Judge Not! It’s Not About the Rules
Although I’m not a betting man, I bet that if you went into our local high school and polled the students (thinking back to the good old days a few months ago when students could be found in schools), and asked “Who are the most judgmental people you know?” they would say “Christians.” How can that be? Jesus very clearly said: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).
Listen to Jesus
Perhaps we Christians don’t need to hear a sermon on judgment, but instead we just need to listen to Jesus!
If we are being honest, most of us struggle with judgmental attitudes. Not me, of course. I’m not judgmental, I just have superior discernment about how other people should live! I hope you realize I am joking, this being an area I can struggle in also.
Jesus tells us to not judge, but does he give us any help in learning how to live without judging others? Let us look at Jesus’ words again: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matthew 7:1-2).
Very often we read this to mean that if we judge someone, God will judge us in the same way. However, through Jesus we learn about the grace of God, and how God does not treat us as our sins deserve. Being judgmental is not an unforgivable sin. Also, Jesus does not mention God here at all.
Judgment is a Two-Way Street
Here is another way to think of it. Suppose I come at you with judgment, something like “You are stupid because you did this.” Will you respond with “O, good thought Clarke, thank you for that”? Will you not more likely respond with “Who does Clarke think he is?” See what happened there? I judged you, which led you to judge me.
If I come at you with a lot of judgment in a really harsh tone, you will likely respond with a lot more judgment. “Clarke said this, that and the other thing to me — well, let me tell you this, that and the other thing about Clarke!” The measure we give will be the measure we get.
The words of Jesus here are neither a promise, nor a theological premise, but rather a proverb. This is how judgment and judgmentalism usually go. Judgment is usually a two-way street. The path of judgement is not a path you want to go down. It does not lead to a good place. There is a better way of handling our relationships. What is that better way?
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5, NRSV)
Tidy Up My Own House
The better way is to focus on tidying up our own house.
We now have a vegetable garden in our yard, or at least space allocated for one. We could look over the fence and judge the neighbors’ vegetable gardens, except we don’t know what we are doing and have much to learn. Likewise, we can’t go picking on people for their lack of spiritual growth and life skills if we lack spiritual growth and life skills ourselves.
However, do we have the right, perhaps even the obligation to judge others once we have achieved spiritual maturity? Perhaps we feel justified in saying “I am not judgmental, I just have great discernment about how other people should live.” Let us turn again to the words of Jesus:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 18:10-14, NRSV)
Our garden is never that great. Just when we think we are doing well in spiritual maturity, pride kicks in. After all, we are not just doing well in our spiritual maturity, we are doing better than others. In fact, thank the Lord we are not like others! How quickly we become the Pharisee.
Walking with Jesus on a Journey of Character Formation
But what if we actually do have discernment about other people’s situations? I know how that feels. We have three teenage boys, so my discernment is through the roof as to how they should live! Surely we have an obligation to help people steer a good course if they are headed for rocks and we know where those rocks are?
We go back to what Jesus has already taught in the Sermon on the Mount, namely, that it is not about rules, but about character. If we have a rules-based way of looking at life and spirituality, we may jump all over people for breaking the rules. Especially the rules we keep well, or more likely, only the rules we keep well. However, if we focus on walking with Jesus on a journey of character formation, then we will offer to walk with others on their journey of character formation. We are aware that we ourselves still have some distance to go.
Those who seem to have farther to travel along that path may actually be further along than we are. Walking together along a path of mutual growth is far better than running down the two-way street of judgmentalism.
The Best Way Not to Judge
We want to minimize the roadblocks on the journey toward maturity. One’s sinful nature is a speed bump which becomes a roadblock through judgment. It does not matter how amazing my neighbor’s garden might be, if he pops his head over the fence and starts coming at me in a judgmental way for my gardening, I am probably not going to listen. He does know better, but the judgmental way he expresses it leaves the gate wide open for me in my pride to reject his discernment. But if he is simply a friendly and helpful neighbor who has a great garden, I might go to him and ask “How’d you do that?”
Are we good neighbors? Are we progressing down that path of character formation? What fruit is growing in our lives? Have we been nurturing judgmental attitudes which can grow like weeds, or “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23). Developing such fruit of the Spirit is done by walking with Jesus. That is how we tidy our gardens. That is what will enable us to help others with theirs. We want to be helpful, not hurtful. To quote Carey Nieuwhof: “Very few people get judged into life change. Far more get loved into it.”
Are you judgmental? Or just highly discerning like me? Ahem. The best way to get a handle on our judgmental attitudes is not by fixing everyone around us so there is no one left to judge. It’s by sticking close to Jesus on a journey of growth. We have a long way to go, but we have a lot of help along the way, from God through the Holy Spirit. And even from those we might want to judge.
Originally published on Clarke’s blog Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. Reprinted with permission.