Walking in others’ shoes

Matthew 7:1-6

Judging Others

 1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

   3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

   6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

 

            Today’s scripture is one that I think most people in the United States are familiar with.  Whether you are a Christian or not, you have likely heard someone paraphrase this passage.  We heard it often whenever someone is critical of what someone else is doing.  People say, “Don’t judge me; you don’t know me.”  Maybe they are on to something because it is biblical.  Or maybe you have heard that you shouldn’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes.  I would say that is really good advice, but that it still falls below the standard that Jesus sets for us.

            Verses 1-2 say, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Jesus doesn’t say that we aren’t to judge someone until we walk a mile in their shoes.  Jesus says that we aren’t to judge anyone else.  Period.  And if we do judge others we too will be judged.

            Now I have always heard this interpreted as if we judge other people that God will judge us.  But it can also be understood as saying that if we judge other people that other people will judge us just as we judge them.  Both interpretations seem to be possible, and both interpretations seem to be undesirable.  I don’t want others to judge me and I am really counting on God’s grace, not judgment.

            Today I want to really look at what Jesus is calling us as his followers not to do.  What does Jesus mean when he says not to judge and why is that such a bad thing to do anyway?

            The Greek word that we translate as “judge” is krino (κρίνω).  And just like our English word judge can take on different meanings, so can the Greek word krino.  We might say that the word has different connotations when used in different contexts.  So the first thing that I want to do is to look at a couple of different times that the Bible uses the word krino and see how we should interpret what Jesus is advising us against in today’s passage.

            Titus 3:12 says, “As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there.”  The word that we translate as “decided” is the Greek word krino.  I don’t think that Jesus is trying to discourage us from making decisions.  We need to make decisions.  I had to decide whether I was going to wear brown socks or black socks today.  I couldn’t even say, “I’ll just wear one of each” because I would have still made a choice to wear one of each.  To go without socks is still a decision.  So we rule out this usage of krino.

            In John 18:31 Pilate is speaking to the Jewish people who are seeking to have Jesus executed and Pilate tells the Jews that they should take Jesus and judge him.  This seems to have the connotation of a courtroom setting where collectively people are deciding what is good or bad, right or wrong.  Is Jesus instructing his hearer to not discern right and wrong?  No, I don’t think that is the way that krino is being used in our scripture for this morning.  We are to judge right and wrong all of the time.  Should I pick up that five dollar bill that is lying on the ground?  Should I try to find the rightful owner or take it to the police?  Is it okay to make this deduction on my taxes?  We need to make these judgments every day.

            This kind of judgment isn’t just something that we do as individuals.  We need to do it as a church.  The Bible talks about “binding and loosing,” which is a strange way of saying that we need to be judging together as a church what is right and what is wrong.  We as a church are to look through the scriptures, pray, and talk together as we seek to follow God’s will for our lives.  When we decide between right and wrong, we are making a judgment.

            Furthermore, I believe that the Bible teaches us that we are to be judging other people within the church.  Matthew 18 gives a detailed procedure for how we are to go to a brother or sister in the church when they sin and point it out to them in private.  If they don’t listen to us and continue to sin we are to bring another person or two to help them see that they have been missing God’s ideal.  We call this kind of judgment mutual accountability.

            I find it very difficult at times to follow Jesus.  I will stand up here today and tell you that it is my desire to follow Jesus and I want you to help me follow Jesus.  That is a part of what it means to be the church.  We give and receive counsel.  That was a part of the vows that I made when I became a member of this congregation.  If you see me doing something that you don’t believe is appropriate for a follower of Jesus I want you to invite me to join you in a private conversation and talk about how you believe I am missing the mark and how I might be able to correct the trajectory of the path that I am going down.  I want to follow Jesus and I want your help as I try to follow Jesus.  Furthermore it is my hope that you want to follow Jesus and that you want my help as you seek to follow Jesus.  This is the sort of mutual accountability that I believe the New Testament calls for from the followers of Jesus Christ.  We are called to judge other people’s actions, but that is specifically people with whom we have a relationship with.  This is for other people in our church, people who we see on a regular basis.  This is for people we know and people that know us and have made the choice to submit to mutual accountability.  I’ll say more about that later.  We need to still figure out what Jesus meant by not judging others!

            I believe that John 7:24 gives us the best understanding of how Jesus is using the word krino in our scripture this morning.  “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”  This is a complicated little verse, but I think that it shows us two things.  One is that here Jesus actually tells those that he is talking to that they should be judging in a certain way.  But I think more importantly it tells us how we are not supposed to be judging and that is by outward appearances.

            As we spoke about mutual accountability I made it very clear that we are called to judge the actions of those with whom we are in a particular kind of relationship.  Those who we are not in relationship with are those that we are not to judge.  When you don’t know a person intimately, when they haven’t asked you to be an accountability partner, when you just don’t know the details of a person’s situation, all that you can do is judge them based on their outward appearance.  And that is what I believe Jesus is telling us is not appropriate for someone who is his disciple.

            When I was growing up I was involved in 4-H.  4-H is a club that kids in both urban and rural areas join and participate in.  According to their website, 4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization.  There is leadership from adult mentors and leadership development of the youth involved.  Some kids make arts and crafts.  Others make rockets or sewing projects.  What I was involved in was the animal show.  Ideally 4-H is about teaching children responsibility: budgeting, handling money, feeding, bedding, and caring for animals, completing a task in a timely manner and offering it up for feedback.  Our fair in Wayne County, Ohio was always held the first week after Labor Day.  So for me 4-H was always about missing as many days of school as possible.  That’s why I showed pigs.  You get off Tuesday to show your animal and Thursday for sale day.

