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Message for 2-2-14 JUDGMENT: GOOD, BAD, OR BOTH?

“JUDGMENT: GOOD, BAD, OR BOTH?”

Matthew 7:1-5

 

            Johnny Carson once said, “Never criticize someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.  Then, you’ll be a mile away, and they’ll have no shoes!”

            “Judge not” has replaced John 3:16 as today’s most quoted piece of Scripture.  It is also one of the least understood and most misquoted.

            It’s amazing how the same people today who love to quote the words “Judge not!” because they hated being judged so much themselves, also love to see judgment pronounced on others.  People love to see Judge Judy throw the book at people.  They love hearing Donald Trump utter those fateful words, “You’re fired!”  They love to see Gordon Ramsey tell losers on his cooking show to turn in their chef jacket.  They love to see judgment on others, but they don’t want anyone judging them.

            I remember how hilarious it was when Judge Judy dumps on a lady in a case on her show, and the lady answers, “Your Honor, I don’t think you have the right to sit in judgment on me.”  I kid you not – I’m not making this up!  It was hilarious.

Today, let me begin by setting the record straight: Judgment is not always bad.  Sometimes judgment is necessary, even unavoidable.  Jesus’ words “Judge not” do not mean we are to never form judgments about any person or behavior.  That’s a mistake!  We can’t help but make tentative judgments (all the time!) about the people we must deal with on a daily basis.  We have to answer questions like, “Can I trust this person?   Are they genuine, or are they phony?  What kind of person is he/she?”  We also can’t help but make judgments about what we do and do not tolerate, whether it’s hatred, violence, cheating, irresponsibility, or lack of compassion. 

We have to draw the line somewhere.  As Craig Blomberg puts it, Jesus forbids judgmentalism, not analysis and assessment.  Ben Witherington says it “makes no sense whatever…to see this as some sort of call never to criticize anyone or anything.”  He says the context shows that Jesus is talking about using a different standard to judge others than we use on ourselves.

            Sound judgment is good.  Lack of judgment is a great evil.  But just as bad as lack of judgment, is shortsighted judgment.  Our capacity to judge soundly is limited by our ability to see clearly past our own nose to the face in the mirror.

Most of us have heard the old saying, “Any time you point the finger at someone, you’ve got 3 fingers pointing back at you.”  You ever wonder why that’s true?  The answer may astound you.  The answer goes far deeper than many of us have ever recognized.

Paul echoes Jesus’ words in Romans 2.  “Therefore, you have no excuse, O human, when you judge another person.  For in passing judgment on them, you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”  When I first read these words long ago, I thought to myself, “How can Paul say this?  How can he claim to know that an accuser is just like the person they accuse?”

            What Jesus and Paul are saying is truer than we realize.  Each of us has what is called a “shadow”, a side of ourselves that we despise.  When we condemn or criticize a person, we are often reacting to evils that are much like our own.  We can see our own blind spots in that other person, and we don’t like what we see.

            It’s a fact.  The traits we condemn most passionately in others, are usually part of our own personality as well.  When we see them, they trigger a reaction of condemnation, and yet (whether we realize it or not) we are really condemning ourselves.

            Sometimes we find this news hard to swallow.  We say, “No!  That’s not me!  I’m not like that person I can’t stand!”  Don’t be so sure.  Maybe we aren’t exactly like that person we condemn, on the surface.  But perhaps their behavior strikes a chord in us by reminding us of unpleasant tendencies that we have beaten down for the moment.  We may get irritated when we see laziness.  Why?  Maybe we secretly wish that we could get away with being lazy, a tendency we may try to avoid by working ourselves to death, trying to deny that undesirable trait inside us.

            Most of us have a lot in common with the person we wish to condemn.  I can’t stand people who hog conversations, who are crabby and complaining, pushy and domineering.  They are too much like me for comfort.  People who are too much alike tend to drive each other crazy.  That’s why people tend to marry opposites.

            Let’s look at a few more examples.  Think of the perfectionist, the overbearing critic who makes life miserable for any employee or family member who makes a mistake.  Often such a person is angry with themselves for their own lack of perfection.  The folks who condemn discrimination and intolerance the loudest, tend to be just as intolerant toward people they don’t like as the people they condemn are.  And they are usually totally blind to their own intolerance.

