[artist credit: Sermon on the Mount by Juanita Cole Towery]
“Do we realize that our sons and daughters have grown up in a world of social media, which is inherently judgmental?” I was listening to Dr. Tim Davis, the Executive Director of the department of Resilience and Leadership at the University of Virginia last week. My ears perked up. I had been studying Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
Dr. Davis went on briefly to explain how so many people have grown up with a daily ritual of posting something on a social media platform, and then waiting to see who likes, loves, retweets, or comments. In essence, they are waiting to see how they are judged.
Then, my wife sent me an article on how teens are using Snapchat, and how “streaks” are vital to sustaining friendships.
Some of us might not use social media that frequently, and might find ourselves saying, “Well, that’s just silly.” But is it? There was a quote from Jules Spector, one of the teens interviewed, that struck me:
“I think in some weird way it makes concrete a feeling of a friendship. Like, you can talk to someone every day, but a streak is physical evidence that you talk every day.”
This is simply today’s version of relationships feeling more real, more consistent. In a digital age, is it any wonder that so many of us want some evidence of relationship?
So what does Jesus have to say about all this? If he says, “Don’t judge,” and social media is judgmental, do we give up on that? Or, do we chalk up Jesus’ words to being outdated and irrelevant? (If we’re honest, we often do this, especially with the Sermon on the Mount—Matthew 5-7).
When we dig deeper, we find Jesus’ words to be both convicting and life-giving.
The Bible actually has a lot to say about being slow to judge. And there is a similar refrain: be careful when you judge, because you do the same things.
Hear these words from Romans 2:1:
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
That refrain is present here in Matthew 7. Jesus says we are to look at ourselves, the “plank” in our own eye, before we go to remove a little speck from another’s eye.
Some of us might be wondering, “OK, so are we not to judge at all? Isn’t there a place for discernment? Is it realistic to really walk through life without judging someone?”
As we’ve mentioned before in this series on “How We Get Along” with others, is it likely that Jesus is not just handing down new laws to be obeyed. “Don’t judge or else.” But, to get us to ask the question, “What kind of person would not judge so quickly?”
Digging deeper, scholars on this passage say something interesting. Namely, that Jesus is not saying to never judge, but to examine our hearts to see if we have a certain kind of judging spirit:
“What our Lord means to condemn is a censorious and 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—this is what our Lord forbids.” JC Ryle, Crossway Bible Commentary
And again, “In short, the unnoticed log is often the critical spirit itself.” Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary
This is the convicting part for me. How often do I find myself judging others with a critical, fault-finding spirit? How quickly can I dismiss a person, squash an idea, make unfounded assumptions, and more?
This is the life-giving part. Jesus is offering a way out. Actually, Jesus is pointing to a way of life where I am set free from such tendencies. First look at the plank in my life, he says. When I find myself thinking or saying judgmental things about others, can I immediately look at times I have said or thought similar things? When I find myself judging someone else’s behavior, can I immediately look at times when I have done something similar? When I do this, does my attitude change towards others?
So what about social media in all of this? What might Jesus say about all of that? First, I wonder if he might long for people to be set free from finding affirmation and identity in how many likes and loves they get. It only lasts as long as you see it. And it only creates in us a desire to get more the next time. (True confession: If you don’t think I look at how many views I get on these blog posts, you’re wrong!). Second, I wonder if he would want us to be less judgmental and harsh about the things we see and read there. Have you ever written a post, an email, a letter in anger and then regretted it later? And finally, that we would understand the generations that have grown up with a way of relating that has been inherently judgmental, and be a un-hypocritical people that points the way to a love that is unconditional.
Questions for individuals: If there is a person that you are too critical towards, who is it? How helpful do you think your critical words are to them? Can you picture yourself asking for forgiveness from them, and honestly asking them if you have ever hurt them with your words? If there is a group of people that you are critical towards, who is it? Is there something you might not be seeing about them, that is true about yourself?
