Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“I’m wondering how to ask this.”
The man sitting across from me mused, gazing to the ceiling and then the floor but not quite at me. This man has become a brother in a way I’ve never had a brother before; we both share a similar kind of brokenness. The bonds formed over shared struggle provide the deepest connections I’ve ever experienced.
“Do you love yourself?”
I pondered for only a few moments before answering.
He stared back at me as I answered, one part pity and two parts empathy.
The concept of self-love, though gaining traction in our modern world, is still difficult to pin down. On the one hand, conceiving of self-care is simple. Saying no to over-busyness, saying yes to things which bring joy and excitement, and aiming for balance in life are all signs of taking good care of the self. Yet on the other hand, the idea of loving one’s self in an emotional sense is complicated.
From early adolescence onward, from the happiest of upbringings to the most harrowing survival stories, we all receive nuanced mantras about who we are and about the measure of our worth. So often people operate and live their lives in response to an inner monologue that no one will ever hear. Like the famous Socrates quote goes, “be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.”
I wonder if the hardest battles we will ever face in life will never be seen by another but will nevertheless be felt deeply within. Indeed, God Himself will be the only being who understands completely the hardships we face everyday.
Perhaps, therefore, this is why we should judge not. And extend that “judge not” ness even to ourselves.
My relationship to the Bible is complicated. I’ve written about it plenty in the past. As I move into trusting this library of narratives, poems, letters, and laws, I’ve discovered newfound freedom in reading the Bible just to read it.
So when I opened the Gospel of Luke, I was relieved to read Jesus teachings on judging and condemning.
To be honest though, I’ve been confused about this passage when compared with other passages where Christ is definitely judging and definitely condemning. It is noteworthy, however, to see that Jesus seems to judge and condemn only those who are quick to judge and condemn others.
In other words, or put better, the wrath of God in the Old Testament and the critiques of Christ in the New are often reflecting the same judgment or condemnation Israel had toward other nations. Said another way, the same judgment and condemnation we have toward others only reflects the same judgment and condemnation we place on ourselves.
Therefore, Jesus telling us not to judge is simply so that there is less judgment in the world. As He tells Nicodemus, “God didn’t send His son to condemn the world but to save the world through Him.”
So then, how do we live in a less judgmental way? Not only when we think of others, but also when we think of ourselves?
An obvious first insight to a nonjudgmental life is Jesus. Like I said before, this can be confusing initially because He does judge and condemn on occasion. One time He even says to hate others when compared to your love for God. Hyperbole though it may be, it is perplexing nonetheless. However, Jesus does seem to engage with people groups differently according to their contexts. With particular individuals, He was deeply specific. What’s often ignored about Jesus is His deep emotional intelligence and ability to make lasting impacts with only a single interaction. In rich connection with His Father always, He only did what He saw His Father doing. In other words, Jesus is acting like the God revealed in the OT, who described Himself as “Yahweh, Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
Though my eyes jump to the cryptic, seemingly harsh last portion, it is clear God emphasizes His rich compassion, His slow anger, His steadfast love, and His extension of forgiveness to any who might ask for it when He first reveals who He is to a broken world.
This is who Jesus was to women, lepers, tax collectors, and foreigners. His Good News for the poor meant that He blessed the poor with good things. He healed them, spoke identity into them, and provided them dignity in a society which claimed they had none. He had no judgment for them because the world had already judged them enough. Just like He told the woman caught in adultery, “where are those who would condemn you?” It was only after His lack of condemnation that He gave her a new charge to leave her life of sin.
Yet all this examination of Christ only highlights our deep, deep lack of awareness of the Father, of others, and of ourselves. We all struggle to see what “our Father is doing,” and we all persist in judging others or ourselves harshly (or both).
Thankfully, this journey of judging less, along with every other spiritual quest, is an ongoing process as opposed to a bucket list to cross off. God does not anticipate that we undo decades of trauma and hardship, basked in our bent patterns of sin, overnight.
Rather, it is in our prayers to Yahweh, our desperate pleas for mercy and compassion, and our sleepless nights of anguish and doubt that Jesus might come to heal and to mend.
Now then, let’s get pragmatic.
Whenever you judge yourself or others, take pause and bring it before God. None of our issues of sin and darkness happen in a vacuum. Our hearts might be deceptively wicked, but in Ezekiel God pleads with the nation of Israel to come back to Him so that He might replace their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. He is still doing the same for us; His precious, fragile, dearly beloved kids.
We have a tendency of thinking we must be clean before coming to God. This is antithetical to the Gospel. When the tax collector prayed and pleaded with God in Luke’s gospel that He might only receive mercy from God, Yahweh was well pleased. He did what He was mandated to do. His posture was humble and his words were concise. He desperately needed God for His desperately broken heart.
This is how we must approach God when our callous hearts of stone judge others or ourselves. If we think we are deserving of judgment, or if we think others are deserving judgment, we condemn ourselves. We block Jesus capacity to heal those particular broken pieces of our heart and hinder the new message He yearns to speak over our new hearts. Judging or accusing is the territory of the Devil. He is the one telling us we aren’t worthy or convincing us why others aren’t worthy. So then, listen to the call of Christ to receive mercy instead of judgment. This is what God desires from us all.
Secondly, when you pass judgment on yourself or another person, counter this tendency by loving yourself or whoever you might be judging. It’s hard to hate someone you keep praying for, and in the same way, it’s hard to judge someone you love deeply. When the critical voice tells you that your worth doesn’t matter, silence it by doing something that does prove your worth. Whether it be listening to encouraging music, eating a healthy meal, going to the gym, or some other self-caring act, God is pleased when we ignore the critical voice of the enemy and instead delight in the beautiful world He made for us to enjoy.
When you pass judgment on another person, compel yourself to give love to them instead. Although this is a hard pill to swallow, this is why Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Often when we judge others we really are judging what we don’t like in ourselves that we see in them. Yet if you are easy on yourself, it is easier to be easy on others. Therefore, when someone hurts you and you desire retaliation, pray for their repentance instead. Not because you are right and they are wrong, but because your desire to do right surpasses their wrongful doing. Willing the best of others is remarkably difficult, and here again is where desperate prayers for our desperate hearts is what causes them to turn from stone to flesh.
Finally, passing judgment almost always is followed up by feelings of shame. In fact, often our mantras of shame originated from our first experiences of unfair and unjust judgment from others. We judge ourselves or others because by comparing to others we can prove our superiority or inferiority. These both rest on weak ground, rooted in the apparent approval or disapproval of others and not planted in the vine of Christ. If we are branches, we need not compare ourselves to other branches. We are all connected to the vine, and this connection to it makes us more equal than it does unequal. Jesus Himself states multiple times that the least in His kingdom are actually the greatest. I believe He is speaking to our constant attempts to make sense of whether we are better or worse than those around us. Frankly, Jesus doesn’t care about our metrics.
What He does care about, deeply, is our hearts. Shame keeps stone hearts denser in their mass, while mercy and compassion frees us to have hearts of flesh. Loving hearts of flesh smell the most like Christ.
Therefore, by judging less, both ourselves and others, we follow the two greatest commandments better. When we are free of our compulsions to cut others or ourselves down, we can more clearly see ourselves and others the way God sees us. Through the lens of compassion, a slowness to anger, rich, steadfast love, and a near bottomless capacity to ask for forgiveness for our own sins and to forgive the sins of others, therefore freeing us to love one another the way Christ loves us.
This piece originally ran on the blog To Build Again. It was reposted with permission.