In December of 2013, Justine Sacco left New York to see family in South Africa for the holidays. Along the way, Justine shared some of her experiences on Twitter – comments about the body odor of fellow passengers or temperature of the cucumber sandwiches. Just before flying out of Heathrow airport in London, she sent one last tweet: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
After shutting off her phone, Justine settled into sleep her way through the 11 hour flight to Cape Town. As the plan landed, Justine’s phone blew up with messages and notifications.
A message from an old high school friend: “I’m so sorry to see what’s happening.” Another from a close friend: “You need to call me immediately.” When the phone rang, Justine heard the news “You’re the No. 1 worldwide trend on Twitter right now.”
Justine’s tweet had gone viral, with tens of thousands of replies, like this one from ALG3nius: “Justine Sacco should get fired . . . and get AIDS”. In the coming days she made international news headlines, lost her job and endured extreme amounts of stress.
Another woman, Lindsey Stone was visiting Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns. She posted a photo selfie of herself pretending to scream and flipping the bird next to a sign calling for “Silence and Respect.” Lindsey and a friend of hers had a long running joke taking photos of themselves disobeying signs. Four weeks later the photo went viral on Facebook, the next day tv crews were posted outside her front door. When she went to work that day, she was told to hand in her keys and walk away. For the next year of her life, Linsdey rarely left home, suffering from PTSD and depression.
At a tech conference in 2013, two men laughed over a joke about computer dongles. As they snickered a woman two rows in front of them turned and took a photo of them. A few minutes later, the organizers of the conference pulled the two men aside to show them a social media post of that photo with a caption complaining about the misogyny of the tech industry. The next day one of the men was called into his boss’s office at work and fired.
That man wrote a post about his experience. That post too went viral, resulting in a flood of outrage directed towards the woman who had taken the photo. A group of Hackers launched an attack against her employee demanding that she be fired. Shortly after that she was terminated.
These are some of the first victims of a social trend we now call cancel culture. Bad behavior publicly spotlighted, condemned and shamed by mobs of online judges.
It’s an alarming trend, but it is not new.
On July 15, 1742, a New England woman named Abigail Gilpin was tied to a public whipping post and punished before a mob of spectators after being caught in bed with a man who was not her husband.
Judgment by mob is not new, but it is a massive problem.
Turn with me to James chapter 4 as we continue our series True Religion. This morning we are in verses 11-12.
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
According to James, there are three types of speech that are off limits for the Christian.
Let’s look at the words James uses for each:
The first is καταλαλέω (katalaleo): literally, speaking down. It is sometimes translated as slander. Slander is “a false spoken statement about someone that damages their reputation.” (Cambridge)
Here it has a more general meaning. Katalaleo is not just speaking falsely, but speaking negatively or against a person. Our words about someone may be true, but they can also be unkind and unnecessary.
Katalaleo is derogatory, defaming, or disparaging speech.
It is gossip, slander, mocking or making jokes at someone’s expense. It is hurtful and negative criticism. It is general snippiness and nastiness.
The second word is κρίνω (krino), which is translated as judge. This word has three layers of meaning, moving from general to specific.
In the broadest sense of the word, it means to separate or divide. When you work through a pile of avocados at the grocery store you judge them in order to take home some good ones.
A more specific use of the word is to pronouncement a judgment concerning right or wrong.
The strongest sense of the word is to rule or govern.
When the NT tells us not to judge – we should understand that to mean that it is not our place to separate or divide people, give pronouncements about other people’s moral standing or to set ourselves up as rulers over other peoples’ lives.
The third word James uses is Στεναζο (stenadzo): to sigh or groan, grumble.
In 2 Corinthians 5:2 Paul says Christians groan while we live in this earthly tent and long for heaven. It is good to groan against sin and corruption. It’s not good to groan and grumble against people.
When we judge others we separate them in our hearts as wrong or lesser or sinful.
Grumbling about others is the private dialogue of judgment.
Speaking against others is the open dialogue of judgment.
All are rooted in the pride of elevating myself above others. All are off limits for the Christian.
Notice in verse 10 that James widens the scope of this conversation by transitioning from the word brother to the word neighbor.
Notice James does not limit the scope to specific types of neighbor. The Christian is not given an exception in the case of annoying neighbors. The Christian is not given a pass in the case of neighbors who have different political persuasions.
One of the great contradictions in the universe is Christians who are critical and judgmental towards others.