Questions for kids and families: When I was growing up, kids were often judged by things like this: how good they were at sports, how good they were at games on the playground, how good they were at school, how they dressed, who they hung out with, and a lot more. Talk with your family about the things you think kids are judged on today, and if you feel judged. What do you think Jesus might have to say about those things?
Questions for the workplace: Perhaps the place you work uses “evaluations” or “assessments,” and you either are in charge of giving them, or you receive them regularly. In either case, you are called upon to judge others, or be judged. How can these be done in a way that is less “fault-finding,” and more constructive, or help you grow, or help you grow others?
We are in our second week of our series on “How to Get Along.” Last week, we saw how vital it was to Jesus to teach us to take the initiative of reconciliation (Matthew 5:23). Perhaps my “radar” is up to look in Scripture for how many things there are for us to consider when it comes to our relationships with one another. In Colossians 3:12-17, the apostle Paul is writing to a community of followers of Jesus. He uses this language of “putting off and putting on” to communicate what a new life of listening and obeying Jesus looks like. After strongly telling them to put to death certain things, he then mentions putting away or “putting off” these things:
anger, rage, malice, slander, obscene talk, and lying.
I look at each of these words and see how each one is tied to our relationships with one another. Sure, we can get “angry with the world,” or even angry with God for our lot in life. But primarily, we are angry at one another. Our rage has a target—sometimes intended, sometimes unintended—and that target is usually another person. We have malice towards another, we slander someone else. Our obscene talk is directed at someone else. And finally, we can lie to ourselves, but we more often lie to others.
This life of following Jesus is intensely relational.
New Testament scholar Donald Guthrie calls these things we must put off, “social irritants.” To be honest, when I first read these words, I chuckled to myself. “Um, with all due respect, I think they are more than irritants.” But I looked up the definition, and it speaks of two kinds of irritants: things that cause inflammation and discomfort in the body; and, something that is a continual annoyance or distraction.
As someone who deals with a disease that can cause persistent inflammation in my body (celiac disease), I reflected a bit more on that definition. I know I have undertaken all kinds of things in my life to reduce inflammation. Diet, lifestyle, exercise, supplements. I was given a diagnosis, and told that fighting inflammation is key. So I began that fight.
Do I fight against these “social irritants” of anger, rage, slander and the rest in the same way? Have I changed the “diet of my thought life,” changed how I live, have I sought out “exercises” and “supplements” for my life that might free me from such things as these? Or, have I begun to love nursing my anger and can’t imagine a life without it?
Fortunately, Paul gives what Guthrie calls “social ointments” to begin healing those irritants. He says we are to put on the following things:
compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love.
There is too much here in each of these words to fit in this space. So I want to specifically focus on this verse:
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. —Colossians 3:13
A variety of English translations translate this verse differently. “Bear” with someone literally means to be patient. “Grievance” means you blame someone else for something. We live in a world where our patience is constantly tested, and we are tempted to blame at every turn. Is Paul saying that we simply “stop being impatient,” and “stop blaming”?
It’s important to remember something here. Last week, I said Jesus in Matthew 5 is not necessarily saying “Don’t be angry.” He painted a picture of what someone would do if they were the kind of person who sought out reconciliation first, even in the midst of something important. In the same way, we all know that it is very difficult to read “Be patient,” and just do that.
Instead, what if we began to ask ourselves, “How can I become the kind of person who is more patient, and quick to forgive?”
One place to start is where Paul ends this verse:
“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Read that again.
Think about what that means. For what has the Lord forgiven you? Is it little, or is it much?
When I ask that question, I can’t help but think of a story we find in the gospels. When Jesus is invited to dinner in the home of a man named Simon, a woman who had a less-than-perfect reputation came. She begins to wet the feet of Jesus with her tears, and anoints his feet with expensive perfume. Simon assumes Jesus doesn’t know the woman’s reputation, and slanders Jesus’ reputation in his heart—“he must not be a prophet.” Jesus somehow knows what Simon is thinking. He tells him a parable of two people—one whom owed much, one whom owed little. Both debts are forgiven, and Jesus gets Simon to answer the question: “Which will love the moneylender more?” Simon answers, “The one who had the bigger debt canceled.” Jesus then turns the attention back to the woman, effectively saying, “Whoever is forgiven much, loves much,” or loves with extravagance.
