Harmful Ways to Judge

By Rev. Jeffrey Smith

Do not judge, written with Scrabble letters.

“Judge not that ye be not judged.” It can feel good and righteous to use that verse, right? And make sure to say “ye” so that it sounds even more authoritative. It can stop any judgers in their tracks.

This verse may be one of the best-known sentences of scripture, and may also be the most used by both Christians and non-Christians alike.

People don’t seem to like to be judged, do they? They don’t like it when their mistakes are pointed out. It’s possible they might feel evil, or stupid, or despised when they are judged.

They say things like “What right do you have to judge me?”

And that’s a good question: what right DO we have to judge another person? If we see a neighbor doing something wrong, are we allowed to judge them? If they say something horrible, can we judge them based on what we hear? Well, maybe we ought to take a solid look at what the Lord tells us about judgment? Then we’ll know if it’s really ok to judge or not.

In the story of David’s anointing, the Lord disagreed with Samuel when he thought that Jesse’s first son would make a good king:

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7)

In the Lord’s Word, height is a symbol for goodness. With this reference to height in today’s story, though, Jehovah says that man looks on the outward appearance. Thus, the height, or goodness that WE look at, is simply the goodness that we observe with our eyes and ears. We see what people do and hear what they say, and that is how we judge. EVEN if we judge people’s actions and words based on what the Lord tells us in the Bible, we are still only judging the outward appearance.

Judging by appearance will eventually result in errors in judgment. The Lord, though, can see what we cannot — the intentions of a person’s heart. Even if somebody were to say, “These are the intentions of my heart”, we still can’t really know.

So, what are some other things the Lord says about not judging?

Let’s take a look at Matthew 7:1-3 with the verses that begin “judge not”:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?”

These words of the Lord are pretty clear that we ought not to judge. And if we do judge, then we also will be judged in the same way. The words are reminiscent of the Lord’s prayer that says, “forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors”, but here it would be more like “Judge us not as we also judge not others.” As the verses continue, we learn the reason that we should not be judgmental: it’s because we have a plank in our eye so that we lack the keen sight that is necessary to judge.

You see, wood is a symbol for the good things we do. The eye is a symbol for our ability to understand true ideas. So, a piece of wood in the eye depicts a situation in which our external good inhibits our understanding in some way, or, in other words, our basic everyday good actions become a reason to not make an effort to understand more.

Imagine any number of real-life examples in which there is one person who commits greater acts of kindness than their neighbor, and so they feel self-righteously justified in judging said neighbor. I say “any number of real-life examples” because the average person — and maybe even the above average person — probably does this every day. We do something good, and we notice that somebody else is doing less good, and then we think it is our place to try to correct them … or judge.

“Judge not” … Our English word judge doesn’t really do the Greek justice, here. In English, the word judge can simply mean to discern or distinguish between right or wrong. The Greek word, though, has more than just a dash of condemnation thrown in. A somewhat clearer understanding of “judge not” then, would be that we are not to judge our neighbor in a condemning way. Remember what He said to the crowd: “He among you who is without sin may cast the first stone.” The stone in this case is a true idea that is intended to destroy, not help. The Lord’s point is that we are never qualified to use truth in a condemning way.

After all, judgment is reserved for the Lord, right? Isn’t He the only one that can judge? Isn’t the final decision about who goes to heaven or hell up to Him? Let’s see what HE says about it.

In Luke -- Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:13-14)

The Lord, here, seems to be denying that He is a Judge. Well, maybe He just means in natural things. Let’s read some more. Let’s read from New Christian teachings this time.

In Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture -- "The Lord alone, who is omniscient and knows the hearts of all, will sit in judgment, and is able to judge...."

There it is. In black and white. The Lord will sit in judgment. Oh, wait... it seems to continue.

"...and that His twelve disciples mean the church as to all the truths and goods it possesses from the Lord through the Word; from which doctrine concludes that these truths will judge everyone." (Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 51)

Oh, wait. I see. It’s saying that the truths will judge everyone.

Hmmm... let’s read a little bit more from the gospels:

In John:

"If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day." (John 12:46-48)

Yeah, the Lord tells us in the gospels, and we can see it in New Church teachings as well. It seems that the “judge” is the Lord’s truth. How does that work then? How does the Lord not judge, but His truth judges?

In the book Heaven and Hell, we read -- The Lord does not throw anyone into hell. We throw ourselves in, not only while we are living in this world but after death as well, when we arrive among spirits. (Heaven and Hell 548)

So, what happens is this: we actually hold our hearts and beliefs up to the truth, and if we like the truth, then we choose heaven. If we don’t like it, then we run away from it into hells of our own making. Evil people can’t stand the light of heaven because it shines into their hearts and shows them — and everyone — who they truly are. By keeping away from the light of truth, they can live in a fantasy that they are the greatest.

It’s true that we should not judge. But just what kind of judgment should we not do?

From the Lord’s words “judge not that you be not judged” we learn that we should not judge in a condemning way. First of all, the Lord doesn’t send anybody to hell, and neither should we.

When the Lord says, “how can you say to your brother, ‘let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye?” we learn that we should not be hypocritical and self-righteous. We feel or pretend that we have authority to point out the faults in others just because we do some good works. But the plank in our eye means that our good works are just blinding us.

When the Lord told Samuel, “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart”, He is teaching us that we cannot make spiritual judgments about somebody’s intentions or the desires that are in their heart.

What are the ways that we shouldn’t judge? DON’T judge in a condemning way. DON’T be self-righteous, and definitely DON’T be hypocritical in your judgments. And definitely DON’T judge somebody’s intentions or their spiritual character.

In order to make spiritual progress, we must first stop doing something wrong and then we can do something right.

“Cease to do evil, learn to do good” (Isaiah 1:16-17).

