When you study to be an educator, you have to spend a certain number of hours as a student teacher, under the guidance of a veteran teacher. I remember my cooperating teacher telling me one of my strengths was that I took criticism well and was very open to it. I was shocked to hear this! I wanted to tell him he was crazy and that I hate criticism! But I was also well aware that he was the master and I was the apprentice and that it was his responsibility to help me to be the best teacher I could be. So I needed his criticism. (And I received a lot of it!) Whenever he gave me feedback, positive or negative, it wasn’t intended to stroke my ego or hurt my feelings. It was so I can learn and improve, to keep doing the good and to change the bad.
The same goes for many other things, such as sports. Athletes have coaches that train and guide. But what about normal, everyday life? That’s when we want people to leave us alone. Don’t tell me how to live. Don’t judge me.
That’s the defense mechanism of our generation: “Don’t judge me!” But did you ever ask “Why not?” You may get the response: “Jesus says so” (from a defensive Christian, anyway). And they’re probably referring to Matthew 7:1, which begins: “Do not judge.” But that’s only the first three words of a complete thought:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:1-6 NIV)
Jesus’ point is not not to judge (note the double negative). It’s “Don’t be a hypocrite!” Verse 5 commands us to clean up our own junk, then to help clean up your friends’. He’s stating the obvious, that when you criticize people, they will turn around and criticize you back. So make sure your closet is clean first! And how do you know who the “dogs” and “pigs” are (v. 6)? Wouldn’t you have to judge them?
And then there is John 7:24: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Here Jesus is differentiating between proper and improper judgement. But he still commands to judge!
The reason for many of Paul’s letters is to correct some kind of nonsense going on in a church. In 1 Corinthians 5, he writes angrily that the church is not judging sin in their midst (and it’s quite the sin – go read it!). In verse 12, he rhetorically asks “Are you not to judge those inside [the church]?” And in the following verse, he plainly states to remove the “wicked person” from their midst. Here Paul is criticizing the church for not judging when they should have, even to the extent of excommunicating an unrepentant church member.
Maybe we just don’t like the word “judge.” It sounds so, well, judgmental. But there are plenty of similar words used throughout the Bible: discern, correct, rebuke, admonish, reprove, etc. Here are some examples:
- Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid (Proverbs 12:1).
- Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts (Colossians 3:16).
- Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2).
It’s clear that one of the reasons why we have a community of believers is so we can help each other grow spiritually. Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4:11-16 that God has provided leaders whose responsibility is “building up the body of Christ” so we can achieve “mature manhood,” no longer thinking and acting like children (or worse – teenagers!). Our ultimate goal is to become like Christ. And this can only happen through instruction and correction by those wiser than we are.
More often than not, the ones who cry “Don’t judge me!” the loudest are the ones who need it the most, whether it’s due to insecurity, pride, or flat-out rebellion. But let us not forget that Jesus was full of truth and grace. We desperately need both in our dealings with our brothers and sisters in Christ, when we give correction as well as when we receive it. It’s never pleasant to hear some hard (but loving) truth, but remember the first half of Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Do we like it? Of course not. But we need it. And more than that, the Bible commands it.