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Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God - Romans 14:10 (NLT)
I’m not a Southerner. I grew up in New York State and lived my first post-college decade in Michigan. When I moved to Kentucky in 2011, it didn’t take long to figure out that things are just a little bit different down in these here parts. Prior to moving, my wife and I were riding around Winchester with our realtor when she remarked to us in her slow, thick southern drawl, “Y’all tawlk reeeeaaal fay-yast.” That was my first clue that life in the South would involve a bit of a culture shock for us.
A year or so later we were sitting in our living room with a small group from our church talking about the Bible study of the week. I made a comment that highlighted my naivete about some kind of cultural understanding, and one of the wonderful ladies in the group smiled and said, “Oh, bless your heart.” In that moment I suddenly discovered something I had never known before: “Bless your heart,” is not, as I in my Northernness had previously assumed, a compliment or genuine prayer of compassion. It is, at best, a knowing joke about a person’s ineptitude or shortcomings, and, at worst, a deliberate and condescending jibe.
While the phrase itself is often used harmlessly and jestfully among friends the nature of judgement still rings true. The writer of the letter to the Roman church reminds us that all of us are equal before the throne of God, and every knee will bow to Him. “Why do you look down on another believer?” he asks. The exhortation of Scripture is that, as believers, we should live in such a way that we spur one another on to love and good works. This rarely happens by means of backhanded comments.
The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart - 1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)
“1984 called. They want their haircut back!” I still remember that insult to this day. While I can’t recall the exact circumstances surrounding those words, I do remember laughing at the obvious burn, grateful that the excoriation was not directed towards me. Some poor boy in my school was being picked on for not living up to the accepted cultural norms of dress and appearance, and as a result was subjected to mockery.
Criticizing someone based on what is easily visible is, in many ways, reaching for the low-hanging fruit of self-righteousness. It’s a game of insecurity and identity, whereby we try to validate ourselves—our worth, our popularity, and, often, our righteousness—by comparison and by exalting ourselves over another.
When the Lord tasked the prophet Samuel with anointing the new king of Israel, his initial reaction was to look at the strongest, most physically impressive young man as an obvious choice for leadership. But the Lord reminded Samuel that He does not judge by outward appearance, but according to the heart. Jesus echoes the sentiment, referring to hypocrites as whitewashed tombs whose spotless exteriors are nothing more than a facade covering up a lifeless inner life.
It’s all too easy to judge those around us from a distance. We quickly paint them into a box based on the most obvious things we see, opting for the ease of characterization as opposed to the hard work of relationship and intimacy. Clearly, and thankfully, this is not how God operates. If it were so, Jesus would say to me, “1994 called. They want you punished for the way you bullied your classmates.” Instead he says, “30 B.C. called. They want you to be forgiven, even though you don’t even know the extent of your own sin.”
The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged - Matthew 7:2b (NLT)
I hate going to the doctor’s office. It’s not that I don’t like getting help for physical ailments. I’m not the type of person who is too proud or stubborn to seek medical attention when it is needed. I just hate it when they check all my vitals and make me stand on the scale to measure my weight. I’ve been trying to be mindful of my weight for a few years now. And here’s the thing: I lose 10-15 pounds almost every year, and then I gain it all back again. I can fluctuate as much as plus or minus 5 pounds on any given day. I’ve got a target weight that I’m trying to reach, and it’s slow progress.
Without fail, the scales in the doctors’ offices are far more harsh than my own. It doesn’t matter what kind of doctor I’m seeing, the results are always demoralizing. I can feel good about my progress when I weigh in at home, but a quick visit to the doctor will tell me I’m a full eight pounds heavier than I thought. It’s just dumb. I wonder, do doctors weigh themselves at the office or at home?
Jesus cautions us about being too harsh in our judgements of one another: “The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” I don’t know about you, but if given a choice I’d much rather be weighed by my scale at home where I know I’ll receive up to eight pounds of grace. I should be careful, then, not to expect everyone else to measure themselves by the more stringent and sterile standards at the doctor’s office.
One way to become more gracious towards others in our judgements is by simply getting to know them. We can only do that be intentionally living in community with one another. It’s not too late to join a Southland Group for the summer!Share Tweet
“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” - Matthew 7:3 (NLT)
NBC’s hit sitcom The Office took off in 2005 behind Steve Carell’s character, Michael Scott. As obnoxious as he was lovable, Michael Scott managed to be both endearing and repulsive. He notoriously lacked both social intelligence and self-awareness and was a constant source of offense to those around him. In the second episode of the series, Michael Scott offends his coworkers with a recitation of an off-color comedy routine. As a result, the office as a whole is forced to undergo a “diversity day” to receive sensitivity training. In his usual style, Michael hijacks the meeting, berates his coworkers for their lack of cultural sensitivity, and then ultimately offends one of his own employees with a callous racial slur. Episode after episode, season after season, Michael Scott finds ways to criticize and demoralize those around him while remaining woefully unaware of his own harmful shortcomings.
“Don’t be like Michael Scott,” Jesus says. That’s a paraphrase, obviously, but the point remains. Don’t worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own. Even the most well-meaning “constructive criticism” can come across as harmful or hypocritical if not given with a healthy dose of humility and self-reflection. As in all things, Jesus is first and foremost concerned that we consider our own hearts. The work of transformation begins within us, and it is a work that takes a lifetime. Knowing our own need for grace should make us slow to focus our judgements on others. In fact, the implication is that if we are more focused on ensuring that others line up to our expectations than we are repenting and seeking freedom from our own sin, we may just have missed the point altogether.
Is there a plank in your eye that has been hard to get out? Use the “need help” page on our website to request prayer or counseling services.Share Tweet
Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them - Ephesians 4:29 (NLT)
A truth I’ve had to reckon with in recent years is that sarcasm is not a spiritual gift. This realization came as a pretty sharp blow to my repertoire. Having a sharp wit is, in most cases, a personality trait that serves me well, and I have always been one to lighten the mood. Yet I’ve discovered over the years that what matters most isn’t the ability to make people laugh; far better to help them find joy. Often, the kind of humor that wraps itself in sarcasm is little more than a tool for expressing veiled criticism. More than once I’ve had to apologize for comments that, though intended to be lighthearted, came across as condescending or judgemental.
Joy is a fruit of the spirit, sarcasm is not. Exhortation is spiritual gift, criticism is not.
Paul encourages believers in the Ephesian church to build each other up in love. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
There is a place for challenging one another towards righteousness. Always, however, such exhortations should be aimed at building up rather than tearing down. The church is not meant to be a place where we subtly poke jabs at one another while putting on airs of propriety. Rather, we should desire our words to be “good and helpful, so that [our] words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Verbal hugs, not jabs. That should be our aim