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Judge not that you be not Judged
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1—5)
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
WE have already considered the meaning of our Lord’s command ‘Judge not’ and what it involves in practice. Now we come, in verses 1—5, to the reasons which He gives for not judging. Again we cannot but feel, as we look at them, that His case is unanswerable, His logic inevitable. At the same time we shall feel our sinfulness and see the ugliness of sin.
Let us look at His reasons. The first is: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’ Do not judge, in order that you yourselves may not be judged. That is a very practical and personal reason, but what exactly does it mean? There are those who would have us believe that it means something like this. Do not judge other people if you dislike other people judging you. Do not judge other people if you do not wish to be judged yourself by them. They say that what this really means is that, as you do to others, they will do to you, or, as the phrase puts it, you will be paid back in your own coin. They say that it amounts to this, that the person who is always critical and censorious of others, is always a person who is likely to bring criticism upon himself. And of course that is true and perfectly right. It is further true to say that there are no people who are more sensitive to criticism than those who are always criticizing others. They dislike it and complain when it happens to them; but they never seem to remember this when they do it with respect to others. We must agree, then, that that statement is true, that the kind of person who is always criticizing is criticized in turn, and that therefore, if they wish to avoid this painful criticism, they must be less critical and censorious of others. And, on the other hand, it is true to say that the person who is less critical is appreciated by others, and is not subject to criticism in the same way as that more critical kind of person.
But surely it is quite wrong to interpret this statement as meaning that and that alone. While we must accept that in general, it seems that our Lord goes very much further. We say this, not only on the basis of what we have in this entire chapter, which, as we have seen, is meant to hold us face to face with the judgment of God, but also because of other statements in Scripture which are parallel to this, and which explain and therefore reinforce it. Surely it means this: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged’---by God. There are many evangelical Christians who immediately react against such an exposition in terms of the great teaching of the Scripture with regard to justification by faith only. They point out that John 5:24 teaches that, if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we have passed through judgment or from judgment unto life. They add that the first verse of Romans 8 says, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.’ Surely, they say, this means that because we are Christians we are taken entirely outside the realm of judgment. There is no longer any judgment, they argue on the basis of such teaching, for the man who is a true Christian.
This criticism calls for attention and a reply, and we do so in this way. We remind ourselves again that the words we are considering are addressed to believers, not to unbelievers. They are addressed to people of whom the Beatitudes are true, to those who are the children of God and born again of the Spirit. It is quite clear, therefore, that in some respect such people are still subject to judgment.
But, in addition to that, we must approach the question also in terms of the parallel teaching of Scripture elsewhere. Perhaps the best way to deal with it is to put it like this. In the Scriptures we are taught that there are three types or kinds of judgment, and it is the failure to isolate and distinguish these that causes this confusion. We should be concerned about this subject for many reasons. One is that many of us who claim to be evangelical Christians are not only guilty of glibness in these matters, but are also curiously lacking in what used to be called the ‘fear of God’. There is a lightness, a boisterousness, a superficiality about many of us which seems to me to be far removed from the character of truly Christian, godly people as it is to be seen in the Bible and in the Church throughout the centuries. In our anxiety to give the impression that we are happy, we are often lacking in reverence and what the Scripture means by ‘reverence and godly fear’. The whole idea of ‘the fear of the Lord’ and of godliness somehow or other has become lost amongst us. That is partly due to this failure to realize the scriptural teaching with regard to judgment. We are so anxious to assert the doctrine of justification by faith only, that very often we are guilty of minimizing the other doctrines of Scripture which are equally a part of our faith and therefore equally true. So it is important for us to understand this doctrine with regard to judgment.
First of all there is a judgment which is final and eternal; that is the judgment which determines a man’s status or his standing before God. This determines the great separation between the sheep and the goats, those who are going on to glory and those who are going to perdition. That is a kind of first judgment, a basic judgment which establishes the great dividing line between those who belong to God and those who do not. That is clearly taught everywhere in Scripture from beginning to end. That is the judgment which determines and settles man’s final destiny, his eternal condition, whether he is to be in heaven or in hell.
But that is not the only judgment which is taught in the Scriptures; there is a second, which I would call the judgment to which we are subject as God’s children, and because we are God’s children.
