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Judgment Without Condemnation

We tend to live in a day and age where “judgment” is a bad word.  If someone used the word, those around seem to have a proverbial bar of soap ready to wash their mouths out.  Yet judgment happens all the time, and judgment can be a good thing.  We judge books by their cover.  We’re told not to, but let’s face it, if we see a book with bright colors and an intriguing picture we are much more likely to reach for it and read it than a book that looks to have lost it’s jacket.  We judge candy bars. I can tell you right now that if a candy bar has coconut on or in it (or pineapple) I will deem that candy bar a product of the devil.  (People tend to think that Adam and Eve ate an apple; I think however it was a pineapple.).   We judge styles and what we will wear.  This shirt or that shirt?  These boots or those sandals?  Judgment happens a million times a day.

Yet, when judgment comes against a person, then suddenly we have that word deserving of a good disinfectant soap.  After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” (Luke 6:36, ESV)?  But the question is really, what does it mean to judge?  Does it mean that we can’t ever make decisions about right and wrong?  Surely not, because we cannot exist in a world without decisions being made.  So what does this mean?

In the context, Jesus just stated, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful,” (Luke 6:35, ESV).  The mercy and the judgment are in contrast to one another.  Mercy is often described as not getting (or giving) what is deserved.  Judgment is giving (or getting) what is deserved.  Judgment, in this case, is similar to the second part of verse 36: “Condemn not, and you will not be condemned.”  It was part of Jewish culture to state something and then restate it in a slightly different way. It’s what is known as parallelism.  One of the easiest examples is from Numbers 6:24-26, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”  These three verses essentially say the same thing (the parallel each other), but they each use different words to convey the same idea.  So when Jesus stated that we are to judge not, he was referring to condemnation.  Rather than give what is deserved (Luke 6:36), we are to be merciful (Luke 6:35).   It does not mean that we cannot call a spade a spade or a sin a sin.

The clearest example of this (and what led to this blog), is seen in John 8.  A woman has been caught in adultery.  The Pharisees and Scribes bring her to Jesus to trap him.  They ask what they should do with her since the law of Moses stated they should stone her.  Jesus knelt down and started writing on the ground.  When they had demanded over and over again for an answer, “he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,'” (v. 7, ESV). Judgment (condemnation) would state that stones should be thrown.  Mercy says, “should I throw a stone as I too am a sinner?”

Here is the key ingredient that helped me out with this idea of judging but without condemnation.  One by one, beginning with the oldest, the accusers (condemners) all left.  It was just Jesus and the woman.  Notice these first three words : “Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you,'” (v. 10, ESV)?  Jesus stood up.  He took the very same posture with the woman that he did with the Pharisees and Scribes.  He took the position of authority over both.  He taught one group about giving mercy, and the woman about receiving it.  But when she agreed that no one was left to condemn her, the only one who was able to bring condemnation against her stated, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more,” (v. 11, ESV).  No condemnation in that sentence.  But there is judgment.  She had sinned and Jesus said as much.  Jesus’ judgment was right; what this lady had done was sinful.  He rightly decided about her state of being: sinful.  But rather than condemn her for being in such a state, he was merciful to her.  He was merciful by not being a stone-thrower and by warning her to stop sinning.

Remember what Micah wrote so long ago:

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God,” (6:8, ESV).

A man who condemns, is a man so full of self-righteousness that he is not even able to do one of those requirements, let alone show mercy.

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy,” (Matt 5:7, ESV).