You’ve been waiting all year for this. Admit it. It’s the July 4th weekend, and you’re headed for your favorite chili cook-off. You can already feel your taste-buds tingling. You see all the familiar faces lined up at the tables. But as you near the sample locations you don’t smell anything. As you look into the crock pots you don’t see anything. As the spoon goes to your mouth you don’t taste anything.
You head to the judge’s table to report the problem you’re having. They inform you that this year things are being done a bit differently. They have planned an invisible chili cook-off. You will need to judge what you can’t see, taste or smell.
“I can’t do that,” you say. “I can’t judge the invisible. I need some empirical evidence.”
The coordinator looks at you confused. “Every day you judge the invisible,” she says, “You’re quite good at it. Just use your imagination like you usually do.”
Motivations. Unspoken intentions. Why a person does what they do. All of these elements are invisible to you and to me, but we don’t have any problem judging them in another’s life—even if we have to use our imagination to do so. We don’t really think about it that way; because we’re convinced that we know this person well. Our picture of the things we can see is so complete that we assume we are the best judge of the things we can’t see.
I think this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged” (Matt. 7:1). You and I can’t judge the heart the person. Unless they tell you what they’re thinking, don’t assume you can tell them. Such judgment reveals one’s arrogance. Only God knows the heart (Jer. 17:9; 1 Sam. 16:7).
That is why the apostle Paul didn’t take it too personally when others were judgmental of him. Hear the humility he offers in his defense. He admits he doesn’t really know his own motives that well, and this makes him pretty certain that no human evaluator does either.
As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. 4 My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. 5 So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due (1 Corinthians 4:5 NLT).
So if you wouldn’t feel comfortable judging an invisible chili cook off, maybe you should be a bit more cautious rushing to judgment on another’s unspoken motives and invisible intentions.