Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Are you judgmental?

posted by xscot mcknight

Fewer texts have been used more than Matt 7:1: “do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Sometimes this text is used properly; other times it seems that Christian folks use the text to encourage all of us not to discern something good from bad, the beautiful from the ugly. The line is “I can’t be judgmental.” What do you think it means “not to judge”?
It is reasonably clear to see that the standard we use to judge another is the standard that will be used against on That Day. Here are some things that are not involved in what Jesus is saying.
1. Discerning what is right from what is wrong: it is never good to murder.
2. Wholehearted gullibility: Christians need to have a profound level of discernment.
3. Absolute elimination of governmental judicial systems.
4. Parental decisions to let their children do whatever they want in the name of freedom.
Those who think this text encourages a lack of moral discernment fail to engage Jesus: this is the one who could let the purveyors of sytemic injustices have it with both barrels. Ever read Matthew 23? Or even Matthew 6:1-18? Jesus was full of moral discernment; so should we be.
For me, the profoundest comment on this text is by the younger brother of Jesus: James. First, in chp 2 of his letter to the “twelve tribes,” James says that Christians are not to show deference to the rich and oppressive behaviors toward the poor (2:1-7); second, he enjoins upon his readers to be merciful to others because mercy triumphs over judgment (2:8-13).
In other words, “not being judgmental” is a way of saying “be merciful” to all — regardless.
And, on top of this, James speaks of learning that humans are Eikons of God (3:9).
Ultimately, God is the Judge of humans; humans do no more than discern. To judge is to condemn someone to hell, to condemn someone to inferior status, to bracket them from existence, to put others into a condition that makes them undeserving of love and respect and integrity. To discern is to determine the good from what is less than good.
In the history of the Church, many have been judged: one thinks of American Indians, of African Americans, of Mexicans, and then one can expand this to how Evangelicals and Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox have treated one another, or spoken of one another, or thought of one another — and it would not be hard to go on. We’ve all been far too judgmental. Jesus calls us to beware that such standards will be used against us. His summons is for those who are willing to be merciful.
Imagine the hurt and wounds that those who are so judged have experienced: imagine how Mary was treated, how Jesus was treated, and how the early Christians were treated. It does not take a fertile imagination to come to terms with a significant stance we need to have: other-ing is the not the way of Jesus.

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Joel Workman

posted January 23, 2006 at 6:43 am

I’m glad to see a posting on this topic. I get so weary of hearing the excuse “I don’t want to be judgemental” whenever someone doesn’t want to deal with something wrong that is happening.
If you look at the Mishnah, a collection of teachings and thought processes from the time of Jesus, you find that this concept of being judgmental was common conversation in Jesus’ day. A prominent statement in there is “Judge every person in favorable terms” (Mishnah, Avot 1:6) and seems to come from Leviticus 19:5 which calls on us to “judge your neighbor fairly.” So Jesus was speaking to a pretty relevant and ongoing discussion in His day (big shock).
For me, I think the key division between judging rightly, or favorably, and judging wrongly which is the sense in which Jesus is speaking, comes down to what I am judging about a person. Am I judging actions or motive? Judging behavior or judging reasons for behavior? In other words, we quickly assess peoples motivation behind their behavior, without even thinking, as if we could possibly know their motivation.
For example, recently I found myself in a hurry at the store and was just picking up one item. I made my way to the “express checkout” which displayed the sign “10 items or less”. What I found when I got there was that the woman in front of me had about a hundred items! I was ticked, to put it mildly. Was I judging her to think she was in the wrong? Was I wrong to be unhappy with her? (I realize this is an incredibly petty thing, but I’m being honest here). I don’t think I was wrong to be unhappy, and it wouldn’t have been wrong–though terribly small of me–to tell her she was in the wrong. But what I found myself doing was saying to myself, “This lady thinks she is the only one in a hurry! She thinks the rules don’t apply to her.”
To me, that moment of assigning motive is when I became judgmental. I don’t know her motives, nor do I have the right to concern myself with them. We are definitely called by Jesus to judge the “fruit” of others lives, but God’s the only one who knows the heart.
Anyway, that’s my thought on judging. Sorry for the length! Thanks for the post. I think it’s an important one since most of the time most of us fall to one extreme or another on this issue.

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Ted Gossard

posted January 23, 2006 at 7:07 am

Great thoughts. And I agree.
People look at the outward appearance and make judgments on the heart. But only God can see the heart to its depths. One’s heart is made evident but only in actions. Discernment and asking questions to help are needed. Mercy must be our motivation, not judgment.
And of course, as you say, only God can condemn. We must not. But point others to Jesus who took that condemnation for us.

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Duane Young

posted January 23, 2006 at 7:59 am

Making good judgments is essential to sound thinking. We “judge” incessantly. I am confident you are right–that Jesus is speaking of judgments either reserved to God or, and I think this is a strong point, of illicit judgments, i.e., trying to make illogical or wrongful distinctions among categories of THE SAME KIND. Examples, Nazis saying Jewish peoples are either not human (Eikons?) or humans of a lesser order or different kind; caucasians doing the same to people of color; and that unborn Eikons are not Eikons (yet). Absent such a distinction the judgment is patently false and wrong. Pro Choice advocates generally and readily agree that if the “product of conception” or “fetus” is a “person” their argument fails–at least the honest ones do. Our task then is to make Good Judgments about the correct order and class of things. I submit then that no Christian dare to be a “specieist,” right?

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Duane Young

posted January 23, 2006 at 8:16 am

Or, . . . maybe, those of us with better or more accurate information are “set apart.” Better or more complete understanding or insight! Connected to church! Or the “right” church.
And if the problem is bad taxonomy . . . the story at the very beginning might make more sense, “…you will be able to make judgments, i.e., bad ones being Cracked and all, etc.!?”

