If I have a negative thought about something, I wonder “Is this discernment? Or is it criticism?” How can I tell the difference?
Even people who are unfamiliar with the Bible can quote Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so you will not be judged.” However, Jesus continues the teaching by adding, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged and by your standard of measure it will be measured to you.” Jesus does not tell us never to judge, but to recognize that we will be judged with the same harshness or mercy with which we have judged others. He also tells us that we should persistently judge all teaching against the truth of His word.
Jesus then provided two examples of judging – those who can easily spot the faults and shortcomings of others but rarely see the same flaws in themselves or the others who perceive and address their own shortcomings before pointing out the failings of others.
Is my discernment clothed in humility and compassion? Am I seeking to patch up what has been torn or poke holes in a usable garment? Dietrich Bonhoeffer once observed, “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as ourselves.”
As I consider my thoughts or comments, whose criteria am I using to point out error? Are these standards from God’s word, my own preferences or the world’s values? Jesus always judges righteously because He has perfect knowledge and perfect motives. When I judge, my knowledge is always incomplete and my motives impure.
Later in the chapter, Jesus states that His true believers will be known by their fruit. So I consider, “What will be the fruit of this comment?” Wise discerning words bring healing and restoration while words uttered in criticism may result in harm and disunity.
If my thoughts are from discernment, has the Lord given me this understanding to pray and then speak or to only pray? When I read James 1:26, I think twice or three times about voicing discerning thoughts. “If anyone considers himself religious but does not keep a tight reign over this tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
While I have decided I can’t figure out the exact parameters of discerning, judging and criticizing, I can invite the Holy Spirit to filter every word, and ask Him to allow me to only speak as Jesus would. And I can ask Him to reveal my own sin and purify my motives.