Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
(Matthew 7: 1-2 – NAS)
For me, ever since that summer day long ago when I sat myself down to really read through the Sermon on the Mount on my own, these two verses have been at the heart of putting the Sermon into all my actions and choices. It seemed then, in the earnestness and zeal of my youth, that the Sermon on the Mount was pretty much the “Code of Behavior” for the followers of Jesus. In these chapters, the Lord lays out pretty clearly the basics of what our conduct should look like, and why that conduct is important.
But more than that, the two verses taken together solved a problem for me.
So many people quote only Matthew 7: 1, when it comes to the matter of making judgments. And usually, they call up this verse when they are chastising someone else for being too judgmental and (in their eyes) intolerant. Not only that, there is the implied belief that any judgment from Authority (from God Himself, perhaps) would be negative. The imagery of Judgment Day appears in our minds, with the alarming image of the rejected souls being driven from God’s presence and cast into the outer darkness. Nobody wants to end up in that group, if they can help it. There also seems to be the feeling, in those who quote only the first verse, that if one makes no judgments at all any judgment would fall upon them.
It’s as if we say, “If I don’t move, nobody will see me.”
We’re not invisible. We’re not motionless. And we cannot go through the day without making judgments and evaluations of everything around us.
We judge the quality of the service we get from the wait-staff in a restaurant. We judge our fellow drivers on the streets and freeways as to how safely and considerately they are driving. We judge the skill and speed of the cashier when we’re standing in a long line at the grocery store. We judge the way others dress. We judge how well the customer service representative on the phone line understands our concerns and problems. We judge everything around us. We cannot stop judging people.
So, it’s silly when people just quote the first verse as if it is some argument stopper. What is the point in telling someone else, “Judge not lest you be judged?” The only reason anyone trots that out to say to another person is because the first person has judged the second person’s “judgmentalism” to be intolerant or inappropriate.
Instead, let us focus on the second verse, which gives us the “why” of the warning in verse 1.
“For in the way you judge, you will be judged, and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”
Well, hello, Mirror!
Jesus makes it plain that self-righteousness is inappropriate for His followers. He lays it out, right there. If His disciples are going to go around making judgments about the behaviors of others, they had better be prepared to have their own actions evaluated by the same standard.
“Oh, well, that’s okay, then,” we blithely said. “I can live with that.”
Oh, really? Are we really that certain about it?
It is certainly the conclusion that my young self came to, way back then. I realized that the Sermon on the Mount set some pretty high standards for the quality of behavior. And I knew that I was not likely to always measure up to them. And yet, there was a satisfaction in knowing I could point to the Sermon and say to anyone who was criticizing my behavior, “That is the standard you may judge me by. I know I frequently fall short of it, but that is what you can use to evaluate my actions.”
I admit, when I question the choices I see my fellow believers making, I do so on the basis of how well or badly they are matching the expectations that Jesus lays out in His Sermon. How merciful are they? Are they making peace? Are they making their relationship with the Lord private (“secret”) or are they standing on street corners making a circus out of it? Is a thirst for righteousness driving their actions or are they pursuing self-justification?
I do think we are expected to hold each other accountable. But we are accountable to Jesus, for He is our final Judge. And here in the Sermon He gives us the standard of behavior that He will be looking for in our lives.
And for me, that is the other factor in how I evaluate the actions of my fellow believers. Even though I feel that I can judge their actions against how well they are meeting the standards put forward in the Sermon on the Mount (since I privately call it The Operating Manual for a Christian), I only carefully raise the question about what they are doing. “I do not think this action is how we are called to handle this situation.”
Nobody responds well to being told “You are wrong. You are going about this in the wrong way.” We resist that, because it feels like an attack. We can’t help that, it’s human nature. So I try and stick with the approach of saying “This is what Jesus expects of us. How closely do you think this action or choice or behavior follows what Jesus has said?”
As I said, these two verses taken together solved a problem for me, way back then. The problem was that I knewI had a very judgmental nature. I couldn’t help it. At times, I had been a very stern-thinking child, even if I had not shown it. And yet on every side from “church people,” I kept hearing “Do not judge, or you will be judged.” It was often shortened quite simply to “Don’t judge others.” And I didn’t know how to do that. I couldn’t stop making judgments of others. I definitely felt that this penchant for making judgments was the way God had made me. And if God made me to be judgmental, why would He then turn around a lay down this decree that His followers were not to make judgments? It didn’t make any sense to me.
Then came that wonderful sunny day, when I discovered that people were only paying attention to half of the point. There was a because that went with the “order.” Don’t make judgments randomly, haphazardly, on whims, or without some sort of guideline, because whatever method or measure you use in that judgment, that is how your own actions will be evaluated.
Now that I could live with!
It makes me far more cautious about leveling judgments. I want to be certain that I understand what the other person is going through, what they are basing their actions upon, because those things can affect their choices. And that caution causes me to bring the Beatitudes into my evaluations – being merciful, being kind, making peace, seeking God’s righteousness in the situation, all these things temper how I look at the actions of others. What standard are they using for their lives, and how well do they think they are measuring up to it? I don’t expect everyone to be living by the standard I use for myself (although I am content to presume that a fellow Christian ought to be sticking to the standards of the Sermon on the Mount). But I find it useful to learn what standards they use to evaluate things, since that is the “language” they use to give value to things and actions.
This, the Sermon on the Mount, then, is the measure dealt to me. And I find it good, though I do not always “measure up.”