A lot of people think Jesus said, “Don’t judge.” But that’s a partial quote. Matthew 7:1-2 reads (see also Luke 6:36-38),
Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.
My judgments of others should give me pause. Who am I to usurp God’s authority?
Jesus also says that if we forgive others then we will be forgiven, but if we refuse to forgive then we won’t be forgiven. Further, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (679) states that, “By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself” and “receives according to one’s works.”
What if judgment day goes something like this:
God: “Welcome, Dave. You’ve fallen far short of My goodness. That’s why I sent My only Son to die for your sins. That’s the good news.”
Dave: “Thank you so much. I know I don’t deserve this. I’m just so grateful for what You’ve done for me.”
God: “Well, we’re not quite done here. You’ve passed a lot of judgments on others. By whose authority did you do that?”
Dave: “Ah, well…ah, I kinda…Okay, so here’s the thing. A lot of people do bad things. Then they act like, ‘Oh, you Christians are such awful people.’ I mean, really?”
God: “So, you’re the referee?”
Dave: “Well, no. But there’s right and wrong, and I’m just pointing that out.”
God: “You know I don’t like excuses. Seeking to do what is right and standing firm against what is wrong is one thing. But acting like you’re superior is different. It’s not your moral standards that have been offended. It’s Mine.”
Dave: “Okay, point taken.”
God: “Alright, here’s how this goes down. We’re going to look at the judgments you’ve made of others, and then we’re going to look at your life and see if you would be condemned according to your own judgments. Are you ready?”
Dave: “Ah…I guess this is ‘ready or not?’”
Jesus makes our false assumptions about moral superiority clear in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee thanks God that he is not like the sinful tax collector while the tax collector prays for forgiveness. Jesus says that only the tax collector went home justified.
We convict ourselves through our judgments of others. Being clear about right and wrong isn’t the problem. The problem is when it becomes a status competition. In other words, saying something is wrong is different from saying, “You are [insert judgment].”
After all, judgment as a status symbol is a common reason people give for rejecting Christianity. And in short order, that shame gives way to anger and accusations of hypocrisy as people realize that their self-appointed judges also have serious moral shortcomings.
Judgments are not always negative, though. We are told we must affirm others, but to affirm is to judge others approvingly. Not affirming isn’t the same as condemnation, though it’s often seen that way. But when asked to affirm something contrary to the gospels, we can refuse without acting self-righteous.
Some might interpret a firm stand as a judgment against them personally. That’s their choice, which is not up to us. And even if they judge us, we can choose not to be offended because it is God’s approval alone that matters.
This even means that we shouldn’t judge ourselves. If we presume that God approves of us, then we’ve gone astray and forgotten that we’re sinners. But knowing we are sinners isn’t cause for despair because grace is available to everyone who accepts it. If we reject grace, however, we pass judgment on ourselves.
Certainly, standing firm on moral issues without being judgmental isn’t easy. But it can be done. We can take a gentle approach. Be honest about our motivations for saying something. Listening is also of key importance. And caution with personal accusations is important too—we don’t always know what someone’s motivation was or whether it was a lapse or a character flaw.
Pointing out the effect of someone’s actions using factual rather than emotional language also makes it less personal. And expressing concern for the person and the potential consequences of what they’re doing is empathetic rather than accusatory.
Further, speaking in the first person can help people feel less defensive. Saying, “I won’t go along with this” is less confrontational than, “You shouldn’t do that.” But most of all, starting with an acknowledgment of our own culpability (if it applies), or finding compassion in similar struggles we have faced makes it clear that we’re travelers on the same road.
I am glad you wrote on this topic, and I agree their is certainly an art to speaking the truth. We must show charity when helping ourselves and our brothers and sisters who error. God Bless.
Wow!!! Very well said! I wish this would be read and meditated on by everyone. It’s so hard not to condemn. And even when we clearly differentiate between the person and the act it is often received as condemnation of the person. I’m especially mindful of how we treat people who suffer from same sex attraction, gender identity issues, or are pro abortion. It’s almost impossible to have any kind of discussion about these disorders because of the defensive walls put up by people who rightly feel they are being attacked. They are suffering horribly and we make it worse by our sinful conduct. Then we hide behind the “love the sinner, hate the sin” defense of our actions which seems to me in many instances to be a lie. I’ve never led anyone to Christ by condemning them and neither did Christ Himself. “Jesus looked up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again" (John 8:10-11). He didn’t judge and condemn, He loved, and so should we.
Please excuse my rambling.