“And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.”- John 8:8
“Don’t judge me! You’re judging me and Jesus said not to judge people.” If you’ve ever been used by God to point out sin in someone’s life those are words you’ve probably heard. To those whose sin is being exposed and identified God’s words are dirty words. There’s a lot of sin in life today to be pointed out. And those who are living in disobedience to God’s word are quick to shout the words, “Don’t judge me!” They will shout those words along with others such as: “Hater!” “Intolerant!” “Bigot!” and a myriad other really dirty words and profane phrases. Truth is often met with pretentious indignation. When you’re caught in a falsehood, shout louder! When you’re sin is exposed by the light of God, throw a punch; verbal or physical. These are the defense mechanisms meant to protect the sinner in their sin. The guilty deflects attention from their own culpability to those exposing their sin. So what about judging? Is “Don’t judge me!” a valid defense and protection against identifying sin in life? Is judging a dirty word? Well, honestly, “yes and no.” There is wrong judging and there is right judging and if we are to reach a wayward generation of self-indulgent sinners we need to know the difference. But to know the difference we are going to have to consider some dirty words of Jesus. That’s what we will consider in this study.
There’s an interesting account of a woman caught dead to rights in sin who was then brought before Jesus for judgment. The account begins, “Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. (John 8:3-4). The day after the Feast the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman “caught in adultery, in the very act” and set her before Jesus. She was guilty. Caught in the very act of adultery she may have been brought naked before Jesus. She was likely shamed and embarrassed. She had no argument of defense. She remained silent before Jesus and her accusers.
5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned.” (John 8:5a). The Old Testament declares adultery a capital offense for those convicted (Leviticus 20 and Deuteronomy 22). This woman was “caught in the act” and therefore there was ample evidence against her. “But what do You say?”(John 8:5b). The scribes and Pharisees wanted to see what Jesus would say about this women caught in adultery. Would He adhere strictly to the Law? What would He say? If you were this woman, caught in the very act of sin, with no doubt of your guilt, what would you want Jesus to say? It’s interesting that we are inclined to think Jesus would be understanding and easily forgiving in our situations of sin, but when it comes to others, we often want offenders prosecuted to the fullest extent of the Law. What’s dirty in others is just as dirty if it is found in us. But though we put on the white dirt exposing gloves for others, we take them off when looking at our own dirt.
The motivation of these accusers is revealed in what follows. “6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.” (John 8:6). Sometimes it’s best to ignore the words of the vengeful. Just close your ears to hateful words. That’s what Jesus did here because the accusers of this woman didn’t really care for her. She was a pawn they were using to trip up Jesus. Paul wrote the Ephesian church, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). Using others for our purposes is anything but clean holy living. We need to pay close attention to how Jesus responds to this situation because this is the way we should respond to those caught in sin or who wrong us. When you bring accusations against people what is your motive? Is it justice? Is it mercy? Is it grace? Is it restoration? Is it proud vengeance? Are you looking to tear down or build up? Are you looking to destroy or save?
What do you think Jesus wrote in the dirt? This is the only place where we see Jesus physically write in scripture. In Revelation we see seven letters from Jesus but they are already written. And here in John’s account, Jesus wrote in the dirt, a very temporal format that could be blown away in the wind. But it was legible nonetheless to the accusers. Perhaps Jesus wrote a verse from the prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah it states, “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You shall be ashamed. Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 17:13). That would have made a clear point to the accusers don’t you think? Maybe it’s a word we should consider.
The Bible doesn’t say what Jesus wrote. People have speculated about what Jesus might have written. Some say Jesus wrote out the rest of the Commandments and as the onlookers saw what He wrote they were convicted of their own sins and then walked away. That’s possible. Jesus may have written particular sins of the accusers. He may have written something else.
