“Don’t Judge”—What Jesus Really Meant

Fewer and fewer people today know the Bible. But if there’s one verse that’s still commonly quoted, it’s, “Judge not, and you will not be judged”.

These are the words of Jesus. And what people normally mean when they repeat them is, “It’s not your place to judge my moral choices. It’s 2019—everyone should be free to choose the lifestyle that makes them happy, so long as no one gets hurt.”

“Let me sin in peace,” is another way to put it.

But there’s a problem with this. Those who hold to this worldview are often very quick to judge Christians—even quite harshly. It has to be one of the great ironies of our time.

So apparently there is a place for judgment. As it happens, this is what Jesus himself said all along, if we read his quote in context. It’s from Matthew 7:1-6, and it famously begins like this:

1 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.

2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

After telling us how not to judge, Jesus goes on to highlight three ways that we should judge. 

See the Master Teacher is aware of something we often forget. As humans, we’re making judgment calls all the time. There’s no way to avoid it.

So the question isn’t, Should we judge? But rather, Who and how should we judge?

Judge Yourself Honestly | v3-5a

First, in verses 3-5a, Jesus says:

3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?

4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?

5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye…

If this passage is familiar to us then it’s probably lost some of its original humour. Being a carpenter, Jesus knew wood, and he chose a Greek word that means a big timber beam—the main one holding the house roof up.

The picture is of two people—one with an almighty beam projecting out of her eye offering to help her friend get a bit of sawdust out of his. Slapstick at its finest.

“If this passage is familiar to us then it’s probably lost some of its original humour.”

If we’re going to help someone else sort out their problems, Jesus insists, we first need to deal with the problems in our own life. We need to judge ourselves honestly.

When we’re quick to judge others, we develop a self-righteous and insensitive heart. The only way to counteract this is to readily find the faults in our own lives before we go trying to spot them in others.

Judge Others Humbly | v5b

So is Jesus saying that our lives need to be perfect before we’re able to offer others critique or counsel? No, he’s not.

In fact, his whole point in telling us to judge ourselves honestly is so that we’ll be able to help others. That’s what he says in verse 5b:

5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

Jesus wants us to see well enough to deal with the speck in our friend’s eye. There is a place for judging others, providing that it’s done with clear vision and humility.

If we’re going to be of any use to others, we need to be striving to live a life of integrity ourselves. In other words, we need to judge others humbly.

The world would have us believe that there are only two ways to respond to sin: wholehearted endorsement, or prickly hatred. But Jesus shows us a third way: the narrow way, the way of humility.

Judge Critics Wisely | v6

This passage ends with an interesting and provocative twist. In verse 6, Jesus says:

6 “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.

It may sound like Jesus has changed topics here, but he hasn’t. He’s still talking about judgment. He’s telling us to judge our critics wisely.

If we follow him on the path less travelled—the path of humility—Jesus warns us that there’s a risk involved. People may see us as a soft target, and try to take advantage of us.

A perfect example is the kind of people I mentioned at the start, who are apt to misquote this passage. “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” can be used in an attempt to silence Christians. Even to accuse us of hatred—and a phobia or three.

“Jesus opposed the proud, but gave grace to the humble.”

Maybe someone who makes these accusations is simply hurting, and they need our love and compassion. There are times when the right thing to do is apologise on behalf of other Christians who’ve caused the hurt.

On the other hand, this may be smoke and mirrors to hide a calculated motive. When this is the case, any concession or apology we make will end up as trampled pearls. And the attack will only grow worse.

This is why we’re going to need all the help that Jesus has to offer. He opposed the proud, but gave grace to the humble—and He never missed a beat. We need His wisdom to do the same.

Good and Bad Judgment

It’s easy to misquote Jesus. Even Christians can cave in to the pressures of the world and make “judge not” an excuse for sin. But this leads only in one direction: judging Christians who won’t play the game.

