Someone last week accused me of being “judgmental.” My first thought was to respond, “how judgmental of you!” But I thought better of it. Instead I submitted my “questionable” comments to other people whom I trust and they disagreed that my tone was judgmental. I did later tweet the following: “If you accuse someone of being judgmental, are you being . . . judgmental?”
I looked up the word “judgmental” in dictionary.com. Here is what it says: “1. involving the use or exercise of judgment; 2. tending to make moral judgments.” Based on that definition, it seems to me all of us need to be “judgmental.” All of us need to exercise judgment, hopefully good judgment. All of us should be thinking about morals and ethics, pondering the consequences of our actions, and advocating for what is good and true and right. Seems to me we do this all the time.
Generally, Christians who want to accuse others of judging point to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1ff). Here is the King James Version:
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
If you study it carefully, you will notice that Jesus’ teaching has four parts:
(a) an admonition . . . do not judge
(b) a rationale . . . for you will be judged in the same way, by the same standard
(c) an example (in this case a particularly ludicrous example) . . . the log in your eye/ the dust in the other’s eye
(d) a restatement and clarification of the initial admonition . . . take care of your own issue before you try to address someone else’s
Some people have thought Jesus prohibited his followers from ever exercising judgment or expressing an opinion. Not true. If so, then Jesus violates his own principle time and again. In fact in the very next breath Jesus says: “Don’t give precious things to dogs. Don’t cast your pearls before swine. . . . “ (Matthew 7:6). Now Jesus isn’t talking about pets and barnyard animals. He is talking about people. Some people are dogs. Some are swine. In other words some people are like animals, unable to distinguish between one thing or another. You don’t share with them holy and precious things; they will ruin them and then turn on you. Later in Matthew (chapter 23) Jesus criticized the Pharisees for loving attention, keeping people from God, and stealing from the poor. He says, “Woe to you Pharisees, woe to you who teach the law, hypocrites! You traverse hills and mountains and seas to make one convert, and then when he does convert, you make him much more a son of hell than you are. . . Woe to you , teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like a grave that has been whitewashed. You look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside you are full of moldering bones and decaying rot” (Matthew 23:2-39). Seems to me Jesus has made a judgment. Seems to me he has expressed a judgment. Seems to me he is not being very PC. So what do we make of it?
First, let’s recognize that Jesus was a deeply polarizing figure. People either loved him or despised him. He made a lot of people angry, particularly people in power. Ultimately, he was crucified on a Roman cross for sedition. Let’s leave behind the silly, adolescent notion that Jesus walked around spitting out witty aphorisms and telling everybody to get a long. Jesus’ wasn’t crucified for being “nice” and urging everyone to be “nice” too. He came into a world deeply marred and broken. Some powerful people had vested interests in maintaining the status quo. Jesus muddied their water.
So what does Jesus want us to do? Well, he wasn’t saying: “don’t form an opinion.” He wasn’t saying: “don’t express an opinion.” Based on the entire teaching–admonition, rationale, example, and restatement—Jesus was urging his followers to examine themselves first before seeking to correct another brother or sister. In other words, correction is needed in the church. Your friend may have something in her eye. She needs help getting it out. But before you can help her, you must remove the obstruction in your own.
If you are addicted to money and what it can buy, don’t go around correcting others for the same problem. Do they need help? Absolutely. But you are not the best person to offer correction. If you have trouble being faithful to your husband, don’t condemn somebody who is struggling with the same problem. Does she need help? Absolutely. But you are not the best person to offer counsel. If you have a tendency to lash out in anger, don’t be hyper-critical of a brother with an anger-management issue. Does he need help? Absolutely. But you’re not the one to be able to bring correction. At least not until you have dealt with your own issue successfully.
Here is the punchline of Jesus’ teaching: “Remove the plank from your own eye, and then perhaps you will be able to see clearly how to help your brother flush out his sawdust” (Matthew 7:5, The Voice)