But notice, Jesus was NOT quick to condemn the woman. Jesus addressed the situation with calm compassion. The patience with which Jesus handled the situation was likely meant to allow the guilty to think about their own sin. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23; cf. Romans 3:1-20). The accusers were proud in the accusatory position. The guilty woman had been humbled. She was in the right position before Jesus. The accusers were not. Bottom line; we all have dirty hands. “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rages” (Isaiah 64:6a).
Jesus has written dirty words to the accusers. Now He is going to talk dirty to them. “So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (John 8:7). Jesus paused to give the accusers time to extricate themselves from their proud position. But they insisted. They evidently didn’t get the point Jesus was making as he wrote in the dirt. Jesus always provides the sinner a way out (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:13). He desires to deal with our dirty sin in as gracious a way as possible. He takes this position because He has bore our sin and shame. His promise is that those who believe in Him will not be put to shame (Rom. 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6). Therefore, Jesus gives the sinner time to turn from sin and to Him in faith to be cleaned; to remove the sin, guilt and shame.
But as the accusers persist, Jesus drives home a very humbling unmistakable point. “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Jesus is completely efficient in all He does. He was not only interested in dealing with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was also interested in the condition of her accusers. Jesus seeks to deal with people, sinful people, on both sides of this situation. Jesus wants to completely clean house. When you point the finger at others, there are three fingers pointing back at you. Jesus doesn’t deny the woman’s sin, but He does want to draw additional attention to the attitude of the accusers. There was enough sin to go around and Jesus was going to clean it all.
“And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.” (John 8:8). Again Jesus wrote in the dirt. Again we don’t know what He wrote. In Revelation Jesus writes to the lukewarm Laodiceans, “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see” (Rev. 3:18). Maybe Jesus wrote something like this in the dirt before this guilty woman and her guilty accusers.
These were dirty words to the accusers. These words in the dirt squashed their mean intent. These dirty words of Jesus written in the dirt took effect. “Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” (John 8:9). If you know the Lord and are open to the Holy Spirit, the older you get, the more aware you are of your sinfulness. The longer we live the more we should see our sinfulness and our need for God’s grace. That is why as the accusers left the line of departing accusers started with the oldest.
There’s a message here for the relatively young. It is usually the young who fail to grasp the depth of their sin. It took longer for the young to grasp the point Jesus was making. As the older and likely esteemed scribes and Pharisees began to leave one by one, the younger ones probably looked at each other thinking, What are they doing? They thought these older men were to be looked up to. Now they saw that they were sinners; and they saw that these older men knew they were sinners. With their heroes retreating with tails between their legs, it didn’t take long for the younger ones to also be “convicted by their conscience” and walk away.
Then it was just Jesus and the adulterous woman. Jesus is a one on one Savior. Jesus meets personally with us. He isn’t just interested in the crowds. Jesus is interested in the individual. Jesus is interested in “me,” in “you.” Jesus is a personal Savior. And He wants to clean us up. “ When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, . . .” (John 8:10a). Jesus must have been looking at the ground all this time, not at the accusers. He then rose up “and saw no one but the woman.” What would He say to her? Would He point a finger? Would He badger her with the truth of scripture? Would He throw more dirt on her? No.
“Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:10b-11). Jesus removed the proud accusers. Jesus points out that her accusers were in no position to condemn her. “Condemned” (Greek katakrino) means sentenced, to render a condemning decision against, to judge worthy of punishment. Jesus put her accusers in their place. They were right in identifying her sin. They were wrong in standing over her as God to condemn and judge her. Jesus shamed the woman’s accusers by putting the spotlight on their own sin. Jesus humbled the accusers away.
Jesus communicated with this woman. He entered into a redemptive conversation with her. Jesus spoke truth and reality to this woman. Her accusers had walked away acknowledging their sin. They were in no position to proudly judge or condemn this sinful woman. Jesus is showing that the accusers were hypocrites because they were guilty of sin just like this woman was. Jesus leveled the playing field. He demonstrated an impartial truth based reality to the woman. Jesus didn’t take sides. Jesus listened to the woman’s response. Jesus listens when we talk to Him. Talk to Jesus. If you are caught in sin, trapped in sin, cast down by sin, bring your situation to Jesus and talk to Him. And the woman responded by calling Jesus “Lord.” The accusers of Jesus didn’t see Him as Lord. They saw Jesus as ministry competition. They were jealous of Him. They were out to kill Jesus. They wanted to eliminate Him. This woman caught in sin had been humbled and shown compassion by Jesus. Jesus presence and compassion had won her heart.