Judgment is part of human nature. Some judgment is good. But the only way we can avoid bad judgment—also known as condemnation—is to know that condemnation no longer hangs over our heads.

“It’s easy to misquote Jesus.”

Jesus didn’t just teach the world about judgment. He actually took the world’s judgment on his own shoulders. He suffered and died on a cross to save each of us from God’s eternal judgment.

When we know this, we’re free. We no longer need to try scramble up the heap by finding fault in the lives of others. We can rest in God’s verdict that “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

And then we can judge as we should, with the honesty, wisdom and humility that he supplies.

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But God is the Strength of My Heart

The question we all ask when faced with suffering is “Why?” 

Sometimes we ask it personally: “Why is this happening to me?” Other times, existentially: “Why does a good God allow evil and suffering?” Either way, it’s an instinctive and very human response. 

When we feel like this, we’re in good company among the world’s nearly eight billion people. Because if one thing is true about this life, it’s that everyone suffers. It’s a universal experience; something we can expect to face at various turns in our life.

“None of us choose to suffer, but each of us gets to choose how we suffer.”

Given that this is true, maybe there’s a better question we can ask. Rather than, “Why do I suffer?” instead we could inquire, “When I suffer, how can I face it well?”

See none of us choose to suffer, but each of us gets to choose how we suffer. If we’re willing to shift our question in this way, Psalm 73 gives a brilliant answer.

A worship leader called Asaph penned this Psalm. It is a beautiful piece of poetry from Israel’s worship playlist. In it, we’re swept up into Asaph’s emotional journey of suffering so that we can better make sense of our own. The Psalm has three parts.

1. Problem

First, in verses 1-14, Asaph tells us about the problem that he faced. 

2 But as for me, I almost lost my footing.

    My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.

3 For I envied the proud

    when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.

Asaph is resentful of those around him making ungodly life choices but facing no consequences for it. He describes their cruelty, greed and pride in depth and then remarks, “Look at these wicked people enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.”

Maybe you feel the same sense of injustice in your own life; maybe you don’t relate at all. But one thing we can all take away from Asaph’s complaint is that God is big enough to handle our problems.

“God doesn’t require eloquent prayers—he just wants our hearts.”

We don’t need to paper over them. Like Asaph, we can express our frustrations to God. If we need to whinge, far better to whinge to the One who has supernatural patience, and who can actually do something about it.

God wants us to draw near and tell him about our struggles. He doesn’t require eloquent prayers—he just wants our hearts. This might be why the word ‘heart’ is mentioned six times in this Psalm.

At the height of his complaint, Asaph moans,

13 Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?

    Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?

14 I get nothing but trouble all day long;

    every morning brings me pain.

In other words, “God, I’m trying to do the right thing, so why am I still suffering so much?” Does that question sound familiar? Yes, Asaph is asking the wrong question. He’s in need of some perspective—and that’s exactly what he’s about to get.

2. Perspective

So in verses 15-22, we hear about the perspective that he gained.

A sudden shift takes place as Asaph realises,

15 If I had really spoken this way to others,

    I would have been a traitor to your people.

Up until this point, Asaph hadn’t been seeing straight. He’d been in a deep well of self-pity, and now he’s starting to ascend out of it. His eyes have been opened to something we’re so often blinded to: our feelings are not facts. In such moments of self-pity, we need the facts to reshape our feelings. This is exactly what happens to Asaph: 

16 So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper.

    But what a difficult task it is!

17 Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,

    and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.

We moderns don’t like this idea—the destiny of the wicked. Surely at the end of time, we reason, God will be kind to all. But is that really what we want?

How terrible it would be to catalogue all of the evil, committed through all of the centuries, by all of the tyrants and terrorists, tricksters and transgressors. It would leave no doubt that the world truly cries out for justice.

“Deep down we long for the God of Asaph.”

A God that lets every wrongdoer off the hook is not a God worthy of our affection: he is a moral monster. Deep down, we long to see vindication for those who have suffered.

