“Judge not, that you not be judged …” This passage from the Gospel of Matthew (7:1-2) is probably one of the most familiar pieces of scripture to both Christians and non-Christians alike. It is so familiar that it has become part of our common cultural discourse, a shorthand way to say, “Don’t judge me.”
But as one writer points out, this gets it backwards. Rather than Jesus telling others not to judge us, instead we are instructed not to judge others. The rest of the passage from Matthew ought to make the point clear: “Judge not, that you not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
The issue here is not just one of hypocrisy, though that is one way to interpret Jesus’ admonition. The bigger challenge is to avoid judging others at all, and instead to focus on our own faults and failings rather than looking for, and condemning those we find in others. In short, the emphasis is not on how others judge us, but how we judge others.
I was thinking about this when I saw this piece posted on social media — Resolved: 20 Decisions for Surviving the Church with Your Faith Intact, written by progressive pastor and writer Jayson Bradley. The very first resolution he makes deals with his determination not to confuse discernment and judgment, a vow to not devalue others based on his own convictions and principles. He writes:
For a lot of Christians, judgment is an important responsibility. In fact, many people assume that orthodoxy revolves around whether or not you cast judgment on the right things.
We all struggle with a constant internal dialogue of judgment. We size people up and accept and dismiss them by whatever criteria we find most important: fat, skinny, smart, dumb, conservative, progressive, gay, straight, etc. …
The difference between judging and discerning lies in deciding which behaviors we find acceptable or harmful for us (and to a lesser degree for others). …
[W]e need to be wise about ideas, systems, behaviors, practices, and legislation that has the potential to harm ourselves or others. The challenge comes in doing so in a way that doesn’t devalue individuals that Christ seeks to reconcile with himself.
This doesn’t mean that I always have to be “nice” or that I can never be angry. It means that I can never write others off as worthless or irredeemable.
In our conversation this week, we’re going to talk about this problem of judging and judgment. We’ll start with the passage from scripture itself and wrestle with what we think it means and how we think it gets used. And then we’ll turn to some of the thornier matters. How do we judge others? What are the common things we judge? Why do we do it? Is it about the shortcomings of others, or really about making us feel better about ourselves? Is there a “right” way to judge others? How do we break ourselves of this practice? Or should we?
Join us tomorrow evening, June 25, for the discussion beginning at 7 pm at Lockhart’s BBQ in downtown Lake Orion. To help you prepare, click on the links embedded in the post above to see what the authors we’ve mentioned have to say on the topic.