Jesus didn’t condemn this woman. There is no condemnation for those who believe in Jesus (Romans 8:1). This woman believed in Jesus and called Him Lord. He forgave her. He was her Protector. Jesus welcomes those who turn to Him in faith. And Jesus gives the repentant sinner a second chance. We are who we are by God’s grace and mercy (1 Cor. 15:10: Titus 3:5; Heb. 2:17; 4:16). But Jesus did point the woman toward serious holiness. Jesus didn’t forgive this woman in a way that condoned her sin. No, Jesus said, “go and sin no more.” In other words, this was not easy believism. This was not belief and forgiveness without repentance. No, this was forgiveness and life change. Jesus forgive this woman so she could continue in her sins. Jesus forgave this woman and exhorted her to “sin no more.” Be serious about what Jesus does for you and turn the page to a new chapter in life that frees you from having to sin.
Does this interaction mean we are never to address sin in others? As stated in the introduction, a common reaction to pointing out sin in other’s lives is for them to say, “Don’t judge me! You’re judging me!” Real holy truth is a dirty word to sinners. They will even quote Jesus’ words, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). How are we to deal with the “unclean”? If God calls us to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” then how can we be an instrument to see that happen in people’s lives? (cf. 2 Cor. 7:1).
Context is so important the cleansing away sinful dirt. The context of Jesus’ words about judging was The Sermon on the Mount. Context is critically to proper interpretation. This Sermon is found in Matthew 5-7. This was a hallmark and foundational sermon of Jesus. It was addressed primarily to “His disciples” (Matthew 5:1). He introduced the Sermon with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). He says His disciples are salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Then He says he didn’t come to destroy God’s Law and the writings of the prophets, He came to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17-18). He emphasized that the Law of God should be honored (Matthew 5:19). Then He says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Wait a minute, the scribes and the Pharisees were dedicated to keeping the Law. In fact, they created an entire set of human traditions and interpretations aimed at helping people keep the Law of God. And doesn’t saying our righteousness has to exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees require judging? Isn’t Jesus instructing His disciples in a way that would require them to judge others?
Let’s continue. Jesus goes on to speak of a higher standard than mere outward adherence to the Law. He says murder is not just something done outwardly, but it takes place when we have hateful thoughts in the heart (Matthew 5:21-26). He says adultery isn’t just something done physically, but takes place when we have lustful thoughts toward someone “in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-30). Jesus goes on to speak of the sacredness of marriage (Matthew 5:31-32), oaths (Matthew 5:33-37), not being coldly just to demand and eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth (Matthew 5:38-42), and He speaks of loving your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). All of these involve the heart.
In Matthew 6 Jesus speaks of prayer and good works. He instructs His disciples to not do their good works “before men” to get their attention. Instead our good works are to be done for God. When we pray we shouldn’t go to a street corner and take a prayerful pose to let everyone know we are praying. No, we are to get alone with God and when he sees us pray privately He will reward us openly (Matthew 6:1-18). We shouldn’t be focused on earthly wealth but making deposits in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). He warns us to take care about what we look at or focus on and to not let the allure of earthly riches steer us away from service to God (Matthew 6:22-24). Then Jesus offers words of encouragement. He says we shouldn’t worry but instead we should seek God and trust Him to care for us and our needs (Matthew 6:25-34).
It is only after all of this that Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” A main theme that runs through Jesus’ Sermon is the heart; our attitudes in what we do. Are we doing what we are doing for ourselves or for God? Is our focus earthly recognition and riches, or honoring God and relying on Him for our needs?
