We’ve all been told that we should not judge a book by its cover. Of course, most of the time when that statement is made we are not talking about books. We are talking about judging other people. The truth is, until I open the book and see what’s inside, I can’t really know what it is about except by its cover. Until I get to know someone I only have their outward appearance to be a guide for what is inside. I think it is appropriate to judge paper books by their covers, but is this the way we should treat people?
As far as my personal testimony before others is concerned, I want my appearance and actions to coincide with who I really am inside—at least as much as possible. However, sometimes people are in situations that don’t allow them the privilege of showing on the surface what is underneath. Maybe someone does not have the financial means to adorn themselves in a way that shows how loving and kind they are. It could also be that past decisions have left them in a physical condition that limits their ability to present themselves in a way that is in line with their internal desires.
Whatever the reason for a disconnect between appearance and person, we should be careful not to prejudge others. Judging before we know the facts is called prejudice. While we typically think of that word being applied to people from a different place or background than us, it is a perfectly good word to describe the act of being judgmental.
Here are 7 habits to develop your life to help you become more loving and less judgmental.
1. Be Aware of Your Prejudices
Take note of what causes you to make judgments before you know the facts. Sometimes it is easier to see these things in others. Look at your parents and grandparents. While you may not have the same prejudices as they have, you probably have tendencies that way. Then look at your own situations and try to see the things that push your negative buttons.
By being aware of these tendencies, you are on your way to conquering them. Constantly remind yourself that you don’t have to go down a judgmental path towards others (Ephesians 4:32).
2. Try to See the Other Person’s Perspective
I had a situation recently where I was publicly (and negatively) called out for something I had written. My intention was to encourage in an anonymous way. No one, but that person, would have known that I was specifically pointing to them. But no sooner was the ink dried on my written statement than I felt publicly attacked.
A few hurt feelings later on both sides and an understanding was brought to light. While what I said would not normally have been taken negatively, the timing with which I delivered my thoughts caused everything to be misunderstood. Knowing what I know now, I probably would not have changed what I said, but I would have been more understanding (and less personally sensitive) to the reaction I elicited.
Try to understand the other person’s perspective and situation (Galatians 6:2).
3. Allow the Holy Spirit to Work in You
We love the idea of the fruit of the Spirit  as defined in Galatians 5:22 and 23. These are love, joy, peace, longsuffering/patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance/self-control. There are a great many studies on what this means as a whole and as individual parts. But, while I say we like the “idea” of the fruit of the Spirit, we don’t always like the practice of it. We want others to treat us with these qualities, but we don’t always filter our own thinking and actions through them.
These characteristics don’t come into the life of a person because he works hard at them. They come into the lives of those Christians who are yielded to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to work in and through them. By allowing the Holy Spirit to grow these traits in your life, you will become more loving and less judgmental.
4. Allow Others to Have the Freedoms You Want
We hear a lot of talk of tolerance by people who really want the freedom to live however they feel and without rules. Yet, those same people don’t practice tolerance towards those who do want to live by personal, religious, or legal codes. I am not advocating the typical meaning of “tolerance.” What I am proposing is that you realize that people without Christ can’t choose their actions. They are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:16-18). Try to be understanding to the way they behave and act. And, those who have the Holy Spirit within them are not mine to judge. They belong to Christ, it is not our place to criticize and judge them (James 4:10-12).
Does this mean you can’t teach and help? No! In fact, we should all be trying to help others grow in grace and in Christian maturity. But we need to do it with love. The arrogant mindset that says, “I am the only one who knows how to do anything right,” is not a loving one and won’t help you to overcome judgmental thoughts. And, furthermore, won’t actually help you teach anyone.
5. Realize Personalities are Different
It is easy to say that we understand people have different personalities, but sometimes it is hard to actually take that into account when dealing with other people. For many years my wife and I had a ministry where we were constantly dealing with new people. If there were any personality conflicts it was easy to endure because we knew there was a great likelihood that we would not even be in contact with those people more than 4 years into the future. While no one wants a stressful relationship to last indefinitely, when you can see an end to the relationship in a few months or even just 4 years into the future, it makes it much easier to endure.
Now I am working in a ministry where it is likely I will be in daily contact with my co-workers for the next 30 years. That is a little different than surface relationships that mostly last a few weeks or months, and at worst 4 years. I must learn to work with new personalities and understand that God gifts us all in different ways (1 Corinthians 12).
6. Not Everyone Knows What You Know
Be patient with other people who may not be as educated or spiritually mature as you. And realize that you are probably not the most mature person in every relationship. Give others time to grow. Someone was patient with you. It is your turn to be patient with others.
Whether you are dealing with other brothers and sisters in Christ at church, or dealing with your friends at work, be patient with them and take time to educate them where necessary. And remember, just because you know much more about a subject does not mean you know everything about every subject. Be willing to listen to those around you and learn from them. Become a student of people and learn from what they can teach you.
7. Keep Expectations in Check
So often we judge outcomes based on expectations. Are you as amazed as I am when you hear a news report that says a company had their best earning quarter, but their stock tanked on the market because it didn’t meet analyst expectations? When you set your expectations for others very high, then you are likely to be disappointed when they don’t perform as well as you hoped.
Of course, you can also look at others and expect very little from them. This is equally as bad. This causes and elitist attitude that looks critically at everyone.
Proper expectations should be somewhere in between those two extremes. Paul encouraged Timothy to be a good soldier and to work for the cause of Christ. He had expectations for his young disciple. Yet, Paul did this in a way that was encouraging and edifying (2 Timothy 2:1-4). Paul spoke to Timothy in a loving way that pushed Timothy to do more for the Lord, but did not impose great demands on the young preacher.
When meeting new people or entering into new situations, we need to be discerning and wise. But don’t allow that discernment to turn into critical, judgmental and prejudiced thoughts. Allow each situation to unfold and be flexible with whatever the outcome without presupposing what each person in the cast should do based on your own expectations.
Bathe everything you do in unconditional love (1 Corinthians 13). This is a great filter for how to view others and their actions.
Something more to read: Tips for Dealing with Difficult People