Call it “The Case of the Loudmouthed Bailiff.”
Imagine a courtroom. Here’s the defendant, the jury, the lawyers, the stenographer, the judge, and the bailiff. (A bailiff is the officer of the court). Before the trial is over, the bailiff blurts out. “What’s the point? This guy’s guilty!”
What would happen? There would be pandemonium! It would probably lead to a mistrial and the bailiff losing his job. The determination of guilt is up to the judge and jury--not him. It wasn’t his place to have an opinion.
What the bailiff did would be bad, but what we do is worse. The bailiff usurped the position of an earthly judge and made his own judgment, but we usurp the authority of God when we judge other people.
What does it mean to be judgmental?
On an action level, it means to choose one above another. We choose to listen to one, but not to another.
On a word level, it means to rebuke or correct—not just sharply rebuke, but at all.
On a thought level it means to form opinions about another, thoughts, words or behavior.
To judge another without permission is to overstep the boundaries between people. It puts us in a superior position to them, and causes us to meddle in their business. We need to look to the problems of ourselves, and not the problems of others.
There are people who have a right to judge—judges, policemen, counselors, parents, teachers, confessors, bosses, and others. They have been appointed to lead us. We also have friends, mentors and confidantes who we want to judge us.
When we ask someone to hold us accountable, we are giving them permission to judge. But to judge without authority or permission is to step out of bounds. Just knowing the truth doesn’t mean we have the right to beat others over the head with it.
Judging others requires self-discipline. A judge must not make up his mind until all the evidence is in. He can’t judge by evidence not shown in trial. He can’t judge a defendant because he looks mean or because he’s done something wrong in the past. The judge can only judge while on the job. Once he steps down, he isn’t supposed to judge, nor let his judgment affect his life. If we lack the self-discipline to refrain from judging, we shouldn’t judge at all. What a judge does professionally, we shouldn’t do as amateurs.
Judgmentalism usurps the right to judge others. It desires control over others’ thoughts, behavior and attitudes. Whether we usurp that right in order to gloat over them or to help them makes no difference—it’s still crossing the line.
We used to have an expression at the Christian college I attended “Judge not, but discern to your heart’s content.” Christians know it’s wrong to judge, so we don’t call it judgment. We call it “discernment”, “righteous indignation.”
People will often cite Bible verses to support their right to judge. The prophets are often mentioned, for example. But prophets were appointed by God only to deliver His word. As such, they were held to a higher standard than those who they judged. If they were wrong in any of their judgments, then they were put to death--or at the very least run out of the fellowship. Unless you declare yourself a prophet, don’t judge, and if you do, prepare to be judged by your own standards.
In the New Testament, we read about discipline within the church. But church discipline was not a haphazard practice of people rebuking each other. It refers to church discipline, not the haphazard practice of everyone judging everyone else. A spiritual person doesn’t judge another unless they have no choice, and then only with much prayer and humility. Ask yourself honestly, do you find personal satisfaction in judging others? If there is even the slightest feeling of self-satisfaction or superiority, you should not do it. To do so crosses the line. What passes for rebuke these days is mostly just meddling.
Something within us wants powerfully to judge others. If we don’t judge others, then we even judge ourselves. Paul writes in I Cor. 4:3, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.” We judge ourselves and others because we think we have to deal with the problem. But other people’s problems are between them and God. We don’t have to solve them—just pray for them. We don’t have to solve our own problems, either—God is the one who will work out our personality problems.
Twice in two chapters, Jesus talks about the eye. In 6: 22-23 he said, “The eye was the lamp of the body, and that if it is not singly fixed (focused), the whole body is darkness.” If our eye has a two-by-four in it we can still delude ourselves into thinking that we discern the problems of others. This isn’t discernment, its self-deception. Our eye is not on God, but on everyone else.
Christians are not more judgmental than others. It is a universal trait among all people. It is much more common among unbelievers than believers, because Christians at least have had Jesus warn them not to judge. Who tells an atheist that it’s wrong to judge? Atheists and unbelievers judge freely, since they must answer to no one. But we Christians are under God’s authority.
