I want to talk to you this morning about the most popular verse in the Bible. So I want to ask you what do you think it is. It is not John 3:16. What else? Genesis 1:1, good try. In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth. It is not Genesis 1:1 Jeremiah 29:11, no. Philippians 4:13, I can do all things? No. Romans 3:23, no. Come on! Okay. Do you know what the most popular verse in the Bible today is? It is Matthew 7:1. You say, “Well what’s Matthew 7:1?” It is, get ready: “Judge not that you may not be judged.” Did you know that is the only verse in Bible most Americans know by heart these days? And the strange thing is they know it in the King James Version, “Judge not lest you be judged.” And it’s become kind of a popular mantra in our culture and it’s often followed by the question, “And who are you to judge?” Ever hear that one? Has that been quoted to you, the verse? And it’s been strange but we’ve kind of gone from 10 Commandments to really one and the opposite of judge not is be tolerant of just about everything and the mantra judge not lest you be judged really has kind of even seeped its way into the church in a mindless kind of way so given the popularity of this verse I thought I’d like us to take a crack at understanding it a just a little bit better. What it affirms, what it denies, what it means in context. So there are these trends that we’re all a part of we all feel as we live in this culture. One of the big trends is the devaluation of judgment of any kind in our culture right now there’s a public shift to embrace the ethic of non-judgmentalism. Have you felt it? I know you’ve heard about it. I heard somebody say to me the other day “Love is the absence of judgment” so if you love somebody you’ll never exercise any kind of judgment. And as a society we’re reluctant to pass judgment on how people act or how they think and then on the opposite side of that we’re to be tolerant of just about everything except those who make moral judgments. If you make moral judgments that’s the one thing that’s not allowed. D.A. Carson, the great New Testament scholar from Trinity talks about today’s he calls it the intolerance of the new tolerance. That’s a potent phrase, isn’t it? The intolerance of the new tolerance. He says as a culture we’re abandoning the American tradition of pluralism. He says the gospel of tolerance is perhaps the most evangelistic movement in Western culture at this moment demanding assent and brooking no rivals. And if you’re old enough, you’re older some of you really old people, faculty and staff, myself you can remember this shift in tolerance the old view and the new view. The old view of tolerance that was in play for so long was generally shaped by a Christian world view and it involved giving different opinions a fair hearing. In fact the great Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Tolerance is the “free trade of ideas, you give reasoned opinions “and you give it a fair hearing.” That was the old tolerance. The new tolerance is kind of we tolerate everything except the assertion of any kind of moral absolutes. And so we live in a time when non-judgmentalism is the new dogma, strangely, isn’t it the new orthodoxy. You see it embraced by people on the Left, the progressives, you see it embraced by some people on the Right, the libertarians, some libertarians. When you start to make a theological judgment in the public place or a moral judgment it’s often met with hostility like who are you to judge, judgment is wrong. Now it’s interesting one of my favorite writers G.K. Chesterton who wrote in the early 20th century he said the new tolerance is symbolic and he saw it coming in Europe of moral exhaustion and he said absolute tolerance becomes the virtue of a people who do not believe in anything. That’s interesting, just that he saw it as symptomatic of something much deeper. But all of us are affected by this and sometimes as Christians we are intimidated by it we are silenced by it, we lack the courage to speak forthrightly about what is right and what is wrong. We’re reticent to be seen by our peers as judgmental. And we bring ourselves to the point where we just want to shut up and then churches sometimes do this. And they’re unwilling to speak up and make clear moral, spiritual judgments that are indispensable for a Christian witness that is faithful. So I want us to come to this verse and see how so many have absolutized this one verse they’ve ripped it out of context and I want to take you back to the two important things that it affirms but I do hope you have a problem with taking Bible verses out of context, do you? Please do. Never read a Bible verse, always read a Bible passage. Because you’ll see the verse in its context and you’ll understand it. Meaning flows from the larger to the smaller. And so if you want to understand a verse so often you can figure out what it means by reading the context. Now there are lots of funny stories, and sad stories, about taking verses out of context. The one that I’ve heard a few times was the man who was looking for a life verse do you have a life verse he was looking for a life verse. He thought where will I find one so he said I know the Gospels, you cannot go wrong if you look for a life verse in the Gospels. So he went to his Bible and he shot up a prayer and opened it and put his finger down on the text and he came to the passage Matthew 27:5, “Judas went out and hung himself.” So he thought to himself, well that’s not right. So I better try it again. So he closes his Bible, shot up a prayer and he opened it up and it fell down to Luke 10:37 he put his finger on it and it said “Go and do thou likewise” the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Well he thought this is not a good day so I’ll try it one more time. So he closes his Bible said “Lord please give me a life verse” this is not the way to get a life verse, by the way and he put his finger down after opening his eyes and it was John 13:27 and it said “Whatever you do, do quickly” Alright. So there are lots of bad examples of ripping a verse out of context it can be deadly and in this case it is deadly. You say well what’s going on in our culture to make this verse become sort of a new dogma? And just briefly, there are some toxic ideas at work in our culture. I’ll just name three of them. There’s radical relativism that is the view that all truth is relative there is no absolute truth. Truth is relative to you, me, there’s little truth no truth capital T. A second toxic idea out there is radical egalitarianism which revolts against all authority and anything hierarchical and it says there are no standards so everything is on an equal plane and then the third idea is what I call radical post-modern subjectivism it’s a big complicated phrase it means there’s no objective truth out there so meaning is in the eye of the beholder, there’s no universal standards. And these toxic ideas have worked their way into the way that we think and so that we even approach scripture sometimes and these ideas shape us more than the word of God shapes us.
