In his book, The Word in the Desert, Douglas Burton-Christie notes that the early Christians realized how easily they could deceive themselves into thinking they could know the condition of another person’s heart, and thus accurately pass judgment on them.
So, lest they sinned against themselves (pride) and against a brother or sister (presumption), they refused to pass judgment on someone else. They believed that love arose where judgmentalism was absent, and that love would produce any needed changes in a person, while keeping arrogance at bay.
This required a different starting point. If they began by looking at their own sins, they would see the sins of others in the correct perspective. But if they started with the sins of others, their eyes would be blinded, so that their assessment could easily be skewed–and worse, they would never move back to contemplate their own sinfulness. Egotism always keeps the spotlight on someone else.
Once the early Christians no longer started with their sinfulness, they believed that anger (usually veiled under spiritual superiority) would begin to burn, creating a punitive approach to others rather than a redemptive one. Or to say it another way, they believed that when they became strangers to grace, they would become prisoners of legalism, and imprison others by their attitudes and actions.
Underneath all this ran what John Wesley later called “watching over one another in love.” Arising from the convictions that they were shepherds of one another, the early Christians realized how easily they could do harm to another person by misleading them to think of themselves as any other than God’s beloved daughters and sons.
Burton-Christie summarized it this way, “The commandment of love thus required one to exercise real skepticism regarding one’s narrow vision of things, especially toward the actions of others.” We need a resurgence of this same skepticism. We have made ourselves judge and jury of others to a fault, turning our assessment meetings into kangaroo courts. Non-judgment is the way God offers us to keep grace and truth in proper balance.
Thanks for another wonderful reminder of where to keep our focus and the centrality of love.