Let’s agree to put an end to competition in spiritual matters, shall we? I’m talking about the need that we too often feel to assign motives and deficits of sincerity and spiritual wholeness to people who don’t agree with us. I’m also specifically talking about the gross misappropriation of scriptural passages to frame disagreement in a “I’m right because I love God” and “You’re wrong because you don’t love God as much as me” contest. In essence, it’s a form of spiritual extortion. If I disagree with someone, it is not kind, gentle or loving to create a dichotomy of motives in which I am seeking to please God and they are obviously just pandering to cultural and secular voices.
It’s Disrespecting of the Scriptural Witness.
We can and will disagree on religious and spiritual matters, regardless of the subject or text in question. To have a civil, Christ-like disagreement, we must give the benefit of the doubt to one another. When someone speaks of their faith, their sincerity, their love of God, their motives, their beliefs, their respect of scripture, or really anything, they should be taken at their word.
Yes, the scriptural writers said some things about motives:
~ Paul in Galatians 1:10, TNIV… “Am I now trying to win human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
~ Peter and John and then others in Acts 4:19 & 5:29, NKJV… “But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.'” and “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
~ Paul again in 1 Thessalonians 2:4, NLT… “Our purpose is to please God, not people. He is the one who examines the motives of our hearts.”
~ And Paul’s important and beautiful sentiment in Romans 12:1&2, CEB… “So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.”
What we do not find in these scriptures or in other passages is a license to blanket our brothers and sisters who disagree with us with the intention or motive of pleasing people more than God. In fact, please notice that Paul affirmed it is God who judges hearts.
I’m willing to accept that those speakers in the New Testament had sufficient knowledge to express their own motives, and I accept them at face value. I am not however willing to listen to Christians quote and paraphrase the same words in ways that paint those who disagree with them as not wanting to please God or to follow God’s lead. That kind of thing is a gross misappropriation of scripture and needs to stop. It doesn’t help us move forward or create meaningful dialogue. Instead, it violates in word and spirit the command of Christ, “Stop judging others, and you will not be judged” in Matthew 7:1, and verses 1-6 for a greater context and exposition.
It’s Disrespecting of People.
Why am I writing about this stuff? I’m sick and I’m truly tired of the accusation, explicit and implicit, that I am affirming of my LGBTQ neighbors because I seek to please people more than God, or because I choose to follow the voice of culture above the voice of God. I am sick of others having to deal with that accusation and maligning of their motives.
I regularly give my non-LGBTQ-affirming friends and neighbors the benefit of the doubt that they are sincere and trying their best to both follow God and love people, as I do with them on other points of theological and exegetical disagreement. It’s only fair to take people at their word when they say they don’t hate someone. It’s fair to take people at their word when they say they want to please God and when they believe they are pleasing God. If their choice of words and actions do turn hateful, I won’t hesitate to point that out, and have on occasion such as here and here.
Honestly, it’s this kind of disrespect that keeps us from having meaningful dialogue and sharing on so many points of disagreement. We must be careful of what I have started calling “Self-Marginalization.” Self-marginalization happens when we speak and act in such a way that others are repelled and prohibited from engaging us. As Marshall McLuhan warned us that “the medium is the message” we would do well as Christians to make sure that our medium is not the language or action of spiritual competition, disrespect or un-Christlike judgement.
I’ll end with these words from the Apostle Paul, some of my most favorite’est Pauline verses in Philippians 4:4-8, CEB. These words reject competition and domination. These words orient us to gratitude and service. These words ring with grace and wisdom…
Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.
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.