You’ve seen it. Word circulates that Jean was seen at a cozy table for two with the boss. She’s been your friend. Now you avoid her at break time. When her name comes up in conversation all the office mates sling slurs at her reputation and bring up previous whispers of marriage trouble. Others dig up old grievances with the boss. And you are the only Christian at your office.
It’s so easy to quickly judge a person’s actions and come up with what they should have done, but the truth is that another person’s sin bounces the ball into your court and puts you to the test. How will you respond to the person’s sin or failure? Now it’s up to you to choose how you will respond: understanding, criticism, gossiping, shunning, confronting, forgiving, showing grace, ignoring, or extending mercy. And how you respond will determine where the ball goes and if the ball will be returned to you!
I’ve become aware of some uncomfortable truths. Anyone (me included) can make a judgment; not everyone can make a well informed, just, or godly judgment. Everyone can criticize; not everyone can listen for understanding. Everyone can gossip; not everyone can demonstrate loving support in the face of critical attitudes. Anyone can shun someone; not all of us are adept at godly confrontation. Anyone of us can condemn; not all of us can forgive.
Judging is easy; grace is challenging. It takes grace to lovingly confront someone after a personal offence or when you’ve observed an indiscretion. The much more difficult task is to continue to demonstrate love when someone has obviously failed. And that is where Christians have the opportunity to demonstrate the character of Jesus.
Jesus set aside judgment in order to demonstrate love. He could extend mercy because he was clear that it wasn’t his job to judge! He did not go out of his way to avoid sinners. Neither did he shun those who criticized and slandered him. He moved towards them with love and gentle truth. He never participated in petty gossip parties. He was always ready with grace for any sinner who came across his path. He was sought out by obvious sinners because of this love and grace.
And that is the challenge in this age. Anyone can judge. We can all do it well. And if we can’t, we can all learn by listening to our neighbors, watching t.v. or reading our current newspapers and magazines. Judging and criticism abound. But where are the grace extenders? Who can we learn that from? As a parent, are you teaching your children to be grace-extenders? As a workmate, are you demonstrating grace, kindness, and mercy? As a neighbor are you gossiping grace or judgment? As Christians we have abundant opportunity to be grace-extenders and grace teachers in our generation. Judging abounds. What about grace?