Ever wish you could gather up everyone in front of whom you had made a particular mistake, explain the error of your reasoning at the time, teach them what you’ve learned since then, and then apologize and make things right?
Yeah, me, too, but there’s no way to do that, and even if we could round up a first generation audience, we couldn’t possibly collect all the people who might have been impacted by the ones who chose to quote or imitate us.
Regrettably, once a deed is done, an attitude is expressed, or a word is spoken, it is gone from us, as untraceable and almost as irreversible as the wind.
Even so, God forgives, and when we know better, we can do better. This being true, here are a few things God has brought to my attention recently about judging others.
We don’t get to. Judging others is neither our chore nor our privilege. Why? Well, besides the fact that God tells us not to (Matthew 7:1), we just aren’t qualified! We don’t know everything, we don’t see everything, and even if we did, we still don’t understand everything we know and see. We don’t always know what’s right or best, we aren’t fair (even if we think we are), and we have a tendency to measure others against ourselves, a skewed standard at best.
God, on the other hand, is everything we are not and has the authority we lack. He is the standard. That’s why He gets to judge (1 Peter 4:5).
We’re just servants. It’s our job to discern what’s right and wrong according to God’s Word with the Holy Spirit’s help so we can live by that truth and do a better job of showing people Who He is for their good and His glory, but it is not our job to manage the spiritual lives of others.
Yes, we are commanded to speak the truth. Yes, we are commanded to encourage one another, which sometimes involves gentle correction. Yes, we are commanded to warn those who are headed toward destruction. However, all of this is supposed to be done in love with humility, not in anger or with arrogance, and that’s as far as our responsibility extends, folks!
It’s not our job to make anyone say, do, or believe anything—God doesn’t even do that. The Holy Spirit draws (John 6:44-45; Revelation 3:20). He doesn’t force.
It’s not our job to try and figure out where people stand with God beyond what He prescribes for seeing to the health of the Church and the safety and protection of those who need it (1 Corinthians 5)—only God knows people’s hearts.
And it’s not our job to decide what God should do with people, who are no better or worse than any of the rest of us (Romans 3:23). He’s already decided. Instead of abandoning us to the consequences of our sin (the things in our lives that don’t match His will and character and so cause us to be separated from holy God, Who is unable to be around what is unholy), God sent His own Son Jesus to make forgiveness and rescue available to every single one of us through His death and resurrection. The only people who will spend eternity paying for their own sin are those who refuse to let Jesus do it for them (John 3:18).
God is just, yes, but He is also gracious and merciful. If He is neither eager to punish nor willing to abandon people to condemnation (Ezekiel 18:23; John 3:16), then why in the world are we so quick to do it?
Labeling is judging. There is a big difference between saying things like “so-and-so said this” or “so-and-so did that” and saying things like “so-and-so is a real (insert noun)” or “so-and-so is so (insert adjective).” If true, the first two are statements of fact. Even if true to some degree, the second two are statements of personal opinion that carry with them a weight of implied assumption. They are labels, and labels are judgments.
To label someone is to strip them of their God-given individuality and ignore the complexities of their experience, the nuances of their personality and makeup, and the layers of motivation behind their actions, thereby sentencing them to whatever level of regard and sort of treatment we feel is appropriate for the category into which we’ve dropped them with little to no hope of acquittal.
Labeling is an attempt to reduce someone over whom we were never meant to have power down to something we can control and respond to in a way that makes us feel better about ourselves, our actions, and the way we see the world. But that’s not the point of our interaction with one another. The point of every relationship that God has allowed into our lives is His glorification—not ours, not theirs, but God’s and God’s alone.
Because God is the only One Who knows how His glory is best served, we must learn to keep our hands off what was never ours to touch, see people as God sees them, and stick to the role we were assigned: Ambassador, or representative, of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), Who, incidentally, did have the power to judge, but came to serve instead (John 5:22; John 3:17; Matthew 20:28).
All this being true, words that assume, reduce, lump, dehumanize, dismiss, accuse, blame, condemn, etc. have no place in a Christian’s vocabulary. They should not be used, even if the person being discussed doesn’t mind—after all, there is a greater audience to consider. If a word with the potential to incite must be used simply because there is no other word for the concept being communicated, it should be used with caution and compassion and not weaponized.
Remember, people are uniquely designed bearers of God’s image, not characters in our personal dramas, pawns, foes to be conquered (Ephesians 6:12), or obstacles to be overcome, and they have names. Using those names and other words that remind us of their humanity out of respect for them and the God Who made them keeps us focused on our God-given mission instead of our personal agendas.
When we judge others, we demonstrate lack of faith in God and condemn ourselves. If God can turn Saul, an egomaniacal murderer of God’s children, into Paul, a faithful servant of God’s Kingdom, He can turn anybody into anything, no matter how resistant they seem to be at present. The transformation may not happen when or how we want or expect it to, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening or won’t happen at some point.
When we judge a person by labeling them, trying to coerce them into a decision or behavior, or giving them the false impression that God is against them, we not only stand guilty of challenging God’s authority over that person’s life, but we also communicate a serious lack of faith in His power to do the impossible (Matthew 19:26), both undermining His purposes and revealing our own spiritual immaturity.
Add to all this the fact that we tend to notice in others the faults we ourselves possess, and choosing not to judge others suddenly becomes the best thing we can do not only for their sake, but also for our own, lest we show the world how dark our hearts would truly be without Christ.
Well, there it is. I hope it helps.
I just figured if I needed reminding, you might, too.