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.

“Judge Not” – Jesus…Pretty Clear Right?

1409595_99556189On Sunday we looked at Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7 where he says don’t judge. What I think is important to recognize is that here Jesus isn’t saying there isn’t right or wrong. He isn’t teaching some relativistic ~ do whatever you want just don’t hurt anyone. What he is teaching is how to go about dealing with right and wrong in the context of relationships. He is talking about what to do with the hurt, missed expectations, and messiness of relationships.

He begins by reminding us not to judge. This is because judgment always separates us from God and others. Whenever we judge we separate ourselves from another person, place ourselves above them, and set expectations of them. This is the essence of what we do when we judge someone. Think of a court where the judge is high and distant from the accused. This is what we do in a relationship when we judge.

We also separate ourselves from God. We actually place ourselves in his role and his seat when we judge others. The bible is clear, God is the judge, which means we are not. D. A. Carson writes, “The disciple who takes it on himself to be the judge of what another does usurps the place of God, and therefore becomes answerable to him”. This is serious stuff. Judgment separates us from God and others.

It also blinds us. Bonhoeffer writes, “By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are”. His point is that when we judge we place ourselves in God’s shoes, and forget that we aren’t perfect and we need grace just as much as everyone else. The serious part of Jesus’ challenge though is that he says the measure you use to judge others, will be the measure used to judge you. So if you refuse to give grace and mercy to others, which is every time you judge, then God will not be able to give grace and mercy to you. Carson puts it this way: The judgmental person, by not being forgiving and loving, testifies to his own arrogance and impenitence, by which he shuts himself out of God’s forgiveness”.

This is why it is so serious and can’t be part of the Kingdom or Christian’s lives.

So Jesus goes on to teach then how to deal with hurt and wrong in relationships. His point isn’t that everything is healthy, but how to deal with the unhealthy stuff in relationships. So he says deal with your own plank, before trying to help someone else (Matthew 7:3). The point is that we are called to deal with our sin, stuff, and brokenness before trying to fix someone else.

The brilliance of Jesus is that as we deal with our stuff, and experience God’s grace, blessing, and transformation it will change how we relate to others. No longer will we be relating to others through judgment and condemnation on our high horses. But instead, we will stoop low and help to support and love broken and hurting people.

Jesus’ challenge to Christians is to stop judging, deal with your own stuff, and then help others. And I think this is a challenge I know I need to hear. It’s so easy to judge, but Jesus is calling us to do the hard work of living differently.

So I left us with a challenge to try to simply get rid of judging this week. I know it will be hard, and maybe even impossible. But the beautiful thing about God is that he sometimes steps in and the impossible happens…

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Stop judging, and start dealing with your stuff

Take Aways…

  • What if we actually did what Jesus said?
  • The temptation: to turn our good actions into reasons to rank ourselves higher than others
  • Judgment separates and blinds us
  • The disciple who takes it on himself to be the judge of what another does usurps the place of God, and therefore becomes answerable to him. D.A. Carson
  • By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • The judgmental person by not being forgiving and loving testifies to his own arrogance and impenitence, by which he shuts himself out of God’s forgiveness. D.A. Carson
  • We need to deal with our stuff, before focusing on someone else’s stuff.
  • When you deal with your stuff, you’ll be in a position to help, because you’ll have been transformed by grace.
  • Give up judging this week
  • Condemnation – giving and receiving it – is such a large part of our ‘normal’ human existent that we may not even be able to imagine or think of a world without it. Dallas Willard
  • Notice when your judging, choose to love, and confess our sins to God.
  • When we judge other people we confront them in a spirit of detachment, observing, and reflecting as it were from the outside. But love has neither time nor opportunity for this. If we love, we can never observe the other person with detachment, for his is always and at every moment a living claim to our love and service. Bonhoeffer
  • How can I love them
  • What plank do I have in my eye?
  • If when we judged others, our real motive was to destroy evil, we should look for evil where it is certain to be found, and that is in our own hearts. Bonhoeffer

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

What did you find hardest about this teaching? How natural does judging feel for you? Why is it so hard to give up judging? What “reward” do you get from it? What situations do you find yourself most likely to judge? How can you start to practice what Jesus preaches? Who are you called to love this week rather than judge? Who can help you to follow in this teaching? What plank is Jesus asking you to deal with? Who can you ask about your “planks”? What do you think about the last Bonhoeffer quote?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Today rather than talking to your kids about this teaching, and judging. Ask them if its something they do a lot or not. Teach them that judging is wrong, but loving is right. Ask them to this week whenever they feel a judging thought – to instead think of one nice thing about the person.

Challenge for this Week: Give up judging