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Dane Skelton is the Pastor of Faith Community Church and the author of Jungle Flight: Spiritual Adventures at the Ends of the Earth, a book of true stories from the ministry of JAARS (formerly Jungle Aviation and Radio Service). His second book, Papua Pilot: Flying the Bible to the Last Lost Peoples, co-authored with the late Paul Westlund, is now available on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.
When Jesus taught us not to judge was he really telling us to suspend all judgment of everything, all the time? Or is there more to it than that?
The familiar teaching, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” occurs near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:1. It is the first sentence of a teaching that stretches out to six verses, ending with the enigmatic if not insulting: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls before pigs. If you do they may trample them under their feet and then turn and tear you to pieces.” It’s terribly important, when interpreting Jesus teaching on judgment, or anything else for that matter, not to separate the end from the beginning. The one informs and balances the other and without both we miss the meaning of either.
To judge is, with arrogance and blindness to one’s own faults, to take up the position of a magistrate and condemn the faults of others. This is what Jesus famously alludes to in the middle of the teaching, verses three through five, on taking the plank out of our own eyes before we try to remove sawdust from a friend’s. It comes across clearly in a letter to the editor by one of syndicated columnist Cal Thomas’ critics, which began, “Gentlemen and other Scum.” Such conceit, Jesus explains, cuts us off from the mercy of God and guarantees that we will receive the same treatment.
Clearly we don’t want to be guilty of that, but does it follow that all judgment is folly? Not if we follow Jesus’ own example. In Matthew 6:5-8 the Lord clearly denounces the prayers of hypocrites and pagans alike, calling one pompous and the other useless. In Matthew 12:34 he fearlessly frames his opponents as a brood of vipers. At the end of our present passage, he pillories some folks as pigs and others as dogs and tells us not to go to the trouble of offering them what wisdom we may possess. What gives?
Refusing to judge others is not the same as abandoning all good judgment. It means refusing to be censorious, which John Stott aptly defined as: “A compound sin with several unpleasant ingredients,” including: negative destructive fault-finding which enjoys actively seeking out the failings of others and projecting the worst possible shade on other people’s motives. My seventh grade English teacher comes to mind. I was the comic strip Calvin to her Miss Wormwood.
Should we be censorious? No. Discerning? Certainly. We need to get it out of our heads that Jesus practiced the hypocritical piety of polite Southern society. So what of his pearls pigs and dogs at the end of the passage?
Pigs are dirty animals that live completely for their bellies. If it isn’t food they scorn it and trample it. Dogs aren’t much different. The dogs Jesus referred to ran in packs, untamed and vicious.
Jesus is saying, “Be discerning. Some men live like pigs. If what you have to offer doesn’t satisfy their current lust, if it doesn’t offer the solution they want, they will simply trample it. Don’t offer it. And some are like dogs. If you do not give them what they want, and they do not want sacred things, they will simply tear you to pieces.”
Let’s put that in shoe leather with a few simple applications.
• Discern, but do not despise. Discriminate, but do not be disdainful.
• Do not confuse the command to “judge not” with mindless tolerance of evil.
• Never speak to a problem in someone else’s life without the habit of careful self-examination, and when you do, do it with compassion and great sensitivity.
• Telling someone they are wrong is like telling them they have a flat tire. You’re doing them a favor. If they listen, great. If not, well, they’ll figure it out eventually.