A few years ago my buddy Shon and I were working out at the gym when I saw something that baffled me: a middle-aged guy in the gym walking around in his T-shirt, sneakers and his underwear. Yes, his underwear, and no, we were not in the locker room.
At first I thought, Surely not. There’s no way. He looked like a normal guy, but after two or three quick glances, I discovered, yes indeed, the man was swaggering around in tight, gray boxer briefs. (Forgive me for the mental picture, but it’s probably accurate.)
Right around that moment, Shon came over and spoke in a low voice.
“Did you see –”
“Is he really –”
“Are you sure?”
“No doubt in my mind. I own a pair just like them.”
We looked at each other in disbelief for a moment, and then we did the only thing we could: We went about our workout and tried to pretend there wasn’t a guy walking around in his underpants.
To this day, the underwear man is a mystery to me. Did he accidentally forget to put his shorts on? Was this a one-off event, or was this a normal thing for him when working out, going to the park or mowing the yard? Was he married? Did he have any friends? If so, why hadn’t somebody said, “Hey, um, you forgot to put on the rest of your clothes”?
Well, maybe they were being wise.
Figuring out when you can speak into someone else’s life is a tough call, and there’s usually a price. It’s high risk and low reward — a gamble that very likely won’t pay off because it’s easy to resent the correction (or corrector) even if the feedback is valid. But, more importantly, we need to evaluate why it’s so important for us to even say something about other people’s obvious flaws when they haven’t asked for our input.
Maybe we think it’s godly. After all, in Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus said to confront others when we have an issue with them, right? Nope, it actually says, “If your brother sins against you,” you should first confront him privately. Basically, scriptural confrontation is generally reserved for situations involving sin (Galatians 6:1; Titus 3:10-11). So the more applicable verse in this context is Colossians 3:13: “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”
There are certainly going to be situations in the gray area between outright sin (“You lied about me”) and annoyances (“You talk about yourself too much”). But as we navigate that tricky gray area, perhaps we should err on the side of keeping our criticisms to ourselves and only confronting others when they ask for our opinion or they are sinning against us. Anything else causes unnecessary damage and leaves us assuming we’re in the place to judge.
As Oswald Chambers says in My Utmost for His Highest:
Jesus says regarding judging — Don’t. … Criticism is a part of the ordinary faculty of man; but in the spiritual domain nothing is accomplished by criticism. The effect of criticism is a dividing up of the powers of the one criticised; the Holy Ghost is the only One in the true position to criticise, He alone is able to show what is wrong without hurting and wounding. … Beware of anything that puts you in the superior person’s place.
Every wrong thing that I see in you, God locates in me. Every time I judge, I condemn myself. Stop having a measuring rod for other people. There’s always one more missing fact in every case that could change our opinions completely.
If we want, we can keep judging and critiquing in the name of constructive criticism (or worse, in the name of Christianity), but we ought to realize how ridiculous we’re going to look with a log hanging out of our eye as we dig a piece of dust out of another person’s. Or as Jesus could’ve said, “[H]ow can you say to your brother, ‘[Dude, you’re walking around the gym wearing underwear — that’s embarrassing]’; and look, [you forgot to wear deodorant, and you smell like old trash]?” (Matthew 7:3-5). Let’s give people room to grow with Jesus and step down from trying to do the Holy Spirit’s job. It’ll be a lot less frustrating and exhausting for everyone involved (including us).