One of my majors in college was psychology (so yes, I quickly realized that grad school would be necessary at some point). Anyway, one of the very first things you learn in Psychology 101 is something that’s called the Fundamental Attribution Error, which in short, is the tendency that you and I have to under emphasize situational and environmental factors for someone else’s behavior while over emphasizing personality or character based factors.
Or in much simpler terms, it’s our tendency to attribute other people’s behavior due to their personality and our tendency to attribute our own behavior due to extenuating circumstances.
For example, if our co-worker shows up late to work we might attribute their behavior to them being lazy, or “I guess Joe slept in again,” and yet if we were to show up late to work the very next day we would attribute our tardiness not to our own laziness or poor planning, but due to, say, unexpected traffic or a broken alarm clock.
Or if we see someone else driving too fast down the road, we might label them as reckless, or if they cut us off we might think, “what a jerk,” but if we do very same things, we justify it by saying, “I’m headed to the airport and I’m going to miss my flight if I don’t.”
Or if we see someone fail to tip their waitress or barista, we might label them in our minds as selfish or stingy, when reality they are strapped for cash and a day or two away from their monthly paycheck.
To put it all together, the fundamental attribution error goes something like this - “When others do something wrong, it’s a reflection of their character and personality and yet, when I do something wrong, it’s a reflection of my situation and circumstances.
Whether on a daily or weekly or monthly basis, we’re all guilty of committing the fundamental attribution error from time to time, I know I do, and if you dispute that claim, well then I guess have no choice to attribute your outright denial to the fact that you all are a bunch of liars ☺ (Gosh dang it, I did it again!)
Anyway, I couldn’t help but go back in time to my Psychology 101 class and my introduction to the Fundamental Attribution Error as I was preparing my sermon for this Sunday, when Jesus shares these famous words “Do not judge, and you will not be judged.”
This morning, we continue on in our sermon series in Luke’s Gospel, and we currently, and ever so briefly find ourselves in a new section of the book itself, where we’ve moved from story to sermon. From stories about Jesus to now, a sermon from Jesus, what is known here in Luke as “The Sermon on the Plain.”
Last week we looked at the first part of this sermon on a message on Blessings and Woes, and this week we now look at another, and what will be the final passage from this sermon on Judging Others. And part of the reason for skipping much of “The Sermon on the Plain” is that we studied Matthew’s account of this sermon from Jesus, in what is known as “The Sermon on the Mount” just a couple years ago. And the other reason being the fact that if we don’t start moving through this book a little faster, we’ll never finish it. After all, we’re still in chapter 6 of a 24 chapter book …
But yet, I wanted to preach on this passage here today for a couple reasons. One being, because it’s endlessly relevant and applicable for all times and all ages and stages and the other being, in the words of seminary professor Eric Bargerhuff, and I think I agree with him here, he says, “one might argue that this initial verse, when Jesus says, “Do not judge,” this might be the most frequently misapplied verse in the entire Bible.”
In other words, humanity as a whole has deflected and excused and justified sins both big and small by quoting Jesus here and saying to anyone who might accuse us, Jesus says, “Do not judge.” Where we’ve used this verse as defacto mic drop, a conversation stopper of sorts, where if someone says something critical about us or questions our actions or motives about something, we can hit them with a “Stop right there. Jesus says, “Do not judge.”
And to use this verse in that way is to miss what Jesus is trying to say here and divorce this passage from its larger context. Because notice, only a few verses later, when Jesus uses the humorous illustration of calling out the speck of sawdust in another’s eye while missing the enormous plank in your own, there he gives us the playbook, the when and who of correcting and lovingly rebuking someone.
All this to say, in the brief time we have remaining, we’ll try and do the following: First, we’ll try and identify what Jesus does and does not mean when he says “Do not judge” and then having done that we’ll then look at particulars, the when and who of judging rightly through loving correction and rebuke.
So first, let’s first establish here, what does Jesus have in mind here when he talks about judgment, and tells the crowd that day, and you and I today, “Do not judge.”
Well, to begin, let’s name the obvious: this is not a referendum on those who serve in a court of law or parents who discipline their kids in appropriate ways. Nor is Jesus trying to do away with the everyday ethical, moral judgments and exercising our minds and showing discernment. For example, if you’ve ever interviewed multiple candidates for a job, or gone on a first date and were unsure if you wanted to go on a second one or tried to discern if a friend’s kid was ready and capable of babysitting your own, you in those moments have made a judgment or two or ten of some kind. And chances are, it was good and right and perfectly normal for you to do so.
And so when Jesus says “Do not judge” must be getting at something else.
19th century Anglican bishop J. C. Ryle I think says it best when he says,
What our Lord means to condemn is a . . . fault-finding spirit. A readiness to blame others for trifling offenses, or matters of indifference; a habit of passing rash and hasty judgments; a disposition to magnify the errors and infirmities of our neighbors, and make the worst of them.
Or to really sum it all up, when Jesus says, “Do not judge,” what he’s really saying is, “Don’t be judgmental.” Or in other words, to take us back to where we started, “Beware of making the fundamental attribution error.”
Which, yeah, is easier said than done, I know. For whatever reason, we often have a tendency, to see the small sins and faults of other people, that little speck of sawdust in someone else, and make a huge deal out of it, while at the same time managing to be completely oblivious and blind to our own, much bigger sins and faults which are the size of a Redwood.
Why we do this at times, there are probably multiple reasons. On one hand, we are often blind and unaware of our own sin and blind spots and yet have this innate Spidey sense others sins and blind spots. Callie and I are in the midst of taking a parenting class called Love and Logic with other families here in Dillon and almost as an aside, the speaker made this comment where he said, “It’s amazing how good we think we would be at raising someone else’s children.” And yet, often struggle in raising our own …
This, after all, seems to be the point Jesus is making when he says,
42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?
