I’m a very opinionate person. My father told me when I was 13 years old that my mouth would cause me all sorts of trouble in life. Well, he was half right. I do get in some trouble with the things I say – I tend to be rather blunt. But I’ve also used my big mouth for a lot of good, too. So there, dad!
That said, I’ve always admired people who could hold their tongue. Scripture is very clear that the tongue is our worst enemy. I have been lucky enough to be around godly men who seemingly can withstand the temptation to tell everyone what they think. That’s not really my gift! So when you’re a talker like me you have to be really careful to know the difference between opinion and judgment. There’s a thin line that I am afraid I cross too often.
When I read scripture I believe that Jesus had opinions. In fact, you can see him espousing his opinions throughout the gospels. Further, not all his opinions were positive – take his views on legalism, the Pharisees, money changing in the temple, and more. Jesus was a pretty blunt guy himself as was Peter, Paul, James, and other writers. But the key to their speech was they could tell you what they thought without judging. I study this because I want to be able to do that, too! I want to be able to tell the truth without crossing that line. Here are three keys to how I see Jesus speak boldly without judging.
Separate the action from the person
We learn early on to hate the sin and love the sinner. Most of us don’t do that. When we see people do things we don’t like we instinctually dislike the person. It makes sense on the surface, because it is the person taking the action so because they’re a knucklehead we should view them as a knucklehead. But, that’s not what Jesus did.
The adulterous woman was guilty. The tax collector was guilty. The Romans were guilty. The Pharisees were guilty. Jesus never condoned their actions, but he also did not condemn them personally. He forgave them instead, which is really mind blowing when you think about it. Jesus knows that we all fall short of the glory of God, but that we are all God’s children. And like children he knows that while we may act badly that doesn’t make us bad. Stupid, yes, but not inherently bad. Even when Jesus is talking about punishment he is only talking about people reaping what they sow or suffering the consequences of their own actions. There is no personal judgment there just fact.
What I learn by Jesus’ example is I must be more forgiving of my fellow man and I must show mercy to people who do dumb things the same way the Father has shown me mercy when I do dumb things. Yes, I can have strong opinions about right and wrong, but I cannot project beyond that onto the person and judge them based on the actions they are taking. Wow is that hard!
There are no throw-away people
For Jesus there were no throw-away people. Everyone matters. I don’t think we can say that in our lives. I think that we can easily judge someone who doesn’t matter to us, such as the panhandler on the street corner.
What I see Jesus doing is loving people with true brotherly love or agape as used in the Greek. Jesus still loved the adulterous woman and the tax collectors, and the Pharisees, and the Romans, and everyone…including you and me! That doesn’t mean he approves of all our decisions and actions. But because we are not throw-away people and instead are important to him he intercedes on our behalf for forgiveness. Even on the cross Jesus is praying for those who just nailed him there, telling the Father to forgive because they know not what they do. If we were in that same situation we probably would not be showing so much grace, but instead would be hurling curses their way, judging them for their inhumane acts.
If we can look at people the way God looks at people I think we would be able to voice opinions without judging them. Something I have to keep in mind!
Don’t take it personally
I see this one all the time in my world – people want to make everything about them! Someone will do or say something pretty tame and the next thing you know someone else is offended because in their head they’ve taken it personally and made it about them, prescribing motives to the other person that probably don’t exist. That is not what I see Jesus doing. In fact, I see him doing the exact opposite even when people meant it personally toward him!
How many times do we see the Pharisees coming to Jesus to test him in order to find a way to arrest him? They brought him the adulterous woman as a test. They asked him if the Jews had to pay taxes as a test. They demanded miracles as a test. Yet, even though Jesus knew what they were doing he pretty much let it go. He didn’t get all huffy even when he refused to do the miracles. He just told them the truth and let that stand.
Me, I probably would have told them to pack sand or some other clever phrase I use all too often! When confronted I sometimes get irritated or angry and then I am not Christ-like rather I lash out because I think I’m being attacked. I make it about me, my honor, my pride, and being right. Jesus didn’t do that so I’m not supposed to do that.
As you can tell, I’m still a work in progress on this one. I think it is vital we are transparent and tell the truth even when the truth is hard. But I know that I struggle not judging people as I do it. People are not stupid, freaking idiots, dumb you-know-whats, and all the other things I think and say that I shouldn’t People are God’s children and while I may disagree with their thoughts, decisions, and actions, I can never forget that Jesus loves them the way he loves me.
Do me a favor and pray for me that I can do better in this area of discerning opinion vs. judgment.