One concept that I’ve been thinking about a lot is that of change. What makes for good change and when should we pursue and encourage change not only in ourselves but in others? Moreover, how do we rightly go about such a touchy thing as encouraging said change in others?
These are some of the questions I’ve been trying to wrap my little mind around.
As with any contemplation or evaluation, judgment is required, so what one thinks about judgment becomes important. Judgment is one of the most derided, twisted, prized and necessary skills that one can acquire, and I don’t think that it’s coincidental that such a vital thing as sound judgment is belittled and mocked so by a pop-culture that has imploded into a suicidal death spiral.
Seems like the connection there is plain.
Not long ago at my church, the message delivered focused on what I consider to be the most well known, cited and adored (though usually adored only in its perverted form) verse in the Bible. Non-Christians and Christians alike can with lightning proficiency cite the first two words of Matthew 7:1, which read (as though I really need to tell ya): “Judge not”.
Now, most don’t know that this is the beginning of Matthew 7:1 in particular but they are certain of those two words being in the Bible somewhere. It is these two words, once sequestered from the entirety of the Bible, the book of Matthew, the seventh chapter of that book or even the rest of the single verse from which it is extracted, that compose one of the most prevalent and damaging misinterpretations of Scripture and wisdom.
“People shouldn’t judge.” That’s the result of this intentional contextual infidelity.
It is the desired “out”, if you will.
Before we even consider the biblical context or problems with this idea from a particularly Christian perspective, it’s fairly easy to spot a rather glaring logical problem with such a contention…that is, if we want to look…and think…
The silly thing about “people shouldn’t judge” is that it’s an inherently judgmental statement. One expressing this view has just judged those who judge as being wrong, a group which now includes the person who made the pronouncement. It is self-defeating, meaning that by the time the words have been spoken, they’ve already made a concrete argument for their own fallacy.
It’s like saying that “My brother is an only child” or “I can’t speak a word of English”.
It simply makes no sense at all. It’s a stillborn contention. It’s rather idiotic…and yeah, I’ve just made a judgment. A sound, logical judgment however, and true wisdom is impossible without employing such a tool.
The same people who claim to eschew judgment usually suffer not a moment’s hesitation in pronouncing things like rape, murder, pedophilia and cutting them off at an intersection as plainly wrong.
But then, their abuse of “Judge not” was never intended as a serious position. Rather, it was intended as the negation of a serious position, that being the application of any objective statement of truth as an absolute standard by which we all should live. It’s their way of muting God’s command to judge rightly under the pretext that He has essentially told them not to judge at all.
Sounds dangerous to me.
But before you think I can’t relate, lemme assure you that I can. I too am daily tempted to ignore, twist or distort what I know to be true in order to justify my own bad behavior, desires and thoughts. This is where we should all focus frequently in order to avoid hypocritical meanderings. After all, each of us are infinitely separated from righteousness and we’re on thin, cracked ice when we think for even a moment that we’re somehow “better than” anyone else in this regard.
We’re all in the same leaky boat.
Now on to Matthew. Here’s what Jesus actually said, as taken from the NLT version of chapter seven, verses 1-6:
“Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. For others will treat you as you treat them. Whatever measure you use in judging others, it will be used to measure how you are 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, ’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 perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Don’t give what is holy to unholy people. Don’t give pearls to swine! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.”
Paints a different picture, no?
Jesus warns that we should never judge hypocritically. He says that we will have the same standards that we use with others applied to us. He reminds us of our pathetic state.
He affirms that people who are judged harshly and inappropriately will respond in kind, and this is not productive. It’s not helping things at all. It is, in fact, destructive.
He then warns us not to “give what is holy to unholy people.”
And how do we determine what is holy?
What about determining who is unholy, which is a rather critical sounding and very negative label to apply to anything and certainly any person?
Finally, He refers to these “unholy people” as swine, which is one of the harshest comparisons imaginable in the context of one Jew speaking to or about another.
Just the sort of judgment that would be prohibited by the misinterpreted first two words of the chapter, wouldn’t you agree?
Yet there it is: Jesus making clearly critical, judgmental statements about others not two minutes after making the oft cited admonition to “judge not”.
Context is key. It has every bit the impact on a word’s or thought’s meaning as any single letter or term used within the statement under consideration. It is vital that we embrace this if we seek real understanding of any written thought.
It’s amazing what proper context can illuminate. There are many who claim and act as though the Bible “can be made to say anything”, and when context is ignored, this is certainly possible. The same could be said of the works of Shakespeare, Stephen King or Stan Lee.
The root of the problem here is the hand-in-glove pursuit of ease and avoidance of guilt. We all feel these pressures and they are the prime motivators of this utterly mindless, easy, cowardly “don’t judge” notion.
The real message of Matthew chapter seven is much more profound and challenging.
It is hard.
It is also good.
Applying zero judgment is easy – one simply does nothing. What is hard here – and excruciatingly so – is that we are to apply righteous judgment while refraining from judging hypocritically or self-righteously, always striving to express judgment in as humble and kind a manner as is possible.
That’s a hard line to walk for most of us.
Hard or not, it is required.
Judgment – the righteous, kindly expressed, non-hypocritical type – is both beautiful and essential to the successful pursuit of genuine happiness.
And I sure do wanna be happy!
And I want the best model of happiness available; the warmest, sweetest, most enduring, unshakable bliss possible; the kind of happiness that transcends fickle feelings, moods, peaks and valleys.
How ’bout you?
I thought so…glad we’re on the same page here…
Now with a proper perspective of judgment in place, we can explore the concept of change; more specifically, the proper manner in which we can both seek change for ourselves and encourage it in others.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis does the great favor of illuminating the inescapable fact that change of the most profound, all encompassing sort is the goal of Christianity, and this goal is realized on an individual level.
