This is probably the most popular statement in the Bible. I think that it may be even more popular than “you must love your neighbor as yourself”. I suspect that people whose knowledge of Christianity is pretty much limited to the name of the religion even know this statement. And I think I know why. But before I tell you what I think, let’s muse about something else.
Jesus told Christians to go and preach the gospel to every creature and teach everyone all that he had taught them. But he also said, “judge not” (the popular statement). Now, the most common interpretation of that admonition is that we should not tell people that their lifestyle is wrong. You can’t say to a promiscuous person, “hey, you’re being sinful; sleeping with people you’re not married to is wrong.” That’s being “judgy”. You can’t tell homosexual people, “you can’t sleep with people of the same gender as yourself. That’s wrong”. It’s being “judgmental”. Basically, it’s “judgmental” to tell people that things they either like to do or feel helpless about doing are wrong.
But doesn’t that also mean that it is “judgy” to tell someone that they’re being “judgy”?
I think that people are so intimidated by our incredible ability today to discover new things and by the amazing things we have discovered within the past three centuries or so that we have thrown away our ability to actually think. It has become a sort of tragic pastime for me to spot such thoughtlessness in the statements of many people especially some who claim to have come into some kind of intellectual nirvana where they are free to explore the powers of their mind. It’s a pastime because of the irony and a tragedy because it’s too easy.
What did Jesus mean? The question is for those who quote that part of the Bible intending to wield the authority of the speaker for any reason. Was he saying that we can never call anyone on the carpet if they do something wrong? Or was he saying that we cannot tell what right and wrong is? Or was he saying that we don’t have any right to correct one another? I often advise people who want to talk about Christianity or who claim to be Christians to learn to read or, at least, think of the whole Bible as a single document. You will find as you read on in the Bible that Jesus could not have been saying any of that. How could he if he wanted us to follow his example or even obey the so-called Great Commission? How do I tell people that God says that they should repent of their sins if I cannot call their sins ‘sin’? How do I discuss the teachings of Christ without evaluating human behavior, clearly identifying and categorically condemning evil practices and praising good behavior? It’s impossible if that statement meant any of the things it is popularly thought to mean.
Then there are those who make a habit of saying that Christians have no right to judge because they’re no better. Now, if the person saying that is a non-Christian, it is understandable because no one likes to have their errors pointed out. Our natural pride instantly kicks in when someone points out something we could have done better. But when the speaker is a Christian, it is infinitely more tragic. Why would anyone become a Christian if they didn’t think that being a Christian is better than being a non-Christian? What was the point of Jesus’s death and resurrection for you if not to make you a Christian? Is it not foolish to be treating such a precious gift as no big deal? One man told the apostle Paul once that he spent a great deal of money to buy the Roman citizenship that Paul had by birth to show just how valuable and superior that citizenship was. Jesus spent his life, his fellowship with Father and the Holy Spirit to buy human beings the name and rights of a Christian. How can anyone say that it isn’t better than the alternative? I don’t think it is possible to say a more foolish thing. To treat the sacrifice of God the Word with such levity is a grave error and one for which any defaulter should pray seriously for mercy.
What’s more, the claim of Christianity is not just that it offers a better alternative and a better life for humans but that it offers THE life that humans should live. Jesus said without mincing words, “I am THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life.” That’s the message of Christianity. It claims absolute superiority over any other alternative. So what do we preach when we say that we are no better than the non-Christian? It may seem like humility but it is actually something more like cowardice. The truth that we believe as Christians is that being a Christian is infinitely better than being a non-Christian BUT Christianity is not a reward we earn so we cannot be proud of ourselves that we are Christians. It is a gift offered to everyone no matter who they are, where they have been and what they have done so on what basis can you be arrogant just because you possess the GIFT? The person you could act like you’re superior to because you’re a Christian and they’re not has the same chances as you did to become a Christian too so your arrogance is totally meaningless. But it does not change the fact that as a Christian one is infinitely better than a non-Christian although I’ll grant that that can be annoying for non-Christians to hear but if we only say things that won’t annoy people we will end up saying very regrettable things. Case in point: Jesus Christ died and resurrected for no big deal if a Christian is not better than a non-Christian.
It is the job of members of the human society to look out for each other. And judging each other’s behavior is one way we do that. Our legal systems were created for precisely that. To preserve the safety and prosperity of humanity, we must be willing to hold each other to the highest and best standards. If we do not, we will soon destroy ourselves. So we really should get over ourselves.
As for what Jesus meant in that statement, he was only saying: “Don’t waste your energy ranking yourselves against one another trying to decide who is better than who. Your business is to become a good person and help others to become good too. You’re all together in school and a thief today could become a devoted philanthropist tomorrow.” (see Matthew 7:1-4).
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Image via Christcentrist
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