If there’s a more commonly-shared human trait than our devilish tendency to quickly condemn and/or assign blame to others I’ve no clue what it is. I suspect that’s why Jesus specifically warned us about being judgmental in His Sermon on the Mount. It’s important to notice He waited until after He’d preached on how we must deal with our anger, contempt, lust, cursing, retaliation, coveting and worry habits before bringing up our judging problem. Those unproductive characteristics interfere greatly with our ability to love our family, friends, co-workers and neighbors as much as we love ourselves. So if we don’t confront those issues first we’ll never overcome our destructive judgment reflex. And learning how to conquer it is yet another reason why it’s vital we not only view Christ’s Sermon as a cohesive whole, but that we read and study it in the sequence Jesus presented it in. The last phase of our Lord’s famous talk opens with a stern admonition: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive” (7:1-2). It goes without saying the more we cultivate and nurture a “kingdom heart” the less we’re prone to condemn and blame others. (One of the most attractive aspects of Celebrate Recovery meetings is that nobody gets judged there. Ever. Just sayin’…)
Like some in Jesus’ audience that day, many folks’ initial reaction to His bold statement is one of skepticism. Is it possible to be non-judgmental? Can we maintain a healthy relationship with anyone in this world without feeling free to let them know when their opinions or actions are wrong? Isn’t asking us to not judge akin to asking us to not blink? Aren’t there times when it’s imperative we confront someone and endeavor to spray some Glade on their stinkin’ thinkin’? When we’re positive we’re right shouldn’t it be okay to judge? Jesus was saying, in no uncertain terms, “No.” Why? As Dallas Willard wrote, “When we condemn another we really communicate that he or she is, in some deep and just possibly irredeemable way, bad – bad as a whole, and to be rejected. In our eyes the condemned is among the discards of human life. He or she is not acceptable. We sentence that person to exclusion. Surely we can learn to live well and happily without doing that.” Obviously the majority of us, when we criticize someone, aren’t really intending to label them “bad people.” But nonetheless that could be what they take our words to mean. Now, Christ isn’t saying there aren’t times when folks need to be held accountable for their sinful behavior or attitude, but the one doing the correcting must be spiritually mature because it’s no simple task to take on. Paul addressed it directly when he wrote, “Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2).
There are a number of things to take into consideration: (A) We must be absolutely sure we’re cognizant of all the pertinent facts. We all know what happens when we jump to conclusions and assume things. (B) We may not be the most qualified person to do the correcting. I recently told a man I’m sponsoring in Celebrate Recovery he’d be better off consulting our pastor about how to deal with a serious roadblock that’s arisen in his marriage (unrelated to his recovery). Some issues are best left to those with practical experience. (C) Often it’s not “correction” that’s required but “restoration” of a person’s focus back onto Jesus. ‘Nuff said. And (D) empathy is essential to being an effective advice-dispenser. The one being corrected must understand we’ve been in need of correction, too. By “carrying their burden” there’s less chance we’ll come off as self-righteous know-it-alls. The apostle Paul announced, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Since the Creator of the universe (whom we’ve all repeatedly trespassed against) doesn’t condemn us, who are we to condemn those who trespass against us?
Bear in mind Jesus wasn’t speaking to Christians in His sermon because there weren’t any as of yet. Thus what He taught applies to anyone whose primary aim is to live their life peaceably with their associates and to enjoy healthy, close relationships with their family members. And in no other situation is staying non-judgmental more indispensable than in the parenting area. I’ve known many otherwise remarkable men and women who are astoundingly gracious one moment but then turn on a dime and become ruthless dogma-filled tyrants when it comes to addressing their kids. They’ll rudely interrupt them instead of listening, they’ll impose strict rules that blatantly contradict their own lifestyle, they’ll make cruel fun of things the child takes very seriously and callously brand their offspring’s BFFs “worthless hooligans.” The irony is that those same parents will then ask their peers an inane question like “Why do my teenagers always want to be somewhere else than at home with their mom and dad?” when the obvious answer is “Why would anyone want to hang out where they’re treated like mindless minions?” Those parents owning a “kingdom heart” will have learned how to correct them in a way that incorporates patience, gentleness, kindness and a permeating spirit of genuine love that’s a lot more difficult for them to rail against.
Note that our Savior didn’t castigate even the most conspicuous sinners – the habitual criminals, the prostitutes, the corrupt tax collectors, the lepers, the con artists, etc.; the folks that existed outside the boundaries of “decent society” and were shunned accordingly. Instead Jesus mingled among them. Touching them; eating with them. A modern equivalent would be the homeless population. While we try our best to ignore them we can safely surmise Christ would be in their midst, sleeping under the musty overpasses right beside them. Now, it’s not that Jesus didn’t feel condemnation had its place. He didn’t hesitate to let the holier-than-thou religious leaders have it with both barrels regularly. We humans don’t have that right but our Lord most definitely does. Remember that He and the Heavenly Father are one. Willard wisely wrote, “We must beware of believing that it’s okay for us to condemn as long as we’re condemning the right things. It’s not so simple as all that. I can trust Jesus to go into the temple and drive out those who were profiting from religion, beating them with a rope. I cannot trust myself to do so.”
