“Judge not that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Matt.7:1,2)
Where issues of utmost importance are concerned, we surely hope to ‘get it right,’ don’t we? Trusting Jesus as my Savior was the most significant thing I’ve ever done. It changed my relation to both God and men. I’m so glad I got that right. But where people are concerned, there is another top tier decision we face; one we also had better ‘get right.’ Our well-being depends on it.
Right along with “Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap,” the words “Judge not” chill me, and modify my thoughts and responses daily, sometimes hourly, as I examine our present socio/political and religious environment. The implications of Jesus’ words restrain my temptation to hastily evaluate things I see and hear.
Don’t you just hate it when someone jumps to conclusions about something you’ve done or said or believe. . . . or you supposedly did or said or believe? So often folks open their mouths while suffering from an acute lack of information and perspective. I’m deeply concerned that many believers are contributing to a pandemic of judgement and ill-will in our culture. The polarization among Americans is as acute as I’ve seen it in my lifetime. Yes, there have always been sharp differences of opinion and viewpoint within our populace, but never with the degree of bitter animosity and sheer meanness we now witness every day.
Families and long-term friendships are being riddled by disputes over cultural ideologies and supposedly moral issues. What social agenda is so important, so hallowed that one’s most precious relationships must be sacrificed on its altar? That is a dark business.
We all enjoy the right to our opinions and preferences, and indeed our beliefs. The Apostle Paul put it quite well; “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” (Romans 14:22) Demeaning, slandering, and abandoning loved ones and friends because they differ from your social, political, or religious viewpoint is another matter. In these parts there is a saying, ‘What goes around comes around.’ In other words, you can’t do that kind of stuff without consequence, especially if you’re a professing Christian.
It is stunning to see loyalty, commitment, and humility abandoned in favor of a ‘cause’ or a movement of some kind. I have heard Christian people declaring other Christians ‘deceived’ and ‘of the devil’ when they’re not part of one’s political faction. Friends, that’s dangerous.
It is likely most of the people reading this have seldom, if ever, gone to bed hungry. Or have suffered blatant discrimination as part of a racial minority. Or have any idea what it is like to grow up in abject poverty. Or relate to being bullied, belittled, or otherwise abused. Or dealt with feelings of attraction to one’s own sex.
I can’t relate to any of those things well at all. And it is safe to say I have no idea how I would have developed as a person if one or more of those things were part of my history. Consequently, my opinions and evaluations of folks impacted in those ways should be pretty guarded, and I really have nothing whatever to say about what’s going on in their hearts and souls, regardless of their prickly attitudes or misdeeds.
“Well, the Bible says this or that about what they’re doing and saying.” Sure, we can identify misbehavior and destructive attitudes in others (in almost everyone if we were to look closely) and critique their actions. But that’s ‘observation’ not judgment. There is often a critical distinction between what people do and who they are, or their motives. Only God knows that, and He will reckon with them appropriately. He’s the judge.
I mean really, we can’t have it both ways. We cannot claim to be the folks who “Love your neighbor as yourself” and in the same breath vilify, slander, or ‘write-off’ people, some of whom profess faith in Jesus, just because they don’t support our doctrine, agenda, party, or cause. We can’t claim the moral ‘high ground’ and then speak from the gutter, in swaggering generalities, about souls we don’t know anything about. “Democrats are of the devil!” “Republicans are sleazy and corrupt!” Why would any Christian say such a thing when it is obviously false? Surely there are corrupt individuals in both camps, but to label and vilify all the others in those groups is shameful. What is wrong with folks who do that? Have they no fear of the Lord, the righteous judge? They should tremble.
It seems to me a lot of people want to have ‘their say’ about matters that are way above their pay grade. They somehow think name-calling or pigeon-holing those who don’t agree with them or whose conduct they don’t approve is perfectly acceptable. Many souls have forgotten we will ‘give an account for every idle word!’ When I hear leaders or high-profile individuals insulting, taunting, or making sweeping judgments about people, often their opponents, I can’t help but think, “Mister, Madame, the very lens through which you’re ‘eyeing’ others, to criticize, is the lens that will be used for the ultimate and final scrutiny of your life. Are you sure you want to continue with this?”
The words of Jesus are very clear. There is little nuance to them. To the accusers of the adulterous woman, who by Jewish law should be stoned, Jesus said, “Whichever of you is sinless here throw the first rock at her.” (John 8:1-11) Wasn’t that direct and to the point? Phooey on their misplaced affection for the law! The truth was, no one in that crowd had any moral authority to judge that woman; not one!
When Jesus said not to judge others, He was not asking us if we were guilty of such a thing. He knew everyone was! When He went on to say, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you’ll see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye,” He wasn’t asking whether or not we have a plank in our eye. Of course, we do! So, let’s deal with that!
Frankly, I’m weary of the endless Christian whining about so-and-so’s lifestyle, or politics, or doctrine, as if it makes any real difference to them. “Well, I don’t believe in abortion!” Okay then, don’t have one. “Well, gays are an abomination to God!” So are a proud look, telling lies, a wicked schemer, a slanderer, and a troublemaker. (Prov. 6:16) The average church house is full of them. Why not be concerned about that, and leave those other troubled souls alone?
“Judgment is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Isn’t that clear? Again, we have the right, the responsibility, to evaluate words and behaviors as beneficial or destructive. We embrace the one and we reject or avoid the other. But rendering a verdict on someone’s motives or heart is spiritual poison, and spreading our opinion around is wickedness. We can observe the ‘what’ but we seldom know the ‘why.’ Presuming that somehow we do know corrupts our souls, robs us of oxygen to our own conscience, and deprives us of vital nutrients for moral wholeness. Some humility helps.
The ultimate remedy for the divisiveness and rancor now so prevalent in American culture remains to be seen. In the meantime, we all need to work on taking some of the poison out of it. In college Jeanie and I were challenged by a lecturer who asked simply, “Are you going to be part of the answer or part of the problem?”
I hope we will diligently and prayerfully rid our souls of the ‘I know what’s right for everybody’ deception, and work on our own stuff. Most all of us have some verbal ‘cleaning up’ to do. It bears repeating . . . . ‘precisely the same sharp verdicts you’re passing out about others are heading right back at you.’ Folks who aren’t truly concerned about that scare me.