Life is decision-making. Judgment. But don’t do it unrighteously. Be generous.
Mark 4.24 • Matthew 7.1-5 • Luke 6.37-38, 41-42
I already wrote an article about taking Matthew 7.1, “Judge not,” out of context: Generally people just take those two words and use ’em to forbid anyone from critiquing or condemning anyone. Particularly them. It’s not at all what Jesus meant, and today I get to what Jesus meant.
This bit of the Sermon on the Mount comes right after Jesus instructed his followers against worry. It’s appropriate: Don’t prejudge circumstances indiscriminately, and don’t prejudge people unfairly.
Matthew 7.1-2 KWL
- 1 “Don’t criticize. Thus you won’t be criticized.
- 2 For you’ll be critiqued by the very criticism you criticize with.
- The measurement you measure with, will measure you.”
Luke 6.37 KWL
- “Don’t criticize, and you won’t be criticized.
- Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged.
- Forgive, and you’ll be forgiven.”
Obviously I translate kríno/“criticize” differently than the
Which we all do. As we should. Everyone critiques stuff, daily, as part of the decision-making process. We decide which shoes to wear, which breakfast cereals to eat, which coffee blend to drink, which movies to watch, whether to read TXAB on a daily basis… Life is choices. Every choice involves weighing our options, and critiquing them.
Jesus expects this, which is why he follows up “Don’t critique” with “You’ll be critiqued by the very criticism you criticize with.” It’s a warning that if we apply this criticism to other people, to serious issues… we’re gonna get held up to that very same standard.
When we critique others—when we decide whether their behaviors meet with our approval, or whether their practices make them fit company for us to hang around with—we gotta realize we’re not beyond similar criticism ourselves. Are we fit company? Do we come across as annoying, difficult, narrow-minded, or boring? We have no business setting ourselves as above criticism, as on a higher level than anyone else. We aren’t exempt. Especially when we fall short of our own judgment.
Whereas Jesus said it in Luke: “Forgive, and you’ll be forgiven.” If people are gonna judge us by our own behavior, and our behavior is more fruit of the Spirit than self-righteous
The chip and the beam.
Tacked to this lesson in Matthew is Jesus’s story of the chip and the beam.
Matthew 7.3-5 KWL
- 3 “Why do you see the wood chip in your brother’s eye,
- yet not notice the support beam in your eye?
- 4 How will you tell your brother, ‘Let me get the chip out of your eye’?
- Look, there’s a beam in your eye!
- 5 You hypocrite, first get the beam out of your eye!
- And you’ll see straight enough to get out the chip from your brother’s eye.”
Luke 6.41-42 KWL
- 41 “Why do you see the wood chip in your brother’s eye,
- yet not notice the support beam in your own eye?
- 41 How can you tell your brother, ‘Let me get the chip out of your eye’,
- yourself not seeing there’s a beam in your eye?
- You hypocrite, first get the beam out of your eye!
- And you’ll see straight enough to get out the chip in your brother’s eye.”
Like the previous verses, this story is regularly taken out of context to claim we’re never, ever to judge others: We figure they have a chip in their eyes, but we have an entire support beam. We’re worse than they.
Not necessarily. Sometimes we are. Sometimes not. But when we’re not, Jesus expects us to deal with our own problem first: Get the beam out before you critique wood chips. For that matter, get our wood chips out as well.
What makes Jesus’s intent clear is the one word ypokritá!/“hypocrite!” It doesn’t just mean those who are inconsistent in their behavior, who go by a double standard. They are doing that. But the problem is they’re lying about it—pretending they’re fine, that they need no help themselves, that they’re perfect. Jesus doesn’t mean people in denial, who don’t realize they’ve got problems. Hypocrites are fully aware they have beams in their eyes. But they hide ’em—and one of the more common ways to hide our own sins is to critique the sins of others.
