Someone has said, “Wise are those who look at others with the same generosity they offer themselves, and at themselves with the same critical eye they have for others.”
Such advice is difficult to disagree with because it amounts to treating others the way we’d want to be treated. The “golden rule” is hard to deny, but that doesn’t make it easy to do. For instance,
How can followers of Christ practice generosity of spirit in a culture that has a reputation for tolerating everything but intolerance?
Let’s start by testing the question: Does our generation really tolerate everything but intolerance?
Daily news reports make it clear that our society is not as tolerant as its reputation. We don’t look the other way when executives get caught “cooking the books” of their company, or when politicians get nabbed taking money under the table, or when athletes test positive for steroids.
None of us is tolerant when someone is breaking into our home, stealing our money, or hurting our children.
So why are some of us concerned that tolerance has become disproportionately important to our generation?
One reason is that democratic freedoms have allowed for the growth of religious, spiritual, and moral diversity. Over time, world views have multiplied with a resulting loss of moral and political consensus. In a society that defends freedom of religious expression, some choices involve privacy issues that are increasingly difficult to legislate and enforce.
How can the history of the Bible help us keep our perspective?
In many ways, the social and political conditions of our culture parallel the days of the New Testament. The pluralism of Western society is similar to the multiculturalism of the Roman Empire.
Until the emergence of Constantine in the fourth century, the Caesars were not partial to Christ. On the contrary, the Roman Empire was marked by religious diversity and sexual license.
In the New Testament, therefore, we find a series of case studies that show us how to live in conditions of diversity. In just such an environment, Jesus and His first followers show us how to have good judgment without being self-righteously judgmental in the process.
Because of our own limited perspective, Jesus gave us reasons to think twice before judging others when He said,
• Judge not, that you be not judged (Matthew 7:1).
• Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned (Luke 6:37).
Years later, a follower of Jesus by the name of Paul added his own reasons for not trying to play God with other people’s lives. He wrote,
• Don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For He will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives (1 Corinthians 4:5 NLT).
• Who are you to judge another’s servant? . . . Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:4,10).
But as we’ve already suggested, such hesitance to judge others could not mean that followers of Christ need to claim ignorance when it comes to our need for moral discernment.
Jesus shows us how to have good judgment without being judgmental.
According to the gospel of John, Jesus was full of both grace and truth (John 1:14). By combining both, Jesus gives us a model of moral insight and judgment while insisting that He, Himself, was not ready to condemn anyone (John 3:17).
Consider, for instance, what happened when a group of religious men brought to Jesus a woman who they said had been caught in the act of adultery.
In an effort to pit Jesus against Moses, they said, “Teacher, . . . this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” (John 8:4-5 NLT).
Jesus, acting as if He didn’t hear, stooped down and with His finger wrote something on the ground. When they insisted on a response, He stood up again and said, “ ‘All right, [stone her] but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!’ Then He stooped down again and wrote in the dust” (vv.6-8 NLT).
John’s gospel goes on to say that when the accusers heard Jesus’ response, “They slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, ‘Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?’ ”
“No, Lord,” she said. Then Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more” (John 8:9-11 NLT).
In that brief conversation, Jesus showed good judgment without being judgmental. With masterful truth and grace, He gave the men, and the woman, what they needed to hear for their own good.
Those who were self-righteous and judgmental were graciously and truthfully reminded of their own sin. The one caught in adultery heard words of correction rather than condemnation.
In the process . . .
Jesus showed a desire to rescue before assuming His final role as our judge.
When, at the end of this age, the time does come for Jesus to judge the world (John 5:27-29), He will do so in a way that He alone is qualified to do:
• He will be a judge who walked in our shoes without sin.
• He will be a judge who suffered in our place to earn the right to be our Savior.
• He will be a judge who with perfect understanding will weigh our acceptance or rejection of His salvation and our acceptance or rejection of His offer to live His life through us.
There’s no better reason than the example Jesus provided to want to live with good judgment, without acting like anyone’s final judge or jury.
Father in heaven, some of our most thoughtless acts have been to condemn those for whom Your Son died. Forgive us for presuming to judge others in ways that belong to You alone. Please give us the good judgment that we need to love others, as You have loved us. —Mart De Haan