Jesus did say, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” But let’s look further at the context of that passage in order to understand what Jesus was saying. In Matthew 7 the context of Jesus’ words are as follows: “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 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? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5).
The word “judge” (Greek krino) means to try and condemn, punish, avenge, damn, sentence, or judge. Jesus points out that we will be judged based on the judgment we use with others. This is a sobering thought. Then Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. He asks, “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 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?” In other words, before we look to point out sin in others, we need to do our own honest self-assessment. Before we look to clean others’ houses, we need to humbly clean our own. It’s easy to complain about other’s dirt piles when we ignore our own. Before you look to clean your neighbor’s porch, get the broom and dust pan out and clean your own.
When we turn a blind eye to our own dirtiness, we are inclined to become judgmental; we become obsessed with the dirt in other’s lives. Why is that? Because when we lift the carpet to expose the dirt others are hiding, we don’t have to look at our own. Jesus has a convicting word for such people. Jesus sticks the shovel in the fertilizer. If we judge others before we have done our own self-assessment, we are hypocrites! “Hypocrite!” (Greek hypocrites) refers to an actor under an assumed character; a stage player, a pretender. A hypocrite is someone who is pretentious; they present themselves as something they are not. A hypocrite is not genuine. A hypocrite is not real. A hypocrite is false. People who go around pointing out sin in others usually do so to deflect attention from their own sins. Hypocrites dress up in white clothes and play in the dirt thinking they won’t get dirty. The reality is, if you play in the dirt you get dirty. You can only live the lie of a hypocrite for so long. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (Heb. 4:13). Remember that the next time you are eager to take someone to the cleaners.
But what about judging? Are we never to identify and seek to help others to deal with their dirty sin? When we return to the context we see evidence of Jesus making statements that require us to discern, to make assessments and act accordingly. Isn’t that judgment? Jesus speaks of a narrow way as opposed to a broad way involved in life; two ways one leading to eternal life, one to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus speaks of identifying false prophets and that we will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). He says some people will call Him by name but they aren’t genuine disciples or followers of Him because they don’t’ obey Him (Matthew 7:21-23). And he concludes His Sermon with a call to build a solid life foundation by obeying His words as opposed to building on sand by not adhering to his words (Matthew 7:24-27). At the end of His Sermon the people were astonished at the authority with which he taught (Matthew 7:28-29). These weren’t words that could be set aside and ignored. Jesus meant for people to apply His teaching. Later in Matthew Jesus is recorded to have said we need to discern the times in which we live (Matthew 16:3; cf. Luke too Luke 12:56). Isn’t this making judgments? How are we then to interpret, “Judge not, that you be not judged”? We’ve seen the judgment we are to say “no” to. Now let’s look in closing at four criteria for right judgment we can say “yes” to.
First, we aren’t to judge others to pronounce condemnation on them as though we were God. This is why Jesus said we would be judged with the same judgment we judge others with. We aren’t to be proud and exalt ourselves into a position that only God justly deserves to hold. He alone can judge to condemn. We can make judgments in terms of warning others about sin in their lives. But condemnation belongs to the Lord. When we condemn others we step into an area which is way above our pay grade. When we do that or have a judgmental attitude it is an indication our heart isn’t right with God. It’s dirty. Look at the plank in your own eye before you look for specks in the eyes of others. Sweep your own porch before you go to sweep your neighbor’s.
Second, Jesus warns against a certain kind of judgmental attitude of the heart; hypocritical heart judgment. It’s wrong to judge others when we are guilty of the same kinds of sin. We need to follow the inspired words of Paul: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). People will be overtaken by sin. We will see it. What are we to do? We shouldn’t do anything in the flesh (self-seekingly; proudly) but instead we need to proceed in the Spirit (“you who are spiritual”). Our objective is to “restore” people. “Restore” (Greek katartidzo) means to repair, adjust, put back together. And as we seek to follow the Spirit in this restoration we need to “consider” ourselves and our attitudes so that we aren’t tempted. Such temptation might involve our feeling superior or proud over the fallen person. We might be tempted to use this information against this fallen person to manipulate them or extort them in some way. Or we might be tempted to get them to look at us in an elevated position; as a replacement for Jesus. A person is restored when they look to Jesus and live for Him, not for us.