Behavior is to be changed. He begins one of many expositions on the subject with a question that many of us have heard time and again:
“If Christianity is true why are not all Christians obviously nicer than all non Christians? What lies behind that question is partly something very reasonable and partly something that is not reasonable at all. The reasonable part is this. If conversion to Christianity makes no improvement in a man’s outward actions – if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before – then I think we must suspect that his ’conversion’ was largely imaginary; and after one’s original conversion, every time one thinks one has made an advance, that is the test to apply. Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in ’religion’ mean nothing unless they make our actual behavior better; just as in an illness ’feeling better’ is not much good if the thermometer shows that your temperature is still going up. In that sense the outer world is quite right to judge Christianity by its results. Christ told us to judge by results.”
A person’s “outward actions” must be changed. And they will be, if the person chooses to allow it.
Feelings, insight and inspired interest “mean nothing” without a corresponding change in behavior.
More extraordinarily, perfection is the goal. This is an intimidating notion, to say the least, yet it is the clear proclamation of true Christianity. Mr. Lewis elaborates:
“I find a good many people have been bothered by what I said in the previous chapter about Our Lord’s words, ’Be ye perfect’. Some people seem to think this means ’Unless you are perfect, I will not help you’; and as we cannot be perfect, then, if He meant that, our position is hopeless. But I do not think He did mean that. I think He meant ’The only help I will give you is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less.’”
“The practical upshot is this. On the one hand, God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection. On the other hand, you must realize from the outset that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal.”
Our own power to choose or reject this guided path to improvement and eventual perfection is awe inspiring to contemplate. We literally have the choice. We have the power to accept or reject this path.
I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly tempted to fall into worldly measurements and standards of conduct. “Good enough” is a dangerous notion. “Settling” for something less when it’s oh so easy to do so is an enticing and potentially devastating thought.
I don’t murder, rape or pillage (unless aggressively snatching the last Wii just ahead of a pack of fanatical Nintendo fans qualifies as pillaging), so I’m a good person, right?
Well, I’m at least a “basically good” person, no?
I may feel content to be comparatively good when measured against the most universally applied secular standards of conduct, but this is a trap.
I am pretending.
I am lying to myself.
“…We may be content to remain what we call ’ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience.”
Being content with “ordinary” is lazy.
So here we are: Righteous judgment is essential and Christianity seeks nothing less than the complete change of a person on an individual basis from something rather pathetic to something that is perfect.
How do we get there?
Or, since we really must begin by aiming these questions at ourselves, what must I do to get there?
And this is why I’ve been thinking so much about how to inspire and promote the positive changes that I know must be made.
So I’m in a judging mood.
The knife is out.
And it’s aimed at the perfect target: One that I know to be proud, selfish, lazy, weak, rebellious, and quick to anger.
Of course, I’m talkin’ about me.
I have judged and found myself wanting. Very much so.
But judging critically – as opposed to hypocritically – is a beautiful thing.
As I consider what must be changed and strive to move in that direction in between stumbles and falls, I realize that it all really is attainable. Every good thing can be had.
It can be real for me as promised.
I can become the kind of man that will rightly encourage others to improve, not with an arrogantly snarled accusation accompanied by a condemning finger point, but rather with supportive, kindly expressed hope and encouragement.
Will I still take a firm stand where clear truth is concerned?
To advocate anything less would be an act of hatred, not love or tolerance in the good sense.
We are all body, soul and mind unities, and every aspect of those three attributes should be nurtured and improved…all with a kind, God centered approach.
Those of you who know me well are all too familiar with my weaknesses.
To hear me speak about these lofty concepts might sound silly and even more than a bit…well…hypocritical.
All that I can do is try to live up to these ideals and rest on the assurance that while I’ll screw things up along the way, the end goal gets closer with each successful step taken.
Every time I refrain from cursing during a Raider game is a moment of progress. (Hey, you try to endure your most favoritest team perpetually finishing in the league cellar year after year and see how you get on with this whole “good conduct” thing.)
Every time I manage to suppress a selfish desire that would hurt another is a moment of progress.
Every time I manage to stifle an inappropriate thought is a moment of progress.
Every time I humble myself and pray is a moment of progress.
Every time I study the Bible and take to heart what I’ve been shown is a moment of progress.
These are all changes. They come one at a time usually; one moment at a time.
And these moments add up.
They really do.
Now think of this:
Every time I manage to express some thought that might help another to improve in some way – physical, spiritual or intellectual – is also a moment of progress.
It’s a moment of progress for me in that I’ve managed to judge and encourage another appropriately and, more importantly, a potential moment of progress for the one with whom I share these thoughts. This progress can be realized even though I am nowhere near the goal of perfection that lies ahead of the both of us.
This done in the right spirit – a spirit of righteous judgment and kind encouragement – is an incredible thing. It is also a great honor to have the opportunity to play such a role, I think.
And each of us can have that honor.
Beyond this precious privilege, there are countless other great things that can be attained if we will judge rightly and unashamedly advocate positive change in ourselves and others.
We can have peace.
We can have optimism.
We can conquer fear.
We can build happy, loving relationships that endure.
We can sleep soundly at night (when we’re not blogging at midnight).
All of these things are within our grasp.
But only if we will judge.
Copyright 2009 S.A. Buss – Feel free to re-post this piece, but only with the copyright included and a link to Fire Breathing Christian whenever possible. Thank you!
See also: “Everybody Expects…the Liberal Inquisition!” at http://firebreathingchristian.com in the Article Archives.