The Bible is particularly clear on this issue. It is not possible to encounter the grace of the living God and go on in the world with a judgmental attitude.
“God hates all sin, but there are a few sins that are constantly and strongly condemned by Scripture. Judging others—condemning, criticizing, backbiting, gossiping, speaking evil, and talking about others—is one of the sins that Scripture never lets up on. Judging others is severely condemned.” -Preachers Outline and Study Bible
Is it always wrong to judge?
It’s necessary sometimes isn’t it?
If I am going to make a transaction with a stranger on Facebook Marketplace, I need to make a judgment about that person.
God willing in the next year or two we will add several new pastors at Vintage. We will need to make wise judgments about the character of those candidates.
At some point in my life I might develop a bad habit or make some bad decisions and will need someone to make judgments about those decisions.
Elisabeth Elliot observe what she called “a conspiracy of moral indifference” which says, “If you never tell me that anything I’m doing is wrong, I’ll never tell you that anything you’re doing is wrong.”
James is not promoting this kind of indifference. The Bible clearly calls us to make judgments.
We should judge religious voices:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
1 John 4:1
A mark of maturity is the ability to separate true teaching from false teaching.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
Churches have the responsibility of making judgments about sinful practices inside the church.
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[c] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
1 Corinthians 5:9-13
Matthew 18 outlines a process for responding to sin and injustice that at times will lead to separation and judgment.
Friends who love one another have a responsibility to make judgments about poor choices.
Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
It is not judgment in general that James forbids, but it is the condemning judgment which stems from pride. In a general sense, you can think of two forms of judgment: critical judgment and charitable judgment.
Critical judgment separates or pulls away from people, it seeks to wound others, it absolutizes faults and failures.
Charitable judgment embraces and moves in towards others, it seeks to heal and restore, it covers and corrects faults and failures.
The judgment forbidden in the Bible is critical judgments.
Why are we so prone to judge others critically?
James gives us several reasons:
1. We judge others because we don’t respect the law.
Which law is James talking about?
The answer is found earlier in the letter, in chapter 2:
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
The royal law is the foundation of all morality in human interactions.
You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.17 You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
James told us in chapter 1 that we must be doers of this royal law and not hearers only.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
The opposite of doing the word is judging the word.
Every time you disobey the law, you are in essence saying, “I know better.” I know better what is needed in this situation. I know better what will bring me happiness. I know better how to make moral judgments.
When you repeatedly break a law, you are saying, “I don’t think that’s a very good law.”
To judge others is to judge the law, because we place ourselves outside of and above the law. The second reason we are prone to judge others is because
2. We don’t respect the lawgiver.
If you judge the law you are taking the position of lawgiver and judge.
If you do that you are taking the position of God.
This is the first sin and the root of all sin.
The opposite of obedience to God is judging God.
It doesn’t matter how lofty your theological view of God is, if you are not yielded to the law than you have placed yourself above God.
What does James mean when he talks about one lawgiver who saves and destroys? He’s probably referring to the words of Jesus who reminded his followers that they should fear God.
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.
This is what I teach my sons. If you think someone has wronged you, it’s not your place to judge them. Just kill them and then God can judge them.
The third reason we are prone to judge is that
3. We don’t’ respect our limitations.
“Who are you to judge?”, James asks. Who am I to take the place of judge and lawgiver? What qualifies me for that task?
We’re not made for that job.
Writer Matthew C. Mitchell describes the limitations of our judgment:
1. We rush to judgment.
We listen to only one side of the story. (Pr 18:17)
We don’t always carefully consider the source. (Pr 14:15)
We assume motives. (1 Sam 16:7)
Here’s an example: a woman stands up at a prayer meeting – “we need to pray for a young woman in our teen group whose parents have kicked her out of her home, out of desperation she moved in with her boyfriend’s family until she could figure out a plan.” The prayer group is alarmed, angry at the girls parents and praying for her to find a good home. Later, someone with more direct knowledge of the situation comes in to clarify: In reality the girl had left home because she wanted to move in with her boyfriend. Her Dad was distraught because his senior was 18 and he had no recourse to get her home.
Here’s an example from the Scriptures – in Joshua 22. After helping their countrymen battle the Canaanites, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh returned across the border into Gilead. They built a large altar on the border, which the other tribes took as a threat. They assembled their armies to attack the smaller tribes. In reality these tribes had set up their altar to remind their brothers that they too were God’s people.
