Somewhere in our early school years, we learned about simple machines. The ever-present inclined plane, pulley, wheel and axle, and lever. Simple machines which make the difficult or impossible possible. That ancient Greek inventor Archimedes said something along the lines of “Give me a lever and I will move the world.” But the lever without a fulcrum, a pivot point, is nothing more than a long pole. It’s the pivot point that bears the weight of the lever and demonstrates an important lesson about making judgments.
Even if you haven’t read the Bible or walked with Jesus for long you may have heard “judge not lest you be judged.” Or something to that effect. Jesus actually said something a bit more frightening, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1–2, NLT) Let’s face it, we all judge. We’re hardwired to judge our world. To look at a piece of meat and decide if it is safe to eat. To examine a frozen lake and judge whether it is ok to cross. Even with people, we judge whether they are truthful, trustworthy, and honest. So, I’m confused. What is Jesus saying?
The standard you use, that’s how you will be judged yourself. Here’s what Jesus saw that we’re blind to. There are many standards of judgment. Many fulcrums or pivot points for our lever. Some will judge based on societal norms, others on religious instruction, some on how something is said while others only judge on content alone. Those are just a few of the fulcrums.
Here’s the trap we must be aware of. We may do really well and avoid judging others by one of these fulcrums. Pat yourselves on the back and say hurrah. We’re following Jesus’ words. Or are we? What about all the other fulcrums that we still use? You see we may lay aside one kind of judgment and retain others without even knowing it. We may do well at listening to what someone is saying but harshly judge how they are saying it. We may push aside judging from the basis religious dogma but still judge on the basis of some societal norms. We may find compassion for one kind of sin while judging another. That’s the trap. It’s like taking a bite of our dinner and claiming that we’ve cleaned our plate.
Then there’s also the pit of judging the judges. A maze so dense we dare not step foot into it lest we lose our way and this article never ends.
Jesus made this simple for us, “do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” Oh, and let’s not try to mask our judgment with words like discernment or “fruit inspectors.” We are to discern; the Holy Spirit even grants the gift of discerning of spirits. What we call discernment and what God intends are often miles apart. I’ll let you discern what that means.
Why are we warned about judging others? Judgment brings division. It is a wedge, also a simple machine, that separates rather than bringing healing and reconciliation. Almost all judgment makes us feel better about who we are. It’s as if we’re screaming – You’re a sinner and I’m not (except we are a sinner although perhaps not in the same way).
Let me put it this way. We love to quote John 3:16. I do. But let’s not forget John 3:17. “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17, NLT) The verses following expand on judgment and demonstrate that in reality, people judge themselves when they choose darkness over light. Our job, our only job, is to shine the light of Christ.
So, let’s put away our levers and fulcrums of judgment and simply shine. “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:16, NLT) Can you trust God to take care of everything else? Can you trust the Holy Spirit to change lives?