Week 9 - Learning to live without judging others
Read: Matthew 7:1-11
So far we have explored the awful reality of the opposite to the Good and Beautiful life as described by Paul in Romans 1:18-32. We’ve looked closely at the good news that Jesus proclaimed and noted the centrality of the kingdom of God in the Gospel message, and we've thought about the grand invitation that Christ issues to enter this way of life in the here and now.
In this session we’re thinking about the sixth of a number of very practical ways in which we can live the good and beautiful life as we think about learning to live without judging others.
Most of us know what it is to be judged. And most of us know what it is to judge others. Life consists of both the giving and the receiving of judgment.
Sometimes the judgment that is passed on us, or the judgment that we pass on another is irrelevant. What I mean is this; when someone I hardly know makes a sweeping judgment upon me, I don’t really care. I dismiss their opinion, as they don’t know me or anything about my situation. Likewise, I may pass judgment on someone, or a situation, about which I know nothing and by virtue of this my judgment too is an irrelevance. Irritating, sure, but none-the-less irrelevant.
Sometimes however the judgments that we’re subjected to, or the judgments that we make are anything but irrelevant. They are deeply hurtful, damaging, corrosive, and life shaping. How easy it is to remember harsh words from many years ago under which we have lived for a long time.
It is this sort of judgment that I want to reflect on in this session. Not the irrelevant judgment of a stranger, but the judgment that we both give and receive within our church community. Although we’re manifestly committed to being a community of love, the reality is sometimes a little different.
Reflect: Can you bring to mind a time in which you were on the receiving end of judgment from another which caused you hurt? Can you also bring to mind a time in which you judged another person and caused them hurt? Hold these examples in mind as we go through this session.
What does judging actually look like?
For starters it’s worth noting the difference between judging and assessing. That might seem like nothing more than semantics but it is important.
Assessing the behaviour of others is a necessary part of life. Parents pay attention to their children’s behaviour and correct it when necessary. Many of us are required to make assessments of others in one form or another. Assessing and evaluating are not the same as judging.
Judging is ‘making a negative evaluation of others without standing in solidarity with them’. When we judge others we are criticizing them, but not as a caring friend who wants to help. We pass judgment and then we walk away, probably murmuring to ourselves!
The main difference is in the heart. If all we aim to do is to highlight another’s short-comings and then walk away, we’re judging. If on the other hand we’re willing to stand with a friend and help them to deal with a character or conduct issue that they have supporting and encouraging, then we’re able to assess without passing judgment.
Reflect: Are there any particular individuals in our church community who you are currently judging? If so why not reflect on whether or not you are in a position to stand with them to help and support them to grow? If so, do it. If not, then stop judging them.
So why do we do it?
We judge others for all sorts of reasons. In ‘The Good & Beautiful Life’ James Bryan-Smith identifies two primary reasons:
Firstly we think we can correct the behaviour of another by condemning them. He calls this condemnation engineering. When we see someone in our church community who is behaving badly or caught in sin we think ‘what this person needs is a good talking to’. We think we’ll set them straight and they will shape up – the reality of course is that this is seldom the result.
Secondly we judge others because it makes us feel better about ourselves. If we aren’t feeling great about ourselves, one way to feel better is to knock someone else down. When we judge others we feel superior, enlightened, a cut above. We focus on the faults and weaknesses of another and in so doing manage to divert our attention from our own. We feel like a saint, holy and good, judging the sins of another.
Why it doesn’t work…
Firstly because judging others doesn’t flow from a heart of love. “If you judge people you have no time to love them” – Mother Theresa
Secondly because it bypasses a necessary step. When we judge others we are forcing the to admit their error – this rarely works and it means the crucial first step of a person recognizing their error is missed out.
Thirdly judging others deconstructs them but offers no reconstruction. Without reconstruction nothing is gained.
Fourthly our judgment is often very wrong. Especially if we know very little of the plight of the one we judge. “Do not judge another until you have walked a mile in their shoes” holds true.
In Chapter 7 of Matthews Gospel the author records Jesus talking about this issue of judgment. Jesus says a number of important things to help us live as the community of Gods people.
Firstly he says this “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”
We may have grown up with the following interpretation of this passage: ‘if you judge others then God will judge you.’
This is clearly not what Jesus intends us to understand as the reality is that all will be judged by God regardless as to whether or not they have judged others.
Another well known interpretation is: ‘if we judge others, then God’s grace will be taken away from us’.
Again, clearly this is not the case.
So what is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying this ‘when it comes to living well. When it comes to living the wonderful reality of the kingdom, here’s something practical you can do to get heaven into your earthly life.’ He says ‘don’t judge other people.’ Why? Because if we judge others, they will judge us. If we don’t want to be judged, and lets face it no-one does, then we need to apply the same standard to ourselves and not judge others. The dynamic that judging others sets up is life denying and joy sapping and these are not the marks of life in the kingdom of God.
Jesus then goes on to use the humourous illustration of someone with a plank of wood in their eye trying to remove sawdust from the eye of another. James Bryan-Smith’s interpretation of this part of the reading is interesting and unusual. Personally I’m not sure I agree but it’d make an interesting discussion point in your Housegroup!
Reflect: How much better would life be if we lived without having to endure the judgment of others? Do we long for church to be a community of people who stand in solidarity with each other in each other’s weakness? If so, confess your part in the culture of judgment and pray for the change to begin with you…
Feeding jewelry to pigs…
What does this have to do with offering a pig a Patak Philippe? Or to put it another way casting pearls before swine?
Jesus says “don’t cast your pearls before swine, or they will trample them underfoot and turn and maul you” – the chapter heading in our modern bibles isn’t very helpful here as it’s the continuation of a theme not a new one – and what he means by this is as follows:
He’s not saying that we shouldn’t judge others because those who are in sin or behaving badly are not worthy of our attention. That would be a gross misunderstanding of the nature of most of what Jesus said in his ministry.
Instead, in the context of judging others he is saying ‘pigs can’t eat pearls. Pigs can eat most things, bone etc, but pearls, not even a pig can crunch them up. If a farmer insisted on feeding his pigs pearls, after a few days or weeks the pigs would be so hungry that they’d turn on the farmer and maul him.’ So it is with people and judgment. People can’t digest judgment, it doesn’t meet their need, and when presented with it they may just turn on the one dishing it out!
Even if, and that’s a big if, our judgment is sound our approach is wrong and it will be received with as much gratefulness as starving pigs show to a trough full of indigestible gems stones.
So what are we to do?
Within our church community, where if we’re honest, judgment of others is so rife, we can live a better way…
Reflect: Is there anything that we need to change in our approach to others? Do we need to repent of judging others? Do we need to commit to standing in solidarity with someone who is struggling? Are there people that we are tempted to judge who we might instead pray for?
As a group why not spend some time discussing this and perhaps in conclusion read Matthew 7:7-11 – reflecting on the meaning of Jesus words in the context of judging others (another time when the heading is a little unhelpful in where it is placed!)