Despite our modern objections, deep down we long for the God of Asaph—the God who will right every wrong, who steps in to defend the oppressed.

God will bring about ultimate justice. This is the perspective that Asaph gained. Finally, he could see how wrong he’d previously been:

21 Then I realised that my heart was bitter,

    and I was all torn up inside.

22 I was so foolish and ignorant—

    I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.

3. Presence

Fortunately, this is not where Asaph’s journey ends. As he concludes his Psalm, in verses 23-28, Asaph testifies to the presence of God that he experienced.

What a relief that our problems don’t get the last say. And what a relief that even the right perspective isn’t God’s end-game when we suffer. The point of it all—the way to face suffering well—is to let it drive us into the very presence of God:

23 Yet I still belong to you;

    you hold my right hand.

24 You guide me with your counsel,

    leading me to a glorious destiny.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?

    I desire you more than anything on earth.

26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,

    but God is the strength of my heart;

    he is mine forever.

Your suffering might not be understood by a single soul on earth. But nothing escapes God. He knows your struggle. He wants to meet you in it. He offers you the comfort of his presence.

In this Psalm, Asaph lands on a truth that you and I are still catching up with: there’s a gap between the real and the ideal, between how life is and how it should be.

“Nothing escapes God. He knows your struggle.”

But standing in that gap is a God who listens intently to our problems, resets our perspective, and welcomes us into his presence.

If he were just any god, that might be cold comfort. But this is the God who himself faced incomprehensible suffering.

He didn’t remain aloof—instead, he took on flesh, walked among us, and dealt with all the world’s injustice at Calvary. Because of this, every wrong will ultimately be made right.

This side of the cross, we have even more reason than Asaph to confidently declare:

28 But as for me, how good it is to be near God!

    I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,

    and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.

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Last Year I Was Single—Now I’m Engaged

A few years ago I wrote about singleness. That article, Last Year I Was Unmarried—Now I’m Single, has remained one of my most-read.

I didn’t plan on it, but for a while I became a kind of poster-boy for singleness. I’ve never enjoyed the spotlight, but I was grateful for the opportunities I had to encourage people who were on a similar journey.

Well last year I was single and now I’m engaged, so I guess it’s time for an update. Not just about my life-stage, but also my thoughts on singleness and relationships from the other side.

“For a while I became a kind of poster-boy for singleness.”

Angie and I met last November through mutual friends. I promised myself I’d never go on a blind date. Now I’m so glad I broke that promise.

Angie is an absolute joy to be with. She’s full of energy, hilarious, resilient, enterprising, prayerful, and intuitively selfless. I’m beyond blessed to be on the receiving end of these qualities of hers every day.

Like many who’ve walked the relationships road, this isn’t the first time I’ve been in love. But it is the first time I’ve known wholehearted love in return. I know I’m adored by Angie—and that’s a new and amazing experience.

“I’m beyond blessed.”

Angie has been an avenue of God’s healing in my life. Through her, I have a newfound clarity about my past, and in the present a big relief that a long wait is over.

But I also want to be clear about a few things. Angie doesn’t complete me. I haven’t ‘graduated’ from singleness. My life isn’t suddenly perfect. And I don’t expect marriage to change that either.

Three things remain true in my life, even as I’ve enjoyed the ride this last year.

Singleness is better than misery

Speaking about relationships and marriage, a wise mentor once told me, “It’s better to wish you were than to wish you weren’t.” He’s one hundred percent right.

When I dated in the past, I lost count of how many sleepless nights I endured, and how many problems my prayers just wouldn’t erase. As well-intentioned as a relationship might be, the reality is that some people just aren’t compatible.

One simple test for compatibility is 2 Corinthians 6:14. God says that people who follow Jesus aren’t compatible with those who don’t. Many Christians compromise on this, believing that singleness is misery. But they pay the price later, whether through irresolvable difference or their own fading faith.

The harder lesson I had to learn is that not even all Christians are compatible—and not all Christians are easy to be with.

