There is a new John 3:16. The old John 3:16 was John 3:16. That was the verse that everyone knew, the verse that was familiar to all, the verse that you saw plastered all over the place, the verse to which people would point, the verse that even people who didn't know the Lord had somehow committed to their memory. John 3:16 was ubiquitous. The new John 3:16 is Matthew 7:1. Of course the old John 3:16 people knew as "John 3:16." They could tell you the address of the verse. No one knows the address of the new John 3:16, Matthew 7:1. They just know its principle, and they only hold Christians to this principle, not themselves. "Judge not that you be not judged." The shorthand for this new John 3:16 is quite simple: Don't judge me. That's our attitude both inside and outside the church. In fact, we use this as a baseline for establishing genuine love. Genuine love is a love that doesn't judge. Genuine love is a love that receives me just as I am. If you are judging me, you are not loving me.
In Romans 14:10-12 we have what could be considered a companion passage to Matthew 7:1. It's another compelling passage of Scripture that calls us not to pass judgment.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
First, I want us to experience the full weight of this text in its context, and then I want us to balance it against those areas in Scripture where judgment is clearly called for. We make judgments every day. We could not survive if we didn't do this. What time do we need to leave in order to make it to church on time? Questions like that are judgments. We judge whether or not we have enough gas to make it where we're going. We judge the appropriateness of our clothing. We judge which church to go to. We judge the music at that church. We judge the sermon. We even judge people. Is she a good or a bad person? Is he a competent doctor or not? Is this a good or bad accountant? Is this a trustworthy or untrustworthy salesman?
But this text is not about making judgments. This text is about passing judgment. And there is a difference. Passing judgment means you look beyond what a person says or does into the very heart of the person as though you have the ability to discern, 1) why they do what they do and 2) the foundation from which it is being done (i.e., whether they are genuinely saved or not). We make a judgment when we say, "This person is not a good salesman. I want another salesman." But we passing judgment by saying, "This person is not a good salesman. He is intentionally trying to harm me and take advantage of me, and I know this because I see what's in his soul."
The better we know people, the more likely we are to pass judgment on them. The closer a person is to us, the more likely we are to assume that we know not just whether what they did was wrong but where it came from and, more specifically, what the intention of the heart was.
You don't have the authority to pass judgment.
This text doesn't allow for us to pass judgment on others. Why? First of all, because we don't have the authority to pass judgment. Notice what he says in verse 10: "Why do you pass judgment on your brother?" You don't have the authority to pass judgment on your brother. The brother relationship is between equals. Passing judgment is the act of a superior. It is the act of a judge, not a brother. It is not within the purview of your responsibility to pass judgment on your brother or your sister.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
That's the relationship that we have as brothers and sisters. We also find this relationship in these verses:
Romans 12:10: "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor."
12:16: "Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight."
Romans 14:13: "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother."
Romans 15:5: "May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another in accord with Christ Jesus."
15:7: "Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."
We're brothers and sisters in Christ, and the act of passing judgment on another is to assume superiority. Paul makes it clear that the one who has authority to do so is God himself, in an ultimate sense. And you are not God. You don't pass judgment on your brothers and sisters because you don't have the authority to pass judgment on them.
You don't have the insight to pass judgment.
Second, you lack the insight necessary to pass judgment on your brothers and sisters. You don't know his heart. You don't know why he did what he did. You don't know if his intentions were evil or otherwise. You don't know if it was an error or if it was on purpose. In fact, you don't even know your own heart. How on earth can you know your brother's heart if you don't know your own? Your own heart is desperately and deceitfully wicked. You deceive yourself all the time. And yet you have the audacity to pass judgment on your brother like you know what's in his heart?
Notice these verses about your own heart:
First Samuel 16:7: "For the Lord sees not as man sees. Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." The Lord looks on the heart. You cannot. You can't.
Jeremiah 17:9-10: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."
Hebrews 4:13: "No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." That's God.
Luke 16:15: "And he said to them, 'You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.'"
Here's the amazing thing: people can do to you the same thing that you do to them, but when you do it you give yourself the benefit of the doubt. When they do it, you know that their intention was evil from the start. If you can't say amen, you ought to say ouch. That's precisely how we are. That's exactly the way we live, and that's exactly the way we treat one another. You did it to me because you were evil; I did it to you because I made a mistake. You did it to me because you hate me; I did it to you in spite of the fact that I love you, and of course you ought to know that. You lack the authority to pass judgment on your brother, and you lack the insight to pass judgment on your brother.
Husbands, do you hear me? Wives, do you hear me? "Sweetheart, I'm sorry. I forgot." "No, you didn't forget. You're just evil." "Yeah, but last year you forgot." "Well of course, I've got a lot on my plate. You, on the other hand, are evil."
You don't have the purity to pass judgment.
Third, you lack the purity to pass judgment on your brother. Paul refers to the strong and weak, not the right and wrong. In verse 10 he says, "Why do you pass judgment on your brothers? Or you, why do you despise your brothers?" Now go back to the beginning of this passage.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and [then] let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats.
