This past Sunday I started a discussion with our church family on the teaching of Jesus that we not be people who judge others. I am blogging along at our church website on our series and wanted to also place the entries here.
Nonjudgemental Christians, Part 1
Here’s our base text from Matthew 7:1-6…
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?4 How can you say, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye.
6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.
Do Not Judge
We started with the recognition that the word “judge” here means exactly that, “to judge” or to give a verdict. It’s not just criticism, but it is delivering a verdict; a person is judged inadequate, worthless, wrong, or without value. A person is judged as not worth God’s time, not in God’s favor. It is the decision on a person’s worth and value, a full and complete judgement. Certainly among the audience on the day that Jesus spoke these words there were many of the religious professionals present who were well versed in judging, and many who had been judged.
As we read through the ministry and life Jesus we often see these religious professionals in action. They are the ones in the background whispering, “If he only knew.” When Jesus was eating or interacting with people they judged unworthy or undeserving of his attention, they assumed he simply didn’t know who they were. If he knew, surely he would have judged the person as they did. And yet Jesus did not judge as they did, and his words warn us of judging. Some examples of people judging others when Jesus did not: Luke 7:36-50, Mark 2:13-17, John 8:1-11, and Matthew 21:28-32 (premature judgement).
The first warning in this passage that Jesus gives is very clear… if we choose to indulge in bringing judgment, then we open ourselves up to the same standards and imposition of judgment. He says clearly, “Do not.” Then he unpacks the danger of judgement as it opens us up to the same treatment.
Do Not Judge, But Maybe Help
Jesus goes on to essentially make a joke of my hypocritical use of judgment, that I easily overlook the reasons in my own life to face judgement and turn to quickly judge another. He says that when judging others I overlook the “plank” which debilitates my own life to focus on the “speck” that trips you up. Jesus asks “Why do you do this?” Why do I do this blatantly hypocritical thing? Because your speck, your sins or mistakes, they make me an expert. My own plank, my own sins and mistakes, they just make me a failure. Why wouldn’t I choose to spend the day on your problems instead of my own?
And yet, Jesus puts a line of hope out there for me. I can work on on my own life, and maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll be able to help another person. Maybe, if I can do something about this plank in my eye, if I can find my way from the debilitation of my own sins and weakness, then I will be strong enough to help someone with a speck. Because no matter how hard I work on my life and no matter how much I achieve in purifying my life, the contrast is still overwhelmingly against me: my plank vs. your speck. My primary responsibility is always my own sin, no matter how well I ever manage to hide or tame it, or notice yours.
Some see these words as a chance to judge, a license to judge! You see, if I can simply tame a sin in my own life, then it’s fair game to judge in your life. But I will have to humbly disagree with that. This is still within the discussion on judgment which Jesus began with the words, “Do not judge.” We are still talking about why we don’t judge. Removing a plank from my eye does not give me license to judge, but an opportunity to help. St. Paul would later echo the same sentiment in Ephesians 4:28, “Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” I am not to judge, but I may be able to help. There’s a big difference.
Pigs and Pearls
And finally there’s the closing verse of the passage we used on Sunday, the one about pearls, pigs and dogs. I was surprised to find so many commentators who treated this verse as unattached to the fuller discussion. They simply made a comment on the common sense of not wasting precious resources on ventures or opportunities that are not precious.
Yet it is a beautiful restatement of verses 1 & 2! Verse 6 restates the devastating reciprocity of judgment that Jesus warns us of, that when I judge I open myself up to the same treatment. Think of verse 6 now, and in that imagery, the pearls and sacred things are the people around me, and the pigs and dogs are my judgements. If I throw those precious people to my judging (usually to feed my own ego and righteousness), the same judgments will eventually turn and destroy me. I will reap what I sow.
So Why Do We So Often Judge?
In the coming weeks we’ll be talking about the job of sharing life as nonjudgemental people, and yet we are involved in one another’s lives and have a responsibility to help each other when needed. Can we recognize opportunities to help without the prerequisite of judgment? Can we make sense of other things that New Testament writers say in light of the words of Jesus? Maybe I’m too much an optimist, but I believe we can, if we will be both thoughtful speakers and thoughtful listeners, bound in love.
I pray that my children may one day inherit a world without war, poverty or your gay jokes. Of course, if you yourself don’t tell gay jokes, then I thank you for helping make my prayer a reality. If you do, then I humbly ask you to stop. Cease. Desist.
Last week as I prepared for sharing Mother’s Day on Sunday with my church family in Bethesda I spent a bit of time mulling over the “Honor your father and mother” command. (Exodus 20:12) I was thinking about the honoring of our mothers and how that command is as St. Paul called it, “the first command with a promise.” (Ephesians 6:1-3) The people of Israel were told that if they were a people who honored their parents, it would impact their living long in the land of their inheritance. That’s really a curious thing.