The usual form of hypocrisy among Christians is when we have a double standard, but try to disguise it. It’s the gossip who says, “I think you need to know this stuff so you’ll know what to pray for.” It’s the guy whose wife is fully aware what a freak he is in the bedroom, but he distracts away from it by condemning similar freaky behavior in movies, in pornography, and anywhere else. It’s the woman who looks forward every day to “wine o’clock,” but rants about marijuana use. Or the child-abusing parent who proclaims family values.
The next-most-common is when we used to commit those sins… and don’t now, but hide the fact we ever did. Like the parents who never want their kids to find out how promiscuous they were in their own teenage years. They never imagine, “Don’t, because I did, and I was wrong” is a way more powerful argument than, “I never did that, and you shouldn’t either.” They’re far more interested in concealing their shame. It’s a pride thing… which backfires, ’cause once the kids discover their parents’ hypocrisy, they never realize it’s because their parents are ashamed of their sins. They don’t realize there was stuff to regret; only that stuff was hidden. As they’ll do when they commit those very same sins themselves. Hypocrisy breeds hypocrisy.
The beams in our own eyes are secret beams. That’s the problem.
But just like a real-life beam, our subterfuge fools no one. Everybody can see the beam! We’re never as good at hiding these sins as we think. And if fellow Christians can’t deduce it on their own, Holy Spirit also has a habit of telling on us,
The way to defeat it: Confess all. Remember, people are often more offended by the hypocrisy than actual sins we’re trying to conceal. They assume (and they’re often right) we’re trying to lord our perfection over them. So let’s flatten the playing field right away: We’re not perfect. Nowhere close. But we’re trying, and we invite others to come try with us. Maybe we can help one another.
Double standards and integrity.
Hypocrisy’s bad, but double standards are often just as bad. ’Cause then we’re talking denial. Blind spots. Stuff we’re not always aware exists—which makes ’em much harder to root out than lies.
The most common double standard we Christians encounter (well, other than sexism) is the typical, “Well it’s different when I do it.” When we do it, it’s for the right reasons. Out of noble motives. Benevolent feelings. Best of intentions. Under the covering of God’s absolute, unlimited grace. We’re everyone’s moral or intellectual superior. We’re under a different dispensation, or have a new and unique covenant with God. We’re chosen people.
When they do it, it’s ’cause they’re evil, stupid, corrupt. Duped at best.
But offering ourselves nothing but grace, and preemptively condemning others, builds that slippery slope towards all sorts of evil. We trample on them. We don’t love our neighbors. We use ’em, or shove ’em aside, to get our way, and do as we please.
So when Jesus says “Don’t criticize,” he doesn’t mean we’re to stop analyzing our situation. He doesn’t mean we’re to stop condemning evil. Read that Sermon on the Mount again: Jesus analyzed a lot of misinterpretations of scripture. He critiqued hypocrites, pagans, those who won’t love our enemies, those who swear to do things but never follow through, those who divorce indiscriminately, those who indulge their anger just as indiscriminately.
The difference is Jesus doesn’t consider himself above his own sermon. He followed the Sermon on the Mount—perfectly. He practices what he preaches. He’s not on some special level just because he’s Messiah, or God. When he criticizes, he can stand up to that very same critique easily. That’s the point.
When we criticize, and can’t stand up to that very same critique, that’s inconsistency. That’s a lack of integrity. And when we don’t criticize, sometimes it’s out of pure selfish libertarianism: “You don’t critique me, I don’t critique you; let’s be accountable to no one. Let’s be scumbags.” Just as evil.
Sometimes there are good reasons for keeping our mouths shut. Sometimes it’s because we’ve learned by experience the criticism isn’t fair. Take a pastor who’s a recovering alcoholic: He knows how addiction works. For this reason he’s not gonna condemn addicts: If it weren’t for God’s grace he’d still be in their shoes. He’s not just blanketly condemn them as defective, worthless people, like social Darwinists do. He’ll recognize God helps people out of their addictions, and try to be God’s hands and feet in helping these people out too. He’s not gonna condemn; he’s gonna forgive. You know, like Jesus does.
