In this sermon series, we are comparing the prevailing wisdom of the world to the way of Christ. So far, this has meant contrasting what Jesus said to what the world says. But in today’s message, we see that sometimes people misuse what Jesus said.
One of my pet-peeves is when people misquote someone on social media. Do you know what I mean? For instance, look at this meme of Abraham Lincoln that says, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet just because there’s a picture with a quote next to it.” Now this humorous meme illustrates a point about something that happens all the time. It’s just too easy to see a sentiment you like that’s been attributed to some famous person and you share it. And because some famous person said it, it must be true. Right? Not really.
A more insidious form of false information is “fake news” where false information presented as “fact” is spread so widely people accept it as truth. We are overwhelmed with so much information, who has the time to check every source and verify all the information we receive? And so fake news is passed along and goes viral until everyone believes it's true.
Many people misuse Jesus’ words. I will never forget being a young pastor of a small church in Griffin when a lady stopped by seeking assistance with her rent. She told me a story of how she was down on her luck and needed some help. Well, we were a small church with a very small budget. We didn’t have the funds to help her, but my church treasurer worked at the local Salvation Army. I told the lady my church couldn’t help her, but I had a contact at the Salvation Army who could probably help her. I was in the process of calling my member to get her to help when the lady I was trying to help flew off the handle and stormed out the door shouting, “Jesus said do not judge!”
Well, I wasn’t judging her. I was trying to help her and probably could have if she hadn’t stormed out of my church in a rage while misquoting Jesus. Jesus did say, “Do not judge,” but it doesn’t mean what this lady thought it meant and it doesn’t mean what most people in our world think either. So let’s take a look at two things Jesus said.Matthew 7:1 & 12:33
7:1 – “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.”
12:33 – “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.”
In Matthew 7:1, Jesus is preaching against being judgmental. Being judgmental is rushing to judgment without reason. It describes someone who forms a lot of harsh, critical opinions about many people. It describes the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who tried so hard to follow the Torah perfectly and criticized anyone who didn’t live up to their standards. Their judgements revealed their lack of love and compassion for people. They saw themselves as better than everyone else. Jesus preached: Don’t be like that. Don’t be judgmental. If you spend all your time pointing out everyone else’s problems, you won’t take a good hard look at yourself and see all your own flaws for which you desperately need forgiveness and healing.
We live in a world that holds two values in the highest esteem—freedom and tolerance. First of all, we value freedom. I mean, this is America, right? We can live however we want. Furthermore, this is the 21st century. Most people don’t want to confine themselves to what they consider outdated moral constructs of the past. We are modern people who live modern lives. We don’t want anyone telling us the way we live is wrong. That's the prevailing attitude of our times.
Second, we value tolerance, because there are so many difference people living different ways by different moral standards. Who is to say who is really right and wrong? So, we must learn tolerance. We say, "I’ll let you be you and you let me be me." Ironically, the people who preach tolerance the most can be some of the most intolerant people you will find. They preach tolerance of their own behavior when it offends moral standards they consider outdated, but they want to “cancel” anyone who doesn’t live up to their own “new” moral expectations. Tolerance, in our times, is a one way street.
So, people take Jesus’ command not to be judgmental and make it, “Don’t judge me!” That’s not what Jesus meant. Jesus never expected people give up on thinking critically about what is right and wrong. Furthermore, he even taught that we should look at the way people live and make informed judgments about whether it is good or bad. Since Christians live together in community, we are supposed to hold one another accountable. This important work requires us to use good judgment and even tell one another when we see behavior that is unhealthy.
In Matthew 12:33, Jesus teaches, “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.” Now, Jesus is not really talking about fruit trees. He’s using an illustration. He’s saying, look at the results of a person’s life. Has their work produced good or bad results? Have they made the world a better place or is the fruit of their life all rotten?
Jesus expects you to use good judgment. Don’t ever let someone bully you by throwing a misquote of Jesus up in your face. Don’t ever feel guilty for using the brain God gave you to judge for yourself about a person or situation. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all you mind, and all your strength. So use your mind. And of course, you want to avoid a judgmental attitude where you think of yourself as better than someone else. But you still need to make a good, informed decisions.
Don’t try to deny others the freedom to judge you either—especially when you know them to have your best interest at heart. Isn’t it interesting, we usually want to throw around Jesus’ words “do not judge” when we ourselves are feeling judged? Someone says something we perceive as judging us and we immediately want to retort back “Don’t judge me!”
Really? Do you really want to deny others the permission to help you? You know, sometimes people see things about you that you can’t see about yourself. If you are a Christian, you have committed your life to follow Jesus—in community with other Christians who are there to help you and you are there to help them. Part of the way we help each other is by seeing each other’s flaws and (not being judgmental, but) speaking the truth in love. Are you open to letting someone else tell you a hard truth? Are you able to prayerfully, carefully, and lovingly tell someone else the truth in a non-judgmental way?
Do you have the kind of close relationships with other Christians where sharing constructive criticism is even possible. You know, you have to earn the right to share some things with people. You don't just go up to a stranger on the street and start telling them all about their flaws. You wouldn't want someone you don't know and trust to do that to you either. So, you have to spend time getting to know people and tending the relationship ad building trust to the point that you can give and receive some deep accountability. When you do, they may get mad at you for a day, but that will probably pass and they will receive what you share because of the relationship you have. And the same would be true if a true sister or brother in Christ came to you and told you something your didn't want to hear, but needed to hear.
As we close, I would like to lead you in a meditation to help you consider how you could let go of a judgmental attitude and be open to making the right kinds of judgments according to the Spirit of Christ. So open your heart to God right now as you read.
Ask yourself, do you think you are better than someone else? What about the person who doesn't live the way you think they should live? What about the person who hurt you, betrayed you, or sinned against you? Are you better than them? Are you better than the younger generation (who just doesn't get it because they don't know how life works)? Do you think you are better than the older generation (who have lost touch with the modern world and still believe in outdated ideas)? Are you better than someone else? Who?
I invite you to repent of your feelings of superiority. You are no better than anyone else. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. Take a moment to ask Jesus to forgive you and let go of your judgmental attitudes...
Now, ask God to help you have good judgment. Ask Him for wisdom to be a good judge of character—not as a way to feel superior, but—so you will know who to trust and who to avoid…
Now, ask God to give you humility so you may receive constructive that might help you grow as a person…
Finally, ask God to reveal any ways you may need to share constructive criticism with someone you love…
"Father God in Heaven, thank You for revealing Your truth for us today and for hearing our prayers. Help us to follow the way of Christ that uses good judgment but avoids being judgmental. Help us to have the kinds of deep personal relationships with others that enable us to hold and be held accountable and to grow to become more and more like Christ, Your perfect Son. In His name we pray, amen."