I have to ask, “Is there a more effective way a Christian can show the world they’re truly ‘a new creation’ than by refusing to sit in judgment on folks?” I don’t think there is. And once a believer has shackled their anger and contempt demons (via the transforming power of the Holy Spirit) their urge to condemn others will dissipate significantly. It don’t come easy, though. It is a struggle because our pride-fueled self-righteousness naturally wants to put distance between ourselves and those we’ve deemed worthy of exclusion. Jesus once addressed a group of Pharisees as being “…some who were relying upon themselves for their rightness and were despising others” (Luke 18:9). If we trace far enough back to locate the roots of our urge to condemn we’ll almost always find anger to be the main instigator because indignation is never assuaged until it puts a hurt on somebody else. And few things are as hurtful as condemnation. We see it every day in the secular world but, sadly, I’ve found judgment to be just as prevalent within the sundry denominations of the Body of Christ! I know some very good Christian people who feel it’s their God-ordained obligation to politely but firmly inform me I’m hell-bound because I don’t interpret the Scriptures the same as they do. They’ve convinced themselves that if they’re nice about letting me in on their “special knowledge” I shouldn’t take offense. Yet I do because they’re presuming I’m stupid and therefore have no business thinking the Word of God I consult daily speaks to me personally. Whether they realize it or not, they’re basically trying to shame me into adopting their particular doctrine. I can only pray for God’s unconditional love to get them to lighten up.
What Jesus wants us all to savvy is that employing judgment as a technique to help those we sense are going in the wrong direction is a surefire recipe for failure. Few are the folks we condemn who’ll respond to it favorably. Most will feel slighted and vehemently disagree with our sage assessment. And, in today’s social media-saturated world, unchecked knee-jerk judgment calls and condemnation run amok. Every day I’m confronted with someone’s Facebook post (often a “friend” I can’t recall ever meeting in person) that viciously attacks my political persuasion, my religious affiliation or the region of the country where I live as being intolerably wrong. A ten second smart phone video shot 50 yards away from a controversial altercation can cause millions to form instant conclusions about everything that happened long before all the crucial facts are gathered and made public. Deep chasms continue to widen between a vast array of mutual condemnation groups that consider any point of view contrary to theirs a dangerous threat to the country’s stability. Fair to say our collective “judging problem” may be the greatest enemy of peace and harmony we face in the present era. Yet, because of Christ, I do have hope. I like what Philip Yancey said: “As America slides, I will work and pray for the kingdom of God to advance. If the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church, the contemporary political scene hardly offers much threat.”
So how does one begin to address this destructive hang-up? Jesus taught that it starts with us. We must first determine where our individual heart is at. Only by surrendering our will to the leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit can we develop the ability to discern how things really are and how to proceed without unfairly condemning others. Then we’ll be better able to hold people accountable and talk about their shortcomings without them feeling we’re assaulting their fundamental worth in the kingdom of God. However, it’s one thing if we’re conferring with a born again Christian and quite another if they aren’t a follower of Jesus. The latter is usually desperate to gain our approval. Willard wrote, “Having no adequate sense of themselves as spiritual beings, or of their place in a good world of God, they regard any negative appraisal of what they do as condemnation of themselves as persons. They have nowhere to stand to do otherwise.” The old adage of “hate the sin, love the sinner” doesn’t hold much water anymore because nowadays non-Christian people are convinced that if you truly love them like you profess you do, then you must accept their self-determined values and morals as an integral part of what you love about them – otherwise you’re a phony. But believers mustn’t allow themselves to be thus coerced into approving whatever that person chooses to do. If we were to see somebody about to step into a bear trap we wouldn’t in good conscience remain silent for fear of hurting their feelings. When a soul’s at stake we’re obligated by our faith to speak up.
Once again I must emphasize that Jesus had a wonderful sense of humor and He employed it frequently to drive home the gist of His message. Keep in mind in ancient Jewish culture extreme exaggeration was considered hysterically funny so those gathered no doubt at least chuckled over what Jesus said next: “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). What our Lord conveyed by using the word hypocrite in this context was this: there’s something off-kilter in all of us and, therefore, we have no legitimate reason to judge anyone until we achieve perfection. The beam of wood sticking from our eye is often condemnation. Until we tend to its permanent removal we’re blind to spotting even the tiniest of splinters in another’s eye. Until we truly possess a “kingdom heart” we won’t be in a position where we can assist those in desperate need of spiritual guidance. So whenever any of us are tempted to pronounce judgment on another person, whether they’re an acquaintance or otherwise, we should remember the memorable response Jesus gave to the Pharisees and experts in the law when they dragged a woman caught in the act of adultery before Him and asked, “What do you say we do with this lowlife sinner?” He responded with “…Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Well, that ruined their “rock-heaving party” in a flash, didn’t it? We don’t need to judge. That’s Christ’s job and He’ll take care of it in His own time. As Abraham stated long ago, “Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right?” (Genesis 18:25).
It’s imperative we concentrate on maintaining a firm, unyielding belief in God’s absolute goodness. Timothy Keller said, “If I don’t believe there’s a God who’ll eventually put all things right, I will take up the sword and will be sucked into the endless vortex of retaliation. Only if I’m sure there’s a God who will right all wrongs and settle all accounts perfectly do I have the power to refrain.” Someday each of us will stand in God’s majestic courtroom and we will be judged. Even though I know I’m saved I’m not exactly looking forward to that session. Frederick Buechner evidently shares my trepidation. He wrote, “The New Testament proclaims that at some unforeseeable time in the future, God will ring down the final curtain on history, and there will come a Day on which all our days and all the judgments upon us and all our judgments upon each other will themselves be judged. The judge will be Christ. In other words, the one who judges us most finally will be the one who loves us most fully.” Reinhold Niebuhr opined, “Thus the final majesty of God is the majesty of His mercy. It’s both the completion and the contradiction of His power.” I don’t know about you but that sentiment brings me great comfort.