In contemporary culture, no sin is more disgusting to average people than judgmentalism. The only thing worse than committing a heinous sin is judging the person who committed the heinous sin. Over the weekend Miley Cyrus twerked at a live concert in Mexico—she had her backup dancers “spank” her prosthetic rear end with little Mexican flags—and the resulting debate among commentators was not a judgment about the act itself, but whether or not it was a good career move (especially after a Mexican lawmaker threatened to fine her). We’re fundamentally repelled by the arrogance of one person sitting in judgment of another, because it essentially proclaims a hierarchy of virtue. No one wants to be around judgmental people, and no one wants to be labeled judgmental. It’s a ridiculous and maddening transgression of fairness.
We have no problem supporting our ban on judgment with biblical firepower. Jesus says: “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.” (Matthew 7:1-5).
We think we know what this passage is about—a condemnation of judgment—but that’s not what Jesus is saying…
- Jesus didn’t condemn judgment—he condemned hypocritical, unwise, and rash judgment. The essence of his teaching on judgmentalism has less to do with the offense of judging and more to do with our reluctance to expose ourselves to judgment first. If you don’t want to be judged by others, then don’t judge anyone. But leaders, by definition, are always exposing themselves to judgment by others. You cannot lead unless you risk the poor opinion of others. So the key is to judge well, and to live our life as a “lamp on a hill,” comfortably exposed to naysayers, because the source of the light that’s within you is Jesus.
- Jesus told us to pay attention to our “standard” of judgment, not to ban it altogether. If you’re willing to be judged by the same standard you use with others, then judge away. But it’s very painful to be unfairly judged, so don’t invite it by unfairly, rashly, and hypocritically judging others.
- Jesus didn’t deny that our “brother” has no speck in his eye—something that will seriously impact his ability to see well. He simply urged us to pay attention to our own “log”—something so big and obvious and debilitating that we can’t see well to perform the delicate operation of removing our brother’s speck. There are plenty of “brothers” around us who are desperate to get the speck out of their eye—their life is stuck, and they live with constant pain, because that speck has the power to debilitate them. And we’d be poor “removers” indeed if we attempt the challenge when we can’t see what we’re doing.
This famous passage, used so often to blunt life-saving “judgment,” is really about the spiritual discipline of exposing our “eye logs”—the goal is to “see clearly,” not to wear a blindfold.
Rick (firstname.lastname@example.org and @RickSkip on Twitter) has been editor of GROUP Magazine for 27 years. He’s author of Skin In the Game: Living an Epic Jesus-Centered Life (http://tinyurl.com/q66kb8p); Sifted: God’s Scandalous Response to Satan’s Outrageous Demand (siftedbook.com); Shrewd: Daring to Live the Startling Command of Jesus (shrewdbook.com); Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry (http://tinyurl.com/pqmue5c); 99 Thoughts on Jesus-Centered Living, the LIVE small-group curriculum Jesus-Centered Living.