We should not judge specifically:
A person’s behavior if it has nothing to do with us. But unless their behavior reaches over into the boundaries of our life, what a person does in their own life is none of our concern.
I am very traditional about sexual ethics, and about God’s stand on it. I believe it is basic Christian ethics that sex is only within the boundaries of heterosexual marriage. This is based on my understanding of God’s word. But I am not placed here to judge others behavior. If you do not accept God’s word as true, or if you are not a committed Christian, I have nothing to say to you about your personal sexuality. We are all sinners, myself included.
Instead of judging behaviors, let’s model Godly behavior. Don’t criticize homosexual sinners while we live as heterosexual sinners. We need to live faithfully in the light we have been given. Don’t criticize drunks and practice unrestricted gluttony. We criticize the cruelty of ISIS and remain indifferent to the needs around us. Don’t judge, but model a better way of life.
A person’s motives. This is “mind-reading”—assuming we can know the motivations of another heart. People say, “He said he was sorry, but he didn’t mean it.” Or “Did you see the look he gave me?” We cannot know what another is thinking, so we shouldn’t judge what we cannot know.
Instead of judging motive, admit to your own. We may feel anger, but that doesn’t mean we know why. The reason for our anger may be entirely within ourselves. We do not know if anything that the other person does causes our anger. We are responsible to God for our anger. The assumption of causation is judging.
Assume wherever possible that others have the best possible motivations. If they say, “I meant no harm,” believe them. You have no right to assume internal motivations that we cannot know.
A person’s past. People change all the time. We should accept people for who they are now, not who they used to be.
If we are hiring for a job, we look at resumes and check references. We need to look at the past experience of a potential hire. If you are looking for a husband, you need to check their past. If you are looking for a business partnership, you have better look at their past. But honestly, how often are we in such positions? A person’s past makes no difference in most cases, and the more we know a person, the less important their past becomes. Give people the blessing of allowing them to demonstrate they have changed.
Instead of judging a person’s past, accept them just as they are, as Christ did. They may have been terrible people in the past, but they don’t live in the past, and neither do we. We live in the “now”.
Jesus spent his time with prostitutes, turncoats, and terrorists. These were his friends. Jesus had a way of seeing the best in people’s lives, and encouraging that, rather than seeing the worst they ever did and dragging it back up. To him, forgiveness was total and complete.
A person’s worth. Contempt is worse than condemnation. If I criticize your behavior, at least I am talking to you. But contempt is treating them as worthless, and cutting off communication. It is effectively saying that a person will be no good and never will be any good. Are we God that we can see into the future? Can we predict that the eventual worth of a person will be once the final scales of life are totaled?
Instead, we should be hopeful for change in people. Jesus changed people who were driven crazy by demons like the demoniac among the tombs, consumed by greed like Zacchaeus, in bondage to lust and addictions like Mary Magdalene, raised in religiosity like Nicodemus--yet He never gave up on them. How can we assume that anyone we meet is not capable of being of worth in the end?
Alcoholics Anonymous has been called the most successful behavior modification program in history. The genius of the approach is its reliance upon grace. It doesn’t judge, it just helps.
If you ever attend a closed meeting of AA or any of its affiliates, the first thing you will be asked to do is to stand in front of them all and say, “Hello, my name is Bill, and I am an alcoholic.” This simple admission is the hardest thing to do, and it also is the most healing thing to do. When we have done it, we are set free from judging anyone else.
I have often wished that we did the same thing in churches—in fact we do. When someone joins the church, the first question we ask is, “Are you a sinner? “And they answer, “Yes.” We should proclaim it every week, so we will remember it.
Jesus has forgiven us of all our sins through His perfect sacrifice for us. He didn’t judge their actions, motivations, past or worth. He just gave them an example to follow, an opportunity for new life, and most of all non-judgmental love.
We should always and forever do the same for those we meet.