What does “judge not” mean? “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Mt. 7:1) Judge, in this instance, means to condemn. This is obvious from the second part, “that you be not judged,” that is, you are not going to be condemned at the Great Judgment. Another biblical example we have when the scripture says, “For God will judge the immoral and adulterous” (Heb. 13:4). Obviously it does not mean that God will decide whether they deserve punishment or not; it means that God will condemn them. The Lord therefore says, Do not condemn, so that you won’t be condemned either. This is made even clearer by St. Luke, who immediately after saying “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” he adds “condemn not, and you will not be condemned.” (Luke 6:37)
If then we don’t want to be condemned at the Great Judgment that will take place at the Second Coming of the Lord, we must be careful not to condemn others. It is not our business to pass judgment. Says St. James:
“Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12)
So don’t judge and you won’t be judged. It sounds simple, but it requires a lot of struggle, a lot of discipline, a lot of self control. I’ll tell you a story that reveals the power of not passing judgment on others.
We have no business judging others. St. Paul writes:
“You have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” (Rom. 2:1) 1
Indeed how can we criticize others for their perceived faults when we have plenty of our own, and perhaps bigger ones? How can we be bothered by the splinter in our brother’s eye, when the log in our own eye doesn’t seem to bother us? (Cf. Mt. 7:3) We are all sinners. Therefore we cannot condemn anyone about anything, since we too transgress God’s law.
We are not supposed to judge others. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” says elsewhere St. Paul. “It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.” (Rom. 14:4) And again he repeats:
“Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God… Then let us no more pass judgment on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Rom. 14:10.13)
Let us reflect on these things, my brothers and sisters:
- Are we perhaps too prone to criticize others?
- Are we too preoccupied with others’ faults, to the point of overlooking our own big shortcomings?
- Do we find ourselves rationalizing our sins, by pointing out the same or worse mistakes in others?
When we feel like criticizing others, let us reflect on our own faults; this way we may find we don’t have very much to say. Keep also this in mind: For every little thing that you condemn your brother, you yourself will be judged and condemned at the Great Judgment. Not only we should not be critical of others but we should cover their faults and be understanding, loving and compassionate towards everyone.
Mercy triumphs over judgment
Whether we speak or act we must always remember that one day we will all be judged: “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged,” says St. James (James 2:12). In so doing we should also keep in mind what he further adds: “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13) Mercy and compassion have nothing to fear of judgment! “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” says the Lord (Mt. 5:7). Prince Myskin, in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, says,
“Compassion is the highest and perhaps the only law of existence of the entire humanity.” 2
I was talking the other day to someone who sees a psychologist on a regular basis.
“Don’t these shrinks keep you at a distance?” I asked. “They don’t believe in sympathy, but in the detached empathy.”
“Not this particular psychologist I see,” he said. “She is caring and compassionate. And that means a great deal to me.”
“Yes,” I reflected out loud, “Here is the failure of the established Church to reach out to those in need. We create a void, and we leave it up to the shrinks, to AA’s, and other secular support groups to fill it. And, to our shame, they do an admirable job.”
I hear the ominous words of the Lord, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:20) What difference do we Orthodox make in our society? What relief do we bring to wounded and suffering humanity?
The Law of Love
We should apply for others not judgment, but mercy and compassion, as our Heavenly Father does, who rains on just and unjust. Think of this, my brothers and sisters: We speak of God’s justice and God’s righteous judgment, yet God transcends justice as we understand it and apply it. St. Isaac the Syrian writes:
“Do not presume to call God just, for what sort of justice is this: we sinned, yet He gave up His only-begotten Son on the Cross?” 3
God has only one law: the law of love. Let’s apply then this “law,” and this law only, among ourselves.
Think of this: We forgive our children no matter what they do, because we love them. God loves us! He loves us to death. Actually, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) What He wants from us is to love Him in return! And that’s not selfish on part of God! Returning His love means imitating Him, becoming like Him, having His life, attaining salvation and life eternal. Our sins are forgiven us in the act of loving : “Her sins are forgiven,” said the Lord of the sinful woman, “because she loved much” (Lk. 7:47). St. Peter, who was an eye-witness to the episode, comments: “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8) Clearly, then, this is the path for us to tred upon.
