Read Matthew 7:1
1 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. (NLT)
This often quoted verse has been just as often misunderstood. It has been used to stifle criticism of others, to warn others against rebuking us, to disapprove of forming strong opinions about others. Jesus didn’t mean it like that.
Elsewhere in Scripture we are urged to admonish one another out of love and in truth. There is time and space in our churches for respectful, even forceful disagreement. Hurling this verse at those who disagree with us is to muzzle them through misuse of Jesus’ words.
There is a difference between judging and criticising even though some translations don’t observe the difference. When I judge you I am making a final decision about you. I am pronouncing a sentence. I claim to know enough about you to deliver a decisive verdict on you. This is mistaken because Jesus reminds us in the next few verses of our own fallibility. Judges presume to look down on others from an imagined moral height.
Critics, on the other hand, assuming they speak in truth and love, are speaking from their own humanness. Their rebuking or challenging words can be life-giving if uncomfortable. We can accept or reject the criticism made of us recognising that not all criticism is valid no matter how sincere it is.
Judging implies moral superiority, a verdict which puts us in a box from which it is hard to escape. Criticism can get us back on track, alert us to dangers, offer hope for a better future. Judges always assume they are right. Good critics realise they can be wrong. I have but one judge, though I may have many critics.
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