“…speak the truth in love…”
Over the past few months I have found myself a part of numerous conversations in which the topic of judging others, or perhaps better said, not judging others, has come up. After all, a common saying in our culture today is, “Don’t judge me.” Essentially meaning, “Don’t try and tell me I am wrong.” No doubt I have found myself saying this at times…namely to my husband when he has caught me finishing off a large bag of chocolate…by myself, or heaping a monstrous portion of Reddi Whip on top of my hot cocoa…every night.
While we often say and hear others speak these words, what does the Bible say about judging others?
When the topic of the Bible and judging others comes up, often someone will remark that we are not to judge others because God is a God of love and that Jesus set the standard for what it looks like to love others. Agreed. God is most certainly a God of love. But somehow it seems that we often forget, or intentionally disregard the fact that God is also just and holy.
Throughout the pages of Scripture we see a loving God, but in His love, He expects His followers live according to His instructions. Why? Because He is God and knows what is best. When His followers disregard His guidelines, He addresses them.
While it may seem obvious, let’s consider the book of Judges (Ironic name, huh?). The book of Judges tells the story of how God sent individuals to judge, or essentially deliver Israel from their sin. Also, consider the prophets. Men such as Jeremiah and Isaiah were given the God ordained task of warning the Israelites to turn from their sin or reap severe consequences.
In the New Testament, Jesus Himself called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs for their sin of devotion to the law, but lack of love for others (Matthew 23:27). Also, when the woman caught in adultery was brought before Him, Jesus told her that He did not condemn her, but that she should “Go and sin no more.” He didn’t gloss over her sin, rather, he called it what it was, but dealt with her in love (John 8:1-11).
The Bible clearly does not condone sin. Quite the opposite; the Bible actually teaches that sin must be addressed.
Another common verse that will be thrown out in conversations about judging others is Matthew 7:1 which says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
To be honest, as someone who is a peacemaker to the core, part of me would like to use this verse as my mantra. It would be great to point to this single reference so as to avoid any possible conflict or confrontation, giving myself a free pass to turn a blind eye to sin, telling myself that it is not my place to judge. The problem; however, is that while this verse may seem pretty cut and dry, like all verses, we must understand it within the context of the Bible as a whole.
Matthew 18:15 for example says, “”If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”
So where does all of this leave us?
I would suggest that when it comes to what we would consider “judging others,” or speaking out against sin, we need to consider the entire instruction of the Bible, the full character of God, and the complete example that Jesus set forth.
The Bible clearly teaches that we should never judge someone from appearances alone. We should not judge before we have all the information. We should never be hypocritical, harsh, or unforgiving. And it is also wrong to act self-righteously. If any of these are our motivation for addressing someone, then we are the one who is in sin. (John 7:24, Proverbs 18:13, Matthew 7:1, Matthew 6: 1-5, Romans 2:1, Titus 3:2, Matthew 7:2, Luke 18:9-14, James 4: 6, Proverbs 19:5)
On the flip side, the Bible also instructs that we are to use “right judgement.” We are to preach the entirety of the Word of God, we are to confront fellow believers who are sinning, we are to use discernment, and we are to speak truth in love. (John 7:24, Acts 20:27, 2 Timothy 4:2, Galatians 6:1, Matthew 18:15-17, Ephesians 4:15)
Considering all of these aspects, I believe that addressing someone regarding sin largely comes down to a matter of the heart. Before speaking out, we should ask ourselves what our motivation is. Do we want to say something out of genuine love and concern for another, or is a different motivation driving us? Also, like the example of the speck and plank, is there something that we need to take care of in our own life first (Matthew 7:5)?
So how does all of this look in reality? Let me share a personal experience. When I was in my early twenties and making a mess of my life (as I have shared about in previous posts), my cousin and precious friend Rena flew half way across the country to confront me. With a gentle, but firm spirit, in love she expressed her concern about the sinful path I was heading down. Did I appreciate her thoughts at the time? Not fully. Did I think she was judging me? To an extent. Did I immediately change from my ways? Regretfully not. However, today I realize that I will never be able to express how thankful I am that she loved me enough to boldly speak truth into my life when I need it most. I am certain my life would not be what it is today if she and others had not been willing to speak truth in love.
Think of it this way. If you saw someone you loved about to turn the wrong way down a one-way road, what would you do? You would stop them of course. Why? Because you love them and don’t want to see them get hurt. Confronting sin is much like that. When we see someone we love about to go down a destructive path, out of love, and with a pure heart, we should prayerful confront them.
Rather than not judging others because we love them, perhaps it is time that we love people enough to address sin by speaking truth in love.
So what do we do if there is someone in our life who we know needs to lovingly hear truth? I would suggest that with a heart of humility we prayerfully ask God if He would have us speak to him or her, and if so, that He would give us the courage to do so and the words to share.
May we all love those around us enough to come alongside them and speak truth in love.
*If you have been encouraged or challenged by what you read today, I would love for you to share it with a friend. Thanks for reading!