Fourth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| June 15, 2008| St. Luke 6, 37
“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
“Judge not.” So says Jesus. It is one of his best known sayings. Don’t stand in judgment of your brother. Don’t condemn him. Don’t play God. Before you presume to take the speck out of your brother’s eye, take the log out of your own eye.
Before we consider what these words are saying to us, let us first consider what they are not saying. Jesus is not rejecting the kind of judging that must take place by those in positions of authority in the government, in the home, in the classroom, at the workplace. Nobody in a position of authority could do his job without judging other people’s behavior. Try raising a family without judging your children’s conduct. It can’t be done.
Second, these words may not be used to reject God’s permanent standards of right and wrong. When Jesus says, “Judge not,” this does not mean that we may not judge between what is right and wrong, good and evil. In fact, we are required to do so. Our text for today is taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which includes the strictest law found anywhere in the Bible. Christ’s command, “Judge not,” is God’s law. It sets down God’s standard for how we are to think, speak, and conduct ourselves.
You may not use God’s law to contradict God’s law. But this is often what is done. We are forbidden by some to call a sin a sin. Abortion, divorce, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, and other sins are no longer considered sins by many. Even people who claim to speak for God tell us that we may not judge such sins as sinful. But when God’s word has already judged what is right and what is wrong we must accept the judgment that God had made.
Christians are often afraid to take a stand for what is right and reject what it wrong because they don’t want to be labeled judgmental. “Judge not.” These words have been used to excuse every kind of sin imaginable. But the words of the prophet Isaiah stand: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”
Thirdly, these words do not mean that we may not judge between true and false teaching. There is forgiveness from God for every kind of sin, even the most wicked sort of perversion and cruelty imaginable. That forgiveness is given in the pure preaching of the gospel and the right administration of Christ’s sacraments. When the words of Jesus, “Judge not,” are twisted into forbidding us from judging false teaching we must not cave in to this human rule. God’s pure gospel is the source of the forgiveness we need. “Be merciful, Jesus says, just as your Father is merciful.” When is the Father’s mercy revealed? We find it in the gospel. Not in a generic gospel that mutters generalities about God’s love, but in the specific biblical gospel that is centered in the crucifixion of the Son of God. This requires us to judge all false gospels because without the true gospel we have no mercy from God, no forgiveness, and no life. But the words of Jesus, “Judge not,” are often used to forbid us from judging false gospels that would deprive us sinners of the forgiveness of sins. It is for the sake of sinners who suffer under the burden of sin that we must judge between true and false doctrine.
I cannot think of a greater distortion of the Holy Scriptures than the popular claim that Jesus’ words against judging forbid us from judging false doctrine. Thank God that in the 4th Century St. Athanasius judged the false doctrine of the Arians who denied the true deity of Christ! If Jesus were not true God and true man, he could not be our Savior and we would remain under God’s judgment. Thank God that in the 16th Century Martin Luther judged the false doctrine of the pope who taught that good works are necessary for salvation. If our good works helped to save us then Jesus did not actually suffer fully for all of our sins and God did not really forgive us when Jesus died. Our faith would then be uncertain and we would remain under God’s judgment. There has always been and there will always be the need to identify and condemn false teaching that poison’s the soul. Thank God for his servants who sound the alarm when error threatens!
All false teaching ultimately leads us away from simple trust in the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation given to us in the gospel and sacraments of Christ. All false teaching therefore leads us under judgment.
This is why we must judge and condemn any teaching that would attack the gospel on any point. Jesus warns us about false prophets and false teachers. St. Paul tells us to mark and avoid them. Why? Because there is truth and there is falsehood. The true gospel brings us out from under God’s judgment and sets us free. The many false gospels leave us under God’s judgment. The true gospel reveals a definite and powerful mercy from a loving Father who saw us in our sin and laid it on his beloved Son, who willingly bore the judgment and the condemnation in our place. The true gospel tells us that in our baptism God has graciously adopted us as his children. In the true gospel, God brings us to repentance by speaking words of pure and boundless love to us in our deepest guilt and shame. We must, and by God’s grace we will judge and condemn every false gospel we hear, because we need God’s mercy, we live alone by God’s mercy, and it is only when we have received it that we can even begin to understand our Lord’s command, “Be merciful, Judge not, condemn not, forgive.”
People who refuse to stand in judgment against false teaching usually are quite at ease in standing in judgment against their neighbors. Those who tolerate errors in doctrine are quite intolerant of their neighbor’s errors.
Why do we find such pleasure in judging one another? What compels us to condemn each other, to withhold forgiveness from one another? Is it not our own sense of guilt and our own fear of judgment? But surely we don’t make ourselves any better or remove God’s judgment from us when we choose to impute evil motives to our brothers and sisters. We don’t actually become good when we explain the actions of others in such a way as to make them look bad and ourselves good by comparison. The very opposite is the case. When we stand in judgment of our brothers, when we delight in exposing their sins, we deny the mercy of God; we deny the faith and bring God’s judgment on ourselves. The very essence of our Christian faith is the mercy of our heavenly Father who, for Christ’s sake, has blotted out all our sins. Therefore, the very essence of Christian love is to cover up the wrongs of our neighbor, just as God has covered our wrongs by the blood of his Son. What are we doing when we hold grudges, when we seek out faults, when we use ourselves as the standard by which to condemn others? We are rejecting the faith that receives God’s mercy. We are rejecting the life that is lived under God’s mercy. We are embracing judgment and condemnation.
Are we are so concerned about our own good names that we get hot with anger at the thought of how people run us down behind our backs, judging, condemning, and putting the worst construction on everything we do? Then stop and consider that our reputations are no more valuable than the reputations of those we choose to judge. Or have we forgotten that our only worthiness, our only glory, our only honor is in the crucifixion of the Son of God where Mercy incarnate met and satisfied the divine demands of Justice and brought mercy to us?
When the blind leads the blind they both fall into the ditch. Christ is our only leader because he alone is the true light that has come into this world. Yes, we judge and we condemn all sin and all false teaching. We have received this command from God. But we do so for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of giving to others the mercy we ourselves have received from God. Love does not rejoice in evil, it does not enjoy finding fault. It rejoices in the truth. It finds its greatest joy in the forgiveness of sins.
Do you find yourself judging, condemning, criticizing, blaming, and finding fault? You need a clear conscience, and only God can give it to you. Does your conscience condemn you? Do you feel God’s judgment against you? Are you living in sin without repentance? Are you afraid to admit to God that what you are doing is wrong? Do you feebly try to use Jesus’ words, “Judge not,” as a license to persist in what you know in your heart to be wrong? Do you then try to appease your own accusing conscience by laying judgment on those you might think are standing in judgment of you?
I invite you to look to where all judgment is silenced. Look and see Jesus hanging on the cross bearing God’s judgment against you. See God’s mercy for you. You cannot turn away God’s judgment by standing in judgment of others. But Christ can turn it away. In fact, he has already done so. That is mercy. God gives it to you. You won’t lose it by giving it away. You won’t expose your own sin by covering up the faults of your brothers and sisters.
We don’t lose by giving. Imitating the mercy of our Father in heaven is never a loss for us. We live under mercy. We received mercy when Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, was given to us, making us children of the Father. It is always for Christ’s sake that we offer forgiveness in the place of judgment. This is how our Father in heaven has dealt with us, and we are his children. Amen.