I joined a gym a year ago, after having successfully avoided gyms for most of my adult life. Few things make me feel as awkward as walking into a room filled with exercise equipment of mysterious purpose and design. I’m not in shape, graceful, or athletic. The sight of so many people who seem to know what they’re doing emphasizes my self-doubt every time I set foot into a gym. This gym though, claimed to be “Judgement Free”, with rules to reinforce the idea that they are a gym for everyone. Namely, no skimpy clothing, no banging the weights around and no exaggerated huffing and puffing during workouts.
I had my doubts, but I decided to give it a shot. To my surprise, the rules and the environment do seem to create an atmosphere free of judgment. The philosophy is that everyone at the gym is there for the same basic reason: to increase their fitness and health. Thus, no participant should be judging any other participant for where they are in the process, for how heavy or light their workout seems to be, or how hard they seem to be working. Each person should be focused on their own goal, not on anyone else’s goal or progress.
It reminds me of the church community. In many ways, we are to be a “Judgement Free” zone as well. It doesn’t mean we suspend our wise discernment at the door. Just like at the gym, we still have to discern right from wrong: if someone is breaking the rules or using the equipment in a way that is harmful to themselves or others, we have a responsibility to step in. The key is in avoiding condemnation. And that, too, is in line with how the church community should function.
Consider Romans 14. In this passage, Paul is writing specifically about some other issues that had cropped up amongst the believers. However, Paul discourages contempt of one another as he writes, “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand…But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written:
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’
So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way” (Romans 14:4 Romans 14:4Who are you that judge another man's servant? to his own master he stands or falls. Yes, he shall be held up: for God is able to make him stand.
American King James Version×, 10-13).
The issues Paul addressed were not issues of the law; rather, they were issues of how one applied God’s word in one’s life. Indeed, the same can be said of many issues that divide our church communities today. Just like those who go to a gym, we are all in various places in our journey towards our goal. Some of the specifics of our workouts are going to be different, but the ultimate goal is the same. There is definitely a place for taking a brother aside when he is clearly choosing to live in ways contrary to God’s instruction; but there is no place for holding our brethren in contempt. When we do that, we act as though they are ours to judge and while we’re scrutinizing their actions, we are taking our eyes off of our own work. We must remember that all of us will give an account for how we applied God’s word in our lives.
The judgment-free idea goes beyond avoiding contempt: it also discourages intimidation. When I walk into the gym, everyone else looks like they have their fitness plan together. It takes a lot of courage to stand next to an actual runner who is on the elliptical machine and then drag myself through an obviously less-strenuous workout. If I had to also compete with sneering attitudes, I would have quit within the first month.
Church is the same way. When we struggle, it’s easy to see our brethren as people who have it all together. And if those people also see themselves as those who are superior to us, we will never be able to ask for help from one another. The judging gets in the way of love. The contempt becomes a stumbling block and it may just be big enough to knock us out of the race all together.
The bottom line is our churches should be the safest place we could ever be. Safe because there are rules that we all must follow: God’s commands. Safe because we have a model we all must work from: Christ’s example. Safe, because we recognize that we don’t deserve to be there, but have been called by the grace of God. Safe because we are each dedicated to completing our own work well knowing that we will give account and because we assume that others have that same goal, even if some of our specific choices aren’t the same. Safe because we devote ourselves to love and outgoing concern, one for another.
Let us dedicate ourselves to reaching out to one another in love and help. Let us remember that we all stand or fall before God, not one another, and that we all must give account. May we all complete our journeys successfully.
For more information on living a Christian life while looking to the example Jesus Christ set, please read our free Bible study aid, Making Life Work.