            We abhor violence.  But how many of us have never had to resist the urge to punch someone who deserved it?  If we haven’t, maybe we just haven’t been pushed hard enough.  When Corrie ten Boom was angry at the Nazis, she was warned, “Remember, there’s a Nazi in you.”  Some people condemn the rich for ripping off the poor, but if they look inside, they may find the same greed, the same tight-fisted attitude toward hiring help or buying goods at the store.

What angers us about a ruthless tyrant?  How many of us don’t wish down inside that we could be a ruthless tyrant and get away with it?  Is there a little bit of tyrant in us?

Why is it so hard to admit that we are much like the people we condemn?  The answer is a defense mechanism called denial.  We can’t admit the plain truth about ourselves.  We can’t see ourselves the way that others see us.  We have a mental block to protect us from truth that is too painful to believe.  In the abstract, we all know we’re not perfect, but the thought of some sins or weaknesses is so repugnant that if we find any traces of such tendencies in our own hearts, we push them completely out of sight.

Jesus says we can’t see the truth about ourselves well enough to condemn anyone else.  We try to take the speck out of our neighbor’s eye, but we can’t see well enough to do so because we have a log of denial in our own.

Sometimes the person who tries to be perfect and deny the evil inside them, does it so effectively that the results are explosive.  William Miller observes that some kids so totally repress their badness that they appear to be absolute angels.  They can become so blind to the evil boiling up inside them, that they can end up shocking their community by acts of murder or violence.  “Look out for the anger of a quiet person!”

See how dangerous it can be when a person denies or loses sight of the worst side of themselves.  Such a person becomes a victim of forces they can’t even see.  Their life is ruled by desires and weaknesses they are totally blind to.  Denial is what gives our negative side its power over our lives.  Confession is what breaks that power of denial.  We need to bring our worst side out into the light where we can deal with it.  Only when we remove that log of self-deception from our own eye can we see clearly enough to manage our own life, before we try to take the speck out of anyone else’s eye.

What is the shadow that you despise within yourself?  What is that negative quality that ticks you off when you see it in someone else?  Is it violence?  Is it out-of-control sexuality?  Is it crabbiness or complaining?  Is it pushiness, or stubbornness, or impatience?  Is it the tendency to control or manipulate?  Is it dishonesty or greed?  What do we see in other people, that drives us up the wall?  And could it be that we are more like them than we are willing to confess?

We are who we are.  We can’t afford to deny the unpleasant side of ourselves, nor do we dare surrender to its impulses.  We must own up to who we are, the good and the bad parts alike.  That’s the only way to keep our blind spots from blindsiding us.

Only if we start with an acute awareness of our own faults, can we treat others who sin with the compassion that God requires.  Only if we start by facing the honest truth about ourselves, can we correct our neighbors without condemnation, without a holier-than-thou attitude.  We don’t want to be the self-righteous “moral police officer” who is all too eager to straighten out everyone else’s life.  We need to concentrate on improving ourselves first and foremost, getting rid of our own self-deception.

Life requires judgment.  None of us wants to be guilty of bad judgment, or lack of judgment.  That’s the point.  Our judgment can often be mistaken.  Even the best of us has distorted moral vision.  We have blind spots.  We have logs of denial blocking our view. None of us is morally qualified to play God.  But the fact that none of us is without sin does not mean that no one has the right or responsiblity to take action against evil.  It does mean that we will pay the price when we fail to fix our own faults first.

Jesus and Paul are right.  Whenever we condemn others, we are usually condemning ourselves.  The sins we react so strongly against in others, are usually faults that are also buried deep within us.  We see our own unpleasant side in the mirror, and we don’t like what we see.  We need to get the log out of our own eye, the log of our own self-deception, so that we can correct our neighbors with gentleness and grace.  Let’s get a grip on those parts of our personality that we despise.  Only then will we be able to treat the people we condemn with the understanding that our Lord requires.

Let us pray.  Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear.  Help us to recognize those hard-to-love traits in others that are really reflections of ourselves.  And help us to deal with those we would condemn with gentleness and with grace.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen. 

 

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