To whom is he referring in verse 10, the weak brother or the strong brother? He has not made a point about one being right and the other being wrong. There's a reason that the weak brother is weak in the area where he is. There's a reason that the strong brother is strong in the area where he is. If we talked about another topic they could switch places, and the brother who's weak over here could be strong over there, and the brothers who's strong over here could be weak over there. This is not a statement about one brother being righteous and the other brother being unrighteous. It's not that one of these has purity and the other does not.
You're not righteous. You cannot pass judgment on others because you stand under the same judgment and the same sentence. God is the Judge, and you will have to stand before that Judge. You won't hear this: You know what? We can do this real quick because you're righteous, and people have always wronged you in spite of the fact that you are righteous. God bless you. Move on so I can get to those people who you had to deal with all your life who weren't as righteous as you.
There are seven judgments that we see in Scripture:
The final judgment of unbelievers at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15).
And a judgment of believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Listen to what James Montgomery Boice says about this:
These judgments involve God's punishments of individuals or nations for those peoples' specific sins. Those punishments involve spiritual and eternal death and hell suffering. The last of these judgments stands apart from the rest because it is a judgment of believers, which means that it is not for sin and does not involve spiritual death or suffering. Nevertheless, it is still a real judgment in which the followers of Christ are to give an account for what they have done in this life and are either rewarded or disapproved by God on that basis.
You're going to stand before God. The one that you are trying to pass judgment upon is going to stand before God. And when you both stand before God, your grade won't be 100.
Because oftentimes when I judge the motives of another, I do so because I'm wicked. I say, "You did that to me because you're wicked." But in the back of my mind, I'm thinking (and may not even be aware that I'm thinking), I know that you're wicked because I'm wicked.
When you feel the need to pass judgment on your brother, take a moment to pause and think about who you are and how you'll look before Christ. That will transform your attitude toward your brother or your sister.
Listen to this from James Edwards:
On that day all pretense will be dispelled, all moral judgments and altruistic pronouncements will be exploded as self-serving masks of pride. All gifts and sacrifices will be seen in the light of their real motives. All strivings and hopes and goals will be judged only from the perspective of whatever faith and love inspired them.
You lack the occasion to pass judgment.
Finally, you lack the occasion to pass judgment on your brother. The occasion of judgment on your brother is when he stands before Christ. That's when judgment will be passed on your brother. You are not Christ, who will judge the living and the dead on the last day. And for you or me to stand in his stead to prematurely pass the judgment that only he can pass is an act of blasphemy and an attempt to rob Christ of his glory. We take from him what is rightfully his alone on that day alone. Therefore, we must not pass judgment on our brothers.
You have the authority to judge sin.
Yet we have to make judgments. How do we balance that? First, remember the context of this passage. Paul is specifically talking to the church in Rome where Jewish and Gentile believers were coming together in the first century. He's talking about two things in particular: eating of meat sacrificed to idols and the observation of certain holy days.
His audience does not yet have a New Testament. He's saying to the Gentiles: That Jewish believer who's been a Jew all his life, who's eaten a certain way all his life, has come to faith in Christ and put everything on the line. He has been baptized publicly, perhaps signing his own death warrant because the Jews and the Greeks will now want him dead. That individual has eaten a certain way his whole life, and it pricks his conscience to walk away from that. Because based on the very texts that pointed to the Messiah, he learned to show his fidelity to God. It's very difficult to just roll out of bed one day and not do that. It is not something clearly set forth as sinful.
Paul says to the one who abstains, "I get it. I'm a Jew. I understand, but let me help you understand the way you operate in respect to your brothers. They're Gentiles. Don't expect them to have the same convictions about this peripheral issue that you do. Don't despise them." To the Gentiles, he says, "You know their background and where they come from. Don't judge them, because some practices in your past are going to be problems for you, too. So don't look at your brother and say, 'Can you believe he's eating that? What sinful behavior. What godless behavior to sit there knowing that food was sacrificed to an idol. How does he not just get up and run out of that place? He can't be a real Christian.'"
We're commanded to rebuke sin. There's a difference between a peripheral issue and a sin issue. Abstaining from those meats is not a sin issue. They could become sin issues. If I'm abstaining from these meats and I believe that I'm gaining some merit before God because I abstain and my brother doesn't, that's a pride issue, a sin issue. Matthew 18:15-20 says that if your brother sins against you, rebuke him—not if your brother has a preference that is different from yours.
Let's put the cookies on the bottom shelf and talk about an issue that's coming up very quickly: Christmas. There's a group of people in this church who do not and will not celebrate Christmas. I'm one of them. There's another group of people in this church who have never even thought about it that way. It is a tradition with which they've grown up. They don't mean it as any sort of mass. They don't mean it as an act of worship. It is almost an utterly secular observance.
