Judging Others from Alongside and Why It’s Needed

gavel-3-1236445-1599x1063Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a big fan of N.T. Wright as a theologian. This puts me squarely in the centre of every other would-be pastor-theologian. Everyone pretty much loves him, or at least pays attention to him.

Recently I was reading a large work of his, and he wrote this:

The word “judgment” has of course been allowed to slip into negative mode in the contemporary western world, with “judgmentalism” one of the classic postmodern villains. “Judgment” is in fact a positive thing. It is what restores health to a society, a balance to the world. It replaces chaos with order. The fact that it can be abused – that humans, whether or not in positions of authority, can take it upon themselves to “pass judgment” on one another in negative and destructive ways – indicates, not that is a bad thing in itself, but that like all good and important things it can generate unpleasant parodies.    N.T. Wright

And this little quote really got me thinking.

In general, I would say I’m not a fan of judgment. I’ve seen its abuse so often in top-down ways, in destructive ways, in shaming ways – in ways that seem so…unlike Jesus. Yet I believe that N.T. Wright is right on this issue. Judgment, when done properly, is a positive thing; it can call out unhealthy habit, it can call out things that are wrong, and it can make the world a better place.

Because as I’ve grown older what I’ve learned at least in my closest relationships…I need judgment. I need my wife to judge whether I am parenting in a healthy way or unhealthy way. I need my close friends when I’m obsessing about a mistake to judge whether I should let it go, or make some changes. I need the Spirit to judge whether I am standing up for truth or just being a jerk.

And I think the reason we react against “judgment” is because it so often comes “from above”.  Like how N.T. Wright puts it in destructive ways from positions of authority passing judgment from a distance.

But when the judgment comes from someone who loves us and comes alongside us that can make all the difference.

When my wife points out that I was short with the kids, or that I let them watch TV because I was tired and didn’t want to parent – I need that. But I listen (when I’m at my best) because it “comes from alongside”, from “we’re in this together”, from “I’m with you Andrew”. When my friends judge the fear to be haunting me as not needed and counsel me to let it go – I need that. But it too comes from a position of “I care for you”, or “I have your best interests at heart”. And this is even still true with the Holy Spirit when he counsels and judges me. In Greek Holy Spirit means Paraclete, the one who comforts, who comes alongside, who advocates and helps us. So when the Spirit comes alongside to me, and points out that bitterness is creeping in – I need that judgment. But it doesn’t come from above, but from alongside, a Spirit that seeks to lead me further into the way of Jesus Christ.

So all of this is to say – yes judgment can be destructive, abusive, and needs to be resisted. But sometimes when it comes from alongside, from caring and loyal relationships (spouse, friends, God), it’s the most needed and healthy thing of all – because it leads us into greater health.

Struggling with Speaking of Sin

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Through the past few weeks I’ve started to notice something about myself. There are certain Sundays where I come away from speaking and don’t feel that I’ve done my best. I feel like I’ve missed the mark and messed up. And then I started to notice a pattern. The Sundays where I felt like I struggled, and where I lost confidence were all sermons related to conviction and challenge. The sermons where I lost confidence and left feeling a bit shaken were all related to sin, sacrifice, and conviction. Through some reflection I realized that I find it easy to preach a sermon on grace and gift, and difficult to preach a sermon on sin and challenge.

The struggle I face is maybe one you face in your own relationships. I know it is important to talk about sin. I know it is important to challenge people and let the Spirit do his work of convicting. I know this is important because I need it personally. I need to be challenged to give up greed, hate, unforgiveness, lust, and all sorts of sinful things. The struggle I have is in how to do it. How to share in a way that is convicting but not condemning, that is challenging but not judging.

What is even more disturbing to me is a growing realization that I may not feel confident in this type of sharing because of a lack of practice. What I mean by that is perhaps I struggle because I am unaccustomed to sharing about sin. This is concerning to me because Jesus talks about sin, the Bible talks about sin, and sin, we are told, leads to death. Therefore, sin isn’t something I should avoid or struggle speaking about. I should share honestly with the dangers of consumerism, violence, greed, and lust. I should share openly with the temptations and struggles I face. And I shouldn’t ever shy away reminding people that sin leads to death while following Jesus leads to life. And this is something we know deep down. We know that hate kills relationships. We know that lust destroys marriages. We know that unforgiveness wrecks families. So we need to learn to speak about sin in such a way that it leads to life not death.

So I’ve made a personal decision. I will grow and learn in how to share about sin in such as way that conviction without condemnation happens. To share about it in such a way that challenges someone, but doesn’t lead to damnation. To share in such a way that, like Jesus, people who are broken and struggling feel freed; and people who are haughty, prideful, and oppressive to others sees their need.

In essence, I’m going to work on struggling to speak of sin a little less…