Today, there will be many times when we are put in a position to make assumptions or judgments regarding other people.
- Judges and juries must discern between intentional malice and unintented negligence. They must distinguish between manslaughter and murder.
- Employers and managers must search out whether those under their direction are lacking in ethics, motivation, or skill. This determination will affect their response to undesired behavior.
- Elders are to seek the truth regarding those in their flock: Is the person in view a repentant sinner interested in Christ, or is he a self-righteous, unrepentant sinner unconcerned about harming the name and family of Christ? This is THE question of church discipline.
- Parents are to search out the heart of their children and consistently ask, “Why is little Jimmy doing what little Jimmy is doing? They should then seek to respond in the most loving and proper manner.
- All Christians are given the responsibility to love their brothers and judge fairly, humbly, and gently. We do have some sort of judgmental duty to perform within the confines of Christ’s family. (Proverbs 31:9; 1 Corinthians 6:1-6; Galatians 6:1-6)
Therefore, here are some principles to keep in mind in order that we might more acceptably love, judge, and help one another.
When we judge, we must first focus on ourselves. As we do so, we will find more than enough sin upon which to focus. Consequently we will have less time, energy, and passion to look after the sinful interests of others. (Luke 6:37-42; John 8:1-8; Romans 2:1-3; Romans 14:10-13)
When we judge, we must always focus on the grace and forgiveness gifted to us. We should “preach the Gospel” to ourselves and be ready to offer this to others. Internally, we should hunger to grant mercy instead of judgment, for this is a fantastic characteristic of our God. (Matthew 9:13)
When we judge, we must recognize it is more of an art than a science. Oft times a person is completely unaware of his own internal motivations. Therefore, it is almost impossible for his reasons or motivations to be rightly discerned by those looking quickly from without. Consequently, when we judge, we must recognize we often get it wrong. We are sloppy artists, and this should trouble us.
Author Stephen Covey recalled an incident while riding the New York City subway one Sunday morning. The few passengers aboard were reading the newspaper or dozing. It was a quiet, almost somnolent ride through the bowels of the Big Apple. Covey was engrossed in reading when a man accompanied by several small children boarded at the next stop.
In less than a minute, bedlam erupted. The kids ran up and down the aisle shouting, screaming, and wrestling with one another on the floor. The father made no attempt to intervene. The elderly passengers shifted nervously. Stress became distress. Covey waited patiently. Surely the father would do something to restore order: a gentle word of correction, a stern command, some expression of paternal authority — anything. None was forthcoming. Frustration mounted.
After an unduly generous pause, Covey turned to the father and said kindly, “Sir, perhaps you could restore order here by telling your children to come back and sit down.”
“I know I should do something,” the man replied. “We just came from the hospital. Their mother died an hour ago. I just don’t know what to do.”
Brennan Manning, who conveys this story, pens the following nugget of truth: The heartfelt compassion that hastens forgiveness matures when we discover why our enemy cries.*
Friends, judging rightly is brutal, and it is for this reason a plurality of elders was utilized in Israel. We need help.
It is for this reason that the wisest man on earth encouraged his students to be slow in their judgment. (Proverbs 25:8 )
Jesus Christ, the perfect man and brilliant teacher told one of his congregations, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but judge rightly.” To another congregation he merely said, “Judge not.” Jesus clearly understood the difficulty of making well-founded assumptions. (John 7:24; Matthew 7:1)
Knowing it is impossible for us to get it right every time, we should be reticent to call out others. Matthew 18:15 should be a last resort of a weeping Session and not the first g0-to passage of hit men seeking to nail the sinner. Sometimes we will hit the nail on the head and get it right. Of times we will look like foolish Eli judging Hannah. Many times we will be like hypocritical Judah judging Tamar, or self-worshiping Pharisees judging Jesus.
So what should we do today? Perhaps we should “take a break and give one too.” Be patient. Be merciful. Offer forth a prayer instead of a condemnation. Let’s see if we can encourage one another in holiness instead of persistently cutting the knees out of those declared holy by Christ. In our judging, let us take a break; it is OK to do so. Then let us give our brothers a break in expressing our judgment; this is what Jesus often does. He always sees our unrighteousness. He always sees his righteousness. He does not always find it necessary to lay us low under his inflexible Law.
Let us “take a break and give one too.” After all, the best judge is the one who doesn’t desire to do so at all.
*Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child, p. 50, quoting from Steven Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.