In order to understand this we should read 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul expounds the doctrine concerning the Communion Service. He says, ‘Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body’ (verses 27—29). Then---‘For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep (which means ‘many have died’). For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world’ (verses 30—32).
That is a most important and significant statement. It indicates clearly that God judges His children in this way, that if we are guilty of sin, or of wrong living, we are likely to be punished by Him. The punishment, says Paul, may take the form of sickness or illness. There are those who are sick and ill because of their wrong living. It does not mean of necessity that God has sent sickness upon them, but it probably means that God withholds His protection from them and allows the devil to attack them with illness. You have the same statement in the same Epistle where he talks about handing a man over to Satan in order that he may correct him in that way (chapter 5). It is a most serious and important doctrine. Indeed, Paul goes further and says that some of those Corinthians had died because of their wrong living; judgment had come upon them in that way. He is talking of the judgment of God, and therefore we can interpret it thus, that God allows Satan, who controls the power of death, to remove these people because of their refusal to judge themselves and to repent and turn back to God. His exhortation, therefore, is that we should examine ourselves, we should judge ourselves and condemn that which is wrong in ourselves in order that we may escape this other judgment. So it is very wrong for the Christian to trip lightly through life saying that he believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and that therefore judgment has nothing to do with him, and all is well. Not at all; we must walk warily and circumspectly, we must examine ourselves and search ourselves lest this kind of judgment descend upon us.
All this is confirmed in Hebrews 12, where the doctrine is put in this form: ‘Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.’ The argument at that point is designed to comfort and encourage those Hebrew Christians in the difficult times through which they were passing. It is this: We must be careful to look at trials in the right way. In a sense a man ought to be more frightened if nothing ever goes wrong with him in this world than if things do go wrong, because ‘whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth’. He is bringing His sons, His children, to perfection, and He therefore disciplines them in this world. He judges their sins and their blemishes in this world in order to prepare them for the glory. Those who are not saints---well, they are ‘bastards’ and He allows them to flourish. You find the same thing again in Psalm 73, where we find the Psalmist very perplexed by this fact. He says: ‘I do not understand God’s ways. Look at those ungodly, evil people. Their eyes stand out with fatness; there are no bands in their death; they always seem to be flourishing. Verily I have washed my hands in vain.’ But he came to see that this way of thinking was very wrong, for it was viewing the life of the ungodly only in this world. They may have their enjoyment in this life; but that is all they get, and judgment will suddenly descend upon them, and it will be final and eternal. God judges His people in this world in order to spare them from that. ‘If we judge ourselves,’ says Paul, ‘we shall not be condemned with the world.’ That, then, is the second way of looking at judgment, and it is a very important way. We are all along under the eye of God, and God is watching our lives and judging our sinfulness, all for our benefit.
But we must look at the third kind of judgment taught in Scripture, the judgment which is often referred to as ‘the judgment of rewards’. Whether that is a true designation or not does not matter, but that there is a judgment for God’s people after death is very clearly taught in the Scriptures. You find it in Romans 14 where he says, ‘We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.’ Do not judge another man or another man’s servant about these questions of observing particular days, and eating particular meats, and so on, says the apostle, for every man will have to bear his own judgment, and is responsible to God---‘for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ’. You have exactly the same thing in the Corinthian Epistles. There is the passage in 1 Corinthians 3 where he says: ‘Every man’s work shall be made manifest’ and ‘the day shall declare it’. Whatever a man has built upon the foundation---gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble---it will all be judged by fire. Some of it will be entirely destroyed, the wood, hay, stubble, etc., but the man himself shall be saved, ‘yet so as by fire’. But it all indicates a judgment, a judgment of our work since we have become Christian, and, particularly in this passage, of course, the preaching of the gospel and the work of ministers in the Church.
Then, in 2 Corinthians 5, the judgment is clearly not only for ministers but for all---‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.’ ‘Knowing therefore’, says Paul, ‘the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.’ That is not addressed to unbelievers; it is addressed to Christian believers. Christian believers will have to appear before this judgment seat of Christ, and there we shall be judged according to what we have done in the body, whether good or bad. This is not to determine our eternal destiny; it is not a judgment which decides whether we go to heaven or to hell. No, we have passed through that. But it is a judgment which is going to affect our eternal destiny, not by determining whether it is heaven or hell, but by deciding what happens to us in the realm of glory. We are not given any further details about this in Scripture, but that there is a judgment of believers is very clearly and specifically taught.