In 1 Samuel 1 – when the priest Eli saw an intoxicated woman come into the tabernacle he walked over to rebuke her. After speaking with her, he discovered that she was not drunk, but that she was a woman of deep faith pouring her soul out to God in prayer.
2. We are proud in our judgments.
We make ourselves judge, when we ourselves are sinful and unrighteous.
We don’t judge others with the same standards we apply to ourselves.
3. We are unloving.
The Preacher’s Outline and Study Bible gives 6 unloving motives behind our critical judgment:
- “ Criticism boosts our own self-image. Pointing out someone else’s failure and tearing him down makes us seem a little bit better, at least in our own eyes. It adds to our own pride, ego, and self-image.
- Criticism is simply enjoyed. There is a tendency in human nature to take pleasure in hearing and sharing bad news and shortcomings about others.
- Criticism makes us feel that our own lives (morality and behavior) are better than the person who failed.
- Criticism helps us justify the decisions we have made and the things we have done throughout our lives. We rationalize our decisions and acts by pointing out the failure of others.
- Criticism points out to our friends how strong we are. Criticism gives good feelings because our rigid beliefs and strong lives are proven again. Proven how? By our brother’s failure.
- Criticism is an outlet for hurt and revenge. We feel he deserves it. Subconsciously, if not consciously, we think, “He hurt me so he deserves to hurt, too.” So we criticize the person who failed.”
Jesus condemned the kind of judging others that is an overflow out of our own issues.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
“Counting other people’s sin does not make you a saint.”
Married couples – the fact that you can point out the sin in your spouse does not make you right.
“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
If God did not send his Son to condemn the world, it’s a fair bet he doesn’t need you to.
– Sam Allberry
Here are three great diagnostic questions from the Life Application Study Bible:
- Have I given myself the benefit of the doubt, but refused it to my brother or sister?
- Have I made excuses for my shortcomings, but remained intolerant of others?
- Have I judged my brothers and sisters according to the letter of the law while expecting grace for myself? -Life Application Bible
“never look down on a man unless you are helping him up”
When you see or hear or believe something negative about your brother:
- Don’t rush to judgment.
- Don’t withhold love.
- Don’t pass a report along to others.
- Ask before assuming.
- Look first in your own eye.
- Consider your motives.
- Leave the results to God.
The final reason we are quick to judge others is
4. We don’t respect the grace of God.
In Matthew 18, Jesus told the story of the man who owed a massive debt and was forgiven by his debtor. It was an act of extreme grace and mercy. The man who received such grace turned around and began to threaten and persecute the people who owed him money. That man had no respect for the grace he had received.
On the cross, you and I had a massive debt canceled by God.
I am so quick to judge others. I am proud and hypocritical. In response, Jesus did not separate himself from me. He moved closer. Jesus did not come to condemn me or wound me, but to heal and restore me. Jesus took my proud and arrogant sinfulness as his own, he received the judgment I deserved and poured out his blood so that my faults and failures could be covered and corrected.
To criticize is easy as you pass along life’s road.
It is easy to condemn and sneer when another bears the load.
But if you know an easier way, lend a helping hand.
Do not let a worker sweat while you criticize and stand.
To criticize is easy as you pass along life’s road
but a better and a nobler way is to help to bear the load.
Jesus came to bear the load for us.
Because he did that for us, the following words are now true of those who belong to him:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
It’s incredible, isn’t it? No condemnation! You will never be able to overcome the critical judgment in your heart until you begin to see the depths of the grace of God in Christ.
I want to leave you with two statements this morning. I want this to dig down deep into your heart.
1. Satan is the accuser of the brothers.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
Revelation 12:10b (NIV)
2. Jesus is the defender of the brothers.
if anybody does sin we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ the righteous one.
1 John 2:1 (NIV84)
Satan is the accuser of the sisters. Jesus is the defender of the sisters.
Whose side are you on?
Satan is the accuser. Jesus is the defender.
Whose voice governs your internal dialogue?
Jesus is the defender of the brethren. Say that out loud. Jesus is the defender of the brother. Jesus is the . . . What? Jesus is the defender of the sisters.
Jesus stands at the right hand of the father. What does he do there? He speaks to the father. What does he say? He speak in our defense.
Jesus stands with holes in his hands and in his feet, he stands with the wound in his side, and he says to the father, “Forgive them, they don’t know what they are dong.”
He says, “charge that to my account.”
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown