Some people seem to be experts at evaluating others. They think they have an uncanny ability to read others’ minds, evaluate their actions, and judge their motives. The danger in assessing others’ behavior in such a way is that people become judgmental. Such people have critical spirits that can be cruel and divisive. Setting themselves up as prosecutor, judge and jury, they proceed to tear everyone apart who does not see things their way.
The Bible is full of examples of judgmentalism – the Jews in the wilderness (Num 16), the Pharisees (Matt 22), the prodigal son’s older brother (Luke 15), the immature Christians in the early church (1 Cor 3). One of the most serious biblical examples was Miriam’s criticism of Moses’ wife (Num. 12). God severely judged Miriam’s judgmental spirit.
Just for the record, there is a difference between judging and being judgmental. Christians need to be able to judge what is good and what is evil so they can discern God’s will for their lives. Believers are also called upon to judge disputes among believers, as well as to judge sin and deal accordingly with it (1 Cor 5). Sometimes believers need to discern sin in their fellow believers and point it out in a loving way (Prov. 27:17).
So what about when Jesus said, “Judge not that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you?” (Matt 7) In this same passage, He also said that people cannot remove the speck from someone else’s eye when they have a plank in their own eye. Jesus was speaking against having a critical spirit.
Judgmental people are critical, condescending, unloving, and unforgiving. They are more concerned with pointing out others’ mistakes than helping them with their problems. Their attitudes create anxiety in others whom they attempt to manipulate by demanding compliance with their opinions. Critical people tend to make others feel that they are all alone in the world.
Another characteristic of judgmental people is their self-centered view of life. They are far more concerned about themselves than anyone else. They lack empathy and resist opening up enough to let others talk freely about deeply emotional issues. It is easier for them to condemn than to forgive. They lock themselves in parental-style role and refuse to change. They may try to shame people as a means of controlling them. While some judgmental people may think that they are helping others do the right thing (according to them), they are really hurting them in the long run. Forced behavior, controlled by guilt manipulation, often leaves people wanting to break free.
People’s reactions to judgmental people can include feelings of detachment (being emotionally inaccessible) and abandonment (connecting then leaving), and can result in criticism (unloving responses) and even abuse (emotional violation).
One of the major causes of judgmentalism is guilt. People tend to criticize others for problems with which they tend to struggle themselves. Another cause is fear. People fear those they do not understand.
Judgmentalism is a heart attitude that often blinds people to their own problems. It is quick to point the finger but slow to bend the knee. To be set free of a critical spirit, believers can begin by praying for others and working to genuinely reach out to others in love. They can get into an accountability relationship to learn to discern the difference between appropriate judgment and judgmentalism.
A critical spirit can often be discerned by identifying people’s motives. If their words are meant to tear others down in order to build themselves up, then they are being judgmental. If they are minimizing and excusing their own faults while pointing out the faults of others, then they are being judgmental. If we find ourselves being critical of others, we need to ask God for forgiveness. Ultimate judgment belongs to God (Rev 20). We dare not attempt to put ourselves in His place!