You find it again in Galatians 6:5 ‘Every man shall bear his own burden’. That is a reference to the same judgment. ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.’ But also ‘Every man shall bear his own burden’; every one of us is responsible for his own life, his own conduct and behaviour. It does not, let me emphasize again, determine my eternal destiny, but it is going to make a difference to me, it is a judgment of my life since I have become a Christian. And then there is that moving statement in 2 Timothy 1:16—18 where, in referring to Onesiphorus, Paul thanks God for this man who had been so kind to him when he was in prison. This is what he prays for him: ‘The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day’; in that day when judgment is going to be exercised, may the Lord have mercy upon him. And in Revelation 14:13 there is the statement about all those that die in the Lord: ‘Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. . .; and their works do follow them.’ Our works follow us.
The chief reason, then, why Christian people must not judge, is that we be not judged ourselves by the Lord. We shall see Him as He is; we shall meet Him, and this judgment will take place. If we do not want to be ashamed, as John puts it (1 John 2:28), on that occasion, let us be careful now. If we would have ‘boldness in the day of judgment’, then we must be careful as to how we live in the here and now. If we judge, we shall be judged in terms of that very judgment. Here, therefore, is something of which we must never lose sight. Though we are Christians, and are justified by faith, and have an assurance of our salvation, and know we are going to heaven, we are yet subject to this judgment here in this life, and also after this life. It is the plain teaching of the Scripture, and it is summarized here in this first statement by our Lord in this section of the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’ It is not simply that if you do not want other people to say unkind things you must not say unkind things about them. That is all right; that is quite true. But much more important is the fact that you are exposing yourself to judgment, and that you will have to answer for these things. You do not lose your salvation, but you are evidently going to lose something.
That brings us to the second reason for not judging which is adduced by our Lord. It is in the second verse: ‘For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.’ We can put that in the form of a principle. The second reason for not judging is that, by so doing, we not only produce judgment for ourselves, we even set the standard of our own judgment---‘With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.’ Once more, this does not merely indicate what other people may do to us. We say a man is always ‘paid back in his own coin’, and that is perfectly true. Men who have been so careful to scrutinize and examine others, and to talk about minor blemishes in them, are often amazed when those same people judge them. They cannot understand it, but they are being judged by their own yard-stick and their own measure.
But we cannot leave this statement at that; we must go beyond it, because Scripture does so. Our Lord is really declaring that God Himself in this judgment which I have been describing, will judge us according to our own standards. Let us look at some scriptural authority for this interpretation. Consider our Lord’s statement as recorded in Luke 12, where He talks about being ‘beaten with many stripes’ or ‘with few stripes’, and says ‘unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more’ (verse 48). He teaches that God acts on that principle. Then read the statement in Romans 2:1, ‘Therefore thou art inexcusable, 0 man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself for thou that judgest doest the same things.’ You are proving, says Paul, by your judging of others that you know what is right; so, if you do not do that which is right, you are condemning yourself.
But perhaps the clearest statement of this is given in James 3:1, a verse which is of vital importance, but which is frequently ignored because we do not like the Epistle of James, imagining as we do that he does not teach justification by faith only. This is how he puts this particular matter: ‘My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.’ In other words, if you set yourself up as an authority, if you become a master, if you are thus acting as masters and authorities, remember you will be judged by your own authority; by the very claim you make, you yourself will be judged. You are setting yourself up as an authority? Very well; that will be the very standard applied to you in your own judgment.