You may ask: What does the subject of love have to do with God’s judgment? Everything. The beloved disciple comments: “In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because… there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:17-18) St. Anthony the Great said:
“I no longer fear God, but I love Him.”
Of course we are not presumptuous of having St. Anthony’s love, and the following story should make us reflect somberly on our place. I preface it by saying that the story I will now relate to you is extraordinary and hard, if not impossible to comprehend, it is a story that tests our faith to its limit.
Archimandrite Sophrony, who relates this episode, comments:
“Anthony, sent by God to learn of the shoemaker; Anthony, prepared by long and extraordinarily arduous ascetic struggle (that had amazed all Egypt) to grasp the real meaning of what the shoemaker said, sensed the force of his words and realized that he had not attained to the stature of the man.” 5
Then he goes on to relate the experience of his elder, St. Silouan the Athonite, who while in prayer, heard within him the words
“Keep your mind in Hell, and do not despair.”
Yes, suffer the torments of hell, as not deserving anything better. He also quotes from the Desert Fathers the story of St. Pimen the Great, who used to say to his disciples,
“Believe me, my children, where Satan is, there shall I be cast also.” (p. 211)
Tatiana Goritcheva also relates that she heard a woman’s prayer in church. This Russian woman was standing behind a big column and was repeating aloud over and over the words, “Lord, keep a small corner in hell for me.” 6 Elsewhere she relates the following episode. Once a woman approached a great staretz, and complained to him that another woman was trying to perform magic on her. The elder listened to her attentively, then said: “I’ve lived seventy years in this world, and I have not met a single evil person, except myself.” 7 This, my brothers and sisters, is a hard lesson, but there is only one way to avoid God’s judgment, and that is to condemn one’s self constantly before God.
It is only after we confess to the Lord that we are the chief sinners, that we approach the communion cup to be united with Him. Expression of our unworthiness is a precondition of our union with God. We don’t present ourselves as righteous, as worthy, but as the least, the most unworthy. This is different from considering ourselves worthless, as we said last Sunday. Christ gave His life for us; so we are worth a great price. But do we live up to that price? If Christ’s blood has not purified us, if we continue to live in sin, aren’t we the most wretched of sinners? Yet we don’t despair, because we have faith in Him who redeemed us and we hope and pray that we won’t be condemned.
He who believes is not condemned
“He who believes in God is not condemned,” says St. John, the beloved disciple (John 3:18). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life,” says the Lord (John 5:24). So is this evidence of instant salvation, or guaranteed salvation, of the “I am saved” type of belief? Hardly. To the “I am saved” types let the following passage from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians suffice: “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time.” (1 Cor. 4:4-5) The “time” is the time of death. Let’s not absolve ourselves. Let’s follow the example of the Saints who teach us with their word and deed that we must always have the fear of God in us. The example of Abba Agathon is one we should heed.
“This man struggled to obey all the commandments. If the boat made a stop, he was the first to grab the oar; when the brothers visited him, he stopped the prayer instantly and set table for them, because he was full of love.
When he was close to death, he remained motionless for three days, with his eyes open. Then the brothers shook him, and asked, ‘Abba Agathon, where are you?’ And he answered them, ‘I stand before the Judgment Seat of God.’ “And you are afraid, Father?’ they said. “Until now,” he replied, “I spent my energies to keep the commandments of God. But I am a mere man. How do I know whether my life pleased God?’ Then the brothers said, ‘Aren’t you sure that your life pleased God?’ And the Elder answered, ‘I won’t take it for granted, until I meet God. Because the criteria of God are different than the criteria of men.’ And as they were about to ask him another question, he told them, ‘Practice love; and do not talk to me any more, because I have work to do.’ And thus he ended his course joyfully.” 8
To escape God’s judgment let us not condemn our brothers and sisters, but let us practice brotherly love and compassion. Amen.
- From the Prologue, March 30
- …and read the rest of the chapter, to v. 24)
- Quoted by Tatiana Goritcheva, The Madness to be Christian, p. 107.
- Source unknown.
- The story is from the Gerontikon. See it also in vol. 3 of Χαρίσματα καὶ Χαρισματοῦχοι, pp. 242-243.
- Saint Silouan the Athonite, p. 211.
- It is Dangerous to Speak of God, page unknown.
- How I Found God in the Soviet Union, p. 58.
- From the Gerontikon.