So I’ve been thinking and writing the past few weeks about the need for Christians to be able to “judge” each other in healthy ways. It seems to me that we have reacted so much to the condemning, judgmental things that we’ve seen and experienced, that we’ve lost being able to see the value in allowing the people we share life with to speak an occasional hard word into us.
We need people in our lives who love us enough to speak these words, but not only those words.
One of the things that is so central to Scripture but so foreign to our church cultures, is the idea that we create with our words. The Bible starts off with the famous lines, “In the Beginning God Created the Heavens and the Earth.” God said “Let there be Light.” And because God gets what God wants, light had no choice but to exist.
Now we use this story a lot to argue with science, as if Genesis was trying to have a conversation with Darwin. But the point Genesis wants us to pay attention to is that God creates with language. He creates a world with words.
The Bible tells a story in which the words we use with each other matter a lot.
And that’s important because we talk quite a bit.
Did you know that the average person has, on an average day, 30 separate conversations? 1/5 of our day is talking. An average year of your talking fills 132 books with 200 pages. You are a walking annual encyclopedia.
The University of Denver recently did a study where they discovered that language was the biggest indicator of a healthy marriage. The most accurate predictor of whether or not a marriage was going to stay together was if the couple used a lot of negative language. They found that if a couple had 5 negative comments per 100 comments, than it was almost guaranteed that they were going to stay together, And If it was 10 negative comments per 100, then it was almost guaranteed that they would eventually split up.
We grew up saying that Sticks and Stones can never hurt us, but does anybody really believe that? Our words create, they name, they can heal and destroy.
There’s another part of the Bible that talks about the power of words, a letter written by James says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”
The tongue leads to life and it can lead to death.
In Donald Miller’s well-known memoir “Blue Like Jazz,” there’s a story tucked away in the end of the book about his friend named Nathan he met at Reed college. He says that Nathan was this short, stocky kid with a speech impediment. Miller said that his initial response when he heard Nathan talk was to laugh. But he didn’t and he found out that Nathan was actually brilliant. He researched Nuclear chemistry, and was kind and decent. Nathan was more than his voice.
A few weeks later, Miller was speaking to some preachers in California. They were asking him about how hard it was to live at Reed college (a college notorious for immoral behavior). And Miller’s response has stuck with me for years. Here’s what he says:
“I have never thought of Reed as an immoral place, I suppose it’s because somebody like Nathan can go there and talk like Elmer Fudd, and nobody will ever make fun of him. And if Nathan were to go to my church, which I love and would give my life for, he would unfortunately be made fun of by somebody somewhere, behind his back and all, but it would happen, and that is tragic….What I love about Reed college is that there is a foundational understanding that other people exist and they are important, and to me Reed is like Heaven in that sense.”
This is the problem with Christians and judgment. I’ve been in churches a long time, and here’s what I know about us, the problem isn’t that we judge, the problem is that we judge the wrong things. Just like God, we create worlds, just the wrong kind of world.
So we call that effeminate kid in the youth group a faggot. Or we talk about the person who doesn’t have enough money to buy the clothes that make her look normal enough. We use words like “slut” to talk about the woman who had an affair, and we talk about other races like they don’t belong.
There is an invisible barrier we create that keeps some people inside and some people out. We’ve created worlds that are too small for certain people, and most of the time we discover that they are the kinds of people that were the most drawn to the grace of Jesus.
And so what happens when one of us sins, is that we immediately know where we stand. We know the labels and words that “they” are saying about us now, because we used to say those words about other people. We know that the kind of worlds that we used to be a part of, and that we don’t belong to now, because we helped create it.
And so before anyone ever says anything to us, we are already defensive and angry, not because of anything that person might say to us, but because of what we suspect they have said about us to others.
Andy Stanley says that the greatest casualty in most of our churches is grace. It’s hard to extend grace to people who don’t seem to need it, and it’s really hard to admit you will need it when you don’t think you will receive it.
That’s why we don’t want to be judged. Because we’ve created a graceless world and any kind of judgment in those worlds is always ugly.
So what if the first step toward creating a community that is safe to judge, is to create a community that is fully accepting? And we do that with the words we say to, and about, the people who are doing wrong.
I don’t believe that everyone is entitled to their own pet sin, or that we can’t say certain behaviors are wrong. But what I am saying is that we need to create communities, we need to create worlds, where no matter what, whoever you are, we accept you.
We welcome and see the image of God in you.
We’re not going to talk about you behind your back, and we’re not going to judge and label you. When we confront you it will not be because the world we have created is too small to deal with your sin, it will be because the world we created is large enough for you still.
This is exactly what Jesus is talking about when he says Don’t judge. Because he knows us, and he just wants to remind us that we’re not perfect either, and eventually we are going to mess up and need grace, and the kind of judgment we have used in the past, is exactly the kind of judgment we will face ourselves. Jesus was able to say incredibly hard things to people, because people knew he was only saying those things to them, and that it was from a place of deep acceptance and love.
That’s what every church needs to become.
Because that’s what we think Jesus would do, that’s the kind of community he created.
That’s the world he created, and any other world is just too small to live in.