Our Lord puts it here plainly in the words we are considering:
‘With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.’ It is one of the most alarming statements in the whole of Scripture. Do I claim that I have exceptional knowledge of the Scripture? If I do I shall be judged in terms of the knowledge that I claim. Do I claim that I am a servant who really knows these things? Then I must not be surprised if I am beaten with many stripes. We should be very careful, therefore, how we express ourselves. If we sit as an authority in judgment upon others, we have no right to complain if we are judged by that very standard. It is quite fair, it is quite just, and we have no ground whatsoever for complaint. We claim we have this knowledge; and if we have that knowledge we must show it by living up to it. By the claim that I myself make, I myself shall be judged. If, therefore, I am careful in my scrutiny of other people and their lives, that very standard comes back upon myself and I have no ground at all for complaining. The answer to me if I complain would be this: You knew it, you were able to exercise it with regard to others, why did you not exercise it in your own case? It is a very surprising and alarming thought. There is nothing I know of that is so likely to deter us from the sinful practice of condemning others and from that foul and ugly spirit that delights in doing so.
That brings us in turn to the last reason with which our Lord supplies us. He puts it in verses 3—5: ‘And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.’ Was there ever such sarcasm? Was there ever a more perfect example of irony? How richly we deserve it. We can summarize the argument in this way in the form of a number of principles. Our Lord is teaching us that the third reason for our not judging others is that we are incapable of judgment. We cannot do it. Therefore, as we cannot do it properly, we must not try to do it at all. He says that our spirit is such that we are not entitled to judge. Not only must we remember that we ourselves shall be judged and that we determine the standards of that judgment, but furthermore He says:
Stop a moment; you cannot judge because you are incapable of judging.
Our Lord proves it in this way. He first of all points out that we are not concerned about righteousness and true judgment at all, because if we were, we should deal with it in ourselves. We like to persuade ourselves that we are really concerned about truth and righteousness, and that that is our only interest. We claim that we do not want to be unfair to people, that we do not want to criticize, but that we are really concerned about truth! Ah, says our Lord in effect, if you were really concerned about truth, you would be judging yourself. But you do not judge yourself therefore your interest is not really in truth. It is a fair argument. If a man claims that his only interest is in righteousness and truth, and not at all in personalities, then he will be as critical of himself as he is of other people. A really great artist is always the severest critic of himself. It matters not what walk of life it is, whether it is singing, or acting, or painting, or anything else, a really great artist and true critic is as critical of himself as he is of the work of other people, perhaps more so, because he has an objective standard. But you, says our Lord, have no objective standard. You are not interested in truth and righteousness, otherwise you would never pass yourselves, as you are doing, and only criticize others. That is the first statement.
Then we can take it further and say that He also shows that such people are not concerned about the principles as such but simply about persons. The spirit of hypercriticism, as we have seen, is one which is concerned with personalities rather than with principles. That is the trouble with many of us in this respect. We are really interested in the person we are criticizing, not in the particular subject or principle; and our real desire is to condemn the person, rather than to get rid of the evil that is in the person. That, of course, at once renders us incapable of true judgment. If there is bias, if there is personal feeling and animus, we are no longer true examiners. Even the law recognizes this. If it can be proved that there is some connection between any member of a jury and the person on trial, that member of the jury can be disqualified. What is desiderated in a jury is impartiality. There must be no prejudice, there must be nothing personal; it must be unbiased, objective judgment. The personal element must be entirely excluded before there can be true judgment. If we apply that to our judgment of other people, I fear we shall have to agree with our Lord that we are quite incapable of judgment, because we are so interested in the person or the personality. There is so often an ulterior motive in our judgment; so often we fail to differentiate between the person and his action.
But let us follow our Lord in His analysis. His next argument is in verse 4: ‘How wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?’ That is sarcasm at its highest. He says that our own condition is such that we are quite incapable of helping others. We affect to be very concerned about these people and their faults, and we try to give the impression that we are concerned only about their good. We say that we are troubled about this little blemish that is in them, and that we are anxious to get rid of this mote. But, says our Lord, you cannot do it, because it is such a delicate process. This beam that is in your own eye makes you incapable of doing so.
I once read a very acute remark which put this perfectly. It said that there is something very ridiculous about a blind person trying to lead another blind person, but that there is something much more ridiculous than that, and that is a blind oculist. A blind oculist cannot possibly remove a speck out of another man’s eye. If a blind man in general is useless in helping others, how much more useless is a blind oculist? That is what our Lord is saying at this point. If you want to be able to see clearly to remove this minute speck out of the sensitive eye of that other person in whom you affect an interest, make certain your own eye is quite clear. You cannot be a help to another while you are blinded by the beam in your own eye.