Now I have a big problem with absolutizing this verse for lots of reasons I’ll just list four of them. The first reason is Matthew 7. If you have a Bible open it up. I just want to remind you what Matthew 7 actually says. It begins with this popular verse, “Judge not that you may not be judged” but then you have to look at what else Jesus said this is the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount by the way is full of judgments that Jesus made about all kinds of things. It affirms in fact that we must make judgments. And in Matthew 7 it’s really interesting that I can find at least six ways where Jesus commends we make judgments about things. So that tells us that we can’t absolutize this verse. We have to understand it in it’s context. It’s not a command for no judgment at all, it’s a command for a certain kind of judgment and a warning against something else, which I’ll tell you in a minute. I mean look at chapter 7 verse 1 and 2 “Judge not that you be not judged, “for with the judgment you pronounce “you will be judged and the measure you use “it will measured to you. “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye “but you do not notice the log that is in your own eye “how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye “when there is a log in your own eye? “You hypocrite! “First take the log out of your own eye “and then you will see clearly “to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Jesus is saying judge yourself before you judge somebody else. Exercise self-judgment, it’s important. For all kinds of things. Don’t be a hypocrite, examine yourself examine those issues that you have examine the plank, the log in your own eye before obsessing about the speck in your brother’s eye. So he affirms self-judgment. You go a little further, you look at verse six, “Do not give to dogs what is holy, “do not throw your pearls before pigs “lest they trample them underfoot “and turn to attack you.” So here we are to judge how we invest in people, be careful about passing on spiritual treasures to people that are just shut up to the voice of God they do not want anything, they are resolutely opposed to God be discerning about what you pass on to them. And this isn’t a warning against evangelism, there’s a lot about evangelism to the Gentiles here in the Gospels, in Acts, but this is for wisdom in how we do it and spending our energies wisely which Jesus himself did, remember at one point he did not do miracles in a certain town because of their unbelief. So there’s this second warning about judge how you invest in people. There’s another warning in Matthew 7 that commends judgment and you see it in 13 and 14 which reads, “Enter the narrow gate for the gate is wide “and the way is easy that leads to destruction “and those who enter by it are many “for the gate is narrow and the way is hard “that leads to life and those who find it are few.” So here the Lord asks us to judge the direction of our lives, the path that we are on. And the outcome that it will lead to saying be careful about which path you’re following, kind of like Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man “who walks in the way” So we’re to judge the path that we’re on, make sure it’s the right path, exercise discernment. You go a little further in the passage, verse 15 to 19 and it tells us that we’re to judge teachers, “Beware of false prophets who come “to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly “are ravenous wolves, “you will recognize them by their fruits, “are grapes gathered from thorn bushes “or figs from thistles? “So every healthy tree bears good fruit “but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.” So you will recognize them by their fruit, we’re told to evaluate the teaching we hear and take in be discerning, exercise critical judgment in what you hear, don’t believe everything you hear. Jesus is telling us this. Be judgmental here. And then you go a little further in the passage and then we’re told to exercise judgment about the words that we hear because there are many verse 21, “who will say Lord, Lord “and they will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven “but the one who does the will of my Father “who is in Heaven on that day many will say to me “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophecy in your name “and cast out demons in your name “and do mighty works in your name “and I will declare to them I never knew you “depart from me you workers of lawlessness.” So we’re to exercise in judgment in what we hear other people say and to weigh it. And then at the end of this chapter verses 24 and following we’re to judge the foundation that we build our lives upon. “So everyone who hears these words of mine,” verse 24, Matthew 7, “And does them will be like a wise man “who built his house on a rock “and the rain fell and the floods came “and the winds blew down and beat on the house “but it did not fall because it had been “founded on a rock and everyone who hears “these words of mine and does not do them “will be like a foolish man who built his house “on the sand and the rain fell and the floods came “and the wind blew and beat against the house “and it fell and great was the fall of it.” Be careful how you build your life. Exercise judgment, wise judgment on the foundations that you build your life upon.
