You can’t talk about sexuality without implicitly addressing the concept of judging others. It seems that I’m often walking the fine line of trying to help women find truth without offending them. Cohabitation, homosexuality, erotica, masturbation, BDSM (bondage, discipline/dominance, sadism, masochism) . . . My job is to help women make sense of issues like these.
Lately, I’ve been hearing many variations of the question, “Who are you to judge me for reading Fifty Shades of Grey?”
Even if your day job doesn’t include teaching about sex, I’m sure you regularly find yourself dealing with similar tensions. As Christians living in a postmodern society, it’s tempting to just keep our mouths shut because we don’t want to judge. But what would you think of a doctor who, in the spirit of being non-judgmental, won’t tell his 350-pound patient that his lifestyle is going to kill him? Or an accountant who hates confrontation so she doesn’t warn clients when they’re violating the tax code? Does their silence communicate truth?
As followers of Jesus, we need to maintain a loving, non-judgmental attitude while also sharing the truth with our friends and the world in general. How can we do that? Here are a few critical elements of speaking truth without becoming judgmental.
Appeal to moral authority, not personal opinion
As we discuss sexual morality with others, we need to base our conversations on truths, not simply our experiences or opinions. While opinion implies judgment, sharing facts does not. I’m not the one who decided that sleeping around is morally wrong. Actually, my opinion on the topic isn’t worth a whole lot. Anything I say or teach needs to come from a source much more trustworthy than just my experiences and conclusions.
Throughout hundreds of generations, the Bible has been viewed as the trusted authority of truth and morality. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and even many governments use the Judeo-Christian ethic expressed in the Bible (like the Ten Commandments) as the basis of moral understanding. “The fear the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10, NIV).
While many people today may want to chuck the Bible and embrace relativism, it is not judgmental or arrogant to hold to God’s Word as a moral standard. The catch is that we actually have to know the Bible. Don’t quote what you think the Bible says or what you grew up believing about God. (I’ve had people confidently tell me that the Bible says everything from “A woman should never work outside the home” to “God helps those who help themselves.”) Stick to what Scripture actually says.
Do you know where the Bible addresses sexual morality? Are you prepared to respond when someone says, “Well, the Bible also says disobedient children should be stoned. You don’t preach that, do you?” If you are going to share your beliefs, do your homework! As Paul told Timothy, “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Humility paves the way for influence
When confronted with sin, people love to quote Jesus’ words, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1, NIV). Right after this statement, Jesus explains that you must first take the log out of your own eye before you can see clearly to take the speck of dust out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3–5). In other words, we aren’t ready to make a proper judgment until we have asked God to search our own hearts. This is where we often do fall into judging other people. We look at their wickedness as far more serious than our own rationalized “blunders.”
Perhaps this is one reason why there is so much pushback from evangelical statements about homosexuality. Christians quote Romans 1 as clear evidence that the LGBT lifestyle is immoral. But what they often fail to do is apply the first few verses of Romans 2 in that discussion. Paul writes,
You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? (Romans 2:1–3)
The world often listens to a Christian’s statement of morality and writes it off, viewing the church as a group of hypocrites. Divorce, adultery, porn, cheating, sexual abuse, lying, gossip, pride—these are all rampant in the church. By rationalizing our own sin, we disqualify ourselves as messengers of God’s moral truth with others.
I was devastated when I learned that one of my favorite Bible teachers was involved in ongoing sexual immorality. This man’s sermons had greatly impacted me. But while he was teaching those very sermons, he was sexually unfaithful to his wife. His immoral behavior did not invalidate the truths he was teaching, but it certainly disqualified him as a credible messenger. The pride and immorality of Christians don’t erase God’s moral standard or pending judgment, but they do cripple us as messengers of that truth.
Biblical statements that tell us not to judge aren’t suggesting we throw away God’s standard of right and wrong. The purpose of these passages is instead to remind us that we are in need of God’s grace as much as anyone! We are subject to the same standard of holiness and need to walk with great humility as we share God’s love with others.
Stick to actions, not motives
Despite the “Do not judge” verse (Matthew 7:1), the Bible also tells us to be discerning. Here are a few examples:
• “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly” (John 7:24).
• “Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong” (Hebrews 5:14).
• “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
• “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit” (Matthew 7:15–17).
A Christian should be discerning, watching carefully and “judging” ideas, thoughts, and actions by the standard of God’s Word. Yet while it is wise to look at the “fruit” of someone’s life, it’s a whole different matter to judge a person’s heart. Through Jeremiah, God said, “I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve” (Jeremiah 17:10). And in 1 Corinthians 4:5, we’re reminded, “So 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. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.”
Only God can judge the heart. While I may discern that the content of Fifty Shades of Grey is pornographic and defies God’s standard, I can’t make a judgment about the motives of the woman who wrote the series. That’s God’s job, not mine. I also should not place judgment on your reasons for reading or not reading the series. That’s between you and God.
While our behaviors may be observable, our motives and heart attitude may not be so easily discerned. A woman who is divorced, for example, may have done everything in her power to save her marriage. We need to be very careful about projecting our own judgments onto people about why they behave the way they do.
Speaking truth will always be difficult
Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think, “I love my job!” These past few weeks as I’ve been challenging the Fifty Shades trend, however, I’ve more often found myself thinking, “This isn’t fun.” I hate confrontation. It makes me sad to see that what I write offends some people. But if I give into the fear of what people think, I will shrink back from the proclaiming truth that can set women free.
Make no mistake—the Bible is an offensive book. The darkness within our world hates the light. And remember that we once hated the light too. In the same sermon in which Jesus told us, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1, NIV), he also said, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14–16). Like bright lights, we must practice what we preach in order to be credible witnesses to the truth of God’s standard, and we must communicate it with the intention of love.