events, "first cast out," includes confession. If we confess our sins, the Lord will honor our humility with self-effacing wisdom and good results, perhaps even predisposing our fellow-believers to receive us.

Verse 6: Through confession and repentance, the Lord promised an open door to the hearts of those we judged. If they shut the door, they may not be believers after all.

This is how we clarify the seeming paradox between this verse and verse 1. How are we supposed to "give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither castpearls before swine" if we are commanded to "judge not" (v. 1) whether people are dogs or swine? If we judge persons as dogs or swine, will we be measured by the same criterion?

Although this is necessarily a prejudgment-an expectation of future bad behavior, it does not mean there has been no prior experience of "dog" or "pig" behavior. We should never prejudge without prior experience.

But it is still a negative judgment, and this contributes to our favorably disposing of the seeming paradox. As here, the "judgment" in verses 2 and 3 is not mental differentiation; it is, rather, retaliatory action (cf. God's "judgments in the earth" in both Testaments). God commands us to not render evil for evil in this way (Rom. 12:17; 1 Thess. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:9). Similarly here, while we are to differentiate believers from nonbelievers, we are not to judge unbelievers.

We may evangelize unbelievers at a distance, but we are forbidden to share holy things with them, especially if they "trample them under their feet." We believers are holy, set apart for God. Thus, the Lord's words once again serve as the basis for Paul's later theology: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (2 Cor. 6:14-16).

Our salvation is holy and more precious than pearls! A beautiful, valuable pearl is formed from an inconspicuous, valueless grain of sand. When we know that this pearl is going to be despised and trodden underfoot, we should use spiritual discernment to prevent ridicule and contempt. This is the basis for all separation: "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you" (2 Cor. 6:17, cf. Isa. 52:11; Rev. 18:4).

This verse is applicable to our possessions as well, which, after all, are the Lord's. We believers are not required to underwrite the sinful lifestyles of wayward children, drunkards, drug addicts, or other irresponsible persons. In the end, it is not only detrimental to the rebels, it is bad stewardship, diverting God's provisions away from those who are truly helpless through no fault of their own. Because we must someday give an accounting of God's gifts to us, we should not cast them indiscriminately to dogs or pigs.

Dr. Zodhiates is president emeritus of AMG International and publisher emeritus of Pulpit Helps.

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