The point is clear. When we have in view how much we have been forgiven, we are on a pathway to show the extravagance of love that Jesus has for us.
When you begin to think about all that the Lord has forgiven you, and THEN you look at the person against whom you have a complaint, does your perspective change?
I will end with this. This section of the letter ends with Paul writing these words:
“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
What does it mean to “do all things” in the name of Jesus?
Donald Guthrie offers this:
“In the New Testament church this would be regarded as no mere superstitious uttering of the name as a magical formula in the manner of many contemporary heathen cults, but as a recognition of the Lordship of Christ in everything.” Donald Guthrie, The New Bible Commentary [emphasis mine].
Questions for you: Guthrie writes about the early church learning to recognize the Lordship of Christ in everything. When you think of Jesus as Lord, do you think He is Lord over every area of your life? What parts of your day, what parts of your week, your schedule, your thoughts, priorities and dreams is Jesus a part of, and where is He absent? What would it look like for you to include Him in those places?
Against whom might you have a complaint? Whom might Jesus be calling you to forgive? Could you be more patient with them? Has Jesus forgiven you of anything similar to which you are blaming the other?
Questions for children and families: Talk amongst yourselves about the times when it is hard to be patient. Perhaps it was waiting in line for a turn on a ride, getting to your destination on a road trip, or when you would finally get dessert. How quickly did you find yourself getting angry, speaking poorly about someone, blaming someone, or even lying to get what you wanted? What would being patient look like instead? What would it look like to forgive people in those circumstances instead?
Questions for your workplace: In your place of work, how many times have you seen examples of anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, or lying? How many times have you promoted those things with your own words? Speaking things that verge on slander of a co-worker or boss, a client or customer, a parent, teacher, or someone else? Where might compassion, kindness, forgiveness, or patience have a place in your workplace? What would be the risks? What would be the rewards? What would it look like if love brought unity, and peace ruled, with the people you work alongside?
Believe it or not, Jesus has a lot of things to say to those who claim to follow Him about how to get along. In fact, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), considered by many to be the most profound spiritual teaching ever written, contains multiple references to how we are to handle conflict, whether we are to seek revenge, how we make promises to one another, and more.
This past spring, I took the opportunity to audit a class offered by Fuller Seminary. It was entitled, “One Body, Many Frustrations: A Systems Approach to Conflict in Congregations.” It was taught by Cameron Lee, a long time member of the faculty at Fuller, a licensed marriage and family therapist. A “systems approach” is nothing more than a recognition that every group can begin to behave as a “system,” like a system in the body—the circulatory system, the respiratory system, etc. In fact, when the apostle Paul refers to the church as the “body of Christ,” we can see that within the body are multiple systems. Each of those systems behave in a certain way because of how they were created and designed, and they depend on one another (as Paul points out in I Corinthians 12).
In a community of people like the church, those systems, Professor Lee taught us, were created by shared stories, feelings and memories that go with those stories, and the rules, structures, and policies that came out of those stories and feelings, and so on. Conflict naturally comes when new decisions, or people unfamiliar with the history and rules, come into relationship with the existing systems. Because we are always changing, reforming as a church, conflict is inevitable. So, how do we get along with one another when conflict comes?
Over the next six weeks, we’re going to look at just a few of Jesus’ sayings in the gospel of Matthew, and Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus. In the guide below, I hope to ask each week some questions for reflection for us as individuals. And, that families with kids could ask these in their homes, perhaps around the dinner table. Finally, those at work could imagine how these teachings might play out in the workplace. Feel free to adapt any of these as you wish. My hope is that we might be changed by the word of God in these passages, through the conviction and comfort of the Holy Spirit. And we might learn how to get along in the way of Jesus.