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A defendant in a lawsuit involving large sums of money was talking to his lawyer. “If I lose this case, I’ll be ruined.” “It’s in the judge’s hands now,” said the lawyer. “Would it help if I sent the judge a box of cigars?” “Oh no! This judge is a stickler or ethical behavior. A stunt like that would prejudice him against you. He might even hold you in contempt of court. In fact, you shouldn’t even smile at the judge.”Â
Within the course of time, the judge rendered a decision in favor of the defendant. As the defendant left the courthouse, he said to his lawyer, “Thanks for the tip about the cigars. It worked!” “I’m sure we would have lost the case if you’d sent them,” replied the lawyer. “But, I did send them.” “What? You did?” said the lawyer, incredulously. “Yes. That’s how we won the case.” “I don’t understand,” said the lawyer.Â
“It’s easy. I sent the cigars to the judge, but enclosed the plaintiff’s business card.”Â
When you cross the street, you look both ways and decide whether to continue walking. Thatâ€™s a judgment. At its core, a judgment is an opinion or decision based on thoughts, feelings, and evidence. We make hundreds of them every day.
â€œWithin the first seven seconds of meeting someone, our brain makes eleven different decisions about them including their intelligence, socioeconomic status, education, competence and trustworthiness,â€ said corporate image consultant and personal brand strategist Anna Hinson.
This is a subconscious process people canâ€™t control. You most likely wonâ€™t be able to detect many signs during these seven seconds.
There are positive judgments, too. If you saw someone give food to a homeless person, you would instinctively make a positive judgment about his or her character. Judging only becomes a problem when we make unnecessary, hurtful or unfair judgments based on little evidence.
Despite many efforts, we judge others. It might be over small things, like a co-worker who took too long of a lunch break, whether someone is wearing the right clothes, or has too long of hair. Or it might be over bigger issues, such as a person who behaves selfishly or hurts our feelings or is a good parent in our book. While this is true, we must continue to diminish the speed and frequency with which we judge negatively.Â
When we rush to judgment, and make assertions about what someone else is doing or saying, never trying to get information first about why he or she is saying or doing that, weâ€™re going to end up being judgmental, harsh, and wrong. You may have to end up saying sorry, or be OK with leaving people with bad feelings about you.Â
John Wesley told of a man he had little respect for because he considered him to be miserly and covetous. One day when this person contributed only a small gift to a worthy charity, Wesley openly criticized him.
After the incident, the man went to Wesley privately and told him he had been living on parsnips and water for several weeks. He explained that before his conversion, he had run up many bills. Now, by skimping on everything and buying nothing for himself he was paying off his creditors one by one. “Christ has made me an honest man,” he said, “and so with all these debts to pay, I can give only a few offerings above my tithe. I must settle up with my worldly neighbors and show them what the grace of God can do in the heart of a man who was once dishonest.” Wesley then apologized to the man and asked his forgiveness.
We sometimes criticize others unfairly. We don’t know all their circumstances, nor their motives. Only God, who is aware of all the facts, can judge people righteously.
The truth is, we never thought judging others would be like this. We had a good reason for exercising our mindâ€™s capability to discern what is bad or not. By determining what was right, good, best, acceptable, appropriate, we thought we could create and keep a good world around us. All we needed to do was to judge who was doing things right and who was doing things poorly. We became good at this.Â
But what become surprising over the years was how we found less peace and created more turmoil when we corrected others. When we tried to make sure everyone was in their proper place we encountered less kindness and felt in turn more isolated and alone. We thought we were doing things right, but in fact so much turned out wrong.Â
And most people really want to surrender this negative power.
Itâ€™s tough for a tiger to change stripes but not impossible. Maybe itâ€™s old age but at some point, itâ€™s so much better if we comprehend we arenâ€™t built for telling others theyâ€™re wrong. In our calmer times, weâ€™d prefer to admire and compliment them. Call it humility or tiredness or wisdom, but
accept that you want to let others walk their own walk and talk their own talk without criticizing.
Give up the burden of judging others. Find the path to appreciation. Sit back and admire as much as you can, pointing out where someone is doing well. Praise them, bless them, and pray for them. Think instead of their struggles, not their failings. Come to an understanding of them. Donâ€™t keep people at a distance. Instead, lift up what they bring of value to your life.Â
The truth is, just because they’re not on your road to happiness and fulfilment doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.Â Â
In our scripture today, James wants to get our attention. He wants us to put a stop to judging one another in what he calls â€œspeaking evil againstâ€ one another. This word for â€œspeaking evil againstâ€ is just one word in the original Greek. It is the word â€œkatalaleo.â€ Kata is a preposition; it means â€œagainst or downâ€ and â€œlaleoâ€ is â€œto speak.â€ To speak down at someone or against them. The word evil is implied as a natural consequence of such words.