Finally, He actually condemns us as hypocrites. ‘Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.’ How true it is. The fact of the matter is that we are not really concerned about helping this other person; we are interested only in condemning him. We pretend to have this great interest; we pretend that we are very distressed at finding this blemish. But in reality, as our Lord has already shown us (and this is the horrible part), we are really glad to discover it. It is hypocrisy. One person goes to another as a would-be friend and says, ‘It is such a shame that this defect is in you.’ But oh, the malice that is often displayed by such action, and the pleasure that such a person often enjoys! No, says our Lord, if you really want to help other people, if you are genuine and true in this matter, there are certain things you have to do yourself. First---and we must notice this---first cast the beam out of thine own eye, and then thou shalt see dearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
That can be interpreted in this way. If you really do want to help others, and to help to rid them of these blemishes and faults and frailties and imperfections, first of all realize that your spirit and your whole attitude has been wrong. This spirit of judging and hypercriticism and censoriousness that is in you is really like a beam, contrasted with the little mote in the other person’s eye. ‘You know,’ says our Lord in effect, ‘there is no more terrible form of sin than this judging spirit of which you are guilty. It is like a beam. The other person may have fallen into immorality, some sin of the flesh, or may be guilty of some little error here and there. But that is nothing but a little mote in the eye when compared with this spirit that is in you, which is like a beam. Start with your own spirit,’ He says in other words; ‘face yourself quite honestly and squarely and admit to yourself the truth about yourself.’ How are we to do all this in practice? Read 1 Corinthians 13 every day; read this statement of our Lord’s every day. Examine your attitude towards other people; face the truth about yourself. Take the statements you make about another person; sit down and analyse them, and ask yourself what you really mean. It is a very painful and distressing process. But if we examine ourselves and our judgments and our pronouncements honestly and truly, we are on the high road to getting the beam out of our eye. Then having done that we shall be so humbled that we shall be quite free from the spirit of censoriousness and hypercriticism.
What a wonderful piece of logic this is! When a man has truly seen himself he never judges anybody else in the wrong way. All his time is taken up in condemning himself, in washing his hands and trying to purify himself. There is only one way of getting rid of the spirit of censoriousness and hypercriticism, and that is to judge and condemn yourself. It humbles us to the dust, and then it follows of necessity that, having thus got rid of the beam out of our own eyes, we shall be in a fit condition to help the other person, and to get out the little mote that is in his eye.
The procedure of getting a mote out of an eye is a very difficult operation. There is no organ that is more sensitive than the eye. The moment the finger touches it, it closes up; it is so delicate. What you require above everything else in dealing with it is sympathy, patience, calmness, coolness. That is what is required, because of the delicacy of the operation. Transfer all that into the spiritual realm. You are going to handle a soul, you are going to touch the most sensitive thing in man. How can we get the little mote out? There is only one thing that matters at that point, and that is that you should be humble, you should be sympathetic, you should be so conscious of your own sin and your own unworthiness, that when you find it in another, far from condemning, you feel like weeping. You are full of sympathy and compassion; you really do want to help. You have so enjoyed getting rid of the thing in yourself that you want him to have the same pleasure and the same joy. You cannot be a spiritual oculist until you yourself have clear sight. Thus, when we face ourselves and have got rid of this beam, and have judged and condemned ourselves and are in this humble, understanding, sympathetic, generous, charitable state, we shall then be able, as the Scripture puts it, to ‘speak the truth in love’ to another and thereby to help him. It is one of the most difficult things in life, it is one of the last things to which we attain. God have mercy upon us. But there are people, thank God, who can ‘speak the truth in love’, and when they have spoken it to you, you not only know they are speaking the truth, you thank them for it. There are other people who tell you the same truth, but in such a manner as to lead you to defend yourself at once, and to hate them for doing so. It is because they have not ‘spoken the truth in love’. Let every man, therefore---again I quote James---‘let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath’ (James 1:19).
‘Judge not’ for these three reasons. God have mercy upon us. How good it is that we can face such a truth in the light of Calvary and the shed blood of Christ. But if you want to avoid chastisement in this life, and the suffering of loss---that is the scriptural statement---in the next life, judge not, except you judge yourself first. (487-498)
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