“But as for you and your officials, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.”
Exodus 9:30 (NRSVCE)
I have regularly attended church my entire life. I’ve attended suburban mega-churches and tiny rural churches. I’ve attended churches of diverse backgrounds and doctrinal beliefs. In 54 years, I met and have known many, many people in those churches. In the quiet of my office this morning, my brain’s long-term memory is searching the archives to access the names and faces of individuals I’ve not thought about in a long time. The memories have put a smile on my face.
The further I get in my spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus, the more stalwart I’ve become in obeying Jesus’ command to refuse judging others. As I like to say, “God’s Judgment Seat is one big throne, and my butt ain’t that big.” I long ago took off my Junior Holy Spirit badge and stopped pretending I could know the hearts of others. Most days, I’m fortunate to have a decent handle on my own.
At the same time, just after telling us never to judge others, Jesus made it very clear that people (and He was speaking specifically of preachers, teachers, and prophets) are like fruit trees:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.“
So, while Jesus makes it clear that it is not my place to judge another person, in almost the same breath He tells me that it is in the best interest of my spiritual health to be wise and discerning with regard to those whom I allow to speak into my life and my spiritual journey. In Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Galatia, he described the “fruit” of God’s Spirit as love for others that is increasingly joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, faithful, and self-controlled. Rotten spiritual fruit he describes as selfishness, hatred of others, deception, envy, jealousy, rage, sowing discord and dissension between people, and of course over-indulging in all the fleshly appetites.
I’ve come to the conclusion that identifying rotten fruit in another person’s life does not exempt me from Jesus’ command not to judge that person. Likewise, rotten fruit in another person’s life does not exempt me from the law of love, which calls me to treat that person with patient, kind, faithful, and self-controlled love. Identifying rotten fruit in another person’s life simply affords me the opportunity to be wise and shrewd in managing my interactions and relationship with that person. Judgment and being judicious are two very different things.
Which brings me to today’s chapter, in which plagues continue to bring suffering on Pharaoh and the Egyptians. At one point, Pharaoh even appears to relent:
Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. “This time I have sinned,” he said to them. “The Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Pray to the Lord, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer.”
Pharaoh’s words, however, did not match Pharaoh’s heart. His repentance was like the Daphne berry, which looks nice and scrumptious on the outside (see featured photo on this post) but happens to be very toxic. The Egyptian ruler’s earlier actions (stubbornness, deception, and double-mindedness) made Moses appropriately suspicious of Pharoah’s sudden fruit of repentance.
And so, I find myself back to all of those names and faces throughout the years. I remember most as bearers of good fruit. There are a few whom I recall as bearing pretty rotten fruit in their lives when I knew them. Depending on when our journeys intersected, they might remember some of the bad fruit my own life has produced along the way. That’s another good reason I should never presume to judge anyone. I would only be condemning myself. It is a journey, after all. A lifetime living in Iowa has taught me that the same field can produce very different yields in different years. The bad fruit I noticed in a person’s life may have simply been a rough season in life. Lord knows, I have had my own share of them.
My job is to keep cultivating the only field for which I am responsible: my own. Lord, produce in me a bumper crop of love.