Matthew 7:1-5 (New International Version)
“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.”
Proverbs 27:6 (King James Version)
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”
The first verse of the Matthew passage above has been quoted by everyone from bank robbers, to politicians, to rap stars as a defense for immoral behavior. “Only God can judge me,” is a sentence that has been worn out from overuse by anyone confronted with their own wrong doing. But as with any quote from scripture, it is imperative that we not take it out of context or review it apart from the rest of scripture.
It is true. It is not our burden to judge another person. We cannot decide a soul’s worth, know its potential, or declare it a lost cause. Those are best left to the One who sees men’s hearts and knows all things everywhere.
But once we have the facts, we can determine whether or not behavior is right or wrong, wise or foolish, justifiable or over the top. In other words, we are allowed to have an opinion. For the believer, that opinion should always be grounded in scripture and spoken only in love. And even though it may not cause us to agree with every other Christian on the planet, or any other Christian period, if we are “working out our salvation with fear and trembling,” the conclusion we reach may not be popular, but it should not violate our conscience either. One of my favorite recent opinions, is that of General Colin Powell on the “Skip” Gates arrest. Clearly Powell did not judge Skip Gates for his behavior during the arrest. In fact, he identified with him. Yet he tactfully and humbly maintained that Professor Gates could have handled the situation better. A simple truth, well said, by a man of dignity. I love it. When I grow up, I want to be like General Powell.
Judgment comes in when you condemn a person for his behavior. I find myself in danger of condemning when I don’t take the time to separate the person’s behavior from the person’s identity. A few years ago, I found out that a really close friend of mine, had been sexually molesting his step-children. The news devastated me. I could not believe that a man I had known for years, who had been a huge support in my life, who helped my family sacrificially, whom I had cried with, confided in, worshiped along side, served with, whom I loved deeply as much as any brother – this man was raping his step-sons.
When he was exposed, he was immediately labeled a pedophile, a child molester, and a fraud. But it pained me that few people remembered that he was also our brother. No doubt, what he had done was vile and disgusting, not to mention detrimental to his victims, his faith community, and himself. Those of us who knew him well are still dealing with the fallout from his dangerous secret. But are we to forget all the good that he has done in our lives? He had been generous to a fault, caring, willing to share wisdom, time, money and resources. During a rough financial time in my life, he had graciously offered my family his entire tax refund check – a sizable amount. The gesture alone brought me to tears.
So which one was he? The pedophile or the generous friend? The truth is, he was both. Although one did not cancel out the other, it did overshadow it. I know that what he did to his step children was sin. I know that his betrayal crippled our community, ended his marriage, and confused us all. The experience carved a divot out of my personality. I am still healing, depending on God to make me whole again in the area of trust. In the meantime, I have forgiven him. On occasion, when I can fight my grief, I pray for him, too. I have it on good authority, that he is very far from God these days. That makes me sad. Because if there is any hope for him to get better, it begins and ends with the Lord.
Because of his disease/affliction/prediliction, he can no longer have direct contact with my family (I have small children), but he and my husband keep in touch via phone and email. The dynamics of our relationship have totally changed. His ex-wife remains one of my best friends, she and I are closer than ever. I marvel that the fallout from one man’s sin could affect so many lives. But it works the same in reverse. A life of virtue affects just as many other lives for good.
Had I known that my friend was sexually abusing his step children, I would concluded that he was wrong. I would have confronted him and taken steps to have him removed from his home and ministry. That would have been my duty. It would have given me no joy, but I do not doubt that it would have been the right thing to do. As it is, those of us who know him have encouraged him to seek professional help, which to my knowledge, he did for a time.
The lack of judgment comes in at the point where I understand that I could just as easily be in his place one day. I am in no danger of molesting children, but any temptation I have not addressed or sin that I practice in secret could just as easily hijack my life, just as his sin did. My friend’s life has proven to me that even people who truly love the Lord can be overcome by their own sin – if they keep it hidden – if it goes un-confronted and un-confessed.
So while I have no right to judge a heart or a soul, I can judge actions. When I believe you are wrong, I can and must tell you. And as a friend, I will wound faithfully any other friend by prayerfully saying the hard things in love that they need to hear. I expect no less from them. At the same time, when you fall, I should be at your side to remind you of how important you are to God – that you are his masterpiece – that I love you – and to assist you in getting back up and starting again – if you’ll let me. I’m leaving this business of condemnation behind and taking up the practice of active grace. I am depending on God to show me how to do it case by case, person by person, his way. ‘Cause I’ll be honest – I don’t think I know how.
Be blessed, Family.
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