Are you harsh in your appraisal of others, and when you look at the failures of others, are you quick to assume you could never, under any circumstances, be as messed up as they? To the contrary, have you ever considered if there is anything that would ever tempt you to sin?
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Matthew 7:1, 2)
This is one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible. Some people like to quote this verse to imply we must not point out their sinful behavior, but that is not what Jesus meant. The Bible is full of teaching as to what sin is precisely so that we will be able to identify it when we see it, in ourselves and in others.
What this verse does mean is that we are not to allow ourselves to become so haughty in our spirits that we judge the person rather than the sin; that we come to believe ourselves so superior that we would never do what another has done were we in his shoes. The truth is that we are not him–we have not lived his life and experienced what he has–so there is no way we can know how we would have reacted in the same circumstance.
This is not to excuse the sin. Sin is excruciatingly wicked and it was necessary for Christ to come to save us from our slavery to it. Yet along with the identification of the sin has to come compassion and mercy toward the person who has committed it.
What this means in practice is that we respond to sin as God does–we hate the action, but we love the man. It also means that we cut them some slack. Not by minimizing the gravity of the sin and saying it’s okay or by looking the other way, but by not judging them to be an inferior life form. Jesus, who was Himself holiness incarnate–Immanuel (“God with us“)–was confronted with precisely this type of situation in His earthly ministry:
“Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners [those typically looked down upon because of their lifestyle and social standing] came and sat down with Him and His disciples [Jesus, as a rabbi (a religious teacher) was expected to shun these people; instead he socialized with them]. And when the Pharisees [the religious establishment] saw it, they said to His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat [socialize, in other words] with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard that, He said to them, ‘Those who are well [who have no sin–or believe they don’t, as the Pharisees seemed to] have no need of a physician, but those who are sick [who recognize their guilt before God]. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’”(Matthew 9:10-13)
Jesus had mercy on those who were clearly messed up. Yes, He confronted sin when necessary, but he was also kind to those who recognized their inadequacy before God. Instead of judging and shunning them He cared enough to give of Himself so that they could change.
Arrogance of spirit is dangerous, especially when we have been serving God a longer time. Because we have been faithful, it is easy to start seeing ourselves as better than others:
“Also He [Jesus] spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
So what would it take to cause you to sin? Perhaps you are offended by such a question; perhaps you feel there is nothing that could ever cause you to do some of the things you see others doing. Let us hope so! God tells us, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Yet it sometimes helps us be more merciful and forgiving to others when we recognize that under the right circumstances, even we could be sorely tested. So even while hating sin and resolving never to fall prey to it, it is good to remain humble in our spirits, recognizing that “There, but for the grace of God, go I”(John Bradford) and the Bible’s admonition, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
Help me not judge those who have fallen. Rather, help us show mercy, not by minimizing the sin, but by recognizing that we are all vulnerable and that You still love and forgive. Amen.