Judgments of Charity and Condemnation
Our Lord Jesus tells us that we should not judge others (Mt. 7:1). By this He means not that we are prohibited from evaluating the words and works of others, but rather that we must resist the temptation to be censorious and condemning in our assessments of others. To this prohibition, Jesus adds the warning that if we do judge by a condemning standard, we shall be judged by that same standard (Mt. 7:2). We are to consider others by the judgment of charity, rather than by the judgment of cynical condemnation. By the former standard, we place the best credible construction upon the words, actions, and even the motives of others. By the latter standard, we place the most sinister construction upon others’ attitudes and actions. The intention and result of our exercising the judgment of charity is the loving edification of others; the intention and result of our exercising the judgment of condemnation is the tearing down of others. It should, therefore, be obvious to us why the God who is love commends the one standard and condemns the other.
We do well to discern the true character of these opposite standards of judgment. There are counterfeit versions of both the judgment charity and the judgment of condemnation. A counterfeit judgment of charity is essentially an indulgence whereby one refuses to perceive and deal lovingly and restoratively with sin in his brother. While true charity does not rejoice to find sin in another, it does not turn a blind eye to such sin, but rather seeks to win one’s brother out of it. True charity prompts us to speak the truth in love so that others are released from their miserable bondage to life-destroying sin and are built up in Christ.
The judgment of condemnation has its counterfeits as well. But here the counterfeits are guises of righteousness and love that are donned to make the judgment of condemnation appear good, right, and necessary. For example, a cynical, condemning man may convince himself that he is in fact a person of great spiritual discernment who perceives sin in others that a less discerning brother may fail to perceive. Such a condemning one may further fancy himself to be righteously compelled to confront the sinner with proclamation of just judgment, rather than point him to the forgiving grace of the Lord.
Behind the judgment of condemnation is one’s motivation not lovingly to edify others in Christ, but lovelessly to tear them down. The loveless one does this in an endeavor to exalt himself. But his sense of exaltation is delusive, for the cynicism he exercises is that not of a divinely motivated person, but rather that of a dog. In fact, the noun, cynic, comes from the Greek word meaning dog.
The condemning cynic surrounds others not with loving embrace, but with snarling no-win attacks aimed at tearing others down. For example, the cynic views the weak, struggling believer not as a bruised reed to be tenderly nurtured to healing and strength, but simply as a loser to be cast away. The condemning cynic, at the same time, views the strong and victorious believer not as an encouraging example of the Lord’s enabling grace being operative in one’s life, but rather as a hypocrite who projects himself as being better than he truly is. Even if the hypocrite label cannot be made to stick, even if a brother’s undeniable integrity shines forth, the cynic attributes such integrity to an easy course of untested indulgence that the one having such integrity has had the good fortune to experience. Hence, the struggling believer is cast off as a loser, while the strong believer is cast off as a cheater. In the world of the cynic there are no winners, no healing of wounds, no forgiveness or deliverances, no resurrections; there are only worthless souls worthy of condemnation which the cynic smugly delights to rain upon such souls.
It is a terrible thing when one exercises the judgment of condemnation. For by his doing so, while he may distress his brethren, he does not succeed in destroying them—their heavenly Advocate sees to that. Meanwhile, the cynic busies himself emptying his life of all human relationships, and depriving himself of vital communion with the God of covenant love and saving grace. Let us, therefore, with constant vigilance, ask our Lord to search us and show us if we are to any degree failing to exercise the sweet, embracing, and edifying judgment of charity. Let us cry to Him to show us if we are to any degree exercising the bitter, repulsive, destructive judgment of condemnation, and let us ask Him to grant us the grace of repentance from it if it is to any extent an active principle in our lives.
Yours striving to grow in charity,