Judge not, that ye be not judged.

Have you ever been accused of doing something inappropriate or immature that you used to do but don’t anymore? It can be a little frustrating. You go through all this effort to change, but your reputation, how you are viewed in the eyes of others, doesn’t change as quickly. Looking back on times that this has happened to me I realized that my typical response to such an affront was to take offense at the other party’s misjudgment.

That is, until I read this passage in Matthew 7:

[1] Judge not, that ye be not judged.
[2] For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
[3] And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
[4] Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
[5] Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Jesus wasn’t giving exclusive, confidential, advanced training to his disciples when spoke these words from a mountaintop. He was speaking to a great multitude of followers. He was speaking to a crowd of newbies.

And what did he say? “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

He certainly had a way of explaining principles of truth, didn’t he? He was not one to sugar-coat them. He didn’t say “only judge when you haven’t been drinking” or “judgement is ok, but only after you’ve taken a good hard look at the situation.” He said, “Judge not.” Never, ever judge, no matter how justified you might feel in doing so.

I realized that in taking offense to false accusations I was actually judging. Taking offense is a form of judgment. I was using the little thing (i.e. “the mote”) in my brother’s eye as an excuse for not addressing the bigger issue (i.e. “the beam”) in my eye. Judgment is so sneaky! I wasn’t doing what I was accused of and believed that I had a clean heart about it. Yet, the fact that an old behavior was being held against me unfairly was used as justification to take offense at a new and arguably deeper level.

Judgment is always an excuse for not assuming responsibility for creative action. You cannot judge without simultaneously evading responsibility. Unfortunately, that something is almost always righteousness. Righteousness is right action for right action’s sake. The moment you judge, blame, point fingers, or accuse, you abandon righteousness and leave the door open for all kinds of ill spirits to enter your heart and take control of the situation.

Judgment was referred to early in the Bible. The forbidden fruit described in the Book of Genesis is judgment. Judgment—the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—is not something we were designed to handle. Our design, like the design of an automobile or an airplane, has a performance envelope. That which we are capable of handling safely lies within the envelope and that which lies beyond the envelope is undertaken at great risk.

For example, fly an airplane upside down that doesn’t have an engine that is designed to do so and you risk losing power. Or, drive an automobile into a lake to take a shortcut to the other side and you risk destroying the vehicle entirely. The same is true with judgment and the design of the human body, mind, and heart. Judge and you quickly exceed the operational limitations of your vehicle. Judgment is one of the very few things that lies outside of our capabilities.

There are many risks associated with judgment. When we judge, we are like the pilot who does not use supplemental oxygen while flying above 14,000 feet MSL. We can still operate, but our decision-making and vision begin to suffer due to an insufficient concentration of oxygen. What’s worse is that these diminished capabilities are almost always accompanied by an increase in the sense of wellbeing. Judgment, like hypoxia, has an intoxicating and stupefying effect on our emotional and mental capacities. We were not designed to judge, so the vehicle—our bodies, minds, and hearts—starts to break down when we operate outside of the design tolerances.

I remember the first time I drank too much alcohol. My second-guessing vanished, my worries and woes subsided, and my confidence soared. I felt like the king of the world, until I woke up the next morning after a string of questionable decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time. Judgment has the same effect. In the heat of the moment, our judgments seem like a good idea at the time, but if we are honest, we tend to regret decisions we make that are catalyzed by judgment.

Another interesting aspect of this is that when you judge, you are temporarily relieved of the pressure and weight of responsibility in relation to the target of your judgement. Responsibility is weighty, isn’t it? The weight is typically counterbalanced by privilege, but responsibility is something that must be carried. Judgment gives the momentary appearance of freedom from responsibility in relation to the thing judged. It brings a measure of euphoria. What is being said is essentially: “I don’t need to assume more responsibility, he/she/they do! I’m not the one at fault here!”

Judgment takes a load off…temporarily. But like over-drinking, the tab eventually comes due. Whenever responsibility is evaded, there is a cost and a penalty. The openly is opportunity cost. Opportunity cost weighs something too. The more you avoid handling that which is yours to handle, the more it grows. What’s worse is that it compounds. Stop making payments on a credit card balance and you’ll see what I mean. The problem become exponentially bigger. Take note, because the law of compounding interest applies more in life than just monetary debt.

Physically and mentally speaking judgment increases dopamine activity in the mesolimbic reward pathway, as well as opioid cells that release endorphins, just like alcohol. Both produce feelings of joy, pleasure, and euphoria, depending upon the type of activation. Judgment is for all intents and purposes, a drug, and a very destructive one at that.

Sadly, judgment has become the drug of choice throughout the body of humanity, ever since the fall of man. Rare is the human being who has risen above judgment since that time. Even those who live comparatively “clean” lives, free of the typically substances or activities that inflame passions and extinguish reason, judge more often than they might imagine. If you don’t believe me, take some time to observe. There is a fine line between righteousness and self-righteousness. And most people, even the so-called good ones, cross it regularly.

Jesus showed how judgment could be overcome on earth, while living. In fact, that was the central victory of his brief, but momentous ministry. He rose above judgment, initially when he was “led up through the desert” to for “forty days and forty nights.” He was tempted by the “devil,” that is, his own self-active mind that sought to compel him to judgment, and he resisted the temptation at all three levels of being. The temptation to what? The temptation to judge.

After meeting the temptation of judgment in himself, he called for those those around him to do the same. He said (and repeated), “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” A central implication of this incredibly potent admonition was that if you repent, that is, rethink by changing your inner orientation to that which is above you rather than that which is below you, you stop judgment and a new pattern of control (i.e. the “kingdom of heaven”) immediately enters the picture. Look at it this way: a kingdom is a place of control. The kingdom of which he spoke is controlled by love and truth. This new and marvelous kingdom is allowed to manifest and will do so immediately when we relinquish judgment.

The world is in the mess it is in because of judgment. My life was in the mess it was in at various points because of judgment. Your life is in the mess it is in because of judgment, not because of someone else, not because of your particularly terrible unfortunate and unfair set of circumstances, but because of judgment. Life gets messy quickly whenever there is judgment and sadly, judgment always perpetuates suffering and eventually leads to death.

Jesus demonstrated the victory over judgment numerous other times in his ministry, including, but not limited too when he called his disciplines and then during his legendary sermon on the mount. He showed over and over again how to relinquish judgment. He did so at the marriage feast at Cana. He did so when he was rejected by virtually all of those who were closest to Him. This was the core message of his ministry. “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

He got the ball rolling. He demonstrated the victory, but then encouraged each and every one on earth to follow him. He led by example. “Follow me,” he said. He also made the curious statement recorded in Matthew 11:

[28] Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
[29] Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
[30] For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Why was his yoke easy and his burden light? He had the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he had let go of judgment. He demonstrated—through his living—how to navigate the “strait gate”and the “narrow way” that “leadeth unto life” described so generously back where we started this consideration, in Matthew 7.

Jesus revealed with meticulous care, over and over again, how to reenter the garden planted eastward in Eden, that is, how to be in the world, but not of it. He had come free of the narcotic influence of the forbidden fruit. He had overcome the world and he graciously invited us to do the same, not by his dying, but through his living.

Will you follow him? If you do, you and your Father shall be one. If you do, you will leave the valley of the shadow of death, the vast and miserable valley paved by judgment, once and for all.

What really do you have to lose?

Photo by Keith Hardy on Unsplash

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