[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 Or, do we chalk up Jesus’ words to being outdated and irrelevant?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?