Forgiveness and Freedom – 3. Judge Not!
Matthew 7: 1 - 5 Martin Luther King, Sr. died in 1984. In his 84 years he endured more than his share of suffering and hatred. His son, Martin Luther King, Jr. was cut down by an assassin’s bullet in 1968. One year later, his second son drowned in a swimming pool. The crowning blow came in 1974 during a church service. As his wife played The Lord’s Prayer, a young man in the congregation began shooting. Mrs. King collapsed in a hail of gunfire, while Dr. King watched in horror from the pulpit. Near the end of his life, reflecting on the loss of his wife and his oldest son - “There are 2 men I am supposed to hate. One is a white man, the other is black, and both are serving time for having committed murder. I don’t hate either one. There is no time for that, and no reason either. Nothing that a man does takes him lower than when he allows himself to fall so low as to hate anyone.” It seems natural and even proper to hate killers, doesn’t it? The answer comes back, “There is no time for that.” To hate is to live in the past, to dwell on deeds already done. Hatred is the least satisfying emotion for it gives the person you hate a double victory - once in the past, once in the present. No time to hate? Not if you have learned how to forgive. Forgiving does not mean whitewashing the past, but it does mean refusing to live there. Forgiveness breaks the awful chain of bitterness and the desire for revenge. As costly as it is to forgive, there is only one consolation - unforgiveness costs far more. How many of us have been in trouble because we gave in to our anger. We have said things in a moment of tension that we later lived to regret. Marriages have been broken, families broken, friendships ended, careers destroyed, and churches split because we lost our temper and said and did things we later regretted. 1. The Sin of Judging Wrongly Behind our anger lies a problem we never talk about or face up to. We have wrongly judged another person and have sinned in the process. In our rush to judgment - to make sure someone else takes the blame - to find the guilty party, we have violated the words of Jesus - “Judge not, that you be not judged.” The words are simple and clear. Because they are familiar we tend to forget about them or we find a way to explain them away. The Message - “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.” That’s not really a translation but it is entirely faithful to the meaning of the text. What exactly did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not"? Easier to say what he did not mean - not saying we should never pass any sort of judgment. Every day we make hundreds of judgments about things around us. It is not wrong to decide which students to accept and which to reject. Nor it is wrong for an employer to decide who gets a promotion and who doesn’t. Nor is it wrong for schools to judge certain students worthy of high honour at prize-giving. Nor is it wrong to expel students. We all have to make decisions every day that involve other people. We pass judgment on appearance, behaviour, speech, attitude, work ethic, productivity, keeping or breaking a promise, guilt or innocence, which person we believe and which person we do not believe. Whatever the words of Jesus mean, they can’t mean that we never pass judgment in any sense at any time. 2. Condemnation Condemned The word “judge” often means to condemn - to come to a negative conclusion about another person and then to condemn them. That is what Jesus is forbidding. Let me be a little more specific - A. We are not to pass final judgment on any person. Final judgment belongs to the Lord. We are not in the condemning business. If anyone needs to be condemned, God himself can take care of that. We should have no part in it. B. We are not to judge the motives of others. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16: 7). We are quick to come to negative conclusions about others based on why we think they did something. But we see only the outside. God alone sees the heart. We can judge what people do; we cannot judge why they do it. We can judge what people say; we cannot judge why they say it. Only God can judge the hidden secrets of the heart. Leave that judgment to him. You don’t even know your own heart, much less the heart of anyone else. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17: 9). Sometimes when little children have been caught disobeying and you ask them why they did it, they will reply tearfully, “I don’t know.” That’s not a cop-out; it’s a profound theological truth. We are so wicked by nature that we don’t know why we do what we do. All of us can remember times when we did or said something foolish, and looking back we can honestly say, “I don’t know why I did something stupid like that.” But if we can’t understand our own heart, how can we ever presume to understand anyone else’s? C. We are not to be faultfinders. Those who find much to criticize or complain about of a petty nature. Proverbs 11: 12 “It is foolish to belittle a neighbour; a person with good sense remains silent.” The Message: “Mean-spirited slander is heartless; quiet discretion accompanies good sense.” Faultfinding destroys our joy, drains our happiness, and prevents us from having close friendships. No one likes being around a nit-picker. This sin comes partly from spiritual pride and partly from disguised envy. We criticise others in order to bring them down to our level. Or worse, we tear them down to prove they are really beneath us. Faultfinding is a deadly disease because if not kept in check, it turns us into cynics who expect the worst from others. The faultfinder expects failure and secretly gloats when he finds it. There is such a thing as a spiritual vulture. Like the vultures of the air that live off dead, rotting flesh, these sad individuals thrive on the mistakes and sins of others. They fly across the landscape, keeping a close eye out for the failures of others. Then they swoop in for their daily feast. 