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One of the most oft-quoted verses in the Bible is Matthew 7:1. There is no need to get into how people take it out of context, or why it’s so popular. Think about it: there are 66 books in the Bible, containing 1189 chapters, with over 31,000 verses, and more than 750,000 words. That’s a lot of information. And one of the most famous sentences is, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).
I understand why John 3:16 and Psalm 23:1-6 are so popular, but Matthew 7:1? Perhaps a better question is, “Why does it matter to you when folks are unkind toward you?” How you respond to unkind or unfair judgments reveal a lot about you. But before I get to that, let me clarify.
Why it matters is self-evident. I don’t want you to think I’m trivializing what unkind people say or do to you. We all know it matters to God when unkind people say rude things about any image-bearer (James 3:9-10). When you judge a person uncharitably, you are taking Creator God’s name through the mud, and it’s worse if you’re a Christian: we are Christ-followers. He has adopted us, and we belong to Him.
When someone is slandering my son, for example, they are slandering my name too. We are biologically bound together. In God’s kingdom, He spiritually ties believers to Himself. When someone mocks, degrades, puts down, slanders, or gossips about us, it is His name on the line (Psalm 23:3). See Matthew 25:40; 1 Samuel 8:7; 1 Thessalonians 4:8.
The Bible does not shy away from making a direct connection between God and His children. When you do something to one of His, it’s an offense in heaven. There is no mistaking this truth. We should guard our hearts regarding how we speak about other Christians, regardless of what they are saying. There should be universal kindness and respect toward all people, regardless of their allegiance to the King of kings.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:20-21).
In this article, I’m asking a more profound question that is more personal and may reveal some things about you that you need to change. The temptation is to focus too much on what the other person did. Then we miss a golden opportunity to respond to the Lord about how to think and react toward that unkind person.
There are times when the Lord brings hardship into our lives for our benefit. We should not fail this test by examining our hearts and how there is a silver lining of grace that could transform a strand of fallenness that continues to linger in the darkness of our hearts.
With my preface practically situated under your belt, let me revisit my question: Why does it matter to you when someone makes unkind and unfair judgments about you? The more probing question is that if it does matter too much, why do people have that power? While thinking about this idea, I recalled listening to a podcast from This American Life (TAL). Ira Glass, the lead for this podcast, dedicated a particular show to stories from America’s middle schools.
One of the most common repeated remarks from these middle schoolers was their fear of being judged. Though I did not count how many times they talked about their fear of judgment, it had to have been two dozen times in a one hour show. At each point along the way, I kept asking the same question, “Why does it matter what anyone is saying about you?”
I felt sorry for these kids as I grieved for them. They were in bondage to the cravings of their hearts, which was a desire for the approval of others (James 1:14-15). The opinion of others controlled how they dressed, talked, looked, and who they hung out with, and more (Proverbs 29:25). They were in grave sin and did not see it as such, and even more heartbreaking, there was a lack of awareness of our rescuing Savior.
They needed Jesus. Somebody needed to tell these kids about a risen Lord who had conquered such things as people’s opinions. A person who gets tripped-up over what someone has said about them is a person who does not have a clear, compelling, and practical understanding of Jesus’ mission on earth. The Savior came to set the captives free, and the person who is not living in the freedom of God’s redemptive work on the cross is set-up to be bound by the opinions of others all their lives.
We live in a critical world. Anybody who follows the Savior is always imperfectly directing others to Him, and you experience criticism for your efforts. It comes with the territory; we’re in an alien land. I say that we do this imperfectly because we make mistakes in our efforts of trying to help people. I’m not justifying our faults, but we should have a sober-awareness of our imperfections and lack of absolute holiness.
We live in the Internet age, and some folks in the cyber-world, have quick triggers. They are more willing to tell you where you messed up or where you got it wrong than encourage you for your desire to love God and others more than yourself (Philippians 2:3-5). It’s the disinhibition effect: not afraid to tell you off as they hide a million miles from you, pounding out disturbing things like a keyboard warrior.
