Overcoming a Judgmental Spirit

Romans 14:9-12

September 26, 2010 | Brian Bill

Have you heard about the 33 miners in Chile that have been trapped 2,200 feet underground since August 5th?  Newsweek reported that everything they need to survive must fit in canisters a bit over three inches wide. I was encouraged to hear that they sent down 33 mini-Bibles for them.

In commenting on their chances of survival, John Cacioppo, a psychologist who specializes in social isolation in humans and animals at the University of Chicago, said this: “If the miners who are trapped can bond and work together to tick off the days they are separated from their families and friends, it would help them survive the ordeal…If they’re a cohesive group and there’s good reason to think they can get out alive, they’re likely to be fine.  If they were not cohesive to start with, it would be worth trying to do something to build group cohesion…If social order breaks down among the miners, or if one of them begins feeling ostracized, trouble could ensue.”

In other words, they will survive to the extent that they can get along…and the same is true for us as believers.  How would you do if you were trapped underground with 32 other people for 53 days so far, and you knew you might not be rescued for several more months?  Let’s bring this closer to home.  I’m going to count off 33 people and when I point to you, would you please stand?  Now look around and imagine you spending months together with this motley crew.  Some of you are starting to hyperventilate already.

How’s the judging been going this past week?  Are you till measuring people according to your spiritual standards?  I thought of a verse from the lips of Jesus this week that should provide an incentive for all of us to throw away our spiritual tape measures.  It’s found in Matthew 7:2: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

How did you do on your homework assignment this past week?

  • Did you figure out why you’re so sour and crabby?
  • Did you move toward someone this week?  How did it go?
  • Did you deal with any family friction?  How did that turn out?
  • In what ways has your view of God expanded this past week?
  • Anyone want to share how praying before saying helped you say less?

Today we want to tackle the topic, “How to Overcome a Judgmental Spirit.”  Behind this topic is the assumption that we all have some judgmentalism that we need to jettison.  I know I do.  Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 14:9-12.  I see three ways that this passage will help us overcome a judgmental spirit.

1. Focus on the fundamentals of our faith. 

Since Christ died for that believer you are judging and He rose again for that one you are despising and ignoring and He is Lord of those who are dead and alive, then as we focus on Jesus, we should stop our judging

We see this in verse 9: “For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”  John Piper points out that Paul is not just offering some insight into clearing up some relational bumps.  Instead, Paul is elevating things immensely by tying our care for fellow Christians to the weightiest truths about Christ.  Since Christ died for that believer you are judging and He rose again for that one you are despising and ignoring and He is Lord of those who are dead and alive, then as we focus on Jesus, we should stop our judging.  In other words, in light of what really matters, we should let little matters go.  

2. Analyze our attitudes.

Check out the first part of verse 10 where we’re faced with two probing questions that draw a contrast between what Christ has done and the condemning that we tend to do.  The first question is emphatic with the word “you” used twice and is directed to the “sensitive” brother: “You, then, why do you judge your brother?” And the second is directed to the “strong” one: “Or why do you look down on your brother?”  To judge means to sift out and analyze evidence and is in the present tense indicating that they were continually passing judgment.  Passing judgment, by implication also conveys the idea of condemning.  

To “look down” was used earlier in verse 3 and it means to treat with contempt, to act like someone doesn’t exist, that they are worthless and have no value.  It’s so easy for us to see ourselves as superior to others either because we do things that they don’t do or because we don’t do things that they do.  Either way, we end up seeing ourselves as better than our brothers in Christ.  According to Luke 18:9, the Pharisees were experts at this: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else…”  Actually, notice that instead of the word “servant” as used in verse 4, this time Paul focuses on the family relationship by using the word “brother” twice.  

Dewitt Talmage once remarked, “Without exception, the people who have the greatest number of faults are themselves the most merciless in their criticism of others.”  It’s like the guy who was driving to the office one morning and reported, “I noticed a woman driving 65 mph with her face up next to her rear view mirror, putting on her eyeliner!  I was shocked that she would do something like this!  She scared me so much that I dropped my electric razor, which knocked the donut out of my other hand.  In all the confusion of trying to straighten out the car using my knees to steer, it knocked my cell phone away from my ear which fell into the coffee between my legs.  All because of the nerve of that crazy woman driver!” 

Why is that we judge others?  What’s behind us looking down on our brothers and sisters?  I posted this question on Facebook Friday and was surprised by all the responses I received.  Here’s a sampling.

  • It is simply easier to see others’ flaws and point them out than taking time to examine yourself and change your own.  Also…takes one to know one kind of a thing. If you have that flaw, you see it so well in other people too.  It hurts and is uncomfortable to self examine…and ‘gasp’ work on change…just easier with our sinful selfishness to analyze someone else’s.  Sometimes I think people are so disgusted with themselves and their flaws that they lash out at others in that area because they are truly angry with themselves about it.
  • It seems some people feel better about themselves when they push other people down.  Also, it’s easier to focus on other people’s faults (and it takes the focus off their own…so they think!) 
  • We have to recognize the times when people extend mercy to us in order to extend mercy to others.  If we believe we are faultless we expect the same from those around us.  Although I think often it works in reverse, if we refuse to accept mercy and believe we are full of unforgiveable faults we are quick to judge others and deny them the mercy we refuse ourselves.
  • Perhaps we are even less likely to believe other people have as good an excuse as us in doing the same things we do.  “I sin in this way because xyz. You have no reason, though.”

To repeat what I said last week: “We’ve got to stop judging those who sin differently than we do.”  Let’s be reminded of what Jesus said in John 8:7: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And there were no stones slung that day.  But they fly today, don’t they?  It was F.B. Meyer who once said that when we see a brother or sister in sin, there are two things we do not know: First, we do not know how hard he or she tried not to sin. And second, we do not know the power of the forces that assailed him or her.  We also do not know what we would have done in the same circumstances.

Not everything you hear is true so it’s important to let God sort it all out.  A wise teacher sent a note home to all parents on the first day of school: “If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at school, I’ll promise not to believe everything your child says happens at home.”

We like to get all up in other people’s business, don’t we?  After the Resurrection, when Jesus had graciously restored Peter and revealed some shepherding plans for him, Peter immediately wanted to know what Jesus was going to do about John.  I love the answer Jesus gave in John 21:22: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?  You must follow me.”  

Do you know where the expression “Mind Your Own Beeswax” comes from?  Around the time of the American Revolution, women would spread bee’s wax over their face to smooth out their complexions.  When a woman would begin to stare at another woman’s face, she was told to, “Mind your own beeswax.”  By the way, when they would smile, the wax would crack, which is where we get the phrase, “Crack a smile.”  Also, when they sat too close to the fire, the wax would melt, leaving us with the expression, “losing face.”  Friends, let’s mind our own beeswax and crack a smile before we lose face with one another.

3. Consider our coming judgment. 

Knowing that we will be judged should keep us from coming down on others in judgment. The last part of verse 10 gives the answer about why we shouldn’t judge or look down on others: “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”   Three different times in this passage we’re reminded that we will appear personally before God’s judgment seat – we will all.”   My guess is that he had to repeat it because we’re so thick-headed and enjoy judging others so much.  The word “all” is at the front of the sentence in the original to show that each of us will have to give account.  Plus, it’s in the future tense: “we will all stand…”  

Bema Seat For Believers

Judgment is a prominent biblical theme but is not talked much about today.  But it should be because the term is used 72 times in the New Testament alone.  There are two basic judgments, one for believers and one for unbelievers.  Let’s look at the believer’s judgment first.  The phrase, “judgment seat” comes from the place where the judges sat at athletic contests and was called the, “Bema Seat.”  The judge’s purpose was to determine what position the runners came in and then to give out the appropriate rewards.  The only one allowed on this elevated seat was the judge; everyone else was at the same level.  In a legal context, it was the place where litigants stood for trial.  Likewise, you and I will appear before the exalted judge of the world, and only He will be able to judge the thoughts, intentions and actions of every human being.  

We know that this passage cannot be referring to believers being judged for their sins because Jesus said in John 5:24: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”  Paul adds this in Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  I like how someone put it: “In the past God dealt with us as sinners.  In the present, He deals with us as sons.  In the future, He will deal with us at the judgment seat as servants.”

Let’s turn to the Book of 1 Corinthians.  I want us to briefly look at two different passages – one in chapter 3 and one in chapter 4.  And then we’ll go to the book of 2 Corinthians, chapter 5.

  • 1 Corinthians 3:12-15: “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”  We need to be investing in those things that will last forever, not those things that will be burned in the fire.  Did you notice here that some believers will be saved but their works will be burned up?
  • 1 Corinthians 4:5: “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.  He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.  At that time each will receive his praise from God.”  We’re told here to trust the timing of the Lord’s judgment because eventually we’ll receive our rewards.  And remember that God sees not just our ministry, but our motives behind what we do.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”  This verse brings the first two together and sheds further light on our passage in Romans 14.  We will all appear before the Bema seat and we’ll receive rewards according to how we invested our lives.
He knows them better than we do and He certainly loves them more than we do

Friends, last time I checked, God doesn’t need any help judging people because we’re all at the same level.  Here’s a helpful paraphrase of this verse: “Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side-by-side in the place of judgment facing God.  Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position one bit.”  Listen.  If God is going to judge others, why do we need to get involved?  He knows them better than we do and He certainly loves them more than we do.  

By the way, it’s really difficult to satisfy or appease a self-appointed judge because they are always looking for faults and foibles that we make.  Some people love playing the ‘gotcha’ game where they are constantly on the lookout for you to mess up and when you do, they yell, ‘gotcha again.’

