We’ve heard many times that it’s not a good thing to be judgmental. And usually we agree because we’ve known judgmental people—and rarely are they likeable or comfortable to be around.
Still, we need to make judgments every day. It’s important to judge between one activity and another, one verbal response and another, one goal and another. Another word for that kind of judgment is discernment, and we would be in horrible shape without ongoing discernment.
Also, it’s important that we call a thing what it is, which is what the biblical prophets—including John the Baptist and Jesus—did all the time. We have to be willing to say: That’s a racist attitude. This isn’t an appropriate topic to share with children. That workplace policy is oppressive. This public figure has lied to us. That teacher’s method and attitude are harmful to her students. Day after day, the Holy Spirit calls us to identify what is hurtful or unjust or foolish.
When Jesus tells us not to judge, he is not referring to healthy discernment but to an attitude of condemnation toward others. This is a huge distinction. I can tell my daughter that wearing a certain piece of clothing is inappropriate—but it’s important that I express it in a way that instructs her and protects her dignity. I do not help her by acting disgusted with her or accusing her of stupidity or bad behavior. I do not love her by shaming her or stating how she’s disappointed me.
The same rules apply outside the circle of friends and family. If we discern between healthy and unhealthy, holy and sinful, the motivation must be love and only love. Jesus longs for us to speak out of a desire to help the other, to come alongside that other person who has lied or harmed, and to simply state the truth of what we see, and to state it for the sake of that person’s protection and dignity.
I try to go by this rule of thumb: If confronting a person is going to feel satisfying to me, then my motivation is not love but my own sense of being right and righteous. Even if what I say is true, my attitude will prevent my words being helpful.
Jesus said simply that we should not judge. He saw people eager to condemn and punish rather than receive and restore. The kingdom of God is not about punishment but abundant life. May we remember this as we deal with ourselves, our loved ones, and all other people God puts in our paths.
Recall a time when someone judged you. What did he or she say? Can you remember the tone of voice or facial expression? How did that confrontation affect you? Were you motivated to change? Were you resentful of the intrusion and therefore determined not to change?
Imagine that same situation, only this time the person approaches you in love. Does she confront you at all? What words, actions, or body language from that person would make it easier for you to face your situation truthfully?
We encourage you to share your experiences in our comments section to give other participants ideas and encouragement.