Judging or discerning


Jumping to conclusions is not always harmless

by Edmund Janzen

“With the judgment you make, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matt. 7:2)

I was settling into my seat, flying from San Francisco to Chicago. Next to me sat a youngish-looking man very casually dressed in a polo shirt, scruffy blue jeans and even scruffier sneakers—a worn pair of Nikes. He asked where I was headed. To a Mennonite Central Committee board meeting in Akron, Penn., I said. He responded that he too was headed for a board meeting of his corporation. When I asked him what business he was in, he smiled and said that he was the CEO of Nike Corporation.

When I expressed surprise, he laughed and said that he would put on a suit and tie later. He liked to travel as comfortably as possible. Truthfully, I had to admit that I had judged the man all wrong, based on his outward appearance.

My guess is that I am not the only one who has jumped to conclusions that later proved to be unwarranted. In this case, it was really quite harmless and even humorous. But sometimes, many times, it’s not at all funny.

And so our Lord warns us about making judgments about others, especially when we don’t have all the facts or when we can’t discern their motives. Seeing “the heart” is the Lord’s business, not ours. Judging people based only on their actions is risky and incomplete. Risky, because, as Jesus warns us, “with the judgment you make, you will be judged.”

The consequences for judging wrongly or harshly are serious, for God holds us accountable. Moreover, to highlight the danger of being a hypocrite, Jesus provides his listeners with a ludicrous illustration of a “log-in-the-eye” judge, one who pretends to see clearly another’s problems but is somehow blind to his own failures.

It is especially sad when we in the church and/or its institutions make judgments based on externals, without knowing a person’s motives or his/her experiences. Are we better known within the church, or even by the larger culture, for extending grace or for pronouncing judgment?

But what can or should we do about that? Clearly we must discern when people are flawed in character and conduct, as Jesus points out when he warns against following false prophets or recognizing the kind of fruit that a good (or bad) tree produces (Matt. 7:15-16).

There is a fine line between judging and discerning. Jesus does not merely call for tolerance, where “anything goes.” He expects his followers to exercise wise discernment but without a spirit of moral superiority and fault finding that leads to being judgmental. And that is a tall order for most of us. The wisdom to exercise discernment is only accessed through persistent prayer: asking, seeking and knocking (Matt. 7:7-8). Added to prayer is the call to live out the Golden Rule: “Do to others, as you would have them do to you.”

Lord, as you have extended your grace to me so generously, help me to extend grace to others; and help me not to be judgmental, but to discern wisely. Amen

Edmund Janzen is a worship leader at Butler MB Church, Fresno, Calif. He is a former Fresno Pacific University president and Biblical Studies professor and has served as chair of the International Community of Mennonite Brethren. Janzen’s lessons on the Sermon on the Mount are posted on the ICOMB Web site.

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