Great White Throne Judgment for Unbelievers

There’s at least one other judgment found in the Bible.  Because believers are covered by the blood of Jesus, they will not face this one but it should shake us up, because this is where multitudes will appear – some in your family, some of your friends, some of your co-workers, and maybe some of you if you have never repented and received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  

Turn to Revelation 20:11-15: “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Another book was opened, which is the book of life.  The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.  The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.  Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death.  If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

The Two Judgments Compared

It might be helpful to compare the two judgments side-by side.

Judgment Seat of Christ Great White Throne Judgment

Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 Jude 14-15; Revelation 20:11-15

Only believers Only unbelievers

After the Rapture After the Millennium

Rewards for service Recompense for sin

Check out verse 11: “It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’”  This is a quotation from Isaiah 45:22-25.  Look at verse 12: “So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”   Every word in this verse is emphatic and is intended to remind us that since God judges, we shouldn’t.  The phrase, “so then” introduces the logical conclusion.  We’ll have to give an account of ourselves and no one else.  This is the idea of a ledger or files, where we will give an audit of how we’ve lived.  

Let’s look at the first part of verse 13 because it summarizes the whole sermon today: “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.”  It was F.B. Meyer who said, “It is a terrible thing for a sinner to fall into the hands of his fellow sinners.”  That reminds me of what David chose when God gave him an option for his punishment in 2 Samuel 24:14: “I am in deep distress.  Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.”

How can we overcome a judgmental spirit?  Here are three ways:

  • Focus on the fundamentals of our faith
  • Analyze our attitudes
  • Consider our coming judgment

For some of us, the “how” is helpful.  But for others of us, we’re stuck on the “will” part of this.  Do you even want to stop judging?  This reading called “Judge Not” may be helpful.

I was shocked, confused, bewildered

as I entered Heaven’s door,

Not by the beauty of it all,

by the lights or its decor.

But it was the folks in Heaven

who made me sputter and gasp–

the thieves, the liars, the sinners,

the alcoholics, the trash.

There stood the kid from seventh grade

who swiped my lunch money twice.

Next to him was my old neighbor

who never said anything nice.

Herb, who I always thought

was rotting away in hell,

was sitting pretty on cloud nine,

looking incredibly well.


I nudged Jesus, “What’s the deal?

I would love to hear Your take.

How’d all these sinners get up here?

God must’ve made a mistake.

And why’s everyone so quiet,

so somber? Give me a clue.”

“Hush, child,” said He “They’re all in shock.

No one thought they’d be seeing you.”

Action Steps

Since you did so well on your homework assignment last week, let me give you another assignment for this week.

1. Live life as if each day is your last day.

This will help us keep short accounts with others because the deeds of this life are the destiny of the next.  Matthew Henry said, “It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our final day.” Adoniram Judson, missionary to Burma, wrote these words: “A life once spent is irrevocable…when it is once past, it is gone forever…It is too late to mend the days that are past…Let us, then, each morning, resolve to send the day into eternity with such garb as we shall wish it to wear forever.  And at night let us reflect that one more day is irrevocably gone, indelibly marked.”  

2. Confess your sins and repent from the way you’ve living. 

1 John 2:28: “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.”  One version says, “Shrink away in shame at His appearing.” Our dog Charlie does this when he’s done something wrong like digging deep craters in the backyard.  All I have to do is say his name in a low voice and he hits the ground on his belly and starts crawling backwards away from me.  

Here’s a question to ponder: Are you looking forward to the Bema seat or are you dreading this day?  How you answer that question likely reflects whether you are living for the Lord right now.  The Judgment Seat of Christ lends a sobering seriousness to all of life, doesn’t it?  If you are not living under the leadership and lordship of Jesus Christ, what are you waiting for?  

3. Send your money on ahead. 

Are you giving at least a tithe or 10% of your income to the Lord’s work or are you spending all you have on yourself?  Jesus said these words in Matthew 6:20: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” And, when giving money or serving in any way, make sure your motives are right.  Perhaps you’ve heard this phrase before: “‘Tis only one life twill soon by past; Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

4. Give grace instead of words of woe to others. 

Jesus brings us up short in Matthew 12:36 because we all use way too many wicked words: “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”  Watch your words this week.

5. Witness like crazy because life is short, judgment is real, hell is hot and eternity is forever.

6. Put yourself in the shoes of others. 

If I’m going to judge a life, let it be my own.  

Whose shoes are you going to walk in today?  Let’s go back to the miners for a moment.  While underground, a miner’s wife gave birth to a baby girl.  They named her “Esperanza,” which means hope.  While no one really knows how long they will be trapped, some believe they might be there until Christmas.  

That got me to thinking that another baby was born on Christmas to bring hope to the hurting and trapped and lost and judgmental.  His name is Jesus and He was judged for our sins so that we don’t have to be.  These miners are waiting for help to come down from above and we rejoice that our help has already come down from above.  When the rescue finally comes, the miners will have to receive it in order to be saved.  Are you ready to receive Jesus Christ into your life right now?  Once you do, He will take the judgment you deserve and change you from the inside out so that you will no longer feel the need to judge others.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?