We begin with the words of James 4:11-12…
11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
James makes a fundamental point about judging… when a person chooses to become a judge there is a usurping of the way things should be… a stepping out of place for the one who chooses to judge. Who am I to judge you? Who am I to act as if I am the judge and not simply a co-defendant, standing at the same level as you?
In the first week of this series we looked at the straightforward warning from Jesus that we should not judge others. It creates a reciprocal loop of judgment and easily becomes tangled our own blindness and hypocrisy. But at the same time we are told not to judge, we are also told by scripture to be involved in one another’s lives. And for that reason many Christians get really uncomfortable when we quote Jesus saying, “Do not judge.” They immediately begin qualifying the statement, basically creating loopholes for judgment.
I get the rub, I really do. When I speak of being nonjudgemental I often get a response somewhat like, “But if I see something sinful, I’m supposed to point it out!” or maybe “If I see someone in trouble, I can’t pretend that everyone is just ok and not help!” Some Christians like to speak of nonjudgementalism as being convictionless or “wishy washy.”
I see where the problem is and I do understand what is trying to be said: If I see someone hurting themselves or hurting others by their words and actions, I should not pretend that I don’t know anything is going on. I agree with that. It’s not being a very good friend or brother if someone I love is doing harm in their words and actions, but I simply stand by and watch.
Do I have to judge someone to correct them?
There are certain passages are often sited in support of actively judging the people around us: John 7:24, James 5:20, Ephesians 4:15, and 2 Thessalonians 3:11-15. These are passages I have seen and heard Christians quote as their “License to Judge.” If you want to look at those, you’re welcome to and encouraged to. But here’s deal on each… The John passage deals with people’s performance of the Law and how it is judged fulfilled or not, as Jesus is speaking to the religious pros, correcting their misjudgment. That hardly overrides his own warning not to judge. The James passage is about correcting someone “in sin,” but of course comes a chapter after James reminds us not to judge people. The Ephesians passage is the famous (and famously abused) “speaking the truth in love,” but is in a context of building people up, not tearing them down. And the 2 Thessalonians passage is crystal clear that the offending people are not to be viewed as enemies, but as fellow believers. So, let’s move on to the real issue…
We seem to have some problem premises, some destructive ideas that we need to root out and remove from our lives and habits. I identify and list them in the following way, but they are interrelated and can be see in almost any order. These are wrong ideas…
1. For me to have convictions about right & wrong, I must be judging you or correcting you.
2. Because for me to help you, I must first judge you.
3. Because help and correction only follow judgment.
4. Judging and correcting are one and the same.
When I think in ways based on these problem premises, I cannot distinguish judging from helping, judging from correcting, or even sometimes judging from encouraging. This idea is fairly self-evident when you quote Jesus, “Do not judge” and a nearby Christian immediately says, “Yeah but…”
The bottom line is that when I allow myself to distinguish between judging and correcting, I can correct without judging. Sounds simple, but I actually have to work on this to do it well. You may sin, but I do not have to judge you a sinner, fallen, evil or wrong, before I can show you a better way. And vice versa. When I am caught in a weakness, or a moment of poor choice or wisdom, you do not have to judge me a failure to lend a helping word or hand. Jesus modeled this so well!
Neither Do I Condemn You
Jesus models a way of helping, even correcting, without judging in John 8:1-11. He says, “Neither do I condemn you.” That’s right, even when a person is caught doing wrong and guilt is not in question in any way, Jesus still begins with “Neither do I condemn you.” But Jesus! It’s a slam-dunk! This person is totally guilty… but Jesus didn’t condemn. He didn’t say, “Well, you screwed that up! Here’s what you do to fix things…” He didn’t say, “You’re so guilty, and you suck at fidelity and all, but good thing I still love ya anyway. Shape up.” He says, “Neither do I condemn you.” And in saying that, he loses absolutely no authority to correct her behavior.
Think back on John 4, as Jesus speaks with another woman, whom he knows to be living with a man out of marriage, and he doesn’t condemn either one of them. Instead, he chats with her having one of the deepest theological discussions recorded in the gospel narratives.
Think again on every single time Jesus touches the “unclean” or eats, drinks and associates with the wrong kind of people. He’s amazing in the way he reaches into people’s lives and touches them, without judging. Why can’t I do this as easily? Is it simply my ego that demands they be judged first? Jesus makes it look easy, but I know I have to work hard to retrain my heart.
I will also say this, one more thing about the passage in John 8… by the time Jesus says “Leave your life of sin” he has that person’s attention. He has an audience with her, I believe in large part, because he did not feel the need to judge her first. How many times have I lost an audience because judgment rang through in my opening remarks, or it was painted across my face? The question makes my stomach hurt, just to be honest with you.
The real test of this thing, this amazing way that Jesus modeled for us to reject condemnation and judgment, was seen on the cross. He looked at a raving crowd that demanded his death, at the soldiers who nailed him to a piece of wood, and he said, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” What? Jesus? They do too know! They just did it! Guilt is once again crystal clear!
But for Jesus, the choice has been made to look on others without the need to judge and condemn. He doesn’t need to revel in their guilt before offering prayers for their benefit. The words from the cross need to haunt me, drive me, guide me. If I could only look at the people around me whose guilt is so certain, and begin with a love not rooted in what they’ve done or not done, then maybe I would receive the same.
I don’t judge the judgmental people. I’ve been there too many times myself. I feel the judgement sometimes rise up within me. My heart can sometimes judge, classify, label and dismiss a person faster than a super computer can process 2+2. But when I want to judge, I need to not judge. When you feel like judging, please stop it.
My heart has some growing to do. It so often feels like judgment has replaced love in my heart, by habit and experience. But didn’t someone once say, “Knowing is half the battle?”