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We are judged by our own words and by the way we treat others.
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; . . .Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."
Matthew 7:1-2 & Luke 6:37-38 NKJV
Beware the Boomerang!
We all make judgments; we are constantly assessing things. It helps us survive. Many of the decisions we make are judgments about who or what is helpful and will get us where we want to go in life. In order to keep our loved ones safe, we tell them to use their good judgment and not play with fire.
But Jesus is talking about something else in these verses. We all know what it is because we are all guilty--that constant censoring, finger-pointing and criticalness. These kinds of judgments definitely do not reveal a loving spirit. I was in a restaurant one time with a small group of acquaintances and I didn't dare go to the ladies room because they would have roasted me alive till I got back!
We size people up in a snap, even those we have never met. Just by looking at them we think we know enough to voice a condemning opinion! We use lots of labels: odd, rude, messy, wild, opinionated, lazy, unbalanced, ugly, fat, stupid, straight-laced, lucky, undisciplined; our list goes on and on.
As I'm writing this page, it's a frosty January day here in Pennsylvania. An artic blast is barreling through. Bitter wind is hard to take. I really don't want to go out in it. And I'm sitting here thinking this storm just might be the perfect backdrop for the subject of judging. The cold is raw and biting, and I pity the person who gets caught in those penetrating gusts. My doors are closed, the windows tightly secured.
"Don't Judge" is a headline to get our attention. The rest of the story is that the way we judge others is the way others will judge us. It's a boomerang effect. What we send out, comes back to us again. If we speak accusatory words about another person, similar words come back at us. If we show mercy and forgive someone who has wronged us, that act of kindness circles around to bless us. When we are generous with others, we will get back more than we give.
There's nothing complex or revolutionary about all this. It's simply the way life works. Whenever we judge someone harshly, we forfeit the chance to gain a friend. When we create ice, we will slip on it. Unforgiveness is a poison we drink, while thinking it will make the other person sick.
Why do we spend so much time decrying the character and behavior of others? Is it jealousy and fear? Maybe arrogance? Or inferiority wearing a mask of superiority? Does it come from our being impatient with mediocrity? Is it a way to avoid facing our own faults and sins? Why do we denounce those we disagree with? Do we have to tear someone else down in order to feel better about ourselves? Judging is a cloud of gloom that pollutes our atmosphere. If we tried a little kindness, we could all breathe more easily?
Judging is like closing the door on people and their ideas. Closing the door protects me from what's outside, but my own worst enemy is still inside! And the door has a mirror. If I am brave enough to look at the image staring back at me, I will see the unloveliness of judgment and my many humbling flaws. After all, God knows all about me--the good, the bad and the ugly--yet still calls me the light of the world and the salt of the earth! Can't I do the same for others? Smudges and stains are never the totality of anyone's life.
Critical attitudes destroy; empathy and understanding build up. What do we know about the other person, really? How could we ever imagine what is in their heart? Or what makes them tick or stop ticking? When we try to place ourselves in the other person's situation and live a day in their boots, it opens the door to new possibilities.
Jesus' words are not a hammer to hit our opponent over the head. Besides, who needs a hammer when we all have a boomerang in our hands! Better to use this verse as an x-ray machine to look inside ourselves. Check on the courtroom in my brain to verify that the judge listens to all the evidence before passing judgment. Examine the seat of mercy in my heart to make sure it still functions and is beating with love. After the howling storm, I can pick up the branches. But I can't put them back on the tree.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: The woman ahead of you at the checkout is paying for her groceries with food stamps. She has four children with her and is obviously pregnant. As you watch this woman, what do you mutter to the next person in line?
On a political level, we label judges as too strict or too lenient. What kind of judge would you be? Take some time to explain your answer.
Make a list of all the words you associate with a judgmental attitude. What are the positive words on your list? Do the negative words explain why judging is wrong?
Why do we speak ill of others and condemn them?Would you want to be judged by the same standards you apply to others? If you were to be judged by your own words, would you be set free or end up in jail?
What is the difference between speaking your mind about what is right or wrong and making a judgment about another person? Is it possible to condemn the sin yet extend mercy to the sinner?
Describe a time when a condemning word or an act of kindness came back to you. Why does that experience stay in your memory?
It's very important that we choose our words carefully in our homes, too. Unless you want your child to be bad, don't tell them, "You're bad." Learn how to disapprove the behavior, without attacking your loved one.
A child or spouse who feels bombarded with negative words, can easily begin to believe it's true and behave accordingly. So build up a vocabulary of positive words and use them within your family as much as possible.
Husbands and wives can have a problem with verbal infidelity. They betray each other in their speech. Listen to how your words might sound to your husband or wife. Practice speaking well of your spouse and affirming them publicly.
Our words reveal a lot about ourselves and we will be judged by what we say. If you want people to think well of you--or better yet, if you want God to judge you kindly--what changes do you need to make?