If these things bothered me more than a little bit, I would not be able to do much of anything for Jesus. I’m an imperfect man living in a sinful world that is full of imperfect people. It is unreasonable to expect everybody to prefer me. I’m off-putting to some folks. It would be self-righteous, unbiblical, and arrogant to expect people to be okay with me all the time, especially in light of my lack of kindness at times (Luke 18:11).
The Savior was a perfect man living in a sinful world full of imperfect people, and even that formula did not change the outcome regarding criticism, gossip, judgments, and slander toward Him. While I don’t condone unkindness, it is part of the reality of our lives.
If you are bothered by what others say about you, may I redirect your attention back to the gospel? May I suggest that you have a gospel-reorientation of the soul. It is only the steadying influence of the gospel in your heart that will anchor you against uncharitable judging. And what does the gospel say? You may want to buckle your seatbelt for this one.
The gospel says you were a lowdown, dirty rotten sinner, rocketing toward hell, and not aware or caring what your eternal destination would be. The gospel further informs you that God, because of His great mercy, stopped you on your pursuit of hell. Read Ephesians 2:2-10, 4:17-25.
He rescued you from eternal destruction. The gospel has a twofold meaning: (1) You were the worst of the worst (2), and now you are the best of the best because Christ has locked you up by His love. My all-time favorite quote on this subject of being humble and transparent amid judgment is from Milton Vincent’s work called, A Gospel Primer:
If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect son of God was required that I might be saved. But when I stand at the foot of the Cross and am seen by others under the light of that Cross, I am left uncomfortably exposed before their eyes.
Indeed, the most humiliating gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from Golgotha’s hill; and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in the wake of its revelations. With the worst facts about me, thus, exposed to the view of others, I find myself feeling that I truly have nothing left to hide. – A Gospel Primer
If what the unkind words of others matter to the point of managing your emotions, the Vincent quote does not represent your “functional theology.” Milton’s thoughts are not your practical mindset; it is not how you think about God and others. If it matters too much, you’re making a possible unwitting conclusion that God is not enough for you when it comes to criticism and people’s unkind judgments. Christians know better. Christians should think better than this.
The Father fully approves His children, but if it matters when someone criticizes you, then you are saying that while you may appreciate God’s acceptance, you need more than His approval. “I must have people’s favorable opinions matter of me, too.”
So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:26-28).
Gospel-centered people are living near the cross, and when criticisms come their way, they know what to do with them. One glance at the cross and they experience the “great re-centering effect of the gospel” while not leaning into that wicked craving for someone to like them. They know there is nothing that anyone could say to them that the Lord has not already declared from the cross.
Nobody has ever made a judgment against you that comes remotely close to what God has said about you. God’s judgment is infinitely more severe. And the Father has forgiven you! Let that deeply-rooted gospel truth sink into your mind and caress your heart until your soul experiences the refreshing light of your hope in Christ (Psalm 103:1-2).
If you are a Christ-follower, do not fear what others may say about you. Rather than being offended or hurt or tempted to retaliate, the gospel-oriented person may even want to listen and possibly learn from what they say. Indeed, it will sting because you’re not the “man of steel.” I’m not speaking of the immediate puncture wound of their needling because you’re a fragile image-bearer.
I’m sure you have found that some of your harshest critics have been God’s messengers, even in aesthetically displeasing packages. Though their methods were unkind, rude, or uncharitable, there have been times when you perceived an ounce of truth through their meanness that you could take to heart. If you have not had this experience, I appeal to you to look a little deeper or find someone to help you learn how to have this kind of wisdom.
It is rare for someone to confront or criticize me, and it is something that I have not heard in my past. If you’re more than twenty-years-old, you have set patterns, and not all of them are the best version of yourself (Christlikeness). Which means you have been an annoyance toward more than one person. Of course, if you surround yourself with people who always agree with you, then you’re in the deep weeds.
If you don’t listen to rebukes—whether unkind or kind—your weeds are more rooted. Below are some ways you can test yourself when you hear words of discouragement. Your response to my questions will give you an objective measurement as to how far along you are in understanding and applying the gospel to your life practically.