First shun evils, then do good. There are harmful ways to judge, and we need to stop doing them. There is nothing useful that comes from it, and it’s harmful to yourself and the person you are judging.

And... there are helpful ways to judge, too. See here for an article on how to judge rightly.

(Adapted from a sermon by Jeffrey Smith, April, 2021)

From Swedenborg's Works


Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture #51

Study this Passage

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51. 1. The Word is not understood apart from doctrine. That is because the Word in its literal sense consists of nothing but correspondent forms, in order for spiritual and celestial concepts to be present in it at the same time, and for each word to be a containing vessel and buttress of those concepts. In some places in the literal sense, therefore, we find not naked truths, but truths clothed, which we call appearances of truth. Many of these truths, too, are accommodated to the comprehension of simple folk, who do not elevate their thoughts above the kinds of things they see before their eyes. And some of them seem to involve contradictions, even though there is no contradiction in the Word when seen in its true light.

Moreover, in some places in the Prophets, we find also collections of place names and the names of people from which it is impossible to elicit any meaning, as from those passages presented in no. 15 above.

Since that is the nature of the Word in its literal sense, it can be seen therefore that it cannot be understood apart from doctrine.

[2] But let instances serve to illustrate this:

We are told that Jehovah repents (Exodus 32:12, 14, Jonah 3:9, 4:2). We are also told that Jehovah does not repent (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29). Without doctrine these declarations are not brought into accord.

We are told that Jehovah visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation (Numbers 14:18). And we are told that the father shall not die for the son, nor the son for the father, but everyone for his own sin (Deuteronomy 24:16). In the light of doctrine these declarations do not conflict, but are in harmony.

[3] Jesus says,

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. Everyone...who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8, cf. 21:21-22)

Without doctrine one might believe that everyone receives what he asks for. But doctrine teaches us to believe that a person is given whatever he asks for, not on his own, but in response to the Lord. For this, too, the Lord teaches:

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you will, and it shall be done for you. (John 15:7)

[4] The Lord says,

Blessed are the poor, for (theirs) is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20)

Without doctrine one could think that heaven is for the poor and not for the rich. But doctrine teaches us that the poor in spirit are meant, for the Lord says,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

[5] The Lord says,

Judge not, that you be not judged. ...with what judgment you judge, you will be judged. (Matthew 7:1-2, cf. Luke 6:37)

Without doctrine this injunction could be used to assert that one must not say of evil that it is evil, thus that one must not judge an evil person to be evil. But in the light of doctrine one is permitted to judge, only to do so justly. For the Lord says, “judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

[6] Jesus says, not be called teacher; for one is your teacher, the Christ.... Do not call anyone on earth your father; for heaven is your Father. And do not be called masters; for one is your master, the Christ. (Matthew 23:8-10)

Without doctrine it would not be lawful to call anyone teacher, father, or master. But we know from doctrine that it is lawful in a natural sense, but not in a spiritual sense.

[7] Jesus said to His disciples,

...when the Son of man sits on the throne of His glory, you...will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28)

One could conclude from these words that the Lord’s disciples will also sit in judgment, when in fact they can judge no one. Doctrine, therefore, must reveal this mystery by showing that the Lord alone, who is omniscient and knows the hearts of all, will judge, and that His twelve disciples mean the church in respect to all the truths and goods it has from the Lord through the Word. Doctrine concludes from this that those truths and goods will judge everyone, in accordance with the Lord’s words in John 3:17-18, 12:47-48.

[8] Someone who reads the Word apart from doctrine does not know how the declarations made in the Prophets regarding the Jewish nation and Jerusalem hang together, that the church in that nation and its seat in that city will remain to eternity, as in the following places:

...Jehovah...will visit His flock, the house of Judah, and will make them as His glorious horse in battle. From him comes the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, and from him the bow of war.... (Zechariah 10:3-4, 6-7)

...behold, I am coming to dwell in your midst.... And Jehovah will make Judah His inheritance..., and will again choose Jerusalem. (Zechariah 2:10-12)

It will come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drip with new wine, and the hills flow with milk.... But Judah shall abide forever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. (Joel 3:18-20)

Behold, the days are coming..., that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man..., when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.... And this is the covenant that I will make...: I will put My law among them, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:27, 31, 33)

In that day ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” (Zechariah 8:22-23)

And so on elsewhere, as in Isaiah 44:24, 26, 49:22-23, 65:9, 66:20, 22; Jeremiah 3:18, 23:5, 50:19-20; Nahum 1:15; Malachi 3:4. The subject in these places is the Lord’s advent, and the church’s then remaining to eternity.

[9] The opposite, however, is said in a number of other places, of which we will cite only the following: I will hide My face from them, I will see what their posterity will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faith.... I would have said, “I will cast them into the farthest corners, I will make the memory of them to cease from among men.” ....For they are a nation void of counsel, nor is there any understanding in them.... ...their vine is of the vine of Sodom and of the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter. Their wine is the venom of dragons, and the cruel poison of asps. Is this not laid up in store with Me, sealed up among My treasures? Vengeance is Mine, and retribution. (Deuteronomy 32:20-35)

This is said of that same nation. And the like elsewhere, as in Isaiah 3:1-2, 8, 5:3-6; Deuteronomy 9:5-6; Matthew 12:39, 23:27-28; John 8:44. And everywhere in Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

But these declarations that appear contradictory will be seen to be in harmony in the light of doctrine, which teaches that Israel and Judah in the Word do not mean Israel and Judah, but the church in both senses — in one sense that it has been destroyed, and in the other that the Lord is going to establish it.

Other passages like these occur in the Word, which make clearly apparent that the Word is not understood apart from doctrine.

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Thanks to the General Church of the New Jerusalem, and to Rev. N.B. Rogers, translator, for the permission to use this translation.