It may be the most famous and misunderstood statement Jesus ever made. Judge not, lest you be judged. If we want other people to give us the benefit of the doubt, if we want other people to make charitable judgments about our behavior, then manifestly we have to stand ready to give judgments of charity to them.
This statement about not judging is often taken out of context. It's quoted quite often by skeptics when Christians try to uphold any standard of morality. So what did Jesus really mean? On this Lord's Day edition of Renewing Your Mind, Dr. R.C. Sproul preaches from the Gospel of Luke. In a certain sense, you have the relief this morning of not having to listen to a sermon from me. Instead, we have the opportunity today to eavesdrop, as it were, on a sermon preached by Jesus Himself. So it matters not this day whether you hear me or listen to me, but it matters eternally that you hear Jesus and listen to Him. And it begins today with these words, Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Other versions record it this way, Judge not, lest you be judged.
Now remember, you're not listening to me in your imagination. I want you to be there on the plain or on the mount where this sermon was first preached, and you're hearing Jesus utter these words, and you listen to your Lord say to you, Judge not, lest you be judged. I've often said that that verse is probably the only verse that every pagan in America knows is in the Bible.
They may miss the recitation of John 3.16, where it's being manifested in bold letters at sporting events, and forget that. But they know this one, Judge not, lest you be judged, because any time the church makes a comment about any practice that the church deems to be a sinful practice, the pagan is quick to quote the Scriptures by saying, Oh, don't you judge. You're not supposed to judge us. Well, this statement is so well known, it has been treated with lots of confusion and misunderstandings. So we ask, what was Jesus saying when He uttered these words, Judge not, that you may not be judged.
Well, first of all, let's look at what He was not saying. Our Lord was not saying to us and to His disciples, He was not saying that we are to do away with any discernment of the difference between good and evil. It requires a discerning mind on many occasions to discern what is the right thing to do, what is the ethical thing to do.
And determining what the ethical thing to do on many occasions requires a keen judgment, a keen intellectual ability to analyze the issues and come to the correct conclusion as to what is right and to what is wrong. And throughout sacred Scripture from the first pages of Genesis to the very end of the book of Revelation, God's Word calls us to be mature and knowledgeable in our discernment that we might recognize evil when it appears and that we might flee from it and that we might know what is the good and righteous thing to do. So the judgment of discernment, the ethical evaluation is not what is being prohibited here by our Lord Jesus. Rather, He's speaking of a different kind of judgment, the judgment of condemnation. And even at that point, what He's giving here is not what we would call apodictic law, but more casuistic law. That is, He gives us examples such as the Proverbs offer to us of moral axioms that in general are good things to observe, but they are not moral absolutes.
Why? Because there are times when we are to sit in judgment on our brothers. For example, in the case of church discipline, when a person is brought to trial before the authorities within the church, just as when a person is brought to trial in a criminal case in the civil world, that those who sit on the jury or are appointed to be judges are to determine guilt and to be prepared to pass sentence, indeed the sentence of judgment upon those who are guilty. So Jesus is not doing away with civil courts or church courts or anything like that when He says, Judge not, lest he be judged.
Well, then what is He doing? I think it's clear that what our Lord is addressing here is a personality trait that we find sometimes in people, sometimes sadly in ourselves, where we become judgmental in our spirit, censorious of others, being hypercritical of people around us. I think you understand what that is like. And it has to do with how we pass judgment upon other people. We make a distinction, do we not, between different kinds of judgment, where there can be harsh and severe judgments of other people's behavior, or we can render what is often called the judgment of charity.
Let's take a moment to explore that. What is the judgment of charity, or a judgment of love? The judgment of charity is what we call the best case analysis. It is what we call giving our neighbor the benefit of the doubt. We're not always sure whether a person is as guilty of a particular sin as it may appear to be. Even in our law courts, we are very careful to weigh evidence and to make sure that before anybody is convicted of a crime and is subjected to penalties such as imprisonment or even execution, that the bar is high enough that says we would rather let ten guilty people free than convict one innocent person. That's why we have the principle in the law courts, in the civil courts, in the civil cases, it's the preponderance of evidence. But in the criminal courts, we must convict beyond a reasonable doubt. Now, reasonable doubt is not the same thing as being beyond a shadow of a doubt. If the criterion were such that we had to make a judgment of guilt or innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt, nobody would ever be convicted of a crime. But again, as I say, even in the civil courts, the burden is often on those who are making the charge.