            Well regardless of whether you took a still project or a live project you the fair, your entry was scrutinized by someone who supposedly knew a thing or two about the subject.  If you took a model rocket, the person looking at your rocket was supposedly some sort of rocket expert.  Maybe a rocket scientist?  If you took a pig, the person looking at your pig should at least know what a good pig should look like.  This expert would then take your entry, such as the pig, and compare it to all of the other pigs that were taken to the fair that year.  And that person would order the animals from best to worst, based on their own opinion, awarding colored ribbons.  Blue ribbon for the best pig, red ribbon for the send best, yellow ribbon, green ribbon, right on down the line.  And the name of the person who assessed which pig was better than the others: The judge.

            The person who decides what order all of the animals belong in is the judge.  The job of the judge is to judge the animals: to decide which one is the best and which one is the worst, and every animal in between.  The judge is to determine which animal is the best based on the value of that particular animal.  If it looked like it would produce the best bacon, pork chops, and loins, it was awarded the blue ribbon.  If the pig was too small, not well muscled, or disproportionate, it got judged to be of lesser value than the other pigs.

            I believe that this is exactly what Jesus is inviting his hearers to avoid.  This is the kind of judging that they are to not participate in.  He isn’t telling them not to practice mutual accountability.  He isn’t telling them not to try to discern what is right and what is wrong.  He surely doesn’t care about what color socks you wear.  Jesus is telling his followers not to place value on others based on what they see.  There is not to be a hierarchy of human value in the church.  We are all worth the same to God: we are worth dying for.

We see this in the case of the woman caught in adultery found in John’s gospel.  There is a woman who is caught sinning.  There is no question about it, she has broken the Mosaic Law.  So the people take this woman and they drag her out into the middle of the street, and they all pick up stones so that they can throw them at this woman.  But someone tries to trap Jesus and they ask him what they should do.  Jesus tells them that the one who is without sin should cast the first stone.  One by one, they dropped their stones and walked away.  Everyone left because they were all sinners as well.

            This is human nature.  We know that we are all sinners.  If you didn’t know it before, I am telling you now.  We all fall short of God’s ideal for our lives.  But for some reasons, like those in the story of the woman caught in adultery, we want to say that others’ sins are worse than our own.  This woman’s sins were punishable by death, but I can keep mine a secret, so I guess that they are okay.  We have this instinct to make ourselves feel better or look better to others by making others look worse.  We raise our value by lowering the value of others.

            The story of the woman caught in adultery is a bit of an extreme example, but I know that I judge people all of the time.  Maybe I don’t judge them as being worthy of death, but I try to order them and place people below me.  It is very easy in our lives to surround ourselves with people who look just like us, think just like us, and talk just like us.  Some of my best friends are pastors and I find it interesting to really break it down and realize that some of my best friends are white middle-class pastors who went to seminary at the same institution that I went to, studied under the same professors that I studied under, have similar interests and were raised in a similar place as I was.  We are naturally drawn to people who like the same things as we do and who think along the same lines as we do.

            So when I am hanging out with my white, middle-class, theologically educated, sports enthusiastic friends, I find it quite easy to not judge them.  Or maybe I do judge them: I judge them to be intelligent, interesting, and as somebody that I like.  It is when I am around the people that I normally wouldn’t chose to spend time with that I find it really difficult to not judge others.

I tried to think of the kinds of places that I spend time with people who are different than I am, and to be honest, I don’t spend a lot of time with people who are different than I am.  I thought about shopping.  Regardless of who you are, you need groceries.  But even then we can chose where we buy our groceries.  Sure there are some cultural differences in the grocery store, but I think that is even a segregated community.  No, probably the best place to go to witness the diversity of cultures within our community here in Staunton is at the park.

            The park is filled with people of every age, gender, IQ, education level, race, and religion.  And as we make our way around that 1.33 mile loop in the park, this is when I find myself judging people the most.  I struggle with this because I know that this is so very un-Christ-like.  I don’t have any kind of relationship with the people that I am walking past, but I find myself forming opinions of them based on the 10 seconds of contact that I have with them.  I judge certain people as better than others; I judge certain people to be better or worse than I am.  And I believe that this is what Jesus is advising us against when he tells his listeners to not judge.  He is telling them that they are not to decide who is worthy of your friendship and who is not.  Instead we are to see people as God sees them.  We are to love them with the love of Christ, which means being willing to lay down our life for them.  It is not we who get to assign value to another person’s life; it is God.  And he has already assigned a value to each and every one of us: we are worthy of him suffering and dying for.

            We have probably all seen or maybe we have been the kind of people that critique others, either verbally or with our non-verbal forms of communication.  Maybe we have criticized a person at the mall for the way that they are dressed.  Maybe that was just a rolling of your eyes or just looking away.  Or perhaps you have made some kind of grunting noise at somebody who is talking down to their spouse.  Or maybe we just take the time to talk about other people with our friends who are just like us when we get back home or in our car.  Regardless of how we do it, judging people, ordering them, placing a value on another human being because they have made different life choices than we have is not a Christian thing to do.  Leave that to the 4-H judges at the County Fair.  We are called to love all people with the love of Christ.

            Jesus spent time with the tax collectors and the sinners, as well as the Pharisees and the religious leaders.  And we don’t often find him saying anything to people with whom he has no relationship with in a critiquing way.  He doesn’t walk past the woman caught in adultery and says “tisk, tisk, tisk.”  No, he tells her that he finds no fault in her and that she is forgiven.  Then he tells her to sin no more.  I believe that woman, much like the woman at the well, went home transformed that day.  People don’t change when you confront them with their sins in a judgmental way.  But lives are changed when we begin by showing love and appreciation for who they are and then inviting them into a life-changing relationship with Jesus.  Put love first, not judgment.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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