3. A Few Examples Jesus said, “Judge not!” There are so many ways in which we break this command. Here are a few examples: Blowing small things all out of proportion. Maximizing the sins of others. Coming to quick, hasty, negative conclusions. Making mountains out of molehills. Getting involved in situations where you should not be involved. Passing along critical stories to others. Having a strong bias to find others guilty. Being too harsh even when speaking the truth. Adding aggravating remarks when telling a story. Dismissing an unkind remark by saying, “I was only joking.” Saying something critical and then trying to cover it up. Being unkind and then quickly changing the subject. Telling too many people about what others have done to us. Taking pleasure in condemning others. Telling the truth in order to hurt, not to help. Putting others down in order to make yourself look better. Minimizing your sins while magnifying the sins of others. It is possible to have a judgmental spirit while telling the truth. Some people use the truth to beat others over the head. Saying, “Well, it was the truth, you know,” does not get you off the hook. Our judgment is wrong when it is - needless, unfounded, hasty, severe. I see far too much of this in my own life. If I am honest, I know that I’m far too quick to pass judgment on others. That brings me back to the speck and the log. It’s easy to see the speck in your brother’s eye, much harder to see the log in your own. In dealing with the faults of others, our greatest need is clear vision – v. 5 “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” First, we must see clearly. We cannot see clearly until we have removed the impediment from our own eyes. 4. First Things First Christian love is not blind. God never says, “Ignore the faults of others.” He says “Take care of your own faults first.” Look in the mirror! Ask God to show you your own sins. Psalm 139: 23, 24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” If we would pray that way and mean it, we would do a lot more confessing and a lot less judging. The order is crucial. We are to judge ourselves first by asking God to show us our sins. We pray for the Holy Spirit to show us our weaknesses, our faults, our mistakes, our bad attitudes, our foolish words, our pride, our arrogance, our need to be in control, our desire to have our own way, our anger, our bitterness, our lack of mercy, our lack of love, our lack of compassion. The Lord will always show it to you. “Lord, I’m the One” “I thought once of the man next door, and all the sins he had, And I remember feeling good, that I was not that bad, And then the Holy Spirit came, and showed me all my sins, And told me that if I got right, revival would begin.” “You Hypocrite!” This is God’s message for us today. Jesus called the judgmental person a hypocrite. What a terrible word that is. That’s what we are when we judge and condemn others without first judging ourselves. The order is crucial. First, we judge ourselves - we are hard on ourselves - we ask the Lord to show us our sins. Until we do that, the “speck” in our brother’s eye will look like a log to us. We won’t even see the log in our own eye. Once we have allowed the Holy Spirit to do his painful surgery within, once we have confessed and repented our own sin, then and only then are we ready to do surgery on someone else. This is how you will know you have reached that point: Your own sins will bother you a lot more than the sins of others. The failures of others won’t seem so huge to you. The person who has judged himself will display these character qualities: Humility - Godly sorrow – Gentleness – Patience – Discretion. Paul perfectly described this sort of attitude: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13: 4 - 7). 5. Delicate Eye Surgery To simply gaze on the sins of others turns us into judgmental Pharisees who are quick to condemn. But once we are cleansed and humbled by the Lord, then we are ready to remove the tiny speck from a brother’s eye. He will be glad for us to do it because he knows we are not there to condemn but to help. The eye is very sensitive. It takes a compassionate hand and a delicate touch to do surgery in the eye. When you have eye trouble, you need a doctor who knows what he is doing because even the slightest mistake can have catastrophic consequences. Sometimes in our haste to help others, we can cause more damage than the original speck of dirt caused. There is a difference between someone who loves you and wants to help you and someone who puts you under a microscope only to find fault with all you do. I have found that those most critical of others tend to have the most sins. Those closest to God are the quickest to forgive, quickest to restore, and the quickest to help someone who is struggling with sin. We have no time to hate, no time to condemn, no time to live in bitterness. How will we get from here to there? We need the help of God to do a supernatural work in our hearts. I’d like to suggest a simple prayer for the Holy Spirit to take over your life. Saying words alone won’t change your heart, but if these words reflect your deepest desire, then today could be a new beginning for you. “Heavenly Father, our problem is not with your Word. We know what it says. And our problem is not with other people, not even the ones who have hurt us deeply. Our problem is on the inside. For too long we have tried to solve our own problems and it has not worked. We confess that too many times we have been critical of those around us. Forgive us our thoughtless, unkind, hurtful words. O Lord, show us a better way! Without you, we will never change. Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us how to live. Thank you for showing us how to die. Thank you for showing us how to forgive the people who have hurt us the most. Holy Spirit, fill us with your power so that we might become truly different people. Set us free from bitterness, from anger, and from a judgmental spirit. Grant us power to love each other. Make us like Jesus, full of grace and truth. Do it now, in this moment, as we pray this prayer. Amen.” “May God grant you new life through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. May you experience the freedom of forgiveness and the joy that comes from letting him take control. Amen.”