I love Jesus Christ, and I have some pretty definite reasons why I love him, as a person, as a religious figure, as a image of God relating to humanity. Yes, I was raised as a Christian, but that’s not the reason I’m a Christian, today. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ because he:
1) doesn’t feel the need to judge me before loving and living life with me,
2) isn’t afraid to challenge me and move me forcibly from my apathy, and
3) invites me to live my life in a Way that has proven rich and worthy of my time and effort.
This is not a post about why my religion is betters than yours, why my faith is deeper than yours, or why you should consider being more like me in any way at all. I just had a deep need this week to talk about how much I love and respect the man, Jesus Christ. And I’m going to explain these three reasons by sharing some stories from his life and teachings.
He doesn’t feel the need to judge me before loving me! Man, that’s just how Jesus liked to roll when walking the dusty roads of earth! He didn’t need to start with condemnation. Has that been your experience in churches? Have preachers needed to condemn you and then try to change you? Sometimes we approach sharing Good News in a burn it down and rebuild it mindset toward people, but that’s not the Way of Jesus. I’m sorry if you’ve had that kind of experience in church, we just don’t always get things right as human beings. Check out Jesus silencing an angry crowd in John 8:1-11. He didn’t need to condemn someone caught in the act! Jesus in John 4:1-42 doesn’t need to condemn a person who has messed up marriages and even worships in a different religion than his. What? Yup. Now wrap all that up with some sermonizing from Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5. Judging: we don’t. We shouldn’t. And if we are, we’re doing our Christianity wrong. Jesus has a special way of drawing me to himself and to Christianity because he doesn’t need to start by condemning everyone else and shaming their experience and effort, or mine.
Yet, he isn’t afraid to challenge me! Not needing to judge me doesn’t mean that Jesus won’t transform me. Just like with the woman in John 8, Jesus tells me to get my act together and do better. Jesus did sometimes have some pretty scathing words for people, but have you noticed that they tended to be for the religious professionals, as in Matthew 23:1-36? That’s right, when Jesus did take people task, it was the religious leaders. Jesus does not like religion that depends on fakery, form over substance or that neglects the essential core of religion: justice, mercy and faith. As a pastor and a life-long theology student, I need to take this heart. Being non-judgmental does not mean being less concerned about doctrine and life or having fewer personal convictions. Jesus challenges and provokes and moves us with a message of intrinsic value and worth, belief in ourselves and what we can actually be in this world. We are made to be light and flavor for the world around us! He said that in Matthew 5:13-16, and he modeled it in his daily life and ministry. Flavoring the world and lighting the path for our neighbor is our purpose, and he isn’t shy about pointing out what a tragic loss it is for us to lose that sense of purpose.
Speaking of purpose, the Way of Jesus is my constant guide and meaning. I’m so glad to have the formation of Jesus in my life, to teach me my true worth and the worth of others, and then to send me into a life of action and support for this world, God’s beloved world. That’s Gospel; it’s the Good News. Jesus came into our lives to remind us of something. He’s reminding us that God has not left, finished the work in and with us, or ever given up hope that we would rise above self-destruction and change the world. Think for a moment on one of the ways that Jesus announced his work, “The kingdom of God is near,” as in Mark 1:9-15. A simple statement that says so much: 1) God is near, 2) the sovereignty of God is active, 3) we are invited to citizenship in God’s kingdom, and 4) hope is not limited to the reach and efficacy of human kingdoms. We have a calling, an identify, and a hope. Think about the way that Jesus famously summarized the Law and Prophets, or put religion in a nutshell in the famous passage of Matthew 22:34-40: “Love God, and love others as you love yourself.” Encapsulated in this brief summary is the love of God, the love people and the love of self. I have been guilty of often paraphrasing this teaching as two loves, love God and love others, but it’s really three. I am free, invited and needed to love myself as basis for empathically loving and caring for others. We are connected, bound up and whole in the love of God. The love of God is the foundation upon which we build life, and that love as the mortar between every stone and person. This is the Way of Jesus.
This morning, finishing up this blog post and trying to start my day with a big bottle of water (I tend not to hydrate enough), I’m recommitting myself to opportunities to live my daily prayer: let me love, let me learn, let me serve. All that I’ve learned of Jesus over the years can be expressed in these three values: love, growth and service. May the world be enriched for our time within it, and may God be made glad as we give ourselves to the Way of Jesus. May my actions and words support my own value, yours, and the worth of God’s beautiful world.
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?”
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.