But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother (some manuscripts insert “without cause”) will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. [Matthew 5:22 ESV]
I know no one who is not quick to judge. Even the quiet non-judgmental types make spur of the moment judgments. All judge the actions of others assuming they understand their intent and motives. Often we judge another’s intellectual ability based upon our judgment of the motives behind their actions. All of these judgments are measured against our personal standards and expectations.
That’s a judgmental statement.
We learned the standards we use from those who raised us and who influenced our thinking. They are still our own standards. Because of the absolute corruption of sin our judgments are bent toward evil though we say they are good. No one judges according to God’s eternal standard without His direct intervention. We cannot. Our quickness to judge will itself be judged by the Judge. Our actions and intents, our motivations and judgments will be exposed by Him.
Read Paul’s assessment of both those declared righteous by God and those who are self-righteous.
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man – you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself – that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. [Romans 2:1-11 ESV]
Jesus has told us unrighteous anger brings judgment equating it to murder. Unjustly taking another’s life is an offense against God who created that person in His image. He created both the murdered and the murderer in His image and as Creator has the eternal right to judge according to the standards found within Himself. We usurp His authority when we judge another using our own standards and not His. Jesus condemns denigrating comments and thoughts which are not true that we hold against another, which place us over them and which make us the ultimate judge and not God.
We do not have the right to insult anyone. An insult is defined as “the act of leaping upon” in order to abuse, to treat another with contempt in order to triumph over them. It connotes raising oneself up, over or above, by lower another. Jesus uses the word raca, which means “empty one” and “worthless.” It is a word borrowed from the Chaldean, maybe left over from the exile and may have been considered a curse. Raca carries the idea the person has no value intellectually and thus no ability to add to society. In fact, the person insulted is considered a drain, taking away from society as a whole.
Jesus’ remarks not only encompass unjustified judgment of a person’s intellectual abilities and value to society but their moral character. When anyone judges the moral character of a person based upon sinful, arbitrary standards, they are pronouncing sentence without having the authority to execute sentence. They have tried to wrench away from God something which is only His prerogative. Declaring someone a “fool” is a moral judgment based upon the evidence of their lives as measured by the arbitrary standards of the individual. Worse is listening and believing the judgments pronounced by another without having actually witnessed the evidence of the life judged. Such a far reaching pronouncement of a sentence endangers the eternal place of the person judging before the God, the Judge. “Whoever says, ‘You fool’’ will be liable to the hell of fire” [Matthew 5:22 ESV].
Does any of this mean we are to not judge? We are given the Holy Spirit who “will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” [John 16:13 ESV]. We are commanded to focus our attention on Christ and the promptings of the Holy Spirit every moment of our lives. We need constant awareness of what we are thinking, how we are feeling, the words we speak and our actions, allowing God to continue to change us into the likeness of His Son, as He prepares us for eternity. We are still His witnesses before this world.