So you put this together, and you have to say, well Jesus couldn’t have meant that as an absolute, “judge not” never make a judgment that our culture may just be wrong on their dogma. Well there are a few other problems with taking that view, that view of we’re not to make any judgments at all. Life doesn’t work that way. I mean we know this, right? Teachers, parents, we have to make judgments. You’re on a jury, you’re a coach, you give a student a grade, you’re a referee. Golly, can you imagine a woman’s basketball game at CCU and the ref makes a call and all our athletes run up to the ref and they go, “Judge not lest you be judged.” And the ref would go, “oh, yeah that’s right “I forgot about that.” No! The judge is going to say get out of here. The game goes on, there are standards, there are rules. So life, society, civilization, needs judgments. By the way education, college education depends on making critical judgments. We want you to develop the ability to think critically to weigh ideas to test them to ask questions this is just part of the enterprise when you don’t do that you don’t learn. And by the way the Bible, as a whole, the whole message echos the theme of the importance of judgment that God is a judge and justice is real and if there is no judgment there is no justice. The final judgment is someday going to come and all people are accountable. So at its core this passage and the scriptures they reject the reigning cultural dogma of non-judgmentalism and I want you to know that. We need to remember that whenever somebody throws in our face and they say, “Well, judge not.” And we can say, “Will you please read that verse “and put it in it’s context because there is a place for wise judgment according to the authority of Jesus Christ.” But that’s not all we take from this passage because Matthew 7:1 is at the front of the passage. Why? Judge not that you be not judged. And it warns against us having a judgmental spirit or a judgmentalistic mindset about everything where we kind of go south in our relationships and in our view of others and ourselves. We’re to have a critical mind but not a critical spirit. Some of us were born very critical I mean on Myers-Briggs we were high J’s if you know what that means. Some of us we’ve become very hyper critical by disappointment, we become cynical. All of us wrestle with this is some way or another but the sin of judgmentalism is not it is a sin and Jesus will not have it amongst his people. And so he wants us to be slow to judge. Why be slow to judge? Well back to the beginning of the passage, “For with the judgment you pronounce “you will be judged and with the measure you use “it will be measured to you.” So when putting our neighbor’s life under a microscope if we’re going to do that we can expect God to do that with us if we treat them with grace we will be treated with grace. So how we treat the people around us really matters. Your roommates, your stairwell, your D group, your teammates, your classmates, it’s really important. And then verses three to five I’ll just bring up again Jesus said if you’re going to judge your neighbor start with yourself. Start with the beam. We are often blind to our own stuff, you know? We are. I love Psalm 19. “The heavens declare to the glory of God.” At the end of the Psalm the Psalmist says, “Lord, forgive my hidden faults and my willful sins.” And it’s really helpful because it tell us that we have our willful sins and we know darn well what they are. But we also have a boatload of hidden faults that we can’t even see and we’re blind to. And we often overlook. Jesus is making the same point here. So don’t overlook the log in your own eye, be slow to judge, why? Well we have these two reasons from the text itself but we can add sometimes we just don’t know the full story of the people that we’re judging. We don’t have all the facts, we judge too fast. I was a church a while back and there’s a guy who stood next to me I wasn’t preaching I was off pastoral duty and I was just sitting there waiting for the service to begin and this older man stood next to me and he was real quiet, he didn’t talk to me at all and I thought he’s kind of an unfriendly guy. And I looked at his face and he had kind of a downcast look and I thought he’s not Mr. Happy and you know what you do. I did the same thing in my head and you’re kind of saying what’s wrong with him kind of moving over a little bit. And then we have the time when we shake hands. And I said oh, my name’s Don who are you. And he said well I’m so and so, I haven’t been to church in quite a while I’ve just lost my wife and I’m in a period of grief it’s the first time I’ve been back to church and it’s really hard. And I’m just thinking you idiot. What have you just done to this guy? We do this when we don’t have all the facts. By the way we do this on social media. And with one stroke of a key we can destroy people. Something hits us the wrong way and we’re quick to jump on Jesus wants us to be slow to judgment not avoid judgment but be very careful about our judgment to be humble in our judgment and open to correction. Life and death are in the power of the tongue. And sometimes we just don’t have the full story and we launch out like we know it all. Be slow to judge. Sometimes when we judge we project our own issues. We all have our issues and we tend to notice them in other people really easily but not in ourselves. And sometimes we project our stuff when we fail to look at ourselves and we lay into other people.
