Making excuses isn’t the same as not judging

Imagine you’re shopping at a grocery store, and you see someone take candy or something off a shelf and walk out the door with it. I’m not sure how frequently that happens anymore, but let’s just say for argument’s sake that you witnessed it. How would you respond?

Would you applaud the thief’s bravery and courage for stealing? Would you put the thief up on a pedestal as someone to be respected and admired? Or would you point out that the thief took something that didn’t belong to him and that it’s wrong? What if you were talking to a child?

There’s something in our culture that recognizes injustice, but even though we know something is wrong, we look for excuses not to face it. We blame circumstances. We blame childhood trauma. We blame the government, the economy, the job market. In our desperate search for a reason behind injustice, we look for anywhere else to cast blame because it’s easier to blame than to confront.

man-person-hand-lens_1404x936Today’s verses are Matthew 7:1-5.

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

I honestly believe this is one of the verses that is taken out of context more than any other verse in the whole Bible. You can’t have a conversation with anyone about anything without “being judgmental” comes into discussion. But without putting too fine a point on it, everyone is judgmental. We all make judgment calls all the time. The only difference comes from where you get your standards for judging.

Jesus made several distinctions about judging each other, and generally He said not to do it. It’s difficult though. our human nature makes it easy to magnify other people’s faults while we ignore our own, but it’s wrong. But “don’t judge” doesn’t mean “excuse bad behavior.”

Bad behavior is bad regardless of how you slice it. Stealing is wrong. A child knows that. Taking something that doesn’t belong to you is wrong. And that’s where people will come into the picture and start talking about how stealing becomes necessary if you want your family to live.

I get that. Some people in some cultures steal to provide for their families. But it’s still stealing, and stealing is still wrong, regardless of why you do it.

What Jesus is talking about when He talks about judging is making a call about the motivation behind someone’s actions. If you look at a man who has stolen a loaf of bread and call him a thief, you aren’t judging. You are stating a fact, and you are calling his actions what they are–stealing. But if you look at that same man who stole a loaf of bread and say that he is a horrible person and that he isn’t a Christian, you’re judging. Why? Because you’re making a judgment call on the state of his heart, and that’s something a human can’t see.

Identifying sin as sinful isn’t hateful. If someone is doing something that God says is wrong, calling it sin is simply agreeing with God. It’s not being mean. God doesn’t just arbitrarily call “fun stuff” sin just to ruin our lives. He calls it sin because it’s bad for us and we shouldn’t let it into our lives at all.

If you have a child who wants to stick car keys in light sockets, will you let him? Of course not! And we’d call you a bad parent if you allowed it to happen! So why do we get upset with God when He tries to keep us from hurting ourselves?

As always, we must speak the truth in love. You shouldn’t go up to that man who stole the loaf of bread and get in his face and tell him that he’s hopeless. What good is that going to do? If he isn’t willing to pay for what he stole, it’s a different situation, but if he is, there should be a way to work it out. Someone should demonstrate grace, the same way Jesus did. And who knows what miracle God could work in that situation?

In any case, the only judge you can be is of your own heart, so that’s where you need to be focusing. But that doesn’t mean you can make excuses for behavior and choices God says are wrong. You can agree to disagree, but accepting sin is still flipping God off. And that never ever works out.

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