That's where the burden of proof is, and that's for a reason. Blessed in our hostility and in our sinful hearts and our desire for vengeance, we are guilty of judging beyond a sober and serious measure. And so our Lord tells us here to be very, very careful that we are ready at any moment to give our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, if there is doubt, to give the charitable judgment where it is possible.
But here's the problem. Every one of us in this room has had the experience of giving somebody the benefit of the doubt. Everybody in this room has had the experience of giving a judgment of charity to somebody. Sadly, the person to whom we most frequently give the charitable judgment is ourselves.
We usually reserve best-case analysis to evaluate our own activity. We can spin our indiscretions and our sins in such a way as to make them appear virtuous, which is exactly one of the problems we face as fallen human beings. Beloved, we fail really to understand the sinfulness of sin. If God the Holy Spirit were to convict you right now of the full measure of your sin, you wouldn't be able to stand it.
If the Spirit revealed to me right now the full measure of my sin, I would probably run from this pulpit screaming in anguish. But the conviction of sin laid upon us by the Spirit of truth is so often powerful yet gentle and sweet that even when He convicts us of our guilt, He leads us not to despair but to the Savior and to His forgiveness that gives us freedom. But what Jesus is saying here, as I said, is not isolated from what He said just a few sentences earlier where He set forth a golden rule and told us to love our enemies. When He asks us to be quick with the judgment of charity and to flee from a censorious spirit, He's simply filling out the details of the golden rule of doing to others what we would have others do for us. If we want other people to give us the benefit of the doubt, if we want other people to make charitable judgments about our behavior, then manifestly we have to stand ready to give judgments of charity to them. And so when we ask for somebody's forgiveness, we are asking them to give us the judgment of charity, not to condemn us, not to write us off permanently as people with no redeeming qualities at all.
This is what Jesus is talking about here, that same merciful judgment that you would like to receive from your neighbor, you need to be quick to give to your neighbor. Now at the same time, the judgment of charity cannot be the judgment of naivete. I know some people who have such an exalted view of the basic goodness of human beings that they can't believe for a moment that anybody ever intends to do evil. Well, we can't read this book that I've been reading from without being clearly made aware that the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things, and that we do do evil, and we do gross and heinous evil, and that the machinations of our sins can be so wicked and destructive that they bring harm to multitudes of people.
And so we don't look at the world through rose-colored glasses and assume the good intent of everybody's behavior. You know, I talk about this abortion thing all the time. I can't imagine, I just can't imagine any woman who is pregnant or whose mother takes her to an abortion agency or whose boyfriend or husband takes her to an abortion mill, I can't imagine that any of them are unaware of what they're doing. And yet on the other hand, I think, how can they be that cruel? How can they be that heartless? How is it possible for them to be so selfish that they would destroy another life for their own convenience?
Can you figure that out? Now, maybe it's because they have been living in a culture that tells them it's okay, it's okay, this was the proper way to do it, and their consciences have been so seared that they've come to the conclusion that they can do this without any pangs of conscience. Well, I know enough about the fallenness of the human heart to see that that's possible, but it's still extremely hard to imagine how anybody can be that hard-hearted that they don't know full well what they're doing. And I can be way too charitable at that point and think that I get to the place where I am giving the judgment of naiveté, that particular sin is not just a small sin.
It's not a peccadillo. It's not a minor transgression. It's a monstrous crime, a crime worthy of eternal damnation. And yet people are committing it day after day after day after day all around us, and they do it in the name of not pro-death but pro-choice. I was thinking, what would happen if we had a union of car thieves, International Federation of Automobile Thieves, and they brought to the political convention a platform where they were asking for freedom of choice to steal your car? Or if Murder Incorporated would get together and say, we want free choice. We're pro-choice, and our choice is to murder people all in the name of liberty.
Well, you would laugh them to scorn. And yet the whole country has been hoodwinked by an ethic of death propagated on the basis of liberty. The new cry is, give me liberty so I can dish out death. Now, when I say that, am I being judgmental?
