We hear from today’s gospel reading, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” This is a stern warning for all of us, and yet, how often have these words been misrepresented and misunderstood? It is an unfortunate truth that the world has turned these words of Jesus into one of its favorite catch-phrases along with “live and let live” or “to each his own”. The same world which calls evil good and good evil, which exchanges light for darkness and darkness for light (Is 5:20), this same world now twists these words of Jesus into their own relativistic morality. They obscure Jesus own words to falsely judge and condemn the light and the good things of God. When Christian people stand up to the world and speak out against the evils of abortion, assisted suicide, sexual immorality, gender confusion, and more, the world throws these words of Jesus back in our faces saying, “Doesn’t the Bible say judge not?” “You Christians are so judgmental. Didn’t Jesus say not to judge?”
My friends, Jesus did say, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” But what does that mean? Should we lie down and let the world continue on in sin? Should we simply live our own lives and let those of the world live theirs? Is this really what our Lord Jesus meant for us to do when he commanded us not to judge? Let us take our queue from Jesus Himself, from the apostles, and from the prophets. Perhaps the rest of the Holy Scriptures can shed some light on the meaning of this warning not to judge.
The Holy Scriptures clearly command us to judge and discern false doctrine, false teachers, and ungodly living. St. Matthew the Evangelist records Jesus warning us against the yeast or the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:11-12). Is Jesus guilty of breaking his own commandment against judging and condemning? Furthermore, Mark records Jesus saying, “He who does not believe shall be condemned” (16:16). The apostle Paul writes in Galatians chapter 1, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” False doctrine and false teaching is truly dangerous. These false teachings turn and divert our attention off the cross of Jesus for our salvation. They hinder us and cause many to fall away from the one true faith. This is why the Bible also holds harsh warnings against the teachers of false doctrine. The prophet Isaiah speaks of preachers who pronounce only pleasing things. He says, “They are all silent dogs, they cannot bark” (56:10). These people have nothing to say that is true or worthwhile. Jesus himself says in Matthew chapter 7, “Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” The message which false teachers bring often sounds sweet. Take, for example, the false teaching of Joel Osteen and the prosperity gospel. If you believe hard enough, if you have enough faith, then God will bless you with all of your heart’s desires. You can “live your best life now.” I wonder what the apostle Paul would have thought of the prosperity gospel when he was beheaded. What would St. Peter have thought when he was crucified? Were they living their best life now? My friends, do not be fooled by false teachers. Their message sounds sweet. They look like innocent little lambs, but in truth, they are ferocious wolves. Let’s follow the logic. I want a boat. If I believe hard enough, then God will give me a boat. What happens when I believe as hard as I can, but God still doesn’t give me a boat? Does He not love me? Do I still not believe hard enough? I must not be a real Christian because God hasn’t given me a boat. God must not love me because I’ve gotten sick, my loved ones just died, I’m not as wealthy as the Jones’s. Do you see the danger? One false teaching, which sounds innocent enough, can shake the very foundations of a person’s faith. This is why Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets.” And it is also why St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4 that these false teachers are hypocrites and liars whose consciences are dead.
But, my friends, we are not only to beware of false teachers and false teachings. We are also to be on guard against ungodly and immoral living. God judged the wickedness of the nations through the sword of the Israelites in the Old Testament. He punished the wickedness of the Israelites by making them wander in the desert for 40 years, by sending venomous serpents to torment them, and by sending them into captivity in Babylon. The apostle Paul writes in his epistle to the Galatians (5:19-20) that those who do the works of the flesh, those who sin, will not inherit the Kingdom of God. He writes in Ephesians (5:11), “take no part in unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Take no part in wickedness and evil. Expose them, judge them, discern, condemn, reprove them. In fact, whoever does not reprove and condemn false doctrine, false teachers, and ungodly living acts unkindly toward their neighbor. If your neighbor’s actions and beliefs are harming them, then you have a responsibility to judge those actions and beliefs. You have a responsibility to correct them, so that they might discontinue the infliction of evil upon themselves and others. We are not concerned with another person’s sin because it offends US, but rather because it hurts THEM. We do not judge based on our own thoughts or feelings. Instad, we must discern and judge based on the Word of God.
