On October 9, 2012

The Sin We Shouldn’t Judge

In the world that I live in everybody loves Jesus, he’s like Raymond, but less threatening. I’ve never met someone who doesn’t think Jesus is great. College Students, Hippies, Seniors, Hippies who are now seniors, Buddhists, Muslims, Nietzsche, heck even Richard Dawkins has started liking Jesus.

And while most of us don’t know a whole lot of what he said, at least one thing Jesus said has been passed around more than other in the West.

Do not judge.

So I’ve been writing for the past few weeks about why Christians need to live in the kind of community where confrontation and a generous judgment happen. And I know it may sound like I’m trying to get Jesus followers to not follow Jesus. But it’s only because we haven’t read the rest of what Jesus says there. So here is that whole section, in it’s entirety:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I’d like to point out a couple of things here. First off, Jesus calls the person doing this a hypocrite, they are an actor, just pretending to care about them but really having an ulterior motive. It sounds like Jesus is being so…judgmental.

And then notice what Jesus actually says, “Remove the plank, so that you will be able to see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

In other words, Jesus isn’t saying that we shouldn’t judge, he’s just saying we have to start with ourselves first.

In his book, Beyond Evangelical, Frank Viola tells a story about a couple of the most famous preachers in the past 200 years. Charles Spurgeon was a Baptist preacher in England, and he had been impressed with the ways God was using D.L. Moody, a famous American evangelist, to bring revival to cities in America. So Spurgeon invited Moody to speak at his church. Moody accepted, took a ship across the pond, and preached an entire sermon…on the evils of tobacco.

Because Spurgeon smoked cigars.

So Spurgeon goes up to Moody after the sermon, and pokes him in his overweight belly and tells him. “I’ll put down my cigar when you put down your fork.”

Needless to say, the friendship got off to a rocky start.

It’s easier to see when people are being jerks to each other when you have a hundred years to let it cool. But back in the day, this was probably a hot button issue. Which side of the cigar are you on?

A couple of weeks I talked about Galatians 6, where Paul calls on all Jesus followers to live in communities of restoration. Communities where people could approach one another and offer a generous correction. But In this same passage, Paul starts talking about comparing ourselves to others. As if he knows that the act of confronting someone else, can actually be a venue for self-righteous comparison.

But be sure, if that’s what is going on inside of us when we confront, than that’s not the work of the Spirit, and we probably have a beam sticking out of our own eye. And we are in some very real spiritual danger.

Watchman Nee, a famous Chinese Christian pastor, once said that in his experience, anytime a believer corrected another believer with a judgmental self-righteous attitude, that same believer who did the correcting, later fell into something equally serious or worse.

This is exactly what Paul, and Jesus are getting at.

See here’s how I think we work. We want so badly to have the approval of God, but we are aware of our deep brokenness, and grace is so very hard to accept. So we look around to see how other people are doing. And when we see somebody doing something that is sinful, specifically a sin that we don’t struggle with, we immediately have this impulse to go point out this speck. And often we do this out of a sense of wanting the approval of God, or the approval of the community.

A lot of times we judge out of a failure to understand and accept the Gospel in our own lives. We judge like God is the angry bear we are running away from, we don’t have to be faster than the bear, just faster than the next guy.

A lot of times we judge as if God grades on the curve. As if God is running a beauty pageant.

And there’s the beam.

When we judge people out of a deep sense of condemnation, we do great damage, but we’ve also missed the heart of the kind of Gospel community Jesus is trying to create, because we’ve missed the heart of the Gospel. Because God isn’t like that. He’s not trying to get us to earn love or acceptance, he’s inviting us to live in the best possible ways.

Phillip Yancey once pointed out that  “Christians get very angry toward other Christians who sin differently than they do.” And he’s spot on. I’ve seen this a hundred times in ministry.

This is why the first question we should ask ourselves when we are thinking about confronting a brother or sister. “Is it possible that the reason their sin bothers me is not because of the reasons I’m telling myself? Is it possible that it’s because I am trying to justify myself before God and others and I’m jumping on this sin because I don’t struggle with that?”

Is it possible that the reason that there sin bothers me is because it only furthers the sense of condemnation I already feel? Is it possible that the reason her dresses bother me, is because I can’t wear them? Is is possible that the reason that his sexual promiscuity bothers me is because no one is hitting on me? (this describes my entire high school in a sentence) Is it possible that there sin bothers me, not out of a concern for their soul, but out of a concern for mine?

This doesn’t mean that their sin isn’t bad, or that it shouldn’t be addressed, it just means that you probably shouldn’t be the one who addresses it. They need someone who can see clearly, and you just might need someone to remind you of how deeply loved by God you already are.

And that’s why I don’t preach sermons on the evils of tobacco.

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  • Kurt B.

    Good thoughts Jonathan. In my daily conversations with people I’ve learned that a spirit of judging most often comes from a place of self loathing, that people hate parts of themselves that Christ loves and redeems (He is angry at the Anger, She hates the Overeater, He wants to kill the Lust). Being overly critical and judgmental of self are usually inadequate attempts to correct one’s flaws or to be a better person-the person Christ want’s me to be. As Paul said you who pass judgment do the same thing “to yourself” (quotations mine). I’m eager to hear a sermon on Christ’s command to love self. Kurt