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One of the most oft-quoted verses in the Bible is Matthew 7:1. Think about it: 66 books in the Bible contain 1,189 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.” 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 us when folks judge us harshly?” Did you know that how we respond to unfair judgments reveals a lot about ourselves? If you want to know what a person is like, bring some unfair heat into their lives. They will reveal to you quickly who they are in an unvarnished way. But before I get to that, let me clarify.
I would not want anyone to think I’m trivializing what hurtful people do, as though their actions do not matter. It does matter when unkind people say rude things about any image-bearer. When anyone judges a person uncharitably, we are taking Creator God’s name through the mud.
When someone mocks, degrades, puts down, slanders, or gossips about another person, it is God’s name on the line. See Psalm 23:3, Matthew 25:40, 1 Samuel 8:7, and 1 Thessalonians 4:8. The Bible does not shy away from connecting God with His children. If we do something harmful to one of His, it’s an offense in heaven. Let me push the point further; there should be universal kindness and respect toward all people, irrespective of their allegiance to the King of kings (James 3:7-10).
But I’m asking a more profound question that is more personal and reveals things about us that we may need to address. The straightforward temptation is to focus too much too soon on what the other person did to us, where we miss a golden opportunity to respond to the Lord by seeing ourselves clearly.
There are times when the Lord brings hardship into our lives for our benefit. We should not fail this test by not examining our hearts and how a silver lining of grace could transform a strand of fallenness that continues to linger in the darkness of our hearts.
The probing question is that if it does matter too much, why do you or I give people that much power to manage us? While thinking about this, I recalled listening to a podcast from This American Life (TAL). Ira Glass, the host of this podcast, dedicated a particular show to stories from America’s middle schools.
One of these middle schoolers’ most common repeated remarks 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 dark bondage, and even more heartbreaking, there was a lack of awareness of our rescuing Savior. The cravings of their hearts owned them, which convinced them that they must have the approval of others (James 1:14-15). The opinion of others controlled how they dressed, talked, looked, who they hung out with, and more (Proverbs 29:25).
Somebody needed to tell these kids about a risen Lord who had conquered our deepest fears and insecurities, especially when people have nasty opinions about them. 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 will succumb to the opinions of others all their lives. We all make mistakes, and if you are a follower of Christ, it’s worse: the amplifiers are ready to let you know about it in the most uncharitable ways. This sad truth is where the words of Jesus bring so much comfort.
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).
We also live in cyberspace, and some folks in this space have quick triggers. They are more willing to tell you where you messed up than encourage you for your—imperfect—desire to love God and others more than yourself (Philippians 2:3-5). It’s the disinhibition effect when folks are not afraid to tell someone off as they hide a million miles away, pounding out disturbing things like keyboard warriors.
If these things bothered me more than a little bit, I would not do much of anything for Jesus. One of the things that helps me is knowing how unreasonable it is to expect everybody to prefer me. It is self-righteous and arrogant to expect people to be okay with me all the time, especially in light of my relational and social deficiencies—to name two things.
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. If you are bothered by what others say about you, may I redirect your attention to the gospel for a reorientation of the soul?
It is only the steadying influence of the gospel in our hearts that anchors us against uncharitable judging. And what does the gospel say? You may want to buckle your seat belt for this one. The gospel says we are lowdown, dirty-rotten sinners, rocketing toward hell and not aware or caring what our eternal destination would be. The gospel further informs us that God stopped us on our pursuit of hell because of His great mercy. Read Ephesians 2:2-10, 4:17-25. The gospel has a twofold meaning:
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
Milton’s thoughts are not the average Christian’s practical mindset. When the unkind words of others matter to the point of managing our emotions, the Vincent quote is not our functional theology, and we may make an unwitting conclusion that God is not enough for us when it comes to uncharitable judgments.
Christians know better. The Father fully approves His children, but if it matters when someone criticizes us, then we are saying that while we may appreciate God’s acceptance, we need more than His approval. “I must have people’s favorable opinions because that is what matters more to me.”
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 live near the cross, and when criticisms come their way, they know what to do. They know there is nothing that anyone could say to them that the Lord has not already declared from the cross. One glance at the cross, they experience the “great re-centering effect of the gospel” while not leaning into that wicked craving for someone to accept them.
Nobody has ever made a judgment against them that comes remotely close to what God has said about them. God’s judgment is infinitely more severe, and the Father has forgiven them! Let that deeply-rooted gospel truth sink into your psyche and caress your heart until your soul experiences the refreshing light of your hope in Christ (Psalm 103:1-2).
Do not fear what others say about you if you are a Christ-follower. Rather than being offended or hurt or tempted to retaliate, the gospel-oriented mind may even want to listen and possibly learn from what they say. I’m not speaking of an immediate humble response when unkindness comes because we are fragile image-bearers. Let’s be reasonable; it impacts and hurts at the moment. We are not the “man of steel.”
However, I’m sure you have found that some of your harshest critics have been God’s messengers, even though they came in aesthetically displeasing packages. Their methods were unkind and rude, but 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 pray for discernment.
It is rare for someone to confront or criticize me, and it is something that I have not heard before. If you’re in your adult years, you have set patterns, and not all of them are the best version of yourself (Christlikeness). Which means you have been an annoyance toward a few people. Of course, if you surround yourself with people who always agree with you, then you are in the deep weeds.
Your response to the subsequent questions will give you an objective measurement of how far along you are in understanding and applying the gospel to your life practically. Test yourself. See how you hear harsh words. Do they derail you or cause an impulse to default to a gospel orientation?
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).