Long Read: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Over the years I have thought a great deal about this phrase “Don’t judge” and another “Only God is the judge.” It has challenged me to think of how we use these phrases in our culture as we aspire to live in unity and acceptance of one another.
So this afternoon I looked up the word “judge” in Merriam-Websters online dictionary.
I love this definition of the verb “to judge” as it takes us through the wide interpretation of this single word. In fact, the first definition is significantly different than the last definition:
1: to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises
2: to sit in judgment on : try
3: to determine or pronounce after inquiry and deliberation
4: govern, rule —used of a Hebrew tribal leader
5: to form an estimate or evaluation of; especially : to form a negative opinion about <shouldn’t judge him because of his accent>
6: to hold as an opinion : guess, think <I judge she knew what she was doing>
I could be wrong as I consider the current state of how we use this word from my limited point of view.
So don’t judge me for how I interpret the word judge lest you be judged for judging the word judge. I jest…
All joking aside, I would like to propose we use these phrases grossly out of context and in fact we have gone completely insane with our thoughts on judgment. We don’t fight fair at all when we pull this word out. We pick and choose from the various definitions in order to sucker punch our opponents and win our arguments. We bolster and justify lots of poor behavior as we slice with this word.
Judgment is a reality.
Judgment is a reality and we all judge. Any man who says “but, hey, I don’t judge” is, in fact, lying. Or in the famous words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Judgment is an inevitable part of everyday living. We judge the driver in front of us. If he is swerving all over the road, we obviously back off and give the driver some room. If it is really bad, we call the police and report a possible driver under the influence. This is a judgment. And it is good judgment to report the driver before innocent people get hurt.
Most would agree. If a driver ahead of us stays squarely between the lines, we also made a judgment. We judged that the person in front of us is a safe driver and is able to be driven reasonably close to as we go about our day. In both cases we made judgments. These judgments are necessary.
Why do we need clarity?
Remember I placed Merriam-Webster’s definition of judgment up above? We need clarity because we consistently get the first definition mixed up with the last definition. This writing is meant to confront the complete silliness and the multiple levels of crazy we have taken as it relates to this word.
When we say “Don’t judge,” what we are often trying to convey is the notion of avoiding definition number one as another attempts “to form an opinion of us through careful weighing of evidence and testing premises” while accusing said person of using definitions five and six “to form an estimate or evaluation of :especially negative; to form a negative opinion about, guessing”.
Simply put, in order to avoid the terrifying scrutiny of reality in definition one, we then accuse others, perhaps in that very process, of definition five and six. We say “That person is guessing or thinking I am a bad person! But in fact they have no clue why I held up the Quiktrip with a Glock 9mm. Maybe it was because I was really jonesing for a one buck tacquito. Or maybe I needed to pay for my child’s chemotherapy. Don’t judge!” (Sarcasm, of course)
My point is, let’s be honest, we really don’t like it when others reveal that we are hurting them. Where this internally becomes very disingenuous is when the resulting judgment nets a positive end result. Then we say “What? You find me attractive, productive, amazing, or fill in the blank. Then please judge me more!” And obviously, if one finds positive attributes surely they were judging me from the first definition through the careful weighing of evidence. They certainly did not make an estimate or a hasty uninformed judgment. There is no way they were guessing, no way. (Sarcasm again)
Judgment vs. acceptance is a false dichotomy.
This is interesting as it seems to be often stated “to not judge means we are more accepting.” In fact, acceptance is exactly the opposite. Accepting another authentically would mean we have taken the time and effort to make a reality assessment of an individual, and then knowing all the facts–good, bad and indifferent–accept them as humans anyway. Yet, in the “don’t judge me” culture, we are challenged to stand by, not making any judgments, and in good conscience, open ourselves up to all kinds of destructiveness in another, even to the point of joining in while saying or making no decisions at all. This extreme way we throw the word “judgment” around, as if it is a murder weapon used in blunt force trauma, is in fact preposterous. This is not judging but passivity, allowing and standing for many things which hurt others.
Imagine the driver in the example above: One pulls alongside the driver weaving in traffic, waving him over and then joins him in the car. Perhaps after having a few swigs of Vodka himself. The two merrily drink themselves silly, swerve too far into oncoming traffic and kill a young family in a mini-van.
We would all agree that man had poor judgment!
Jesus said to not judge. Really?
In actuality, this is not what Jesus said. Well, at least not the only thing he said about judging. This misinterpretation is a real limitation in how we use this word.
Here is what he said in context:
1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
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? 4 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? 5 You 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.
Jesus’ instruction was not to quit judging but instead an instruction on HOW to judge appropriately.
When read in context, you find Jesus expressing this gradient of meaning we find in the Merriam-Webster definition above. He is so beautifully addressing the difference between judging with the definition number five or six – guess or think, especially negatively on up to careful weighing of evidence. Jesus’ point wasn’t to not judge. Otherwise he would have stopped by only saying that. If fact, He is saying stop judging flippantly. And in fact if you are judging without taking into account your own weaknesses and limitations you are in fact judging using definitions five and six. However, he then tells us how to judge. He say to first deal with ourselves. The level of reality we bring upon ourselves (a/k/a humility) actually empowers us to judge appropriately.
In our crazy culture we don’t ever go to the point of asking a friend to actually take a hard look within. This is what Jesus is doing here. He is asking and pleading with us to take a hard look within. Those icky kinds of inward searches where we address these blinds spots we have that really do impact others.
Judgment is essential to good decision making in life. This includes judgment of another’s character.
Anyone who achieves success, stability, and a beautiful wake of goodness in others’ lives has done so with good judgment and wisdom. Their lives are the culmination of thousands of careful good judgments. This especially includes the types of people one chooses to be close to.
Our culture is really warped here. We are confused. And in the church, we have lost an essential part of ourselves in this judgment discussion. We have forgotten that the church is a family. In fact, when each of us join a church, we join other family members who have also chosen to follow Jesus with their whole hearts. The church is a series of small families, those closest to you who follow Jesus, who then join larger families, a congregation, who then joins the larger family of God, The Church. In the bible, we define the church as the “bride of Christ”.
For me it helps to define the church as a much smaller group of close knit friends and family members who have on purpose chosen to apprentice and be discipled by Jesus. Church for me is much more intimate than a Sunday service. It is the men and women I join daily in life. Those I walk with in confidence. Here is where the confusion comes in. Although all are welcome to join the church, the only way to join is to love and follow Jesus with your whole heart. This means if you have not made this commitment, you have not joined the church.
Judge the church but don’t judge the world.
A co-worker and friend blew my mind this morning. He said “did you know the entire New Testament was not written to those outside the church?” I was dumbfounded. What? Are you kidding me. Jesus is the Savior of the World! Yet, it is true. All of the judgments, the do’s and the don’ts. All of this talk of a man being married to one woman his whole life. This talk of not being sexually immoral. All of this talk regarding not being greedy. Helping the poor. Living an upright and righteous life. It is all meant to encourage those who have chosen to join others in following Jesus. In fact, those outside the faith, we are not to judge. Yet, for those who join our family, there is a basic assumption toward growth and maturity. And as such, we assume the word of God is the road map to that maturity. Consider Paul in 1st Corinthians:
1st Corinthians 5:9-13
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?
Paul’s encouragement was to good judgment. He was simply saying “Who are you going to join in family with? If you are committing to pursue this amazing life, freeing yourself from all the hard stuff which happens with bad judgment, and you are contending for your faith, then of course judge!!” The basic assumption is that those in the family want to grow and mature while doing their best to live the best possible life. However, with those outside the family, let them be outside the family. If a man wants to marry another man and does not profess faith, then this is not ours to be involved with. If a man wishes to marry another man in the church, the word of God clearly tells us this is a problem. In the family we must confront it as a family matter. It takes courage and wisdom to do it compassionately. If a man is greedy and takes advantage of others in the church, this is a family matter. We have to address it with courage. This includes making good judgments.
Our family, the church, is not like other families. It plays by a different set of rules set forth in God’s word. It is the playbook on how to live the best possible life. The life of freedom.
By defining in clarity what judgment is and by judging those whom we choose to live close too in the family, in a loving, humble Matthew 7 kind of way, we offer the church as the vehicle to salvation for the world. The church becomes the attractive bride who we invite others to. It becomes the banquet table, the party thrown for prodigals, the best possible life.
Want to know how to have good, loving and kind judgment?
Focus on knowing Jesus and following Him with your whole heart. Pursue, contend, pray and join others who are doing the same. Offer compassion, humility, and grace to every one you encounter. Turn inward, look at the planks in your own eyes, then turn and help others. You will be able to rightly discern. You will be able to humbly help, guide and invite the most lost and hurting souls into the family. Some will take you up on it. Others will not. The Holy Spirit is our comforter and guide. He guides us in all of these things. Ask him to help. He always comes through.