[Jesus taught] “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.
[From 1st Corinthians] It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.”
Today, we are looking at the 2nd highest negative perceptions of Christians: we are judgmental. We point out faults and wrongs in other people’s lives, making others feel put down, excluded and marginalized. Instead of trying to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, to see it from their perspective, we compare ourselves to them, think and come up with a list of reasons as to why we are better than they are. All of us, Christian or otherwise, have the capacity to judge others, to put others down to make ourselves feel better.
Sometimes, in a worship service, you will hear testimonies of how God has moved in a person’s life but today you are not going to hear that. Today, you are going to hear Charity and I share with you a confession of the last time we judged other people. I’ll go first and then you can hear from Charity.
As a United Methodist pastor, each year we are reassigned to pastoral positions, much like the Catholic Church moves their priests and in some respects how the military works. So every year I get e-mails and hear reports of pastors that are moving from here to there. I very much respect and pray for the group of people who literally has to discern and to some degree judge what pastors need to go where. That is an incredibly difficult job!
But it is very hard to not play the judging game, especially for us pastors just watching on the sidelines, being armchair coaches: oh that was a dumb call; why did they move that person there? Or why didn’t I get to go there? Well I’m not going to be happy about that because I don’t agree. It doesn’t matter if we don’t have the whole picture; we know best because I know I am the best judge! Yes, pastors have the same capacity to judge as everyone else. *Charity’s story
You may have heard the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner,” one of those Christian clichés I love. Well, when young adult outsiders here that, this is what they think: “Christians talk about hating sin and loving sinners, but the way they go about things, they might as well call it what it is. They hate the sin and the sinner.”
Today, we are going to explore two Scriptures that seem to contradict each other. One, Jesus speaks, and tells us that we are not to judge. We are especially not to judge when we have the same struggle, the same issues, that we are calling out. The second passage tells us we are expected to judge those inside the church and hold them to a standard, even to the point of Paul quoting another passage that says “you must remove the evil person from among you.” Seems kind of contradictory doesn’t it? Well, let’s see if we can clear it up.
To explore Jesus’ notion of not judging other people, we are going to walk-through one of my favorite stories of John, the woman caught in the act of adultery. This story in John is fascinating for a number of reasons. The first being most scholars believe it was not originally a part of the book of John. All of the earliest manuscripts we have do not include this story we are about to explore. It is more or less a given that it was a later addition. If you open your Bible to this story, all of the most current translations will give you a footnote that says not in the earliest manuscripts.
At the same time, most scholars likely believe this incident happened. There is a passage in John that speaks about more stories and teachings that could fit into this Gospel. Paper was very rare and expensive in the 1st century so they had to be selective about the stories they wrote. You can be the judge (pun intended) to see if it jives with what you’ve heard and read about the way Jesus reacts. I most certainly think it does. Here we go.
Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd (John 8:1-3 NLT).
Jesus is teaching to a crowd of folks, likely a mix of those who fully follow him, some curious folks, and likely some skeptics. Sound any different than any worship service you might attend? While he was teaching, we do not know what, some other religious folk bring a woman caught in the very act of adultery and impose themselves upon Jesus’ time of teaching with the crowd.
Did you catch that? Caught in the very act of adultery meaning she was caught either having sex with a married man or in some other very obvious way. We all know it takes two to commit adultery so where is the man? Some conspiracy theorists think this was all a setup by the religious leaders, to trap Jesus. Now I’m not one who likes to subscribe to conspiracies but the text does tell you it was a trap so who knows.
So if they were caught in the midst of adultery, is she currently standing in front of all those people naked? What is this woman going through? She could be struggling with some serious relationship issues, so desiring a meaningful relationship but only knowing how to get a man with her physical body. Friends, every lust is a perversion of a good desire. The desire for relationship, for connection, is a good and healthy desire but it becomes sin when we take it from someone else’s marriage covenant. Every lust is a perversion of a good desire.
When I go through this story I find myself absolutely despising the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and wait for them to get their dues. Notice how I just passed judgment on them. The story continues.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger (John 8:4-6).
Jesus not only teaches us in this passage how to control our judgmental natures but also how to deal with mob mentality. Remember he has a crowd ready to stone this woman and another crowd with a few folks that will likely join in. Instead of immediately flying off the handle, he takes a moment, pauses, and not only check’s his emotions but gives time for the crowd to check their emotions as well.
