Sometimes people claim others are judgmental, but they're not judgmental. Sometimes people claim others are judgmental, and they are. How can we tell the right and wrong exercise of judgment? How do we correctly identify illegitimate judging by others, or, the legitimate use of judgment?
What does it mean to be judgmental? One who is behaving judgmentally is claiming that the words or acts of another are rooted in bad motives. In other words, person A said or did X because person A is illegitimately condemning person B. Person A is condemning person B, and person A is wrong to condemn person B.
People will say that a person or a group of persons or even a congregation is judgmental, that is has a spirit that is dominated by illegitimate condemnation of others. The claim could be true and it could be false. But I will suggest that even the false claim that wrong judging is happening can be useful.
Even a mistaken claim can alert us to how others are interpreting--or misinterpreting--our actions. It can make us more aware of whether others have a general disposition of good will toward us, or an attitude of suspicion and hostility. The interesting piece is that sometimes the most judgmental are those who are accusing others of being judgmental.
Here is our simple approach. We're going to share from the gospels four aspects of illegitimate judgment, and then four aspects of legitimate judgment.
Are You More Guilty?
Hear this word from Jesus at Matthew 7:1-5:
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Begin with mercy toward others so that others will be inclined to begin with mercy toward you. You may be completely right about a matter. And yet, the judging person may be much more guilty than the accused.
Jesus offers this picture of someone who is more guilty calling out the speck in someone's eye, while they have an entire log in their eye. They ignore their own obvious wrongness while judging a dramatically smaller matter in another person.
Some people have an abrasive disposition. They're on the lookout for things to criticize. They have little mercy toward others. They push on other people. Instead of picking and poking at the alleged or actual faults of others, we will do better to begin by taking our own moral self inventory. You may be much more guilty of wrong than the person you are criticizing. This doesn't justify the wrong person, but it does suggest that a first step is getting a grip on what spirit we are of. After all, if we are correct about the problem but we have the wrong spirit, its unlikely we will approach our brother in a winning way. But if, through self-examination, we discover we are behaving wrongly, it can be corrected, and the problem can be addressed in a winning way. Here is a warning for each of us from the pen of Ellen White:
Those who are most ready to excuse or justify themselves in sin are often most severe in judging and condemning others. . . They cherish a proud, boastful spirit, while they indulge in cruel judgment or severe rebuke of others who are better than they. Well would it be for such self-constituted judges to ponder those words of Christ: 'With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.' (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 625).
The Temptation to Use Coercive Power
Those who wrongly judge others often experience temptation to use coercive power. Consider Luke 12:13-14:
Someone in the crowd said to Him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.' But He said to him, 'Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?'
We want to have things our way. Sometimes we are even right and we want to have things our way. Here, someone in the crowd asks Jesus to make a statement, issue a decree, to tell his brother to divide the family inheritance with him. Jesus' response doesn't tell us whether the man's desire is fair or unfair. What is interesting is how Jesus rejects the call to become an authority judging the matter.
Who could have judged it more fairly than Jesus? But what is Jesus' purpose? He's turning back a plea to exercise authority or force or to coerce the brother. Jesus is not saying that there would not be a time or a place to justly exercise such power, but He asks a question which seems to be intended to lead this man to rethink his goals.
Material possession is not very satisfying in the end. Many have been cheated out of that which was justly due us. In such cases, we are the victim and the adversary is the perpetrator. Force might get you your due, but will it bring a change of heart to the adversary? A soft answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1).
Jesus wants the brother to seek the good of the other brother. That will mean laboring to persuade him, win him, be in a positive, familial relation toward him. Doing mercy toward others takes engagement. There will be times in our life when we have the right to something, but should give more time for peace.
There are intractible cases, but there are far more situations where a gentle approach can win a heart. God can use every interaction with others in a providential manner for His purposes.
In terms of judging others, go slow rather than fast. Don't go straight to the use of power. Invest in the other heart. Instead of assuming he has bad motives, consider that you or he or the both of you may have an incomplete understanding of the facts.
The Danger of Self-serving Arbitrators
Jesus tells the story of the widow who came seeking justice from the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-8. In the story Jesus tells about this incident, the widow is a low-status person in the society and she is forced to address her matter to an unjust judge. He refuses to grant her justice. But she is an active advocate for herself and the injustices done her, and makes herself such a nuisance to the judge that he realizes that unless he treats her case with fairness, she will come to him relentlessly. She convinces the unjust judge that she will persist. Out of his own self-interest, then, he eventually decides in her favor, not because it is just and right, but because he has wearied of her.
The person who is an arbitrator or a judge sometimes does not have the best spiritual motives. While we want to believe that everyone has pure and good motives, when someone comes along claiming that another is wrong, it is possible their motives are not godly. Remember, the basic Bible plan for dealing with personal conflicts is to go to the person directly, to follow the Matthew 18 principle. Do not expand a controversy if you can avoid it. The more exposure a person's foibles have, the more difficult this makes it for them to change course because pride is a factor. Troubles and issues between brothers should be kept to as small a circle as possible.
In a matter of personal trespass, when we hear about discontent in the open, we should immediately pause. Why has not this matter been contained? Why am I being told about it? Is someone working in contradiction to the principles of Jesus? Remember the teaching of the Bible:
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
You judge by a carnal standard (John 8:15 NASB margin).
In John 8:12-20 Jesus says that He is the light of the world. But the pharisees claim He is merely testifying of Himself and that therefore His testimony is not true, that is, not admissable as valid testimony. Jesus claimed that those who follow Him will not walk in darkness but have the light of life. And His response to their claim that His testimony was invalid, was that His testimony was true becauase He knew where He came from. He knew He was from heaven and that He was sent by His Father.
