Fool me twice.. shame on me

When you know someone well and think, “I don’t want to be like them” are you judging them? I mean, you’ve obviously drawn that conclusion based on your perception of who they really are. When you see a pattern a behavior that remains constant throughout countless seasons of their life, are you wrong to assume they will probably continue in those patterns? If you see some major flaws in their life, is it okay to point them out… or is it okay for you to just stay silent about them? What about choosing to disconnect from them altogether? These are questions I have been wrestling with for a while now.

Christians often say, “Don’t judge”. Wait; are they judging other Christians when they say that? Regular people (I’ve resolved to calling them this since they hate “lost”, “unchristian”, “sinner”, “not born again”, “outsiders” “unregenerate”, and “hell mongers”) often say, “Christians are so judgmental”. I think that’s a pretty judgmental statement. Yet that is the word most used to describe Christians in surveys (try conducting a survey at Wal-Mart or a local university… its fun). With all this talk about judgment, I wonder if we can even agree on what it means to judge. Since everything else started with Jesus, we will too.

“Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you look at a speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How 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? You hypocrite [actor], first take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”. Matthew 7:1-5

Jesus is pretty clear here. Judging is wrong. But the act of wanting to help someone get rid of the sawdust in their eye is not judging… the act of trying to remove it without first examining your own life is. There is a whole heart condition behind judgment. It has overtones of condemnation – it’s sitting at the front of the courtroom where God belongs, wearing His robe, holding his gavel, and pretending that we have the authority to speak on heart issues. It’s making the assumption that you know the motives behind why they act the way they do without having any proof, and chalking it up to bad character. It’s thinking in your heart, “They are so messed up because they do ‘___’” while completely ignoring that you do the same thing. Jesus says, “Stop ACTING like you’re perfect; first take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”. Judgment can only be instituted by someone with authority – so when God walks into the room and tells you to take off His robe and get out of His seat, whatever judgment you had previously made doesn’t even matter, except that He will try you as harshly as you were trying your brother and hold you in contempt for insulting His seat by sitting in it. Yes, judgment comes from a heart that regards itself more highly than it should – it’s wearing a mask and pretending to be someone you are not (the literal meaning of the Greek work hypokrites is stage actor or in reference to a public performance). Do not judge.

If there is one continual theme in Proverbs it’s that some people are wise, some people are foolish/stupid, and some people are evil. The writer of these proverbs continually makes references to “the fool” and gives very practical tips on how to spot them and interact with them. This would require that we recognize the fool and label them one. He even says at one point (kevan’s translation), “imagine that you steal some baby bears from a big momma bear – now imagine that bear is very angry with you and wants to rip you into tiny pieces and eat you… run from a fool as quickly as you would run from that bear”. He says “leave the presence of a fool or you will become like them”, “drive out the fool”, and “don’t try to instruct a fool”. It seems like Solomon was well rehearsed in identifying the fool. And Jesus actually comments on the subject in Matthew 7 right after he says the thing about judging, “do not give to dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. This is a way of saying, “holy and valuable things must only be given to those who appreciate them” (France). The message here and all throughout Proverbs is this: don’t waste your breath on correcting those that won’t value your insight, use discernment when determining who to become vulnerable with.

Discernment is different than judgment.

Discernment has overtones of wisdom – its saying, “I don’t know their heart but God does; and I will choose to not associate with them because the fruit of their life is not consistent with the fruit I want to produce”. It’s refusing to assume that you know their motives and chalking their flaws up to being human, while deeply examining whether or not the bad fruit in their life can be found in yours. It’s acknowledging that you have no authority to put anyone on trial, while simultaneously adjusting your life patterns in order to present yourself with purity at yours. Discernment is important. And it’s a deeply spiritual process.

I have often judged people in the name of discernment. And that’s a heart issue. I do not have the authority to determine who is a fool, but I have a spiritual responsibility to refrain from foolish actions. Therefore I must choose to run from people who consistently model the characteristics of the fool as described by Solomon. That, I believe, is wisdom. I also do not believe that confronting issues present in someone else’s life is wrong – as long as we have taken the responsible action of evaluating our life first.

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