Monday, September 21, 2015

September 20, 2015 Judge Not

September 20, 2015
Matthew 7:1-5

Watch the following video, and notice that you will make some judgments that are not correct (Hilarious Church Invitation)

It’s okay to admit to yourself that you probably made a few incorrect judgments as you watched that video.  It reminds us of the dangers of making judgments about other people.

If you were to ask people inside the church to quote a verse of Scripture, you would probably get one of two responses.  Can you guess what they might be?  The top choices would probably be John 3:16, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life, or John 11:35, Jesus wept.  John 3:16 is a verse we all memorized at some point in life, most likely in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, and John 11:35 is one we learned because of its brevity.

If you were to ask people outside of the church to quote a verse of Scripture, what do you think it would be?  Most likely, it would be Matthew 7:1 – Do not judge.  There is, of course, more to that verse than just those three words.  The remainder of the verse is an important qualification – (do not judge) so that you will not be judged.

Jesus tells us not to judge, but we all do it anyway.  In fact, judgment seems to be the default position of the human condition.  It’s almost as though we can’t avoid making judgments and being judgmental.  It is often our gut instinct, our knee-jerk reaction.  It fills social media and nobody wants to read comments on web pages because of the harsh judgments that our levied there.

This morning’s message is Judge Not, and it is taken from Matthew 7:1-5 –

1 Do not judge so that you will not be judged.
For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Among the important lessons in this passage are –

Some judgment is good.

We make judgments every day, and not all judgements are wrong.  In fact, we often speak positively of people who exercise good judgment.  That person demonstrated good judgment, we will say.  Or, we might say that person is a good judge of character.  In those instances, we understand that judgment is not a negative, but a positive, aspect of life.  Used in this way, then, judgment might best be defined as discernment. 

Discernment is defined in several ways, but perhaps most importantly it refers to the ability to choose wisely between several options in life.  It is not always clear, for instance, how one should decide in regards to a vocational choice in life, but a person gifted with discernment is one who can ask the right questions and make a choice that demonstrates good judgment when it comes to such an important decision.

Over my years of ministry, I’ve been asked countless times the question how do I know God’s will for my life?  When they ask that question, they never ask it in terms of morality; it is always asked in relation to what vocation they should choose, who they should marry, or whether or not they should accept a particular job offer.  I can’t answer those questions for people.  To answer those questions, people must use good judgment – discernment – to find an answer.  They must ask themselves questions and utilize prayer as a way of discerning what is the direction for them to choose.  I wish God answered those kinds of questions with words blazened across the sky, but he has never done that for me, but what God does is place people in our lives who can help us discern his will and he can, through prayer, lead us to make a good decision.

Judgment is wrong when we seek to decide who is righteous or unrighteous and who is acceptable and who is unacceptable to God.

While we might wish to be described as people of good judgment we would all bristle at a description of being a judgmental person.

The kind of judgment Jesus was speaking about was most often reflected in his oft-used target – the Pharisees.  The Pharisees began as a movement to reclaim a sense of devotion and personal righteousness in one’s daily life.  It was, certainly, a very laudable attitude on which to found a movement, but it was not long before it devolved into a caricature of their lofty ideal, and they soon came too reflect an attitude of harsh and unyielding judgmentalism.  Most people turned away from the Pharisees, believe they were far too harsh in their attitudes toward, and treatment of, other people. 

There are, unfortunately, plenty of such people around today, and it’s a sign of how judgmental religious people are viewed to be that Pope Francis made worldwide headlines simply for saying who am I to judge?  That kind of attitude should not be a surprise, and it certainly should be common enough that it doesn’t make worldwide headlines when a religious leader demonstates a non-judgmental spirit.  The pope was, after all, only reflecting what Paul writes in I Corinthians 5:12 – What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Isn’t that an interesting verse, and one that is very much overlooked.

But, to some extent, judgmentalism is reflected in all all us, at some point, whether religious or not, so I should note that a judgmental spirit is certainly not confined to religious people.  As people of faith, we are sometimes as seen – without good reason – as being intolerant and bigoted, and we are sometimes lampponed with what is little more than a caricature or cartoonish version of what it means to be religious.  I get some interesting reactions from people simply because I’m a minister, and some of the reactions are very judgmental and assume things about me that are simply not true.

Judging others makes us blind to ourselves and our own failures.

Humanity has an amazing capacity at self-delusion.  Generally speaking, we are not always self-aware.  When Tanya and I were traveling back in May, we were on a train that was traveling from Holy Head, Wales to London.  At one stop, in northern England, a group of six or seven 30-somethings boarded the train and sat with us.  They were on their way to the horse races at Chester, England, so they were very interested to know we lived between Louisville and Lexington, and they were very familiar with both Churchill Downs and Keeneland.  One of the young ladies remarked that she loved listening to our accents, so I told her that she would love visiting America, as we very much enjoy listening to a British accent.  She had a very pronounced British accent, but looked at me rather quizzicly and said, I don’t have an accent.  We were speaking the same language, and I’m of British descent so I should have been able to easily understand her, but I almost needed subtitles!

By judging others, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.

John 8:1-11 contains the classic story of the woman caught in adultery.  In verse 11, Jesus tells the woman go now and leave your life of sin.  It’s a fairly simple pronouncement, and could, actually, be said to every person, as sinfulness is the reality of every person.  I think that verse bothers some people, as they believe it lets people “off the hook” for what they have done.

The real tragedy of a judgmental attitude comes into view when we make a judgment about someone without knowledge of their true character or their circumstances in life.  It is making an assumption about someone when you might not have the full story or enough information to make such an assumption.

Years ago, when I was doing youth work, we had a young man who was very good at reaching out to young people in difficult circumstances.  He befriended a young man who was in his later high school years and was living alone.  For various, and sad, reasons, his parents were not in the home and the young man was trying to take care of himself.  He was working in a fast-food restaurant and trying to keep up with his studies at school, but obviously, was struggling under the circumstances.  The young man in our youth group managed to get him to come to our youth meetings a couple of times and then convinced him to come to church on a Sunday morning.  Because of his circumstances, the young man didn’t have nice clothes to wear, so he wore what was available to him – a pair of tattered blue jeans and a T-shirt.  As he walked into the sanctuary, he nervously walked down the aisle to find a seat.  As he passed by one of the pews, a member of the church looked him over and then said, rather disdainfully, well, look what the cat dragged in.  The person did not approve of his appearance, and thankfully, the young man did not appear to hear the other person’s comments. 

But I heard them, and it made me both sad and angry.  The person had no comprehension of this young man’s circumstances or of the content of his character.  He was doing the best he could, and under the circumstances, he was doing pretty well.

I am grateful that God does not judge us in such a way.  While we can be so hard on one another, God judges us with mercy, grace, and love.  Thank God for his mercy!

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