In the first chapter of the book of James, we read, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (vv19-20, NIV) A corollary outworking of James’s logic might be, “In the same way, everyone should be slow to judge, knowing that human judgment is hampered by limited knowledge, biased emotions, and sin-stained thinking.”
It seems that Christians are often confused when it comes the idea of judging, and the watching world is often misled by our lack of understanding. To be sure, those without Christ cannot rightly comprehend the truth of Christ, which is spiritually discerned, but we often leave them with an unclear picture of what God expects of us, because we don’t clearly grasp it ourselves.
Much ado is regularly made about the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1 (seemingly always quoted in the King James Version): Judge not, lest ye be judged—surely a contender for “most misused Bible verse”. This injunction is very often used to assert that Christians are never to judge anyone or anything…never to point out sin at all, because (as the logic tends go) we are all sinners, so we have no business criticizing. Such an approach neglects the rest of the Bible, including Jesus’ own words, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24, NIV)
Even in the same Matthew 7 conversation in which Jesus tells us not to judge, he points out that we must take the metaphorical log out of our own eye in order to rightly point out the sin our brother may be struggling with. (vv3-5) In other words, there is a righteous, helpful, loving way to “judge” as we deal with one another.
The difficultly we tend to run into, which Jesus addresses here and Paul addresses in Romans 2, is our tendency to judge rashly and wrongly. We view others through imperfect lenses, darkened by our own imperfect knowledge, colored by our imperfect biases, and distorted by our sin-corrupted and imperfect thinking. As sinful human beings, even our best motives are flawed because we are shaped by the sin that surrounds us (1 Corinthians 15:33) and continues even to live in us (Romans 7:17). For this very reason, human anger does not and cannot bring about the righteous life that God requires of us.
It is not that speaking is wrong or anger is wrong or judging is wrong. The issue for us as sinful, flawed human beings is that we tend to jump to these things quickly and from impulses driven more by the world, the flesh, and the devil than by listening to the Spirit of God according to the Word of God. The immediacy of our age and the impact of such influences as social media exacerbate the problem. As a society, we tend to feel that we must always have an opinion and express it publicly, emphatically, and quickly. We are people of the “hot take”. We must learn to slow down—to be slow to judge—and to become people of grace, even as we remain unbendingly committed to God’s truth.
Grace and truth…Jesus Christ was, is, and ever shall be the utter fullness of both. As those who belong to Him, we must stand firmly for the truth of God’s holy, authoritative, and unchanging Word even as we give extravagant grace to those who fail to live up to that standard—just as Jesus did and does for us. May we learn more and more to slow down, judge rightly, and live graciously as we reflect the reality of Christ through relationships.