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Simplicity: Judge Not
Scott Lyons

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

When we see the sin of another, we cannot view that sin apart from the publican’s cry, “Lord, have mercy on me.” Yes, sin is sin. But as we learn in the story of the woman caught in adultery as recorded in John 8, the woman herself is neither sin nor wrong; she is a woman. Therefore, she must be shown mercy. That is our duty. It is to mercy that we are called.

To withhold judgment is not an exercise in tolerance, as defined in the modern sense (i.e., the belief that there is no one way better than any other; acceptance). Rather, withholding judgment is an exercise in the fear of God and in the understanding of our own great need of his mercy. So when we see a brother in sin, we should have the grace to approach him in love, and not in condemnation; we need to have the grace to be a brother or a sister, and not a judge. If he is deaf to us and to one or two others, then, as Jesus commanded us, we must take it to the church and let the church make her determination (see Matthew 18).

But you are not the judge; it is not your prerogative.

“Judging others is shamelessly to usurp a divine prerogative; condemning them is to bring down our own souls. . . . Just as a good grape-picker eats the grapes that are ripe and does not pick those that are green, so a watchful and sensible soul carefully takes note of all the virtues he sees in others; but it is the stupid man who keeps an eye on their faults and failings” (St John Climacus, The Ladder of Perfection).

It is entirely possible that we have heard “Do not judge” more from the world than from the pulpit. Consequently, and over time, our ears grow deaf to these words—we react against them rather than living according to them. As a result, a spirit of condemnation and judgment hangs like heavy curtains in our buildings meant for worship. Of course, it is fascinating to hear what this one or that one is up to. It tickles our ears. We are addicted to gossip. And judgment runs deep in our blood, silent through our veins. It drives our morality; our sermons; our articles, essays, and books; our conversations on the telephone and around the water cooler. It is nursed in our fellowship. We gossip and slander; we condemn with regularity and great sanctity. We are enthralled with others’ faults and failures. There is perhaps no more exciting a phrase than “Did you hear . . . ?”

“Rumors are dainty morsels that sink deep into one’s heart” (Proverbs 26:22).

We dabble in hatred at great risk to our own souls. Judgment perversely confirms to us a false understanding of our own goodness and of God’s great mercy and love, and we presume upon it, excusing ourselves from the responsibility of personal sin. In our presumption, we sanitize sin and make a mockery of holiness. The sediment of guilt and sin builds up deeply in our souls, layer after dirty layer. We must cry out for forgiveness. We must live simply and stop judging others if we ever hope to be holy, to be clean. We must mind our own business (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and love without reservation or qualification. As we sweep and mend and wash our own belongings, what is dirty is made clean again. We mustn’t think of our neighbor’s vices, but rather, admire his virtues. To live simply and charitably is to see Jesus in every person we meet.

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John Ortberg
Menlo Park Presbyterian
Menlo Park, California

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