“Find an Angie. Like me, wait 15 years if you have to.”

So if you’re still waiting patiently for the right person, don’t rush in where you see problems, hoping that love will fix them. Trust me, it won’t.

If you’re intent on a relationship, save your love for someone who will truly reciprocate it. Find an Angie. Like me, wait 15 years if you have to. Until then, stay single, serve God, and enjoy your life.

In my original post, I said that singleness is awesome. I believe that as much as I ever did. One thing’s for sure—it’s far better than the misery of a relationship that just won’t work.

Like it or not, God is in control

If you haven’t seen the video below called Stuff Christian Singles Hear then you need to—for a laugh, if nothing else.

Christian singles hear a lot of stuff, mostly from married people, and I’m sure it’s comes from a sincere heart. But I’m not convinced that one person’s experience can be packaged into a rule for others to follow.

Well-meaning people told me almost everything in this video in one form or another, but none of it changed my situation. I believed that I would one day marry, yet I remained stubbornly single.

I could try to explain that in a hundred ways. Maybe there were lessons God was still teaching me. Maybe he was still preparing Angie. Either way, exactly what God was thinking wasn’t available to me—then or now.

“I believed that I would one day marry, yet I remained stubbornly single.”

All I know is that I had very little control over my situation. And fortunately, the same was true when I met Angie last year.

So here’s the story. I’d been serving as the youth and young adults pastor at my church—a role that I loved. But I also had a growing disquiet that stayed with me for over a year, a sense that God was soon calling me on to something else.

I faced some big challenges last year. After speaking with my mentors, I knew the time was right for me to discover God’s ‘something else’, having no idea what it was.

I handed in my resignation, and within a few weeks, I met Angie. I was also offered a new job, one that was online. This would enable me to travel to America to meet Angie’s family and friends, and also to take her to meet my second family in Indonesia, all of which we’ve done this year.

“God’s wisdom and kindness are far greater than ours.”

I’ve long sensed a call to Indonesia but I still had my doubts. I had an inkling that God would confirm that call to Indonesia by sending someone into my life who felt the same call. It turns out that Angie has been a fulfilment of this too.

There’s no way I could have predicted or planned any of these events. I don’t tell my story with the assumption that anyone else’s will look the same. I share it as a reminder that, like it or not, God is in control.

And that’s a good thing, because God’s wisdom and kindness are far greater than ours. Consider the words of Tim Keller: “God will either give us what we ask for in prayer, or he’ll give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything he knows.”

Contentment can be found in every life stage

What all of this means is that we need to learn to be content in every life stage.

We live in a culture that thrives on the exact opposite of this—namely, discontentment. Social media reinforces it. Advertising depends on it. Politics has perfected it. Our whole economy is built on it.

And we don’t help each other when we continually ask about the next big life event. First it’s, “When are you getting engaged?” and then, “When’s the wedding?” But it doesn’t stop there. “When are you having kids?” “When’s the next one on the way?” The questions continue on into retirement.

“We need to learn to be content in every life stage.”

Maybe we all just need to slow down and enjoy the present. If we can’t learn contentment in one life stage, it’s unlikely we’ll experience it in the next.

Finding the person I want to marry has been incredible. This last year has been the best year of my life. But it hasn’t solved all my problems—it’s solved some and introduced others.

And now that we’re engaged, Angie and I have a thousand plans for the future. Even now, in such a fun season, it can be easy to get frustrated at how slowly they’re all coming about.

“Contentment isn’t found in the next life stage.”

But the key to contentment in every season is God himself. Proverbs 19:23 says that, “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.”

Contentment isn’t found in another person, or the next life stage. It’s found in God. This is as true for a newly engaged couple as it is for anyone.

So I’m going to enjoy this time with the beautiful Angie as we prepare for our wedding. But we’re going to enjoy it with God at the centre, knowing that he’s the source of our contentment.

We can be sure of this because God is love—and even the best earthly love is only a shadow of the perfect love God has for us.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.