Judging ourselves harshly is not the only problem we have when it comes to judgment. More often than not, our real problem with judgment is the judgment we place on others. But in order to offer others the extravagant love God has given us, we need to first stop judging those around us just as Jesus commanded us to:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see 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,’ when there is the log 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.Matthew 7:1-5
Take a moment and visualize Jesus’s statement here, because it’s funny. Can you see the man with a 2×4 sticking out of his eye? Everywhere he turns, he whacks people in the face, somehow oblivious to his problem. And then, ironically enough, he notices his friend has a speck of sawdust in his eye. He almost has to pull out a magnifying glass to see it, but he can’t even get close enough to look at it because the log in his eye keeps causing him to bump into things.
Or said another way, it’s like getting the entire rib cage of a chicken stuck between your teeth at dinner and then telling your friend that there’s a small piece of lettuce between his. That’s the pastoral humor of Jesus right there. It makes a serious point, but it paints a funny picture.
We must live humbly enough to always assume that we are the one with the plank in our eye and never the one with the speck. And we must also assume that our specks are plank-sized in comparison to someone else’s speck. And if we’re humble enough to listen to the Holy Spirit about these planks and specks, we’ll often find that we’re guilty of the same things we judge others for. For example, I remember once thinking proudly of my sin versus another person’s sin when God showed me how I was guilty of their sin as well, just in a way that I hadn’t realized before.
“At least I’m not smoking and killing myself,” I said.
“Right, you’re just drinking several cans of pop a day and eating yourself to death instead,” he replied.
That word was… convicting, to say the least. And God has since made me aware of many other comparisons, showing me that I am often guilty of the same things I call out in others.
We can’t pretend like we have it all together when we don’t. If we’re going to call someone else out, we should expect to have the same judgment given back to us. None of us are better than everyone else so we must follow Peter’s advice: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5).
In order to stop judging others we need to pay close attention to our thoughts. Judgment happens quick—quicker than we’re even aware. Some researchers have found that you will assign traits, such as trustworthiness, to a stranger within 100 milliseconds of seeing them. It’s thought that your brain does this automatically, outside of your control. That means that your initial judgment of a person is pretty bad judgment.
For example, at a restaurant yesterday I pridefully and subliminally perceived the man next to me to have a lot of beliefs different than me based simply on how he looked and what he wore. He was then very kind to me and my children and we carried on some great conversations while we waited for our food. Even if I was right in my assumptions of his beliefs (which I have absolutely no evidence for), my silent judgments about him put up a wall that had no right to be there as I painted him in an unflattering light in which he didn’t belong.
Another example might be from this morning, when a stranger commented on my blog and assumed that because I believe Hell is real, I must be an uneducated individual who has done no research on the topic and knows not the basics of the conversation. If I was smart, I would think like him.
Judging people based on their belief system happens a lot these days, especially in our divided America. For sure, there are important topics to talk about, and good prophetic-Jesus reasons to humbly call attention to the bad theology and actions of Christians for the sake of our gospel witness. But if we can’t first recognize the image of God in one another and ground our humility in the recognition of our own shortcomings and 2×4’s, no one will listen to us, nor will we have earned the right to say anything worth listening to. We’ve all met that person that talks like they’re absolutely right about everything and has no problem sharing their unrequested opinion at all times, and we all know that we typically trust their judgments less than we trust others.
If we are going to speak well into the lives of others we must do so humbly and first work on ourselves, just as Jesus instructed us to: “First take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take the spect out of your brother’s eye.”