Whenever we are tempted to pass judgment on someone else, we need to assess the situation and ask ourselves: what is our motivation? Why do we want to pass judgment or give advice to this friend of ours? In this story we know the religious leaders are motivated to catch Jesus in a trap to find some reason to get him thrown in prison, if not executed.
If we are motivated to give someone advice because we honestly and truly believe their relationship with God will benefit, with no side motivation for our own benefit, that becomes a Christian motive. If we are trying to better ourselves by proving we are better than they are, that is an unchristian motivation and we are no better than the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. You know what that difference is, you know what it feels like if you’ve ever been called to account on some action or decision you made. The conversation feels and is different.
I have a few close friends whom I deeply respect that are free to call things as they see them, to call each other out on behavior that may seem suspect. We have a very long friendship, going back years upon years, and it is only based upon that long-term relationship that we call each other to account. I hope that in your Christian journey, at some point, you will have the same kind of friendships with people that call you out when you do something foolish.
Let’s see how Jesus responds to this woman and the crowd.
They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust (John 8:7-8).
Jesus response here, to throw the stone if you’ve never sinned, reminds me of the passage read earlier. In that section of Matthew, Jesus reminds us to deal with our own planks, our own sins, before we start calling out specks of sin in other people. It is so easy to see problems, issues, and sin in someone else’s life and forget to look in the mirror to see it in your own. And I love how he ends the passage in Matthew: First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye (Matthew 7:5).
Let me explain to you how I think this works. Let’s say you call out a friend for eating too much and in fact you eat too much as well. You are calling out your own log in their life. Well, let’s say you start working out, eating better, and find it is quite difficult to work the program and the changes in your life. Are you going to be more or less compassionate with your friend who you called out on eating poorly? More, hopefully! If we actually deal with issues in our own lives first, if we deal with the planks or logs instead of projecting & judging them on others, I think we will make the move from armchair justices to compassionate companions.
Jesus challenged the crowd to move from the armchair, throwing out the gauntlet of compassion. Let’s see what happens.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more” (John 8:9-11).
I love the fact the oldest accusers slipped away first. The wisdom that comes with age said “of course I’ve sinned; who am I to say this woman should be killed for her sin since I have committed so many in my life and those did not lead to my death.” Don’t lose the irony in this moment: the only person who meets the criteria of never having sinned is Jesus. The only person justified to throw a stone at this woman is the man who said “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I really do love Jesus’ style.
All the other accusers follow suit and only Jesus, the woman, and the crowd interested in Jesus’ teachings remains. He has successfully assessed the situation, discerned the motivations of the religious leaders, and literally saved the life of this woman now standing in front of him. What does he say next?
Notice, he does not approve of her behavior but instead tells her to go, free of any condemnation, any punishment, and to sin no more. Yes, adultery is a sin, he tells her such but does so in a manner that shows both grace and love.
I think this is where the passage from 1st Corinthians can make sense. Here it is one more time: It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you” (1st Corinthians 5:12-13). Did you catch it is not the Christians job, not our job to judge those outside the church? The Bible tells us over and over again God is the ultimate judge, God is the one who will be the ultimate justice over all humanity.
We as Christians are expected though to live in the way Jesus taught us. We are expected, using words that can come off harsh, judge those of us who say we follow Jesus. But we are to judge in the way Jesus describes, as a people who sin just like everyone else, a people who struggle with all kinds of issues, a people that should hold each other up as compassionate companions, not as armchair justices. We are to show grace and to share truth with each other.
Why does Jesus make this so hard? Why can’t we live accepting all behaviors, all grace or hold everyone to the letter of the law, all truth? Because we grow living in the tension. We grow as we are stretched to live in the way Jesus taught, that leads to the best, full life here and now and in the life to come. The world is not nice little black and white categories as we would have it; we need to live in the tension where we grow and where God does the best work in us.
Remember, when you are tempted to give advice or pass judgment on someone, ask yourself: what is your motivation? Why do you want to give advice? If you have a solid relationship with the person and honestly have nothing to gain, then share it as a compassionate companion on our journey together. Otherwise, lock it up.
And, when we all fall into a judgmental attitude, not accepting other people with flaws and faults, may we remember these words from C.S. Lewis: “There I someone I love, even thought I don’t approve of what he does. There is someone I accept, though some of his thoughts and actions revolt me. There is someone I forgive, though he hurts the people I love the most. That person is me.”
Let’s pray together…