Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
The acts of judging, condemning and forgiving are discussed all in one sentence through Luke 6:37. According to the context in Luke 6, Jesus was speaking about loving your enemies, which is perhaps very much related to the concept of not judging and not condemning; but even more so the biblical concept of forgiveness. While not limited to, our acts of judging and condemning are often most apparent on our enemies. In this study, we will examine the relationship between judging, condemning, and the need of forgiving; with particular focus on the virtue of forgiveness.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged – I do not wish to go into a detailed study of this because this is essentially Matthew 7:1 – Do not judge, or you too will be judged – it is a verse on its own, and it honestly deserves an entire study to itself. I do wish to point out that judgement here refers not to the technical judgement that courts and judges make, or the personal judgement on decisions that has to be made. It probably doesn’t even refer to the judgement of churches, which we often call persecution. No, this refers to rash judgement. Judging somebody’s words, actions, circumstances or character negatively, which may or may not involve verbal or physical criticism.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned – perhaps the most well-known verse that speaks of condemnation is in Romans 8:1 – therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. It’s certainly a condemnation of a higher order – a condemnation of us as sinful beings; but I believe that any notion of condemnation must be stemmed from that. Condemnation is certainly very closely related to judgement – one that does not depart far from the other. If you have condemned a person, you would most likely have judged him along the way. If you’re judging the person, you’re most likely going to condemn him anyway. You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things [Romans 2:1]. In condemning a person, we leave ourselves liable to be condemned; certainly by other people or those we have condemned – it’s not like they’re not going to condemn us just because we don’t condemn them (not that this should be an excuse though). But what this verse really refers to is that condemnation of Romans 8:1 – do not condemn, lest we fall under the righteous judgement and condemnation from God.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven – Our God is an extremely forgiving God. Have you ever counted how many times God has pleaded for the Israelites to return to him, and he will forgive them? Even the number of times that a people destined to destruction or having tasted destruction repented, turned back to God and was forgiven is a chore to count. Our God is a forgiving God. It’s in his nature. But it clashes not with his divine judgement. A forgiving God can judge too. A God that judges can forgive too. Instead of judging, instead of condemning, let us learn how to forgive. What we have to forgive are, when compared to the debt we have to God, honestly very minor. If we desire mercy from the Lord, we wouldn’t truly want to be unforgiving to others. That much is clear – For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you [Matthew 6:14]. James also says, judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! [James 2:13] We know we ought to forgive. In most cases, we try very hard to forgive. But forgiveness is often very difficult, even if we are willing.
Forgiving is at times easy – when the offending party is young, innocent, adorable, truly repentant; or when the consequences of the offense against you are minor; or when the other party is someone close, someone you love, someone you have a soft spot for. But when push comes to shove; when the same thing happens again and again, are you seriously able to, as Jesus had preached, forgive not seven times, but seventy-seven times? [Matthew 18:22] If it is an act that cost you a lot – monetarily or not – would you truly be able to forgive? Often we may not hate the repentant party, but the wound that has been made never closes itself. We are unable to forgive, even if we do not constantly condemn or judge; even if we want to forgive, even if we pretend to have forgiven – it takes a greater man in order to forgive. God is the perfect example of forgiveness – and the only remedy is through love. You don’t forgive because the other party has done a lot to make up for it. You don’t forgive because it is the right thing to do. You don’t forgive because of anything else but love. That’s where Luke 6:27-36 comes in, where Jesus first taught about loving your enemies before talking about judging and forgiving.
Jesus himself exemplified forgiveness of the highest order when he uttered on the cross, father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing [Luke 23:34] – the first of the 7 recorded sentences he uttered on the cross. Stephen the first martyr, using a similar line, fell to his knees in prayer while he was being stoned to death – “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” [Acts 7:60|Article]. Forgiving your enemies when they are killing you? Even till the extent of praying for the Lord to show them mercy? What do they have in them that normal people lack? I still think it’s love. With love, and with an ever so clear sight of God’s will and promise. In Christ’s own words, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you [Luke 6:27-28]. An unbelievable command – if I had been amongst the crowd listening to Jesus preach this I think I would have been confused. Yet Jesus has proven with his own life that it is achievable. Stephen and many more after him have proven that it is achievable.
When injustice is done to us, unforgiveness will often lead to judgement and condemnation. Judgement will lead to more judgement, mild condemnation will open the path to harsher condemnation. I think that’s why it’s so critical that these three acts are covered in the same sentence by Christ. A huge part of being able to not judge and not condemn stems in our ability to forgive. If we can forgive, if we are able to refrain from judging or condemning those who has done wrong against us, then surely it’s far easier for us to refrain from judging people who has done nothing against us. If we are able to love our enemies enough that we are able to forgive them, then surely we ought to be able to love others, who have done nothing against us, enough that we will refrain from sinning by judging or condemning them?
I personally think that forgiveness is a tall order. True forgiveness is so beautiful when chanced upon, yet so unbelievable. From a humanly point of view, it’s so hard to understand. It’s so admirable, yet nobody can write a foolproof formula for forgiveness. In comparison, refraining ourselves from judging or condemning seems a lot less complicated. Why should we fear the judgement of men? Why should we fear the condemnation of men? Let us not condemn; let us not judge, even if injustice has been done to us – that’s probably slightly easier than forgiveness. But Christ puts it into perspective for us in this verse. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. When you learn true forgiveness, the judgmental side and the condemning side of yours will slowly depart as well. Refraining from judgement and condemnation is good, but not complete. The key is to be able to forgive. And to forgive, we must love.
It is hardest to forgive the unlovely. It is sometimes also extremely hard to forgive your greatest love. A lot of us probably cannot even forgive ourselves. There’s no formula for forgiveness – because there’s no formula for love. We can only try, pray, try harder, pray harder, and keep going on while keeping our sights on God. At the very least, in the midst of our lifelong learning, we can be assured that our God is a god who forgives.