Years ago I thought the most well known Bible verse was John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only son…”. In more recent years however I wonder if a different Bible verse tops the list. Even among people who would not necessarily consider themselves particularly religious, I find a verse alluded to over and over again: “Don’t judge!” I am very aware that many people who use this phrase or a variation of it may not even be aware it comes from the Bible (Matthew 7:1-5 in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount to be exact).
Often when I hear the verse brought up in is brought up as a moral absolute that is the obvious opposite of love. A common understanding is that all judgments imply judgmental, condemning, and “holier than thou” attitudes and as such are always wrong and at root show an unloving heart. I truly get there are reasons for this common understanding. After all, some people have exhibited words and lifestyle that have served as perfect examples of this negative expression. My concern however is the implication that love is only shown through passive acceptance of all things and that all choices people make are of equal value and fruitfulness for life. The fact is we all make judgments every day about all kinds of things and when we do so we are asking ourselves what is best, what decision will bring about the intended outcome in the best possible way?
Jesus’ words, in context, are not against making judgements. In context, they are about hypocrisy; holding others responsible without acknowledging our own responsibilities, limitations, and shortcomings.
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5 (NRSV)
To love is not to simply affirm everyone’s ideas, choices, and beliefs. Love involves respect, but it does not require that we see equal value in every decision and direction in life. Wisdom and truth require us to invite people to aid us in our lives by helping us see things we are blinded to so that we might have “good judgement” in our choices, decisions, and actions. Perhaps love requires us to help others with this as well. We all need help with good judgment in the living of life; perhaps caring enough to enter people’s lives with an honesty and vulnerability to face our own issues might really lead to love, respect, and better judgment for all of us.