“Do not judge” (Luke 6:37, NASB).
It is quite ironic that some of the same people who accuse Christians of selecting a passage out of its context and giving it whatever meaning they wish, are in fact guilty of taking this passage out of its context and giving it whatever meaning they wish.
What did Jesus mean, and not mean, when He made this statement?
1) Jesus did not mean that we could never make any moral judgments at all. Much to the contrary, Jesus taught in this very context that just as we can observe the fruit of a tree, so also men can and should be observed. Produce, or action, determines the kind of tree you are dealing with (Luke 6:43-45).
2) Jesus did not mean that we would be capable of judging every situation. Some people think they must police everything they see – or think they see. But everything is not as it seems. In the Revelation, Jesus addressed seven churches, some of which looked healthy and vibrant, but were actually corrupt and dying (and vise-versa). Sure, some things we can see easily by observation, but some things are too distant for us to determine. It is a fine line, for example, to balance congregational autonomy with legitimate concern. It is not uncommon to hear one side of an issue when congregations are within shouting distance. We should refrain judgment on matters about which we know very little, or that are, as we might put it legally, completely out of our jurisdiction.
3) Jesus did not mean we should be judgmental. Jesus is not approving of judgmental-ism. Christians should make judgments, but they should not be judgmental. What is the difference? The first carefully discerns all available evidence, the second does not.
We must remember that Jesus is issuing a positive command as well, with several precautions:
1) Show mercy (Luke 6:36). Though we must assess and sometimes declare something to be sinful, we should take no pleasure in calling someone out for sin, and our words should be accompanied by grace and humility (Colossians 4:6; Galatians 6:1-2). Also, let us remember to discern the difference between, “I do not like that,” and “This is sin.”
2) Remember Who’s perfect (Luke 6:40). We never point out an error to bring people to our own level, but to help one another to the level of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Sin is sin because God disapproves, not because we do. We should strive for personal balance in emphasizing sin. Though not all sins have the same societal effect, all sin condemns equally. When we hobby horse a particular sin, we might give the impression that other sins are less condemning, or that our own sins are less condemning, and that people are not approved by God until they feel as strongly about a particular sin as we do. We are all in need of grace.
3) Check yourself (Luke 6:41-42). Perhaps Jesus used a bit of humor here – or at least exaggeration – when he illustrated the folly of trying to get a speck of dust out of someone else’s eye when there is a log in your own. Our judgment is clouded, and our influence is weak, if our own life is not in harmony with his. I worked with a man years ago who was an agnostic. We talked many times about religion. He came to work one day and told me that he got into a debate at the bar the night before about the unity of the Lord’s church, and no one could answer his arguments. This would have had greater effect, perhaps, if he were actually living what he was seeking to defend. The same goes for those of us who believe. If we are not living right, not only will our words hold little weight, but we will be less inclined to uphold God’s truth for fear of being exposed as hypocrites.
Jesus did say, “Judge not,” but the thing Jesus emphasized as much as anything in this context is that he wants his people to “see clearly.” If we cannot see a situation clearly for lack of evidence, we should refrain. If we cannot (or will not) speak to a situation because our own life is not in reasonable order, then we had better think about making some changes for our own sake, and for the sake of others.