“It is certain that the spirit of self-justification can only be overcome by the spirit of grace; and it is just as certain that the individual judgmental thought can be limited and suppressed by never allowing it to be spoken except as a confession of sin…” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 70.
Bonhoeffer writes that we should not talk about others in secret and that we ought to “absolutely refuse” to allow our competitive judgmental thoughts to be verbalized. He also makes clear that he is not talking about words of admonition spoken personally to others, and he acknowledges that there are limitations to the rule, but that “this is not the place” (page 70) to specify the exceptions.
“Where the discipline of the tongue is practiced right from the start, individuals will make an amazing discovery. They will be able to stop constantly keeping an eye on others, judging them, condemning them, and putting them in their places and thus doing violence to them” (page 71).
The first word of criticism, the first word of competitive judgement, is never the last word. We may think that we can control our tongue, we may think that we will only make a brief negative statement about a brother or sister – but that is impossible. Once the first word is out another follows, once the first sentence is out another follows. When we are done we have polluted our hearers, we have polluted ourselves, and we have polluted the body of Christ.
The cup of grace is the cup of Christ; the cup of slander and accusation is the cup of the enemy. Which cup shall we offer our brothers and sisters? Which cup shall we drink from? A cup 99% pure and 1% poison is not pure – it is a cup of poison. When we awake in the morning there is only one cup in our hand, the cup of grace in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is our choice whether to put that cup aside during the day and take another cup from the demonic peddlers who ply their wares. We may not be able to stop the demonic solicitors who knock on our doors, but we do not have to answer the doors, and if foolishly we answer the door – we need not engage in conversation with the purveyors of darkness – better to slam the door shut than allow poison to enter our life together.
The beauty of the cup of grace is that its supply never ends. We may begin the morning with a small cup, but as we pour it out the cup expands and expands as the supply increases and increases – perhaps by the end of the day we need the help of brothers and angels to carry the cup as we continue to pour it out to those around us. It is a mystery, but the more we give others to drink the more our own thirst is quenched.
When we find our sole justification in Jesus Christ we need not judge our brethren in order to justify ourselves. When we see that outside of Christ Jesus we are wicked and are capable of the deepest and grossest sin – we have no ground to judge others in order to look good.
Our insecurities often tempt us to judgment. Let us recognize this temptation and seek Christ alone as our wisdom, sanctification, redemption, and seek His glory alone. Jesus justifies those who believe in Him, that is enough, it is more than enough – let us learn to rest in His justification and His alone. When I judge my brother in seeking to justify myself I not only do violence to my brother, I repudiate the justification that is mine in Christ. Is that what I really want to do? Is that the testimony that I want to display to the principalities and powers?
Better to extend the cup of grace to others as Jesus Christ has extended His cup of grace to us.
Have I engaged in the judging that comes from self-justification, in a desire to be exalted above others, in an effort to look better than others….that I should confess and repent of…turn away from?
Who is there today that I should seek out with the cup of grace?
Who is there today that you should seek out with the cup of grace?