You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Romans 2:1 NIV
Years ago I experienced the stark reality that when I find myself pointing a finger of judgment at someone I need to beware that three fingers are pointing back at me. It forever etched in my memory a foundational precaution in forming opinions and judgments about others.
As a new believer in my mid-twenties I was working in an office environment where one of my fellow employees was a very sharp dresser. He was the cool dude of the office, knew it, and projected an air of superiority. Over the course of time his arrogance began to grate on me. One morning as I passed by his desk where he was standing, I noticed to my delight that he had missed a belt loop. Those were the days of the wide belt and tucked shirt, so it was an error glaringly visible to all. As I was inwardly gloating over his unwitting faux pas, the Holy Spirit pushed the pause button on my little celebration and interjected this thought – “Why don’t you check your own belt loop.” ….. At that, I quickly felt around my waist and to my chagrin I discovered I had missed a belt loop too! Need I say more? God certainly is not without a sense of humor when gently correcting us and teaching us life lessons.
It was a lesson that has stuck with me to this day. More often than I would like to acknowledge, when I am in the process of judging another, I hear the Holy Spirit cautioning me “Check your own belt loop.” In other words, check your own heart and behavior before you’re so quick to judge. That is what the three fingers pointing back at us whisper whenever we are tempted to point the finger of judgment at others. It is invariably enlightening, sometimes embarrassing, but always humbling at what we discover about ourselves. The very things we deem as offensive behavior in others may in fact be the same things we ourselves are doing. This is what Paul meant when he wrote “At whatever point” we find ourselves judging another, we are “condemning” ourselves, because we “who pass judgment are doing the same things” (Romans 2:1 NIV).
One of the most riveting, powerful stories in the Gospels is the incident when the religious leaders brought a woman before Jesus who had been caught in adultery. Citing the Law of Moses which commands the stoning of such a woman, they were trying to trap Him into saying something that would give them grounds to accuse Him of negating the Law. Jesus response turned the tables on their judgmental finger pointing and forced them to come to grips with the three fingers pointing back at them. His initial reaction was one of caution. Before saying anything He paused, “bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.” As they continued to question Him He finally “straightened up and said to them “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he stooped to write on the ground a second time and as He did “those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there” (John 8:6-9 NIV).
There are three valuable lessons which can be gleaned from this story which I am titling the “TLC Approach to Judging Another.”
T – Take a Time Out – Before rushing to judgment it is always wise to pause as Jesus did when he bent down to write on the ground. No doubt Jesus was taking time to see and hear what the Father was saying to Him. The advice given by James in his epistle is critically apropos when it comes to judging. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19 NIV). In other words, before you say it, pray it!
L – Look Inside at Your Own Life – Make it a priority before judging another, to first ask the Holy Spirit, in response to the three fingers pointing back at you, to examine your own life for sin and shortcomings. A great prayer to pray is “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24 ESV).
There is a temptation to justify ourselves by either comparing our sin to the sins of others or by thinking our good deeds outweigh our sinful deeds. We dare not fall into the trap of thinking “At least I’m not as bad as so and so . . . or . . . at least I am not doing that!” When we do, we are no different than the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who did exactly that when he exalted himself in comparison to the lowly tax collector. Jesus however, lauded the penitent tax collector because of the way in which he was humbling himself. Looking inside is an act of humility that acknowledges our own sinful behavior and the commensurate need we all have for God’s mercy
One good little self-test you can easily do for a judgmental attitude is to gauge your reaction to the abhorrent driving behavior of others while you are on the road behind the wheel of your own vehicle. It is worth taking a time out to do an honest review of your own past driving habits to see if you can identify having done the very same thing that irritates you about that driver with whom you are upset. Gulp.
C – Correct Your Course of Action – Discovering the appropriate response to the questionable behavior of another begins by asking for God’s help in seeing people from His point of view. God sees a person’s heart and warns about judging someone merely from outward appearances (1 Samuel 16:7). Seeking to walk a mile in the shoes of another before rendering a judgment is also the better part of wisdom. A universal judging precaution is the Golden Rule – “do unto to others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12 KJV).
Different situations require their own unique responses and dictate a course of action that is Bible based and Spirit led. Sometimes the best response is simply to forgive and walk away. This is clearly a case of love covering a multitude of sin (1 Peter 4:8). In other situations our responsibility before God may be to remove the speck we perceive in our brother’s eye, but first we must remove the mote from our own (Matthew 8:1-5). In dealing with those who are not believers, Paul’s advice to the believer is not to bother judging someone by Christian standards who not yet Christian. ”What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13 NIV).
For more on this topic you can view a message entitled “The Finger Pointing Tension” which I gave recently at Bridgewood Community Church in Blaine, MN.
Your comments and feedback are always welcome. Link to the TomStuart.org Website & Blog