judging (not)

I heard an excellent lecture yesterday, and learned a few things. (Always good to be able to say that at the end of a lecture!) :) It was on Matthew 7 and the characteristics that ought to define the relationships that Christians are to have with a variety of different sorts of people.

The first section of the lecture was (oddly enough) on the first 5 verses:
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." - Matthew 7:1-5 (NKJV)
Judgment. What is that? In English it carries the connotation of harsh criticism, a looking-down on the person being judged. Criticism doesn't have to be harsh - it can be an honest evaluation of skill, talent, acceptability, etc. (hence the term "constructive criticism" - which can still be hard to accept, because of all the negative connotations the word "criticism" carries). But in the Greek the word for "judge" used here means "to sift" or "to separate." So we are not to be "sifting" our brothers and sisters.

Have you ever sifted something? Flour for a cake mix, sand in the sandbox? The good stuff goes through, but the chunky bits get stuck in the sifter, and you have a couple of options - you can turn the sifter upside down and dump the stuff into the pile you've just sifted, or you can pitch the "refuse" left in the sifter and not use it at all. You can also mash it up and make it go through the sifter. (which works for clumps of flour and sand, but might be a bit painful for a person -"you will fit into this hole I've pegged you for, darn it!")

What Jesus isn't saying is that it's okay to be stupid about people. He doesn't expect us to "not notice" when someone is being a bit... off. It would be dishonest, hypocritical even, to watch someone walk into sin and not say anything. We're not to encourage our brothers and sisters to sin, either by supporting it or ignoring their behaviour. In the rest of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus encourages us to use our heads - to look "critically" at the people around us and to choose the different road. Again and again, His call is to be different - different from the world, different from hypocritical religionists. In order to know what being "different" is, we must be able to look at the behaviour of those we see and discern their behaviour as it compares to that which Jesus expects from us.

I would argue that discernment and judgment are maybe two different faces of the same thing, but discernment is wise observation whereas judgment puts us in a place where we can start to think we're morally superior. Discernment recognizes error and does something about it; judgment is harsh and sets us up as people who somehow have a "right" to judge. But we really don't... the Bible says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) - we're all in the same boat, and while our "stuff" may be different, we've all got it. So what Jesus is saying is not, "Don't pay attention to the fact that other people are sinning" but rather, "Recognize the fact that you're as messed up as the next guy, work on your stuff, and then go do what you can - in love - to help them too." We're to be as generous in our love to them - even in their weakness and complete messed-up-ness - as God has been to us. We have no ground on which to stand superior - we are all in the dock, and God alone has the right to judge:

So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. - 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

(see also Romans 14)

I heard once in a sermon that there are two words in the Bible for "judgment." One is to judge with the expectation of finding fault. The other is to judge with the expectation of finding good. The preacher said that anytime the word judgment is used in the Bible in reference to God, it is always the word that carries the connotation of judging with the expectation of finding good. I don't know if it's really true - I haven't yet found 12 days to sit in a library with concordances and Greek and Hebrew dictionaries - but I do know how freeing it was to know that when God looked at me, He judged what He saw with the expectation of finding good. I have experienced so much of the other kind of judgment in my life, and until I heard that sermon, I had been living in a silent dread of God's judgment - because I knew it was just - I knew I deserved hell - and I didn't understand grace at all.

My real name isn't Happy. It's a nickname, and I love it - and I'd wanted a nickname for the longest time, but no one had ever come up with one that stuck - and I think now, in retrospect, the reason for that is that God wanted me to come to terms with my real name before He gave me a new name to go with the new identity I hadn't really started living into yet. My real name means "judged by God" or "God is my judge" - and it felt like a curse. It took me a long time to understand that it was actually a blessing. "God is my judge." He is the only One to whom I need to account. There is so much freedom in that. I'm still figuring out how to live that freedom, but I know it's there. And so I am "happy" - favored by the circumstances of God's love for me. And how could I want any less for anyone?

God grant us the grace to live lives that do not pretend to exalt ourselves to your level - how foolish that we ever thought we could! Help us to live generously, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2), being genuinely, consistently, and unswervingly grateful for the gift of grace given us in our Lord Jesus Christ, and humbly assisting each other to run more smoothly and more confidently this race You have given us to run. May we all attain the prize to which You have called us heavenward in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:24, Philippians 3:14). Amen.


Mike said...

Amen Happy!! Amen

Ruth said...

That was a great post Happy! Thanks for passing on what you learned.
I often ponder that question myself. How do I know when I am being judgemental (a religious spirit) or being discerning. Furthermore, when I've discerned someone is in error, should I tell them and how should I tell them?
I use a rule of thumb. If I am feeling at all "indignant" or "offended" with someone and think to myself "they shouldn't do that" then I know a religious spirit is talking and I keep my mouth shut. If I feel that I have a discernment of truth I will pray for that person and ask the Lord to give me wisdom about whether or not to bring it up with the them (not usually very easy). I have learned that bad behaviour is just a bad fruit of what is going on deeper inside.

PS. I know little about politics myself because I just don't care to know (especially American politics). I am grateful that others get involved and I do vote though.