A number of years ago I flew what was called the Champaign Flight from Minneapolis to Chicago. Once seated, the steward lowered our tables, put a wine glass in place, and in a short time was pouring wine. I turned my glass over and she understood I didn’t care for any. The man in the adjacent seat, however, drank his quickly and managed to get a second. Nothing had been said until he caught my eye and then in a voice encouraged by the wine declared, ”The bible says you’re not supposed to judge!” It seems as though Matt. 7:1 (“Do not judge”) is a favorite verse of secular America. I have heard it in a number of different settings. On this particular occasion I am inclined to believe that he informed me of the scripture because by not drinking I was sitting in judgment on him. We need to take a look at the verse in context and see if, among other things, it has any relevance to turning down wine on a flight
One thing we do know is that Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t make moral decisions, for later in the chapter he writes, “By their fruits you will know them”(vv. 16, 20). What he is saying is that we are not to go through life with an accusatory attitude toward others. The construction of the Greek is best read, “Stop what you are now doing.” And there is a good reason for not judging in that God “will apply to you the same rules you apply to others” (v. 2 TEV). No one approves of the “both judge and jury” mindset, yet every negative criticism is exactly that. If you demean a person, especially in a public setting, you infer that you have gathered all relevant information, weighed it with care and taking off the prosecutor’s attire, you don the judge’s robe to issue the verdict. We recognize the principle in theory, but so often forget it in practice. In one of his more graphic illustrations Jesus pictures a person with a huge beam sticking out of his eye trying to get rid of a flick of sawdust out of someone else’s eye. It may be Eastern hyperbole but it sure gets the point across. The answer to the ridiculous situation is to get that beam out of our own eye first.
Unfortunately, criticizing another is a relatively polite way to gain a bit of leverage in the struggle of life. It is a way of elevating self at little cost. Ron Hall, the British journalist, speaks of the “warm, self-righteous glow that comes from judging.” Growth of integrity calls upon a person to give up that “self-righteous glow” in order to live as Christ desires.