Tabletalk Subscription
You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining.You've accessed all your free articles.
Unlock the Archives for Free

Request your free, three-month trial to Tabletalk magazine. You’ll receive the print issue monthly and gain immediate digital access to decades of archives. This trial is risk-free. No credit card required.

Try Tabletalk Now

Already receive Tabletalk magazine every month?

Verify your email address to gain unlimited access.

{{ error }}Need help?

“I was just kidding!” Have you ever said that when someone called you out on something you said? At times, the truth is that we meant what we said, but now, when held accountable for saying it, we want to hide behind humor as a “get out of jail free” card. In those moments, we mask our true intentions behind sarcasm without dealing with the truth: we have concerns or disagreements.

Deceitful claims about our motives are common in relationships. One manifestation of this dynamic is the temptation to be judgmental of others while claiming that we are simply being discerning. But the Lord knows the heart (Jer. 17:10) and what lies behind such declarations of “I care about the truth.”

Today’s marketplace of ideas is tragically filled with lies, distortions, and even heresies. Christians are called to be discerning as they engage with these ideas and the people who present them to us (Heb. 5:13–14). Such maturity of thought and ability to help others is to be modeled by elders of local churches, who are called on to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).

Even when we strive to exhibit godliness in our discernment, we often get caught in the sinfulness of our own souls, acting instead out of pride, insecurity, and self-righteousness. These motives will dilute the message that we intend to share with others. What was originally a declaration for clarity on the truth becomes clouded by our self-interest in proclaiming that truth and calling others out for not seeing it or believing it.

Jude gives a graphic word picture of helping others who are caught up in heresy. He urges his readers to “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (v. 23). The stakes of heresy and unbelief are so high that the vividness of Jude’s admonition is appropriate, and Christians should share his conviction and passion in pursuing wayward souls. But many times, our discernment of truth versus error is not rooted in a love for God or in a love for others. It is rooted in an attempt to validate our identity with a knowledge that has puffed us up so much that we look like a spiritual marshmallow. We travel the digital highways and byways of our communities, giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down that signals our judgment with regard to someone else’s practices or belief.

Judgmentalism is concerned about truth regardless of people. Discernment is concerned about truth because of people.

To make matters worse, when we are called out for handling such scenes with a lack of gentleness or love, we counter by saying, “I was just being honest” or “But I am right; what they said was wrong.” Then, with a failed attempt to audit the attitudes behind their actions, we continue going through society, destroying relationships, all while telling ourselves that we are soldiers for truth, fighting the good fight (conveniently using Scripture to support our actions, not to correct them). So what can be done? First, we need to understand the difference between judgmentalism and discernment.

  • Judgmentalism is convictional without care. Discernment is convictional with care.
  • Judgmentalism is proud. Discernment is humble.
  • Judgmentalism values talking first. Discernment values listening first.
  • Judgmentalism is concerned about truth regardless of people. Discernment is concerned about truth because of people.
  • Judgmentalism is right for the sake of being right. Discernment is right for the sake of honoring God and loving people.
  • Judgmentalism anticipates danger ahead and stands by to be confirmed right. Discernment warns of danger and provides safer routes to those who would otherwise suffer harm.
  • Judgmentalism sits above others and watches them. Discernment walks with others and hopes to lead them.

Judgmentalism is difficult to address because the problem is more tied to the why and the how of something that is said than what is actually said. In other words, it’s more about motivations than actual stated propositions. We can be right and yet at the same time so wrong. Sometimes we say that we are being discerning, but really we are just declaring ourselves right. Masked by a stated commitment to God’s truth is a greater commitment to our perspective, our intuition, and our reputation. We might not even be aware of this because it can lie far below the surface.

Recently, I needed to replace some sprinkler heads on an old irrigation system that I inherited with my house. Imagine the looks of curiosity, if not concern, that my neighbors would give me if they saw me using a backhoe to dig up my yard for such minor repairs. I am confident that once they knew the reason for my labor, one of them would offer up a shovel as a much more reasonable alternative. The neighbor wouldn’t discourage me from doing the work but would rather encourage me to go about it in a more constructive, less destructive way.

So what’s the solution? Should we say nothing about anything out of a concern that we might be labeled judgmental? By no means. No one wins in that situation. Rather, let us consider the concerns behind our observations and the words that we speak as a result. As water that runs through a filter has its impurities removed, let’s run our words and actions through the filter of a mind motivated to love God with a commitment to His Word and the filter of a heart that is motivated to love people with a commitment to their good. This means striving to “[speak] the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and being careful to “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (v. 29).

At the beginning of his reign, Solomon asked for “an understanding mind” so that he would be able to “discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). His desire for discernment was to serve God by serving God’s people. More important than Solomon’s example is that of Jesus, who was full of truth, but not to the neglect of grace (John 1:14). Let’s pray that we would learn well so that we can love others well.

The End of Waiting

Worship and the Kingdom

Keep Reading Waiting on the Lord

From the April 2024 Issue
Apr 2024 Issue