By the way, the most expensive Christmas tree in the world last year was in Abu Dhabi, a Muslim country in the Middle East. Because they believe Christmas has nothing to do with Christ. There are people in this church who go all-out for Christmas, and they've already started decorating. There are other people in this church who are not going to do anything. Some think: They don't celebrate Christmas. They don't love Jesus. They don't want to celebrate his birth. That's passing judgment. Others think: They're celebrating Christmas. They're pagans. Don't they know where those traditions come from?
But there's a difference between this principle and the way that we deal with things that are sinful and clearly lined out in Scripture.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you'll gain your brother. But if he does not listen, take one of two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector."
It sounds like you're supposed to pass judgment. But listen to what Jesus says:
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."
This passage is about the authority of the church which is the body of Christ. You as an individual don't have the right to excommunicate another person. You have to bring others from the church, and then they go before the authority of the church itself. The church is exercising the authority it has, but even then the church can't exercise final judgment on a person. It can put you out of the church, but not out of the kingdom if you're truly saved.
In 1 Corinthians 5 we find the same thing, and Paul even uses describes a man who is shacking up with his stepmother. Paul says, "I've passed judgment on him already. When you guys get together, follow suit. Kick him out." First Corinthians 5:9 says:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. but now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immortality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you."
You can't just ignore that passage and go with the new John 3:16 of our day—don't judge me—as though every time one person says to another, "That's wrong," they've violated the ultimate principle of Christianity.
You have the authority to judge heresy.
You also have the authority to judge heresy. In 2 John, John tells us, "If somebody comes to you and they're denying the essential doctrines of the faith, don't let them in your house." I believe he's speaking specifically about a certain kind of hospitality. Regardless of our interpretation of how far that goes, the statement's pretty clear. When people are holding to damnable heresies, we shouldn't associate with them. That's not judging based on my ability to look into your soul and to tell you about your standing before God. I don't have to know where a heresy comes from. All I have to know is that it's the opposite of what the Bible teaches concerning the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. I don't have to pass judgment on you as an individual in order to say that what you are teaching is heresy. It's unacceptable, not based on my authority, not based on my insight, not based on my purity, but based on commands from the Word of God.
The problem is when we take preference issues and treat them like sin issues or heresy issues. You might say, "Come on, junior. We can't associate with them." "Why?" "Because they're sinners." "Why?" "Because that girl is wearing pants. Shame on you." Or "They have a television. Shame on you." There's a difference between those things and true sin.
It's ironic that there are people who will associate with others and ignore significant doctrinal issues if all of their personal preferences line up. People have died over the issue of baptism. That's significant. But some people say, We'll ignore the question of how someone enters the church as long as we can all agree on how long skirts have to be and what your position has to be on television. As long as we can get together on these peripheral issues we can overcome those doctrinal things. That's getting it completely backwards. That would be as if Paul said in Romans 14, You're wrong on the person and work of Christ, but you agree with me on this meat eating thing. So I'm going to associate with you, not them, because what's really important is that we have the same preferences. You might as well say, "If you really want to know a person's standing before God and their rightness and their righteousness, you look at the preferences. Not all of them; just the ones that matter most to me. Don't judge me." That does not honor Christ.
I am not saying that we shouldn't talk about preferences. We might even argue, or respectfully disagree about preferences, pointing one another back to the Word. That's wonderful. We need to do more of that. But we jump ship when we elevate our preferences to the essentials and relegate the essentials to peripheral status.
A body of believers is held together by the essentials. The peripherals give us flavor and teach us how to live like Christians with our brothers and sisters. But most of us want a group of people who look, taste, smell, and act just like we do, so we don't have to learn how to love. It's easy to love your neighbor as yourself when your neighbor is a mirror reflection of you and all your preferences. It's quite a different thing when you love Christmas and they won't put up a tree. That's when we exercise Christian brotherhood.
Imagine being a Jew who grew up being taught not to eat meat sacrificed to idols, and you're sitting in church next to a Gentile, who didn't just eat meat sacrificed to an idol, but ate pork! That would probably make a person physically ill. Paul says, "Don't judge him." Close your eyes for a minute and listen to what he's saying and think about who he's saying it to. Think about the fact that this Gentile who did not grow up with all the things that you grew up with, who was a pagan practicing pagan religion, far away from God, has come to know and worship the Messiah just like you have. There are things that he does that are going to disgust you and tie you up in knots. But this is a fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham. When God said, "All the nations of the earth are going to be blessed," did you not think there was going to be some pork coming with that? That's how the phrase "don't judge me" applies.
Christ will judge. And if your brother's heart is wrong on the meat thing, Christ will judge him. But I guarantee when that happens you won't be rejoicing. Because in that moment you will have a clearer understanding of how selfish, arrogant, ignorant, prideful, and absolutely ridiculous you were in the way that you held yourself up before others. That's what ought to be on our minds when we attempt to peer into the souls of others and pass judgment.
Heresy must be called out, and there's a responsibility and a time and a place and a way to do that. Sin must be called out. But even then we're not passing judgment on our brother and sister. Instead we are holding up falsehood and sin to the light of Scripture as it has been revealed clearly.
Dr. Voddie Baucham is Pastor of Preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas.