Anonymous asked a question:
How can we not judge others? What if they are doing something wrong and I wanna correct them? Does that mean I “judged” them? What if I categorized their action as a sin? Still “judged” them?
Hey dear friend, I believe this is one of those myths that needs to be cleared up with a big dose of nuance and balance.
If you ask most people about the general message of the Bible, we might say, “Love everybody” or “Don’t judge or you’ll be judged!” And those are true. The problem is: that’s way too simplified for our human condition. The Bible also offers many extra layers for us, because we’re all squishy fragile beings with three lb. brains that need more than a sloppy idea of “love” and “don’t judge.”
Love includes telling the truth (Ephesians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 13:6). It includes accountability, wisdom, boundaries, and healthy exchange (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:12-13, 1 Cor 6:19-20). We’re called to be as pure as doves but as wise as snakes (Matthew 10:16). Love doesn’t mean we let people off the hook, and there are plenty of examples where Bible figures spoke up at the risk of death: Esther, Nathan, Micaiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, and John the Baptist, who was beheaded for it. And saying “Don’t judge” is often a hidden ploy that really means, “Don’t judge me because I want to be selfish and destructive without your finger-wagging nagging.”
The famous passage on judging, Matthew 7, actually says:
3 “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? 4 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? 5 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.
That final verse is important. Paraphrased, it says: First look at yourself, and then you can actually see someone else.
In other words, there’s actually a way to judge someone that isn’t a passive-aggressive, flesh-driven, smug, backhanded superiority, but a sincere effort to see the best in someone when they’re slipping up. It necessarily starts with looking at ourselves first. Am I judging this person out of my own need to win? To just get things off my chest? To just tell them off? To let them have it?
Jesus calls us to check our own motives first before we question another person’s motives. It’s then and only then will we ever estimate our own flaws in light of theirs, and we can then approach with humility, gentleness, and surgical precision. We must recognize we’re in the same boat, the same marathon, and we are partners and not enemies. The ultimate outcome of accountability is to elevate your friend to their best. If it’s for any other reason, then it has to wait until it’s prayed out and flushed out.
Love cannot exist without justice, but justice can only win if it’s fueled by love. The second we presume accountability by lording coercion, we have lost the point of why we hold each other accountable. It’s always for reconciliation and restoration. It’s to make the other person new, to help bring about the best that Christ can offer them.
We will never get that perfectly right with each other — we might be too shrill, too earnest, too loud — but still, we need each other to point out blind spots and areas to grow. Without that, we saunter in the dark of flattery and yes-men, drowning in our egos. We need to be open to hear a friend who has risked the friendship to speak the truth.
Jesus also uses the illustration about a “speck from your brother’s eye” because the only way to speak truth is carefully, not by jabbing your fingers around the eye socket. Too many of us (including me) are eye-jabbers when we point out someone’s shortcomings. We end up saying the truth in a way that’s impossible to hear or is too much of a forceful imperative, which becomes a choke-hold of scare tactics and behavioral manipulation. You’ve heard this a million times, but the way we talk is just as important as what we say. Without character and context, the content doesn’t matter.
What did Jesus do? He was crucified, and that showed us the extent of our sin. But he did that for us, and that showed us the extent of how much he loves us. He also resurrected to find us, and that showed us the extent of his life-giving power. Jesus held us accountable to an unbearable extreme, but he also loved us more than we could ever hope to be loved. So by a very small fraction of that perfectly balanced love and truth, we do likewise for the person in front of us.