Yes. I'm saying to you that we have to discern the evil of evil. Well, Jesus goes on and says, condemn not and you shall not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. What if you offend somebody and they apologize and ask you for your forgiveness, and you say, oh no, not now, not ever. When we refuse to forgive those who repent of their sins, dear friends, we expose ourselves to God's eternal justice rather than His mercy.
I would hate to stand before God and asking Him to forgive me for my lifetime of sin and have Him look at me and say, don't you remember that day when somebody sinned against you and they repented and apologized and asked for your forgiveness and you refused to give it? And now you want me to forgive you? Now, Jesus is talking about reciprocity here.
He's talking again. If I want to be forgiven, I have to be forgiving. And the more forgiving I am, the more forgiveness I will receive. And as He preaches this sermon, He goes on to say, give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your bosom for with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. I love that verse.
Isn't that wonderful? It's a word, it's a description that Jesus gives that comes from the ancient marketplace. And if you recall in the Old Testament when God gives His laws for the operation of a nation like Israel, He gives prohibitions against false weights and measures.
God holds people, nations, businesses accountable for just weights and measure in the ancient world. You go to the marketplace and you buy a bushel of grain or a bushel of corn. There were ways to stack those ears of corn in the bushel.
You could fill a bushel up with a lot of empty air in there, or you could shake that bushel and pack that corn or shake the grain and pack the grain until the bushel was filled to its utter capacity. Pressed down, Jesus said, shaken together, running over. If you give like that, that's what you'll get back, not a bushel basket full of air. Again, what's Jesus talking about? Here He's talking about the practical applications of the Christian faith, how to live. And He's saying, My people are to be generous people.
I want you to give in great measure, and the more you give, the more you'll get because our God is a generous God and not a stingy God. Well, He goes on with a brief parable. Can the blind lead the blind? Don't you see what I'm talking about? Are you going to be leaders of other people while you're blind to the things of God? He's not talking simply about physical blindness here. He's talking about spiritual blindness. He said, but let's take a person who's physically blind. Do we appoint them to escort another blind person down the street? Can the blind lead the blind? If the blind leads the blind, what happens?
Both of them fall into the ditch. And so we need to be led by those with keen sight into the truth of God if we want to stay out of the ditch. A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who's perfectly or completely trained will be like his teacher. Who's our teacher? Jesus is the Master. Jesus is our Rabbi. We're His disciples.
We're His students. We're not above our Master, but He wants us to be like our Master. He wants us to learn from our Master. He wants us to pursue and to seek the very mind of Jesus. Do you think like Jesus? Because if I'm going to be Christlike, I have to think like Jesus. I have to love what He loves.
I have to hate what He hates. And He's teaching us here how to be like Him. Was any man ever more generous? Is any man ever more merciful? Then He goes on finally with this, why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye and don't perceive the plank in your own eye?
Speck of dust in contrast to a wooden plank. Jesus said, this is how foolish we are. We are so quick to see the imperfections in everybody else while we're blind to our own myopia. We're blind to the log or the beam or the plank that's in our own eye.
How silly. How can you say to your brother, brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye when you yourself don't see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you'll be able to see clearly enough to remove the speck that's in your brother's eye. Jesus is not teaching us anything here more than to do unto others as we would have others do unto us. He's not teaching us anything more than the apostles taught us when they said that there is a love that covers a multitude of sins.
Keep your handkerchief in your own pocket and let your brother or sister take the speck out of her or his own eye. This is the teaching of Jesus for His people. Grateful for the way that Dr. R.C. Sproul explained this often misunderstood passage of Scripture, and we're glad you've joined us today for the Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind. Dr. Sproul is leading us through an exposition of Luke's Gospel, and let me recommend that you request our resource offer today. It's a helpful study companion for this series. It's R.C.
's commentary on Luke. Contact us today with a donation of any amount, and we'll be happy to provide you with a digital download of this nearly 600-page commentary. Our offices are closed today, but you can give your gift and make your request online at renewingyourmind.org. Here at the end of the program, let me also remind you that our goal at Ligonier Ministries is to come alongside the local church. We are glad that you benefit from Dr. Sproul's teaching, but we would never desire that this program replace the fellowship you enjoy with your church family and the means of grace that you receive there. I hope you'll make plans to be with us again next Sunday. Renewing Your Mind is an outreach of Ligonier Ministries. On behalf of all of my colleagues here, may the Lord bless you in the coming week.
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