Now James doesnâ€™t mention which law such speaking goes against, but he probably meant the second of the two great laws Jesus cites when he says, â€œYou shall love your neighbor as yourself.â€ He continues to repeat that speaking evil and making judgments against fellow Christians, and, by extension, others canâ€™t be done if you want to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.Â
So, if we want to stop being this way and we know Christ seeks us to be different, whatâ€™s the problem? For some reason, we feel we need it.Â
We may judge because of our own ego-centric interests. We sometimes become critical when comparing ourselves to those around us. We try to find fault in others to prove that we are smarter, better looking, happier or wealthier. We simply want to feel better about ourselves. But negative judgments of others can never do this. In fact, it worsens our condition.
If we continue to practice judging others unfairly, routinely, poorly, we will not be able to stop our practice of judging ourselves in the same manner. We do unto ourselves what we have already done unto others. The net we cast ensnares us.Â
The thing is, we arenâ€™t outwardly toward others one way, and inwardly toward ourselves another, though we often think we can pull off this Houdini trick for the ages. Itâ€™s beyond us to do so. The mental power we use to objectify and distance ourselves from others in our judgment of them is the same power to objectify and distance ourselves from ourselves in self-judgment. We are not free from our critical, all-seeing eye.
Â Donâ€™t let a critical spirit steal your joy and peace. Give it up. Instead give into your desire to affirm others and you will affirm yourself. Hold fast to your hope that time heals wounds, and kindness changes hearts, and faith brings forth growth. You will find you will heal in turn, your heart will turn kinder, and your growth will come about.
Be a bearer of peace, a witness for hope, a voice for companionship.Â
In 2002, Ken Sande, President of Peacemakers Ministry, wrote an article entitled â€œJudging Others.â€ In it he opened with the following story: â€œI knew he was too proud to take criticism,â€ thought Anne, â€œand now I have proof!â€Â
On the previous Sunday, Anne had dropped a response card in the offering box asking her pastor to stop in and pray with her when she went to the hospital for some minor surgery. When he failed to come by, she called the church receptionist and learned that her pastor had already been to the hospital that day to see another church member.Â
â€œSo he has no excuse!â€ she thought. â€œHe was in the building and knew I needed his support, but still he ignored me. Heâ€™s resented me ever since I told him his sermons lack practical application. Now heâ€™s getting back at me by ignoring my spiritual needs. And he calls himself a shepherd!â€Â
After brooding over his rejection for three days, Anne sat down Saturday evening and wrote a letter confronting her pastor about his pride, defensiveness and hypocrisy. As she sealed the envelope, she could not help thinking about the conviction he would feel when he opened his mail.Â
The moment she walked into church the next morning, one of the deacons hurried over to her. â€œAnne, I need to apologize to you. When I took the cards out of the offering box last week, I accidentally left your response card with some pledge cards. I didnâ€™t notice my mistake until last night when I was totaling the pledges. I am so sorry I didnâ€™t get your request to the pastor!â€Â
Before Anne could reply to the deacon, her pastor approached her with a warm smile. â€œAnne, I was thinking about your comment about practical application as I finished my sermon yesterday. I hope you notice the difference in todayâ€™s message.â€ Anne was speechless. All she could think about was the letter she had just dropped in a mailbox three blocks from church.
Catch yourself before you speak, or send that nasty email and do any potential harm. You canâ€™t get your words back. Pause. See if you can
understand where the person may be coming from. Try to rephrase your critical internal thought into a positive one, or at least a neutral one. Ask a question. Get some information. Let go of the need to go negative. Only good things can happen when you do this.
Many time, God has tried to show us we shouldnâ€™t judge. Weâ€™ve been taught not to do it. How often have we made a snap judgment about someone new based largely on surface information, and then found out it wasnâ€™t true?Â Â
If someone has a few positive traits, the â€œhalo effectâ€ kicks in and we see them more positively as a whole. If someone has a few negative traits, our overall impressions tend to be more negative.
Have you ever created a negative impression of someone and told yourself, â€œI donâ€™t like that person?â€ And then later once you get to know that person you realize how wrong you were? We need to learn the lesson the Lord is giving us. Turn over a new leaf. Donâ€™t rush to judgment. Give people the benefit of the doubt.Â
Once we make up our mind about someone, it becomes difficult to change it. And many times, when we begin to judge others unfairly we often do things that make that person react to us in the very way weâ€™re judging them.
You might think someone is snobby. Instead of talking to the person and really trying to get to know them, you donâ€™t say a word. Since you donâ€™t acknowledge this person, they donâ€™t acknowledge you, which only validates your judgment that they are a snob!
We donâ€™t want to do this any longer. Weâ€™ve tried it, and it doesnâ€™t help. We donâ€™t need to fix others. Have some faith theyâ€™re doing things better than you think. Donâ€™t be impatient toward others. When we donâ€™t judge others then we receive the same grace weâ€™re extending.Â Â
Stop trying to fix the world around you. Let go of petty thoughts and find yourself thinking in bigger and better ways about your loved ones, your neighbors, and even your enemies.Â
Can the church say Amen?