“There is so much good in the worst of us,
and so much bad in the best of us,
that it’s rather hard to tell which of us
ought to reform the rest of us.”*
Life requires us to make judgments about people’s words and actions. Deciding whose example and advice is the most dependable can determine our own success or failure. But making judgments and being judgmental are two different things. Making judgments is a rational thought process; being judgmental is a state of mind, an attitude toward other people.
Being judgmental always involves the person judging as much as the person being judged. Our judging is subjective because we’re always evaluating both ourselves and the other person. Often, it comes down to whose sin or shortcoming is worse, and we’re always easier on ourselves than on others. A judgmental person feels elevated by putting down the other person.
A second factor in being judgmental is that we feel we can perceive what another person’s motives are behind their actions. We think we have a pretty good idea of “where they’re coming from,” but we may be dead wrong. Meanwhile, we totally discount what is probably a more important factor, “where we’re coming from,” what our motives are in criticizing the other person.
A person posted on line about an early memory: “In childhood, I had trouble learning how to tie my shoelaces. Every adult who tried to help me eventually gave up, and I felt so stupid. Then one day my left-handed uncle showed left-handed me how to do it and I learned it immediately.” Judging him to be “stupid,” when he was really left-handed, was truly stupid on their part. That’s the kind of toxic effect being judgmental can have on our relationships.
Only God really understands a person’s motives and, therefore, the true meaning of their words and actions. As Jesus said to the hypocritical Pharisees:
“You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)
Among the greatest testimonies to Jesus’ own divinity are the frequent New Testament allusions to his in-depth knowledge of the sources behind peoples’ behavior:
Knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25)
Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?” (Matthew 22:18)
Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?” (Mark 2:8)
He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward. (Luke 6:8)
He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. (John 2:25)
The Apostle Paul shared with other believers how the Lord taught him to overcome judgmentalism:
With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:2-5)
Don’t you love the way Paul ends this? We might expect him to say that at the Last Judgment,
Each one will receive condemnation from God.
But instead, he says,
Each one will receive commendation from God.
God the righteous Judge, himself sets the greatest example of non-judgmentalism!
– Pastor George Van Alstine
*The source of this quote is disputed