Helpful Ways to Judge

By Rev. Jeffrey Smith
Silver scales of justice.

You are the boss of a small company. You are looking to hire a new employee to fill a vacancy. The first applicant steps into the room and sits down. As you look over the application, you realize there is no resume. You must have overlooked that because you are still kind of new at being a boss. You go ahead with the interview anyway... maybe this will be interesting. After some getting-to-know-you questions, you ask the applicant about references and prior work experience. The applicant thinks for a second and then says, “don’t you know that Jesus told us not to judge?”

This is the second of two articles about judgment. The first one was about the types of judgment we ought to avoid: condemning, self-righteous, hypocritical, spiritual judgments. In this one, we will look at the type of judgment the Lord gives us permission to do.

What are the ways we can judge and even ought to judge? What are some ways in which we can be helpful once we have judged righteously?

To begin with, maybe we should just verify that it is ok for us to be judging at all. The real test is whether it makes sense in the Lord’s eyes.

So, let’s take a quick look at some verses on judgment that we used in the previous sermon:

“He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” — This is NOT about NOT judging, it’s about not destroying and killing somebody’s spirit by judging them with our ideas (no matter how true they may be).

“Judge not that you be not judged....” — This really means “condemn not”, meaning that we cannot judge a person’s spiritual character, because we can only see what is on the outside.

“First, remove the plank out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother's eye.” — Note that Jesus doesn’t say “don’t remove your brother’s speck.” He says, “first remove your plank.”

The Lord does give us permission to judge people’s actions. Actually, He tells us that we should. In Leviticus we are told,

“You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people (Leviticus 19:15-16)

Here, the Lord commands the Israelites to judge their neighbor in righteousness. And, just in case anyone was looking for a little wiggle room for their habit of gossiping, I left in the Lord’s command saying, “you shall not go about as a talebearer.” Spreading negative stories is not an act of love, but rather is more likely an act of selfishness.

New Church teachings also support the practice of making certain kinds of judgments. The following from the book True Christianity offers a very practical reason for judging:

“When anyone chooses from three or four people a steward to run his household, or to be a servant, does he not investigate that person’s internal self, and choose one who is honest and faithful, and so love him?” (True Christianity 410)

Here's a somewhat similar teaching from Apocalypse Explained:

"It is permissible to everyone to think about the moral and civil life of another, and to judge of it; without such thought and judgment concerning others, no civil society could subsist." (Apocalypse Explained 629.14)

There it is: we can judge the moral and civil life of another. We can judge somebody’s actions, and we can also judge based on those actions whether or not a person appears to be acting honestly and faithfully. The judges in our courts make these kinds of decisions all the time. They have to determine whether or not a person did something with ill intent or simply accidentally.

OK. So what? So what if we judge righteously? Then what?

Well, we can use it to determine who our friends should be, or who to hire for a job. But is that all? Is it used just to keep away people that we don’t want near us? In some cases — for example in families and other unavoidable situations — it’s impossible to distance ourselves from anybody, and yet, we can still apply those judgments for good.

Loving our neighbor doesn’t mean loving the person, it means loving the good that we see in that person. Without exception, every human being is a mix of good and evil. Our goal in loving is to support the good. What, then, do we do about the evil we see? Are we supposed to love that evil in some way?

To answer this, we look to the verses following the Lord’s words about the speck and the plank. He continues by saying,

“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” (Matthew 7:6)

One way to apply the Lord’s words here is to not give our love and thus support to the bad habits we see in people. That love will be destroyed, and it will not serve love’s purpose of helping our neighbor toward heaven. In order for our love to be useful, we must use our ability to judge and recognize the swine and dogs — that is, the bad habits in our neighbor and also in ourselves.

Right, so, love and support good habits... what about the bad habits? The Lord tells us not to cast our pearls before swine. So, what DO we do with the swine?

This isn’t a simple situation, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. We have to use our judgment and the Lord’s guidance to try to find the best way to respond. Here are some possible ways to approach the bad habits we observe in others.

The first thing we can do is ignore a bad habit that isn’t hurting anybody. In the story of Noah about his drunkenness, Shem and Japheth walked into the tent backwards to cover their father’s nakedness. They didn’t even look at him. We are told that angels act in this way also — they love and support the good in their neighbor while hardly noticing their sins.

The second thing we should do is protect the

innocent. In one passage, New Church teachings offer insight into the appropriate occupation of a judge. A judge inflicts a penalty on a guilty person in order to prevent evil being done to innocent people. And our judgment can serve

the same purpose — protection of the innocent.

Those are two things we can do when we judge righteously: first we can ignore it and support their good habits, and second, if a person’s sin might hurt someone, we should first protect good and innocence.

And finally, there is a third option: confront the transgressor.

We need to consider carefully how we confront someone whose actions or words merit correction. In this kind of confrontation, as with any other interaction, we might consider whether we are offering love or truth? Ask yourself what the person really needs. Or a better idea: ask the person what they need? “Hey, do you need some helpful ideas here, or do you just need somebody to listen?” It’s very possible that the person we are confronting is experiencing a difficult life situation, and they simply need some love.

And then, when we do offer truth, check if your words are really helpful by submitting them to three tests: kind, true, and useful.

First test... is the thing we are saying kind—meaning, are we really coming from love and a desire to help the person get to heaven, or are we being a little bit self-righteous or condemnatory. Even when we are offering our ideas, it should be from a place of love.

Second test... is the thing we are saying actually true, or is our perception perhaps skewing the situation. It’s very possible that we are misinterpreting someone’s actions and responding inappropriately? To avert misinterpretation, it is usually a good idea to listen to the person first.

Third test... are our words useful? Sure, we want to help, and as far as we can tell, it’s true... but is it really, actually, truly going to help the person in their situation? We may be trying to be kind, and we think it’s true, but if the person is in a hard situation, then it may not be helpful for that person.

It can be quite useful for someone to receive some outside perspective on their words and actions. If they are coming across as a jerk, they really do deserve to know. New Church teachings inform us that it can be really useful to have some outside input regarding our external appearance, otherwise we continue live in our own fantasies (See Heaven and Hell 487).

So, are you ok with being judged? With the measure you judged, are you ready for it to be measured back? Are you ready for others to do unto you as you do unto them?

If your answer is yes, then as you go about your daily life judging righteously, first think about whether the problem can simply be ignored while supporting goodness. If it can’t be, then first make sure that innocence and goodness are being protected. And if a person’s bad habit needs to be confronted, then choose your words very, very carefully. Are your words kind, true, and useful?

(Adapted from a sermon by Jeffrey Smith, April, 2021)