I would assume the payoff of honoring one’s parents might be having obedient, honoring kids yourself. That seems more tit for tat, doesn’t it? Instead, God says that being an “honoring people” will bless the nation and the land, the two will be joined longer and better. That’s a curious blessing.
Of course the idea of claiming a blessing for ourselves as a nation today is a little fuzzy. In it’s original context the blessing was promised to the nation of Israel way off in the Middle East. But St. Paul felt compelled to bring it into the conversation with the Christians in Ephesus. So there must be some kind of active blessing for the Ephesians then and us today for being an “honoring people,” a people who show honor to mother and father.
On mother’s day I was bold enough to assert that I believe that someone who does not honor their mother does not have a very good foundation for knowing how to honor their wife, or their daughter, or themselves. In all their imperfections and broken humanity, we honor the moms who have blessed us and given so much for us. Honoring them includes obedience, respect, appreciation, love and forgiveness. Those are a few of the things our church family identified last Sunday as integral parts of honoring. It’s a good list.
Oh Yes, The Gay Joke
So are you waiting on the gay joke rant? Confused that it’s not even been mentioned? Wondering how it even fits in the discussion? Well, last Saturday, just before Mother’s Day, I went downtown for one of my personal traditions, the Saturday morning cheeseburger. I chose one of my favorite diners; it has one of the old-school sandwich counters. It’s awesome. However, I ended up sitting between two gentlemen who were seated a ways apart, and so conducted their conversation loudly enough to break over the other diner sounds. The conversation ended with a loudly worded joke at the expense of a couple of well-known gay celebrities, and all gay people everywhere. It was a rude joke that managed to give the image of a specific sex act and even make light of life and death, suicide to be exact. They thought themselves boisterously funny.
I didn’t. In fact I lost my appetite looking over at the young son of one of the men, maybe four years old. What would he process and remember from that morning? I lost my appetite wondering if they had alienated and even frightened someone else in the diner who might not have felt the joke was not very funny. I lost my appetite because I was suddenly in a place where it was ok to ridicule and dishonor two people in particular, and a whole group of people along with them.
Have you ever been in an argument and the other person tried to make a joke to lighten the mood, but it more than backfired? We are in a heated national argument right now about the right of our homosexual neighbors to marry in the traditional sense of the word. Does it seem like a good time for ridicule and dishonor? I don’t think so. In fact, even if we weren’t in the midst of our national argument, the ridicule and dishonor would still not have an appropriate place in our diners, our homes, our churches, our mosques, our synagogues, our temples, our workplaces, our schools, or our Facebook pages.
Sitting at the sandwich counter on Saturday I really didn’t care about any particular argument anymore, because we had all just lost, we had become lost, in every sense of the word. If there is a blessing for the land that is made real and present in the lives of an honoring people, then there is most definitely also a curse made real by the lives of the dishonoring. I felt it. It was real. It was tangible.
St. Paul had previously said in that letter to Ephesus, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29-32)
This should mean something to everyone claiming Christ. It doesn’t matter which side of the argument you’re on, your way of addressing the question matters, and doesn’t change. Whatever you believe you must act and speak the same way. Feeling that you’re right is never a license to act and speak in wrong, hurtful, dishonoring ways.
Time To Step It Up & Pay Up
Just for fun, let’s take these above words of St. Paul and make a tool! Let’s make a diagnostic tool for deciding how we will speak and use our words. Here goes:
Do the words I want to use…
1. Sound or resemble something unwholesome?
unwholesome, adj. detrimental to physical, mental, or
moral well-being; offensive to the senses
2. Build up or benefit someone in need?
benefit, v. to be helpful, useful or profitable to
3. Grieve the Spirit of God?
grieve, v. to cause to suffer
4. Express bitterness, rage, anger or brawling?
Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger do not sin,
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”
5. Express slander or malice?
malice, n. desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another
6. Express kindness, compassion or forgiveness?
Colossians 3:12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people,
holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
7. Sound like Christ in action?
John 13:34, “A new command I give you:
Love one another. As I have loved you,
so you must love one another.
Matthew 15:17-18, “Don’t you see that whatever
enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then
out of the body? But the things that come out of the
mouth come from the heart, and these defile you.”
Sound like too much work? Sound a bit overwhelming? Welcome to the reality of how powerful and meaningful our words really are. It’s just a bit too easy to use our words in the cause of dishonoring, hurting, expressing malice, anger, and bitterness. It’s far more difficult to keep our words up at the level called for in our scriptures. That’s the cost of bringing a blessing to the land. That’s the cost of bringing a blessing to our nation. Will we pay that cost?
St. James in James 1:19&20, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
St. Paul in Philippians 4:5, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:21&22, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘You are worthless,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (I have translated the word “raca” in verse 22 to “You are worthless.” This is done after studying the background of the term, it’s use in the Greek manuscripts, and what seems to be the root word of reka in in Aramaic. Other ways of rendering raca as an insult include the calling of a person vain, empty, empty-headed or foolish.)