Third, we are to pray for direction in situations where people are caught in sin. The context of Jesus’ word on judging show that directly after His statement He instructs us to “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7-12). While this may be a general exhortation of Jesus to pray, we can’t ignore the context in which it comes. If we judge others or make assessments about sin in their lives that hasn’t involved prayer, we are hypocrites. Any and all correction of ourselves or others is to be done in prayer. Only then can we see our dirt and others dirt in the proper perspective; in the proper holy light of the Spirit.
Fourth, Judgment that is right and proper is judgment made through the lens of God’s word. Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets; God’s word (Matthew 5:17-18). God’s word is the Ultra Violet light that exposes the dirty bloody stains at the crime scene of sin. Jesus said a false prophet is distinguished “by their fruit” (Matthew 7:15-20). How do we determine good from bad fruit? The answer is, by God’s word. For instance, God’s word says anyone who does anything, even miracles, and then tries to get you to follow them rather than God, that person is a false prophet (Deut. 13:1-5). God’s word says if a prophet makes a prediction that doesn’t come to pass, that prophet is false (Deut. 18:20-22). These are both scriptural criteria for determining a false prophet.
God’s word is our standard for proper judging. God’s word sets the parameters of what is cleanly righteous and what is the dirt of sin. In the New Testament it states:
- 2 Timothy 3:16–17 - 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
“All Scripture” refers to the 66 books of the Bible. These writings came “by inspiration of God.” “Inspiration” (Greek theopneustos) is literally God-breathed. God’s word is our source of right and wrong because it alone is breathed out from God’s pure and holy heart to ours. God’s word is “profitable” (Greek ophelimos) or helpful, advantageous, profitable. God’s word is the shovel and broom used to take away the dirt. God’s word instructs us on how to apply the cleansing blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7, 9). God’s word is what is needed to, “sanctify and cleanse . . . with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26).
God’s word gives us the advantage in cleaning away the dirt of sin in a number of stated areas:
- “For doctrine” (Greek didaskalia) teaching, learning, doctrine; the information needed for life. God’s word gives us the baseline of truth and righteousness from which to judge and assess all things. God’s word teaches about the dirt of sin and how to cleanse it.
- “For reproof” (Greek eleghos) reproof, to prove something, evidence, conviction about something, God’s word helps us prove right from wrong; life from death; holiness from sin. God’s word proves the dirt of sin is dirty. It proves what is clean.
- “For correction” (Greek epanorthosis) for straightening up, rectification, reformation, correction. God’s word helps us straighten out what has been bent by disobedience to God’s word. God’s word gives us a clear path out of muddy waters.
- “For instruction in righteousness” – “Instruction” (Greek paideia) educational training, disciplinary correction, chastening, nurture, discipline. God’s word helps us stay within the defined parameters of what God calls righteous. God’s word keeps us from playing in the dirt.
The verses end with the purpose of God’s word in our lives as “that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” “Complete” (Greek artios) means fresh, perfect, and complete. “Thoroughly equipped” (Greek exartidzo) means equipped to finish well, enabled to accomplish, thoroughly furnished for the task. God’s word keeps us fresh not dirty and rotten. God’s word gives us all we need for what God calls us to do; including cleaning the dirt. Go to the word in every circumstance of life, especially those where people have strayed into dirty sin. God’s word is a road map to restoration when we fall in the mud. God’s word will help us maneuver the dangerous dirty journey of life until we arrive at clear cooling fresh waters of eternal life with Him. Clean your own dirt before you seek to clean the dirt of others. But by all means, clean the dirt – “go and sin no more.”