By Tim Sullivan


In civilized society a transgression against the law is generally resolved in three steps. Upon the presentation of evidence, a verdict or judgment is made concerning the accused one’s innocence or guilt. If he is found guilty, he is sentenced for punishment, or condemned. Finally, either his punishment is carried out, or he is pardoned – forgiven – of the penalty assessed him.

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged,” said Jesus in Luke 6:37. “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” These truths are fundamental to Christian living. However, in order to be properly applied, they must be properly understood. Luke 6:37 is one verse – and not the entirety – of Holy Scripture. If this verse qualifies as “instruction in righteousness” (which it most certainly does), it must be compatible with 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

To judge not is not to abandon doctrine, the standard of right and wrong. Good is good, and evil is evil, no matter what popular opinion dictates.

Isaiah 5:20:
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

To condemn not is not to renounce reproof. When we excuse evil, we misrepresent the evil effects of sin, and despise the judgment of God.

Jeremiah 23:17:
They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.

To forgive is not to forsake correction. It foregoes punishment for the sake of correction. It is a gift of mercy to a repentant sinner, so he can “go and sin no more.”


People have an amazing ability to overlook their own faults while obsessing over the faults of others. This is a fact of life that the Lord wants us to realize and remember.

Matthew 7:3–5:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Faultfinding is a fault in itself. Each time you judge another person, you pronounce judgment on yourself as well. This is the intended lesson of the beam and the mote.

v. 1–2:
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

Paul reiterated this truth in his letter to the Romans.

Romans 2:1:
Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

The Biblical precept of “judge not, and ye shall not be judged” addresses man’s penchant for a double standard. We judge the minutest infractions of others to be mammoth sins against God, yet justify our most flagrant transgressions as proof that we are not “religious.” We have no right to hold others to standards that we do not uphold ourselves. “For if we would judge ourselves,” says 1 Corinthians 11:31, “we should not be judged.”


When the Pharisees brought an adulterous woman to Jesus, they had already established her guilt. The Law itself established the penalty for this sin. All that remained was to carry out the punishment. But first they wanted to test Jesus. “Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned,” they said, “but what sayest thou?” (Jn. 8:5).

His response completely dismantled them. Jesus did not dispute the validity of the Law, nor the woman’s guilt. He questioned whether the Pharisees were sufficiently qualified to carry out her punishment. “He that is without sin among you,” he said, “let him first cast a stone at her” (v. 7). The only one qualified to cast a stone at her did not. Instead Jesus had mercy upon the sinner.

John 8:10–11:
When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

“Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” reminds us that but for the mercies of God, we all face the same condemnation. Rather than condemn, Christ “ever liveth to make intercession” for his brethren (Heb. 7:25). We do well to follow his example.

Romans 8:33–34:
Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.
34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.


When people have been violated, the injuries they suffer are often only the beginning of their pain. They can be further traumatized when they are told it is their duty to forgive their assailants. In the name of forgiveness, battered wives are sent home to abusive husbands only to suffer further violence. Wolves in ministerial clothing are given further chance to ravage the flock. Meanwhile, the only person feeling pain is the one struggling so hard to forgive.

Forgiveness is a hallmark of our faith, and there are stern words of warning to Christians who harbor an unforgiving spirit. For this reason, we must understand forgiveness for what it is, and not for what people say it is. Forgiveness is not an emotion. It is the relinquishing of a debt, whether the payment owed is financial or “life ... for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deut. 19:21). Forgiveness does not restore innocence to a guilty man. It releases him from the debt he has incurred.

Forgiveness forgoes retribution in favor of a greater cause. When unresolved problems have separated you from another Christian, reconciliation is the first priority.

Matthew 5:23–24:
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

But forgiveness cannot be poured out like rainwater on the just and the unjust. In order to have reconciliation, the person who caused the offense must acknowledge his wrongdoing as did King David.

Psalm 51:3–4:
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Compare David with Esau, who “found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Heb. 12:17). Esau blamed Jacob for his situation, even though it was Esau “who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright” (v. 16). Esau would not repent because he felt he had done nothing wrong.

If I have stolen from you, it is not enough that I say, “I am sorry.” Maybe I am only sorry that my crime was discovered! I begin to make things right when I confess my sin. “I am sorry for stealing. I am a thief, and for this crime I should be punished.” I then set about to make restitution. “Please allow me the chance to repay my debt.”

The ideal path to restoration is in private resolution. “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone,” said Jesus in Matthew 18:15. “If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” You tell your brother his fault in the hope that he will acknowledge his sin. If he confesses his sin, he can repent, opening the door for you to forgive him.

Jesus said, “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3). That little word if makes a big difference. “If he repent, forgive him.” “If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” He must confess his sin, acknowledge his condemnation for that sin, and concede that his punishment is just.

When private confrontation does not produce an answer of peace, others must get involved. You must revisit your brother in the company of one or two witnesses who can confirm your allegations against him.

Matthew 18:16:
But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

The number of witnesses does not make the allegations credible. The Jews assembled many witnesses against Jesus, but their accusations contradicted each other (see Mark 14:56). It is the agreement of the witnesses that confirms the veracity of the charges. If your brother still refuses to acknowledge his sin, you must alert the church to the situation.

Matthew 18:17:
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

It now becomes your Christian duty to forsake his company, leaving God to look after those who cheat their brethren.

1 Thessalonians 4:6:
That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.

Reconciliation requires mutual understanding between the one who was abused and the one who did wrong. Without confession of sin, there is no repentance. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness. Without forgiveness, there cannot be reconciliation. That is why the same Bible that teaches us to judge not, condemn not, and forgive, also commands us to disassociate ourselves from Christians who choose to walk in darkness.

2 Thessalonians 3:6, 15:
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

He that walks in truth cannot be equally yoked with he that walks disorderly. “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” asks 2 Corinthians 6:14, “and what communion hath light with darkness?” But it is our Christian obligation to be ready to forgive at all times, walking in mercy and compassion toward our brethren who repent.

Zechariah 7:9:
Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother:

Things do not always turn out the way we hope, and problems are not always resolved. The one who hurt you might refuse to acknowledge his sin. He might even be dead. This is when a Christian could be tempted to allow bitterness in his heart, thinking someone “got away” with evil. Bitterness couples the desire for “eye for an eye” vengeance with the fear that justice will not be properly served. Christians never need worry about this. “Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord” (Heb. 10:30).

2 Corinthians 5:10:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

Knowing this helps you in “casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). It also helps us be continually kind one to another, “tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).

When did (and does) God forgive you? 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When you confessed your sins, he was ready to forgive. We must walk in the same grace towards others.

Most people can feel gracious in wiping the slate clean once or even twice. The third or fourth time, they may not feel so charitable. Peter may have thought seven acts of forgiveness in one day bordered on excessive. Imagine his surprise when Jesus suggested that four hundred ninety acts of forgiveness were scarcely adequate.

Matthew 18:21–22:
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Luke 17:3–4:
Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.
4 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.

It is a blessing to be able to accept forgiveness from the people we have wronged. It is also a blessing to be able to offer forgiveness to those who have wronged us. As members of the Christian family, we will have more than sufficient opportunity to enjoy both these blessings!



From the November 2008 issue of The Vine & Branches