Judge not, that you be not judged.~ Jesus
Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
We all do it. We label other. I’ve done it. I’ve had it done to me. As a pastor, I get labeled more often than most because my role necessitates that I inform and lead. And when you do that you will inevitably be labeled.
When I was returning to my home state to pastor a mountain church someone in authority in our state asked my father, “Is Joe a liberal?”
Recently a person indicated that I was flirting with New Age doctrine because of my choice of authors and mentors. Another person said that I couldn’t be a Christian if I voted for a Democrat. Another person said I had no right having an opinion about the morality of another person because of my past history.
We play the game of labeling as if it were our favorite indoor sport.
How do you play?
First, find something you don’t like about the person. That’s not hard to do since most people are much more demanding of others than themselves. This can be anything from style of worship, to the way they dress, or even their doctrine. (non-essential doctrines.)
Second, trust only in what you see on the outside. This is an essential requirement since you can’t see what is on the inside of a person’s heart.
Next, form a censorious and critical opinion about the person.
After that, jump to several inaccurate conclusions. This follows naturally, because there is always an inability to know all the facts.
Then, mentally slap a label on the person in question. That saves time…keeps you from having to verify all the details and actually have a conversation with the person.
Lastly, freely share all your findings and identifying labels with others, by sharing prayer requests so others can “pray more intelligently.” And if you can’t wait for prayers meeting at church then just go ahead and share in on Social Media.
Actually, there is another name for the game. It doesn’t sound nearly as nice or inviting, but it is the term Jesus used in his mountain message: judging.
Jesus said we would be wise to not judge. That if we do we will get what we give. I’ve thought a lot about what judging is and is not.
Judging is not making an observation about the rightness or wrongness of someone’s behavior. Police officers, teachers and a whole host of other professions must do that. Neither is it “judging” when one holds someone accountable for violating basic human decorum. When special counsel to the Army Joseph Welch confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy in a congressional hearing he famously said, “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
Judging happens when, in my mind or my words, what a person does or says becomes who they are. When their behavior becomes their identity—I have judged them.
That is something a Christ follower cannot afford to do. And the reason is because it affects how we interact with them. We will not sufficiently pray God’s favor on someone we’ve judged. We won’t consistently sew seeds of love and kindness to someone we have judged. We won’t be as quick to show compassion on or mercy towards someone we have judged. We won’t give them the benefit of the doubt. We will, from the moment the judging begins, forever leap to conclusions about them that may or may not be founded in reality. That is called pre-judging. And it is the basis of that hideous problem of prejudice.
How do we stop the game of labeling? Because the game can become addictive. In fact, judging can become such a habit we hardly know we are doing it. But that neither excuses it nor removes the consequences. Here are four suggestions that may help you as much as they have helped me.
- Examine yourself before being tempted to inspect others. Self-examination does wonders when we are tempted to find fault. Have I remembered that I am so bad that Christ had to die for me—me, The Judge?
- Confess your faults before confronting another. It brings humility to the surface, and humble, gentle confronters are the best confronters.
- Try to understand the other person’s struggle. Why are they behaving the way they are behaving? What is going on in their soul? Have I remembered they are so loved by God that Christ was glad to die for them—them, The Sinner?
- Remember, the goal is restoration, not probation. I wish there was a support group in the Church called “Doctrine-police-judgers-gossipers-critics-anonymous.” It would be a great place for folks to go who cannot control the urge to judge…to malign…to put labels on those with whom they disagree.
The game goes on. Let’s Label is still a favorite among many who call themselves followers of Christ. Judging continues in the name of Jesus, even though He is the One to commanded that we stop it.
But, I intend to–by God’s grace, I intend to.