They, Jesus said, were judging by a carnal standard, but His standard was the Word of God. They were judging on the basis of the flesh. He was judging on a spiritual basis. Many times our complaints about others being judgmental do not really stem from our high spiritual tone but from petty preferences.
If we have the best interests of others in mind, we'll be steady, be fair toward others, and hear them out. We will not engage in mind-reading and motive-guessing. We won't judge by a carnal standard but a spiritual standard.
But how can we engage in right evaluation? We need to be selfless. Jesus speaks of how He lived in John 5:30:
I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
Here is the problem and the challenge for us all. We are all very capable of doing things on the basis of our own initiative. So was Jesus. But here He says He is not. So how? Jesus was determined to seek only His Father's will. He was determined to be selfless. We can strive to make this our own approach. Jesus made His evaluations on the basis of what He heard--God's Word.
There is no illegitimate condemnation in striving to be in God's will and to communicate His will to others in a kind and gentle manner.
There is no virtue in judging others (General Conference Bulletin, April 23, 1901).
Necessity of Fact-finding
Nicodemus reminded his hearers of an important principle of fairness. He asked, "Our law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?" (John 7:51). In other words, it is a principle in evaluation to let a person speak in their own defense, to seek to explain themselves. Before you try to read someone's mind, speak with them. If you have a special concern, share it. Listen honestly to their response. Fact-find before read-mind.
This also goes for listening to gossip or other complaints. Do not hesitate to speak up plainly and state respectfully that you choose not to listen to asserted information from conversation with others. Information is very easily misrepresented, or gets left out when we hear it from others second-handed. It doesn't matter if many are doing it; it is dangerous. The Bible says, "You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute" (Exodus 23:1-3).
Get a true understanding of a matter. Gt the facts first, before you reach a suspicious conclusion. That's the starting point.
Judgment in Harmony with the Father
Jesus' judgment is in harmony with the Father. John 8:26:
I have many things to speak and to judge concerning concerning you, but He who has sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world.
The source of right judgment is the Father. If we want to avoid wrongly judging others, we need to seek to be in harmony with the Father. If we are led by His fair, caring Spirit, if we are willing to make our starting point assuming the best motives and principles, we'll go a long ways indeed to not acting out a judgmentalism.
[The] spirit of judging all others by a self-reared standard, was rebuked in the words of the Master, 'Forbid them not.' (The Seer of Patmos, p. 18).
Sinners still more frequently harden their hearts by yielding to their own censorious tendencies. They have a bitter, sour spirit, themselves. They are selfish, and suspect everybody else of being selfish.
Judging others by themselves, they have little confidence in anybody, and are strongly disposed to attribute the worst motives to almost everybody. This is thetendency of some minds; and they often harden their hearts by indulging this spirit. They grieve and resist the Spirit of God by the free manner in which they let their tongues loose and slander their neighbors (Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, April 23, 1861).
If we have a sense of the long-suffering of God toward us, we shall not be found judging and accusing others. When Christ was living on the earth, how surprised His associates would have been, if, after becoming acquainted with Him, they had heard Him speak one word of accusation, of fault-finding, or of impatience Let us never forget that those who love Him are to represent Him in character (Ministry of Heaing, p. 489).
Those are many beautiful warnings for us. We are not the measure; our Father is.
Judgment in Harmony with the Golden Rule
Another way we can avoid judgmentalism is to remember the golden rule as stated in Matthew 7:12:
In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and Prophets.
You want to be treated with fairness. Treat others that way. You prefer that people not practice their mind-reading and motive-reading skills on you? Good. Then do not attempt those things on others.
Why Do Some Feel That Others are Judgmental?
Why is it, do you think, that someone might tend to think you or I or the church is judgmental?
We live in a society swept up in a certain worldview. What is included in that? Most importantly, the idea that humans are basically good. No; humans are basically not good. We have a fallen nature, we are inwardly turned, our perceptive faculty is compromised. In short, we need God's help to form right conclusions.
Many don't think that. They think that, underneath all our badness, our motives are basically good. Many also think that a society's values are socially constructed. They think that right and wrong, good and evil, are whatever humans define them as being, and not what God defines them as being.
But if humans make it all up as they go, then nothing can be ultimately evil or wrong. Then everything is ultimately based in human opinion and ultimately equal. Then the making of qualitative distinctions is unjustified, and no person or group has a legitimate space from which to evaluate things as being better or worse than any other thing. Thus, any evaluation is deemed judgmental.
People reject the notion of qualitative distinctions because they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings by saying that one thing is better than another. But this means there is no movement toward the good. But there is a dividing line, a good and an evil. There are things right and things wrong. The Ten Commandments show us there is light and there is darkness. We cannot smooth down the light.
Questions for Myself
Finally, here are some questions we can ask ourselves:
- Does the issue I'm concerned about rise to the level where it is worth pursuing and bringing potential alienation?
- How can I speak to others in a winning way so that they don't feel judged?
- Am I really actually attempting to understand the other person?
- Have I asked God for grace to build people up spiritually?
We can be better people. We can be a better church. We can exercise better judgment. We can be more fair where we need to make evaluations, and we can be less ready to unfairly judge others. Declaring right standards, defining them out loud, is not being judgmental. But we should beware any tendency in ourselves to engage in mind-reading or motive-reading.
Jesus calls us to peace, not to assuming evil motives of others.
Deer Park WA SDA Church 2017-12-16