I like the way The Message paraphrases this passage Don’t pick on other people don’t jump on their failures, criticize their faults unless of course you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging it’s easy to see the smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly smear on your own. So friends for all these reasons Jesus puts this first. Yes we are to make wise judgments we are not to buy the dogma of our time but we are to be careful about this issue of a judgmental sprit which can just cripple you and ruin lots of lives. But the main reason to get beyond judgmentalism is really the Gospel. Remembering grace, remembering what you deserve what I deserve. Occasionally I’ll listen on the radio Dave Ramsey people will say, “Hi Dave how you doing?” and he’ll say “I’m doing better than I deserve.” And we sometimes think well what’s he really saying there I think he’s just saying given my life I don’t deserve lots of mercy and boatloads of grace given who I am but God treats me better than I deserve. Why? Because of Jesus Christ. Why? Because of the wonder of the Gospel. What’s the Gospel? The Gospel involved this amazing judgment where the righteous God looked upon unrighteous humanity and his righteousness condemned us all I mean his judgment condemned us then and will condemn us if we don’t do anything about it. And Jesus was sent into the world to save us. What do we mean by that? God gave a righteousness to sinners that we don’t have so that we might not be judged. And by trusting in Jesus Christ Romans and Galatians tell us we are justified we are declared not guilty. Why? Because of what Jesus did on the cross where he absorbed the wrath of God for us. Where he took God’s just judgment on us and removed it from us and offered us the free gift of grace. Offered us a righteous standing that we don’t have. Why, because of us? Not at all but because of the righteousness of his son. I like the way that Martin Luther said on the cross there was this wonderful exchange where God took my sins and took them and placed them on Jesus and he took his righteousness and he placed it on me so that now I can come back to him I can be restored and forgiven and cleansed because of myself, no, but because of the work of Christ on the cross for me. Because he justifies the ungodly. That’s the heart of the Gospel. It’s the Gospel we celebrate in the season of Lent. It’s the Gospel we highlight as we approach Holy Week. But it’s a Gospel that gets our lives right as we not throw away this idea of judgment but we embrace it and we embrace the one who took our judgment for us and we embrace his command to not be judgmental beasts as we interact with the people in our neighborhood. Let that shape your attitude toward judgment friends. Don’t forget the necessity of good judgment. Do not swallow what the world is selling you. Realize the folly of lack of judgment. The mess that happens when you adopt this ethic. But also remember the trap of judgmentalism which Jesus first comments on and the wonder of Gospel judgment. So it turns out that the most popular verse of the Bible has a lot to teach us. And perhaps you have never caught it’s lessons like you have right now. Would you pray with me? Lord God thank you for your word. Thank you that it really is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your clarifying words that help us immensely help us to do life right help us to relate to people in an honoring way help us to be wise in our choices so would you bless our students would you keep them, would you make your face shine upon them would you be gracious to them would you make them wise would you make them lights for their families and our world. Thank you thank we can enjoy this time together. We thank you in the glorious name of Jesus Christ and all God’s people said Amen.