The Truth About "Judge Not"

The Truth About “Judge Not”
Robert Wurtz II

Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. (Luke 6:37 KJV)

The Lucan “Sermon on the Plain” is named such because of the reference to the “level place” in Luke 6:17. This section parallels Matthew’s better known, and much longer, “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5:3–7:27. This sermon teaches not what must be done to enter the kingdom of God, but what is expected of one who is already in the kingdom. Jesus’ sermon is intended primarily for his apostles and disciples (see vv. 17, 20). (NIBC) Moreover, the sermon is an expression of normative behavior for saints who have been baptized into Jesus Christ by the Spirit, and are walking in the Spirit. 

Our passage contains two negative commandments; judge not, and condemn not, and a positive command; forgive. Our first verb is judge not, the negative form of the Greek word krino. This is the word from which we derive the English words critic, criticism, criticize, and discriminate. (A.T. Robertson) To “judge” here does not exactly mean to pronounce condemnatory judgment, nor does it refer to simple judging at all, whether favorable or the reverse. The context makes it clear that the thing here condemned is that disposition to look unfavorably on the character and actions of others, which leads invariably to the pronouncing of rash, unjust, and unlovely judgments upon them. It is the violation of the law of love involved in the exercise of a censorious disposition which alone is here condemned. (JFB) It also ignores the fact that we ourselves have committed the same or similar sins in times past. Therefore, we cannot judge others without likewise soliciting judgment upon our own actions. (Romans 2:1) 

There are two issues involved in judging; the person and the person’s actions. We must be cautious never to judge the inward motivations of others. Moreover, we must not just another person’s soul. These and other like things are the Lord’s prerogative alone. Jesus said, we will know the tree by its fruits. This is where we make our examination. We examine the fruit; it is for the Lord to judge the root. In Luke 18:11 the Pharisee thanked the Lord that he was not like other sinners such as robbers, evildoers, adulterers and tax-collectors. In doing so he declared himself to be good and the others to be bad. (See Hale and Thorson, P. 168) We must never possess such an attitude. Peter warns us in 2 Peter 1:9 of the consequences of forgetting that we were once purged of our own sins. It can blind us to our obligation to show long suffering, kindness, and mercy to others who likewise sin. We risk a proud, unloving disposition void of the grace of God. 

Moreover, Jesus adds condemn not. The word translated as condemn is a forensic term denoting judicial condemnation. It is an expansion of the previous command, “judge not.” It is here to be taken to mean a condemning, censorious spirit, which looks sharply and unforgivingly at the faults of others, spies out and brings to light every defect, and places it under the ban of condemnation.” (J.J. Owen, P. 89) Censoriousness is also a fruit of a self-righteous spirit, which the Pharisees were prone to possess. 

Our last commandment also comes with a promise; forgive, and you shall be forgiven. True Born Again believers have the nature of Christ; His attitude was always one of mercy towards others. Even while on the cross He prayed for those who were killing him, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Paul takes up this theme in Ephesians 4:32, And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Remembering how God forgave us is vital to a right mindset towards others. The moment we forget that we were forgiven, we start the path to a dangerous, proud, self-righteous attitude. God will resist us if we take that path.

A Great Warning

You will recall that each of our commandments were conditional; Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Notice the conjunction “and” used three times. Some suggest that the context is laying out how God will treat us on judgment day based on how we treat others during our earthly lives. That is a very sobering consideration. 

But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. (Matthew 18:26-29)

Here is a man who had been forgiven 10,000 talents (monetary debt). He then goes out and finds a fellow servant that owed him 100 denarii. By contrast, it takes 5000 denarii to equal 1 talent. A denarii, as the word is used in the Gospels, represents a days wage. We gain more insight when we recall that the Disciples suggested that it would cost 200 denarii to feed the 5000. In other words, 100 denarii could by food to feed 2500 men (plus women and children). So the man in Matthew 18:26-29 was owed a significant amount of money.

In Roman times it was legal to take a person by the throat, choking and leading them to court, if they owed you money and refused to pay. In fact, some creditors were so brutal that they would twist a person’s neck until blood flowed from the mouth and nostrils. (Pelobout, P. 325; see also Vincent) This seems to be what is in view here. The man, not sure how much he was owed, throttled his fellow servant and demanded an account of where his money was. 

The man had every right, as far as Roman law was concerned, to take action on his fellow man for owing him money. However, there is a common sense principal that was in play rooted in the very nature of human understanding of equity and justice. As best as may be known, there were no specific laws on the books requiring a person to forgive others their debts if they had been forgiven themselves; though the principal was generally taught among the Jews. Nevertheless, it was up to the person who was forgiven to do the right thing. As best as we know, there was no precedent for such a thing; the man needed to listen to his conscience as to the equity of his actions based upon how he had received so great of mercy. What did he do?But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’

This entire passage is a metaphor for condemning others when you and I have a debt of condemnation we could never pay. I’m sure if you asked the man, he would give a hundred excuses as to why he did what he did. Nevertheless, his actions brought about a firestorm reaction.

So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” (Matthew 18:31–33 NKJV) 

This is as crazy as if the woman taken in the act of adultery, after being forgiven by Jesus herself, would have went and had her neighbor dragged before the Sanhedrin for playing the wrong tune on his shofar. This kind of madness is surreal. One almost has to pinch themselves to be sure they are really seeing what just happened. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved. Their grief drove them to action. Would to God that the man would have had a good friend to rebuke him utterly for his intolerable act, before the king found out and took action; but he did not. Nobody withstood him, they simply went to the king and let him handle things.  

And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses. (Matthew 18:34–35 NKJV)

The New Testament warns in the strongest ways about having a censorious, judgmental, “take your neighbor by the throat attitude.” Jesus said we must forgive from the heart. This man not only did not forgive from the heart, but he actually took action against the man who owed him. For that, he was delivered to the torturers; an obvious euphemism for Hell. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. (Luke 6:37 KJV)

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