The word of the day is “judge.” Judging others is one of the most common and harmful types of pride. Unless we are constantly watchful, our fleshly nature will condemn others for their faults, even if we only do it mentally. In today’s reading of Romans 14:9-18, Paul poses a question that we might ask ourselves when tempted to criticize others. He writes, “why do you judge your brother?” (Romans 14:10). In today’s reading, we will answer that question. More than that, we will find ways to counter the tendency to pass judgment on our fellow humans.
In Greek, the term “to judge” comes from the idea of distinguishing ourselves from others. We separate ourselves from others either in our hearts or actions (Strong’s #2919, 145). Why do we judge? It is because we consider ourselves to be on a higher level than others. From this lofty view, we think that we can see the failings and sins of our neighbor and then point out his errors.
Judging Others Condemns Them
As today’s reading suggests, in our pride, we show contempt for those we criticize (Romans 14:10b). Thus, judgment is not an attitude of love but hate and disgust that divides us from others.
Yet, Paul points out the only One who has the right to put Himself above others. The apostle testifies that “Christ died and rose and lived again that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living” (OSB vs. 9). In the same vein, the Lord says in John, “As the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself and has given Him authority to execute judgment because He is the Son of Man” (OSB John 5:26-27).
How We Judge Others Will Determine How We Are Judged
Consequently, we say in the Creed, “And He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.” When we affirm this faith, we should tremble, for the judgment of Christ includes each one of us also. Thus, the Lord taught, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judged, you will also be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (OSB Matthew 7:2).
Three Ways of Resisting the Temptation to Judge Others
But how are we to resist the temptation to judge others? Among the counsels of the church fathers are three especially helpful suggestions. First, the “Prayer of St. Isaac the Syrian” closes with the final petition, “grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother.” With this prayer in mind, as soon as a critical thought against others arises, we should immediately look to ourselves. We should recall the teaching that Paul recommended to Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (OSB 1 Timothy 1:15). Or we should recall our prayer before receiving communion, “I believe O Lord and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.” Thus, the recollection of our sinfulness will chase away every temptation to reproach others.
Replacing Criticism With Praise and Prayer
In the Philokalia, St. Maximos the Confessor offers another approach. He advises, “Do not condemn today as base and wicked the man whom yesterday you praised as good and commended as virtuous, changing from love to hatred, because he has criticized you” (St.-Maximos-the-Confessor 1981, Location 10551). In other words, we should change our attitude toward our fellow humans. Instead of quickness to find fault, we should be ready to give another “unmixed praise and pray for him sincerely as if praying for ourselves” (St.-Maximos-the-Confessor 1981, Location 10553). We should look for the good qualities in others even if they have pointed out the faults in ourselves.
Finally, we should treat our neighbors with forbearance and long-suffering. In the Philokalia, St. Maximos quotes the sage of Proverbs who says “the long-suffering man abounds in understanding” (St.-Maximos-the-Confessor 1981, Location 10541) (Proverbs 14:29). This wisdom suggests that we should divert our fault-finding of others with empathy for them and the challenges they face.
We should pray for the ability to distinguish discernment from judgment. The word discernment is derived from the idea of perception. It refers to the ability to differentiate between one thing or another. With that idea in mind, Paul prays that the love of the Philippians “abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment” (OSB Philippians 1:9). And the writer of Hebrews speaks of mature believers who “by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Insight into the difference between the will of God and the ways of the devil, therefore, is discernment.
The judgment also depends on the mental ability to perceive differences. But in the sense of our reading, judging others applies this ability to compare our spiritual and moral character with others. While we should discern good from evil, we should not condemn others by judging them to be good or evil.
St.-Maximos-the-Confessor. 1981. “The Philokalia: the Complete Text” In St. Maximos the Confessor: Forty Texts on Love New York: Farber and Farber. Kindgle Edition.