Sometimes it’s because there’s a time be quiet, and a time to speak.
And yeah, sometimes it’s for illegitimate reasons. Like libertarianism. Or cowardice: “Tolerant” Christians won’t condemn any sins—even sins which’re tearing apart their own churches!—because they don’t have the courage to tell people, “In Jesus’s name, stop.” The youth pastor is diddling the kids, but it gets swept under the rug. The leadership is exploiting new Christians into becoming free labor, but it gets overlooked. There’s a really inappropriate couple in the congregation, but it’ll even get highlighted: “Look how affirming we are!”
But we need fair, constructive, uplifting criticism. I certainly know I do. If I go wrong, I want people to care enough about me (or care enough about God) to straighten me out. If I offend ’em unintentionally, I may never realize it, and densely go right on doing it—and have no idea how pissed and bitter I’m making them. Speak up!
Just bear in mind: We’re on the same level. If I need to stop doing it, so do you. If I’m a dirty sinner, so are you. Keeping this fact in mind when we correct each other, helps us avoid the “holier-than-thou” attitude which makes correction so hard to swallow.
Giving and getting.
In Mark and Luke, Jesus’s saying “The measurement you measure with, will measure you” has a slightly different context. It’s also about generosity and grace.
Mark 4.24 KWL
- Jesus told them, “Look at what you’re hearing.
- The measurement you measure with, will measure you—and add more to you.”
Luke 6.37-38 KWL
- 37 “Don’t criticize, and you won’t be criticized.
- Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged.
- Forgive, and you’ll be forgiven.
- 38 Give, and it’ll be given you:
- They’ll pour a good measurement, packed in, shaken, overflowing, into your apron.
- The measurement you measure with, will measure you again.”
Mark continues with Jesus’s lesson that for those who have, more will be given; for those who don’t have, more will be lost.
But the reason these other gospels start to get into Jesus’s sayings about generosity, is ’cause “Don’t criticize” does have to do with generosity. What’s the usual reason we humans start criticizing one another? It’s not for constructive reasons, not to encourage or correct or help one another. It’s to knock down, undermine, drive away, or keep away. It’s to break relationships, not restore them.
When we critique fairly, when we forgive instead of condemn, we tend to get that measured back to us. We get back the benefit of the doubt: Optimism, rationality, generosity, and grace.
Yeah, there will always be some folks who misinterpret us, whether accidentally or deliberately. Sometimes they wanna smack us back. But people often recognize good will, and willingly or grudgingly give it back. Most often when it’s given back, we get back more than we put in: If people are feeling a little hostile, and feel a little guilty for feeling hostile, they overcompensate. Hence that packed-in overflowing measurement Jesus mentions.
The same applies when we listen to other people’s critiques. When they’re legitimately trying to be helpful, but we don’t wanna hear it, and ascribe evil motives to them, that’s not a fair interpretation. Or when Jesus tries to teach something, but we don’t wanna obey, so we rejigger things so we don’t have to… well, that’s the basis Jesus will use to reward us for our obedience, or not.
If we transform Jesus into a libertine who doesn’t care how other people behave, or a libertarian who doesn’t care how we behave, we won’t be rewarded much. If anything. We might even be penalized. Even what we have will be taken from us. We’ll enter the kingdom, but bring absolutely nothing of value with us. Paupers on streets of gold.
But God wants to be generous with us. If we apply generous standards to how loving and forgiving we are to others, God adds more. If we apply vigorous standards to how earnestly we strive to obey Jesus, God’s more gracious when we fail to meet those standards. He wants to over-reward our efforts. Of course, that means there need to be efforts on our part.
So be like Jesus. Don’t criticize and judge when you see him being gracious. Offer help when people need it. Offer grace too: Forgive and get forgiven. Be generous, and receive generosity back, either directly from God, or indirectly from people who realize we’re making the effort—and we’re worth supporting.