But yet, I also, at least personally speaking, sometimes think there’s something more insidious going on in my own heart. And that is, I just kind of feel better about myself when I can put the spotlight on someone else’s sins and shortcomings than standing under the spotlight myself with my own sins and shortcomings revealed.
And so as we put this all together, we find ourselves sitting in this strange tension. On one hand, with the Holy Spirit and love of Christ at work in our hearts, we don’t want to be judgmental toward others. And we certainly don’t want others to be judgmental towards us and expose our sins and shortcomings in a judgmental kind of way. And yet we also know deep down that we need others who can help us change and grow and become more Christlike. Growing as a Christian is a group project, not a solo endeavor. And so to me the question becomes, how can we correct and rebuke others in a loving way, one that is characterized by humility and integrity, rather than hypocrisy? Well, thankfully, Jesus gives us the playbook for accomplishing just that.
Two quick things I want us to see when it comes towards judging people rightly and correcting them lovingly:
The first is a matter of when …
Order is everything here. Notice what Jesus says in that final sentence here.
“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Before we dare try and lovingly correct someone for their own sins and shortcomings and blind spots, we’ve first got to do the hard work of being willing to see our own, which demands that we humble ourselves and requires a great deal of self-awareness and self-reflection.
Now in terms of how this all plays out and what this requires of us, well, I suppose that depends on the situation. For example, someone gives you really tough feedback or constructive criticism, and even worse, the way they delivered it was especially unhelpful. Maybe they say it in public, rather than private, or it’s an email out of nowhere with an overly generous use of CAPS LOCK. If you’re like me, sometimes my default mode is to want to judge the judger, but yet what I should do is ask myself in the form of a prayer, “God, what do you want me to hear in this feedback? Is there truth here that I need to take to heart?”
Or say, you have a scuffle and disagreement at home or at work or with your friend, and say in the hours that follow, you’ve got a beef with something they said and want to call them out on it. Well, first, review the tape, rewind that conversation, ask yourself, “Is there anything I said that I need to apologize for?”
If we’re willing to do that hard, soul searching work, then we’ll enter that conversation with that other person from a place of humility, rather than hypocrisy.
Even more, it’s always worth asking if the thing we are wanting to highlight and shine a light on in someone else is something that we have addressed and dealt with ourselves, otherwise, we run the risk of compromising our integrity but judging out of hypocrisy.
Pastor Matt Smethurst gives a couple piercing examples of what this kind of hypocrisy might look like, and these hit me in the gut. He says, for example,
Correcting someone for cursing or telling an off-color joke—and then returning to a long text thread that is basically just gossip.
Rolling your eyes at someone’s prayer request or correcting someone’s theology of prayer—when your private prayer life is virtually nonexistent.
Ooof. That’ll preach now, won’t it? Or as Jesus says, 41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
If we do the hard work of self-reflection and self-correction first, before we lovingly correct others, then we will be able to position ourselves from a place of humility and integrity, rather than hypocrisy, which all together will allow us to see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. That self-reflection will, Lord willing, end up making us more humble, more gentle, and since we’ve done the hard work of looking inward, before looking outward, we’ll then gain credibility with the ones we lovingly correctly so that they will actually hear us, rather than simply tune us out.
That’s the when, now here’s the who. Listen again to who is being addressed here in this hypothetical conversation.
42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?
That word “brother” is repeated multiple times here. And for what it’s worth, it could read “sister” as well. It’s a transferable principle. The idea here is that this is familial language, this is brotherly love, your sister in Christ, the idea being this type of loving correction happens best in the context of a loving and trusted relationship.
Jesus doesn’t say, “then you’ll see clearly to remove the speck from your stranger’s eye, or the person you’ve never met before, no, there’s the assumption that all of this is taking place in the context of an established relationship. That’s not to say that you can never say a correcting word to a co-worker who you’re not very close to, but instead to say it’s best if the relationship runs deep enough that history tells the other person that you’re reaching out to them out of love and nothing else.
And so there you have it, the when and the who of lovingly correcting one another.
And I’ll finish with this …
Our passage began with this series of phrases:
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
And there’s this question, who’s doing the judging and condemning and forgiving in the back half of these sentences? Our gut may lead us to believe that the way the text really reads is “Do not judge and you will not be judged by others.”
The idea being that there’s a kind of you get what you deserve, give and take here. if you judge others, then expect judgment in return from others, but if you put peace and love and good vibes into the world, then expect all that good stuff in return from others.
That very well may be partly true, but yet truth is the subject in the back half of these sentences is almost certainly God.
“37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged by God. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned by God. Forgive, and you will be forgiven by God.
Which in one sense makes for a chilling and piercing truth. That if the regular, habitual, default mode of my heart is to judge others with a judgmental spirit, then I should only expect judgment from God in return.
Friends, do you feel the weighty-ness of it all? It’s heavy, I know.
The good news though is that there’s hope. And that is the God of the universe, took on our human nature, lived without sin, and was the most generous judge the world has ever seen, taking on sins of humankind and wrath of God, putting all of sin’s spotlight and shame on himself, so that we rest and rejoice in his presence, free from guilt and shame.
And so why should we not judge others with a judgmental spirit and why should we lovingly correct others from a place of humility and integrity, rather than hypocrisy? It’s because this is what God, through Christ, has done for you and me.
And so in the end, why is all this judging stuff such a big deal? It’s because in those moments we’re reflecting to one another and to the world around us what our God is like and how he has dealt with us.
So friends, let’s go show the world what this God is like.