So, if we are supposed to judge and condemn false teachers, teachings, and immoral living, then what does Jesus mean in our text today? “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Perhaps we can find a clue in our text this morning. Jesus tells a parable in order to help clarify this statement. He says, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Thanks be to our Lord, Jesus Christ, for this clarification. Put simply, do not be a hypocrite! If you see that your brother is sinning, before going to remove the speck that is in his eye, first take stock of yourself. Look first to remove the log in your own eye. Then, you may see clearly to remove the speck in your brother’s eye. However, when you go to remove the speck, remember that you yourself are equally or even greater of a sinner. For, you have had an entire log in your eye.
We have heard that the apostle Paul had quite a bit to say about false teachers and doctrines. He had quite a bit to say about immoral and ungodly living. However, Paul approached the subject, not from hypocrisy, but rather from a position of humility. In our epistle reading from last week, he called himself the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). In Romans chapter 7, Paul admits his struggle with sin saying, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who does it, but sin that dwells within me.” This is how you are to approach your neighbor who sins. Go to them in humility, not in hypocrisy. Go to them as a fellow sinner in need of mercy and forgiveness from God.
Go to them with love and mercy because that is exactly how God approaches you. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Like Paul, sin dwells within us, and we do the things which we should not do. And we do not do the things which we should do. We fail to approach our neighbor with humility. We fail to remove the log in our own eyes. We are blinded by the forest of sin in our lives, and we cannot possibly see clearly to help our neighbor in humility, love, and mercy. Nevertheless, God is merciful to us. Psalm 130 says, “If You, O Lord, kept a record of wrongs, O Lord, who could stand?” If God were merciful to us as we are merciful to others, we would all be condemned and judged.
Instead, God is merciful to us regardless of our failures. These failures, these sins are exactly why we need God’s mercy. Despite our lack of love and mercy, despite our lack of humility, and despite our over-abundance of arrogant judgment and condemnation of our neighbor, despite all of our sin, God showed his own love and mercy to us by sending Jesus to be condemned and judged at the cross on our behalf. The Incarnate Word, the Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary. He took upon Himself human flesh, becoming man like you and me, so that He might be an acceptable substitute for you and me. He is our substitute. For, when we could not keep the law, He kept it perfectly, and He came to fulfill the law’s requirements. He is our substitute. For, rather than requiring us to face the consequences of our sin, He takes our place and goes to the cross willingly to be forsaken by God.
Throughout His life and death, Jesus became the very fulfillment of this teaching in our text today. The text says, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s mercy. He truly was merciful as His Father is merciful. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, the Father shows His great mercy toward you.
The text says, “Do not judge, lest you be judged, and do not condemn, lest you be condemned.” On the cross, the God-man Jesus is judged and condemned. He took upon Himself the condemnation which your own actions, your own hypocritical judgments and lack of mercy, have created. We did judge and we did condemn, and so He took the consequences upon Himself. He was judged and condemned on your behalf.
The text says, “Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.” We hold grudges, refusing to forgive our neighbor, but at the cross, Jesus freely offers the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to all of us. In our greed, we hoard our money and goods. We see others in need, and we hold back from helping them. We fail to give. And yet, through His mercy and the cross of Christ, God gives us every good thing! He sends the sun and the rain so that the land will produce food and sustenance. He gives us clothing and shoes, house and home. He gives us the holy and precious blood of His own beloved Son. He forgives our sins, sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith. He forgives us. He gives us every good thing.
The text says, “A blind man cannot lead a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit?” At the cross of Jesus, we blind men receive a guide who can see perfectly. This guide, our Good Shepherd, makes us lie down in green pastures, he leads us beside still waters, even to the waters of Baptism, and he restores our soul. He guides us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Surely, with this guide, we will never fall into a pit. This guide, Jesus, has no speck or log in his eyes. He can see perfectly and clearly to remove both the log in our eyes as well as the speck in our neighbor’s eyes. This guide washes us clean of every speck and blemish in the waters of Holy Baptism. He feeds us His true body and blood for the forgiveness of all our sins at the Lord’s Supper. This guide lovingly corrects our errors and calls us by the Gospel in His Holy Word.
Jesus, our guide, came, He lived, and He died as the fulfillment of this very teaching and as the atonement for our sin. He is the One who is merciful. He is the One who is judged and condemned. He is the One who gives and forgives. He leads the blind, and He removes every log and speck by the wood of His cross upon which His blood was shed. Now, there is no forest which He cannot remove from our eyes or from our hearts. His mercy toward you, and all sinners, is full complete in His perfect love and patience, which overcomes all your impatience and imperfect mercy. The blood of Jesus covers you completely.