Susan Boyle had spent most of her adulthood living with her cat Pebbles, caring for her aging mother, and singing in church. With a homely appearance, she certainly didn’t look like a musical superstar. On top of that, her mannerisms were quirky and her demeanor odd. That’s probably why the audience laughed at this unassuming middle-aged woman when she appeared in 2009 on Britain’s Got Talent.
No one expected much when she raised the microphone to her lips. But then she began to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical Les Miserables. Spellbound, the judges were clearly taken with the beauty and power of the voice that filled the auditorium. Even, cynical ole’ Simon Cowell was taken aback. After the music stopped the audience stood to their feet cheering with delight. Everyone was surprised that such an incredible performance came from such an unlikely source.
The video of Susan Boyle’s audition went on to become one of the most-watched on You-Tube (now closing in on 200 million views). As for Boyle’s career, that one show changed her entire life. Since her début she has sold millions of albums worldwide and has scores of adoring fans.
I think Susan Boyle is an example of the old saying our mothers taught us, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Yet, its part of our fallen human nature to write people off before we have given them a fair shake. We think that with one glance we can size someone up correctly and assign a value to them on the basis of their appearance, ancestry, age, achievement and affluence.
Jesus spoke to us about the folly of a critical, judgmental attitude. “1 Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:1-3).
In fact, I would say that Matt. 7:1 has become the most popular Bible verse in our culture today. It’s the unbeliever’s favorite trump card against Christians who speak out against hot-button issues like same-sex marriage, abortion and religious pluralism. We’ve all heard the objection, “Well, who are you to judge?”
Ironically, this verse which the world loves the most, they understand least. Never has a passage of Scripture been so utterly abused, misunderstood and misapplied as this one. Before we can truly understand this passage, we need to clear up some popular misconceptions.
Most people think these verses mean, “You live your life the way you want to and I’ll live my life the way I want to. But don’t you dare impose your moral standards on me by telling me what is right and wrong.” The world cherry-picks this verse, “See, Jesus said you should never judge.”
To put it as nicely as possible, that's baloney. No one lives that way. If we caught a burglar walking out the front door with our television, we’d yell “Stop! Thief! Put that back!” Why? Because we all intuitively recognize that stealing is wrong and we are making a judgment call.
Here’s the great irony—when you call someone out for judging, you’re actually making a moral judgment about that person. It’s inescapable. Liberals take the judgment statements of Jesus out of context because they want to avoid any moral condemnation for their own actions.
Sadly, our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both of those extremes are wrong and Jesus shows us that you don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate. In fact, Jesus tells us to judge rightly.
· In this same passage Jesus tells us “to remove the speck out of our brother’s eye” and in verse six he tells us not to cast our pearls before dogs or hogs (a reference to enemies of the Gospel and not receptive to the truth). Both of these commands involve making judgments. Jesus isn’t telling us not to judge—He’s telling us how to judge.
· Later on in this same sermon, 7:16, Jesus tells us to be fruit inspectors of those who claim His name, “You shall know them by their fruits,” again this involves a judgment.
· In John 7:24 Jesus said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
· Matt. 23 is an entire chapter devoted to Jesus giving a scathing tongue-lashing to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. In that passage Jesus called the religious folk of his days, “blind guides” (23:24), “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones” (23:27) and a “brood of snakes” (23:33). Anyone who claims, “Jesus never judged anyone” is merely proving their Biblical illiteracy.
So rather than prohibiting judgment, Jesus gives us parameters for judgment. There are right ways of making judgments and wrong ways. In order to differentiate between the two, we need a good dose of discernment. Certainly, there are some cases where we ought not pick up the gavel and not render a verdict because we are poor substitutes for playing God.
The kind of judgment that Jesus warns us against in this text is the variety that the Pharisees practiced where they looked down their long noses at everyone else who didn’t measure up to their legalistic rules. This is a critical, fault-finding, self-righteous spirit that stinks of pride!
Kent Hughes writes, “The critical spirit is like the horsefly that buzzes with a sickening hum of satisfaction over sores and stench. The creature prefers corruption to health. Judgmental believers may go on to be with the Lord, but they will have very little reward for their hypercritical spirit and will have negated much of the good they may have done. This is a most fearful truth—that the tone of our life will be the standard by which God judges us one day.”
Another simple reason why judging critically is dangerous is because it requires that we have all the facts. In order to be a perfect judge, you must have perfect knowledge, but only God has omniscience. When we assume the position of judge we are setting ourselves up for embarrassment and failure because we do not see the total picture as God does. As 1 Sam. 16:7 says, “. . . Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
As one man said, “We judge a man for limp in his walk, but cannot see the rock in his shoe.”
So, let’s be careful with how we judge. Because one day we will have to stand before God. As Paul warned, “5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:5) -DM