We know we must be exceedingly careful to avoid judgmentalism in all its forms. Because it flows from arrogance and/or fear, a condemning “gotcha” spirit is repeatedly rejected by Jesus (Matt 9:9–13, Matt 12:1–8, Luke 9:51–56, John 8:1–12). Scripture forbids judging others by a standard we don’t first apply to ourselves (Matt 7:1–5). It forbids judging by mere appearance (John 7:24). It forbids judging when it’s not our place to judge (Rom 14:1–13). I offer these warnings to myself in preparation for the thoughts that follow.
We know that practicing sound judgment is both virtuous and essential to healthy living. Sound judgment starts with healthy biblical self-evaluation (Matt 7:1–5, 2 Cor 13:5). It includes welcoming, verifying, and following God’s word (Acts 17:11).
We know it is far easier to evaluate actions and words than it is to discern the motives behind them. That commonsense statement gains support from both Matthew 7:15–20 and James 3:13–18. Still, we must watch our words (James 3:1–12). We often don’t say what we intend. We often send errant and confusing messages, even when we intend—or even think that we’ve expressed—the very opposite. Thus, we offer the list below of unintended messages that we must guard against.
We never want to say to others, “I’m better, smarter, or more important than you.” Such messages deny the truth of Genesis 1:26–27 and Romans 3:23. But that’s just the message we send if we bully, discount, or disrespect anyone made in God’s image. When we send mixed or contradictory messages, we impede communication. We open the door for those who hear us to choose the worst possible option and the pain that it brings.
We never want to say to others, “You have nothing to offer me. God can’t use you to bless me.” That contradicts the beautiful descriptions of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4:11–16. But, intended or not, that’s what we say when we listen poorly, don’t listen, or reject wise counsel. When our actions contradict our words, people strongly tend to believe the actions. Not only that, they often judge the words to be insincere or deceitful. Some will even conclude that the incongruence reveals our motive—“I know pride when I see it.”
We never want to say to others, “You’re not worthy of my help. You don’t count in my world.” That contradicts the loving teaching of Matthew 7:12, John 13:34–35, and Philippians 2:1–4. But, intended or not, that’s what we say when we fail to step up, lean in, and serve when God gives us opportunity to help others. Think of the priest and the Levite in Luke 10. Think of the rich man who did not bless poor Lazarus (Luke 16).
We never want to say to God, “I don’t need you today. I have life well in hand.” That contradicts the clear teaching of Acts 17:22–31 and Proverbs 3:5–6. That has us embracing the philosophy of the rich fool from Luke 12:16–21. But, intended or not, we tell God that we don’t need Him whenever we neglect prayer (Luke 18:1, 1 Thess 5:17). People left to their own wisdom do not fare well (Prov 16:25).
We never want to say to ourselves, “Just this once, this tiny sin won’t matter. God won’t notice—even if He does, He won’t care.” That contradicts both the strong warning of Romans 6:23 and the powerful encouragement of Colossians 3 and 1 Peter 1:13–15. It opens the door to being bound and blinded by sin (Rom 6:11–16). But, intended or not, any time we dabble in sin, we’ve said to God, “I don’t really believe You, my understanding of spiritual reality is superior to Yours, and I have not truly given You my heart.” What a fearsome, deluded message! What a stunning rejection of the first and great commandment (Matt 22:36–40)! The God who made us, sustains us, and gave His Son for us, deserves so much better!