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Kerry Doyal

posted January 23, 2006 at 8:35 am

I don’t want to judge, but this was good. ;-)

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Duane Young

posted January 23, 2006 at 11:29 am

Oops! I goofed–made a wrong judgment. In my haste to get to work (this early morning blogging is seductive and full of temptation) I misstated what I intended in No.3 above, i.e., “specieism” might in fact be an accurate judgment made of a right thinking Christian (discounting intention and motive).

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Faith K.`

posted January 23, 2006 at 11:47 am

I strive daily to be a good christian, but I judge daily. I feel constant guilt over my lack of self-control. I know all the scriptures, but still repeat the offence. What am I to do? ask for forgiveness 70 x 70 times. Or give up on being a child of God? Lord have mercy on me.

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Michael Kruse

posted January 23, 2006 at 1:19 pm

I think your comment that this is another way to say “be merciful” is right on. It is interesting that Jesus goes on to give the reason we should not “judge.”
Matt 7:1-2
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
We tend to want justice for everyone else but mercy for ourselves. We have to discern right and wrong, and make assessments of people and circumstances. We have to come to a “verdict.” The question is what are we going to do with verdict? Jesus is reminding us to “love our neighbor as our self.” Give them the mercy we so desperately hope for.

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Duane Young

posted January 23, 2006 at 2:53 pm

I think Michael is on to something with the comment, “We tend to want justice for everyone else but mercy for ourselves.” The church fathers urged “exercising the Judgment of Charity” toward others, simply meaning assume the best case about them and the situation, not the worst case as we in our Cracked EIkon condition.

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posted January 23, 2006 at 7:41 pm

Mr. McKnight, do you think it would be accurate to say that the standard that we use to judge others is the same standard by which we will be judged?
If so, then we would be safe to use the bible as our standard so that we too will simply be judged by it as well.
Anyway, I was glad to see that you believed the subject of “judging” to also include that we should be “discerners” as well and willing to recognize false teachings, doctrines, etc.

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Scot McKnight

posted January 23, 2006 at 7:58 pm

Thanks for this; I go by “Scot.”
Jesus’ point is of course a way of saying something like this: you’ve used a sound measure to see others’ sins; that measure will be used against you, too. God is fair; he is merciful; his judgment will be justice overwhelmed with mercy.

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posted January 24, 2006 at 5:01 pm

Okay Mr. “Scot” :)
Have you ever thought that there’s almost two sides to God’s judgement?
On the one hand He seems to judge us for our sins in the eternal perspective; i.e. whether we are saved or not and whether we will be with Him for eternity or eternally seperated.
Then on the other side, I see a “judgement” that is for the here and now; i.e. the direct consequences that are often associated with God’s interaction with his people throughout scripture, and the real life consequences of my own poor decisions and sin.
What say you?

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blind beggar

posted January 25, 2006 at 12:55 am

“In other words, ‘not being judgmental’ is a way of saying ‘be merciful’ to all — regardless.”
I think you summed it up well in this statement.
One dynamic not mentioned is that for some believers, not to “judge” implies an acceptance or a condoning of the perceived bad behavior.

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Duane Young

posted January 25, 2006 at 9:49 am

A very provacative article on judging/predispostitions/Red State-Blue State thinking/neurobiology, etc. raising intricate theological questions which the authors may not even recognize at
titled Emery Study Lights Up Political Brain

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Milton Stanley

posted January 26, 2006 at 6:48 am

In my judgement, your post is spot-on, Scot.

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Bill Gnade

posted January 27, 2006 at 1:14 am

Yes, I am wildly judgmental, and I am glad that I am. Matthew 7:1-2 does indeed point out the dangers of judgmentalism, but that is only part of the passage.
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? 4How 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? 5You 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.
6″Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

It is quite impossible for me to know what is sacred, canine, porcine or precious without making judgments. This is not Christ promoting mere discernment; this is judgmentalism par excellence wherein a decision is made: this is a speck and this is a plank; this is a dog and this is sacred; this is a pearl and these are stinking pigs. For sure I am not called to condemn people, but it is hard not to think in such strong terms when Christ exhorts me to divide sacred from swine.
Of course, the Apostle exhorts us to refrain from judging all but the Body of Christ. Judgment, after all, begins with the house of the Lord, or something like that, does it not?
I’d love to know how this sentence of Paul’s plays out in Greek: When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (I Cor 11:32) And I’d love to know how he’d reconcile I Cor. 4:3 (“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself“) with I Cor 11:31 (“But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment”). Far be it from me to suggest Paul has left us with a contradiction. I have no doubt he could explain himself.

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Dan McGowan

posted January 29, 2006 at 4:59 pm

This is such a great topic to bring up because this, like other verses/passages seem to be misused or minunderstood all over the place. Sometimes, it’s simple ignorance. Other times, it’s to substantiate our agenda. In the end, it’s up to we who teach/share/write/lead to go to the source and actually figure out what is REALLY being taught in scripture. That’s the only way iron sharpens iron.
On this matter of judging one another… what I love here is that we are getting to the meat of the matter… how in the world can you hold me accountable, or vice versa (something we’re commanded to do) without the freedom to point out each other’s areas of weakness? I mean if we’re really gonna GROW UP in the Lord (become disciples) then there WILL be that accountability issue in place… and that’s a GOOD thing!

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Amy G.

posted March 13, 2006 at 7:53 am

So, I’m trying to find a solution to myself being so judgemental. That is how I stumbled onto this page. What are some thoughts on how to block judgemental thoughts popping up in mind. I am having a thought that maybe one has got to humble themselves and maybe it will all work out then. I would love to know any suggestions.

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