Saturday, June 1, 2024

Don't Judge Me!

Here we go with our next section in evaluating the Kingdom of God, in Matthew 7:1-6:

“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. Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."

"Do not judge!"  Yes, this is a verse I have heard non-Christians quote, more or less.  It's as if you cannot say anything negative about well, anything, especially anything that is popularly accepted.  

I had a fellow instructor at a community college where I taught who used to say, "Suspend judgment!" as if that was the highest moral stance you could exhibit.  

But is that what Jesus is saying, that we should never examine closely and carefully a situation and make an assessment about it? An evaluation of it?  A determination of its moral aspects to deem it right or wrong?

Well, if we are not to judge, then Jesus Himself did not live out His own teaching.  In chapter 23 of Matthew, Jesus excoriates the Pharisees with His "seven" woes: about how they make others carry heavy loads and will not help them; how their religious practices are for show; they make people unfit for heaven as they themselves are; they teach people how to be as unrighteous as they are; that using God and His Temple to enhance an oath is wrong; having a slavish devotion to the minutiae of the Law while overlooking what God really requires--"justice, mercy and faithfulness"--is unacceptable; that having a morally respectable persona while hiding a corrupt heart is wrong and that acting as if they would have supported the prophets, when in fact they plot to kill the ones God sends, is reprehensible. 

Jesus levied a lot of judgement on that group.  

What's the common denominator here?  Hypocrisy.  These leaders wanted others to live a moral life, and condemn those who, in their estimation, did not do so.  Yet they themselves fail to uphold God's moral code. 

Most Christians are very familiar with Romans 1 and use it to exclude and condemn homosexual behavior. But Paul isn't finished yet; he sees that behavior as part of a larger constellation of behaviors which are the result of not retaining the "knowledge of God': 

"Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (Rom. 1:28-32)

Then Paul says: "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?" (Rom. 2:1-4)

Wow. Just like the Pharisees who taught God's laws but didn't live them, we too know God's expectations for moral behavior and yet we do "the same things." Judgement was not what led us to repent; it was God's love. So, how do we, who know what God expects, expect to lead someone to Him by judging them?  

Judgement never converted anyone. 

The love of Jesus does. 

Once someone joins us in the family of God, we sometimes behave towards them as if God is still judging them for who they are, and therefore so can we--wrong.  How quickly we forget that they are forgiven, not perfect. 

Just like us.   

Hypocrisy undermines this judgement stance because everyone, and I repeat everyone, falls short of what they know they should do, but do not, or act like they do when they don't.  My sin may not be as apparent as the gay couple who walks into my church, or the man who is clearly hungover on a Sunday morning, or the woman who comes wearing clothes that are sexually provocative, but my sin is still there. I may sit in the pew looking like Mrs. Respectable, but I have been merciless to those who need mercy and faithless to God and His desire to renew a right spirit within me. 

Sin doesn't have to offend someone to be sin. Sin is sin.

So, does that mean I can never judge anyone? 

Well, if you are going to engage in any kind of moral eye surgery according to Jesus, you must first examine your heart and see what sin is there.  Perhaps when you realize the sin you have in your life, your brother's plank becomes only a speck.  Your clarity of vison, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, gives you an accurate assessment. Now, you and your brother can commiserate about how blinding sin can be.  Both of you can discuss how to help each other to not allow sin to blind you in the future.

No judgement.  Just commiseration, prayer and a realization that we all struggle in different way but we still all struggle. 

Jesus does ask us to be discerning, not judging.  You don't get to stand on a corner and call out the pigs and the dogs.  You need to understand that pigs and dogs are not going to embrace you and thank you for pointing out their rather unsettling qualities and lifestyle. Just expecting your faith to be celebrated and adored by those who do not know Jesus is not realistic--they do not have (yet) the heart of Christ. They trample and tear what you have because they do not have the Spirit of God in them.

You discern their spiritual condition and then ask the Holy Spirit for the right time, words and attitude.  

Whatever theses people are, you cannot judge them--that is not your prerogative.  It is God's.  Your role, as a member of the Kingdom of God, is to wait on the Holy Spirit to guide you in either engage with the person, or to guide you away.  

Not every need is for you to address. We are to be good and faithful servants by listening and doing only what He asks, and in an attitude that reflects the Master. 

A final word.  Recently, I saw a young woman with a sign and a baby stroller near the entrance to a Walmart parking lot.  I was leaving and I noticed she was using the sign to cover her face.  I wanted to keep going, but God asked me to turn around and go and talk with her.  I try to be discerning every time I see someone looking for a handout; many a time, I drive on by.

But not that day. 

I had a lot of groceries and ask God to not allow everything to defrost. I parked and walked over to her.  It was a warm day and her baby was in the stroller, with a bottle tilted to her mouth, propped on a pillow.  The baby was far too young to navigate the bottle that way. The young woman wanted money.  I told her we have a women's shelter in town and they would provide a safe place for her and her baby.  She said she needed money to get back to Oklahoma City.  Her husband was in Portland, Oregon and didn't get the job he was promised.

I again brought up the shelter and how money wasn't going to solve the problem; she needed to be in a safe place with her baby. She said churches don't do anything for her--they only give her food. (!) 

I would have driven her and her baby to the shelter in a heartbeat, if she had asked me. I realized that her plea was rehearsed, to keep on insisting for money for gas, despite not appearing to have anywhere to live. 

The longer we talked, the more uncomfortable I got.  I just pictured some abusive boyfriend/husband having schooled her in how to insist that money was the solution to her problem and would demand her takings at the end of the day.  She had a thick accent and it was hard to understand everything she said, but I sense her agitation when she realized I wasn't just going to give her money. 

I wished her well and walked off.   

I prayed for her on the way home and fought the disgust I felt. (I think disgust is the precursor to judgment, because then you feel justified to say unkind things.)

The Kingdom of God is about motivation--are we true to the Spirit's guidance or are we hiding something and acting super-spiritual to hide it?  Are we really loving others in Jesus' name or are we acting like we love them but we want to change them into what we think is right, instead of trusting the Holy Spirit to do the transforming? 

The Kingdom of God is not an easy place to reside in, but it's where we find Jesus and the power He gives us in order to live there and to be its emissaries.  

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