Of Teeth and Judging

by Mary E. Stephens

May 2018


John 7:24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.


Recently something that happened to me years ago came to my mind and I realized it was a parable.


When I was growing up my dad had the idea that dentists promoted 6 month cleanings of teeth because they wanted to make money. He thought that if you brushed and flossed “properly” you didn’t need to have your teeth cleaned very often at all. He was not alone in thinking this. It seemed logical at the time, but I now know that regular professional cleaning does serve a useful purpose.


My family was living at poverty level most of the time back then and had no insurance, so we couldn’t afford to go to the dentist for anything but real issues anyway. Our dentist then was a Christian and did volunteer work in Africa yearly, so he understood people who couldn’t afford much dental care. He was patient and helpful.


It was sometime in my mid-teens when my grandparents were staying with us that I happened to mention to my grandpa that I had trouble cleaning the back of my lower front teeth. I had to scrape them with my fingernail or rub them with a towel to get them to feel clean on the inside. When I told him this he may have questioned me a little, but then his comment was, “It sounds like laziness to me.”


Needless to say, I was hurt. I was trying hard to clean my teeth. I felt like I was making an effort, and yet he had judged me of being lazy. (Let me say here that I am not trying to defame my grandpa on this point. We all say things like this from time to time without thinking and he was not one to always respond in this manner.)


Some time later when I had to see the dentist for some issues he noted that the backs of my lower front teeth were cruddier than the rest, and he stopped to show me how to brush them properly on a dental model that he had there. At first I thought he was showing me exactly what I was doing, but as he proceeded I realized that I had not been cleaning those teeth correctly.


My grandpa had failed to get to the bottom of the problem for one reason or another. Since I thought I was doing it right, I probably had given the impression that I was. Without an actual demonstration, he would not have known otherwise. (Again, in other situations I’ve known him to sort things out properly, so this was just not normal for him.)


What he didn’t know was that laziness was not the problem at all. I am one of those people who is naturally inclined to scrub their gums right off by brushing too vigorously and in an incorrect manner. I needed someone to not only teach me how to brush properly, but also how to go about correctly cleaning the teeth in question. I needed help, not condemnation. He had judged me according the appearance, but it was not right judgment.


In thinking about this incident, I thought about how often people struggle with spiritual things and Christians around them will pass judgment upon them without ever getting to the bottom of the problem. We are so inclined to assume that someone else is just lazy or carnal or ungodly, when in fact they may be trying very hard - but without the knowledge they need to do things God’s way.

It reminds me of what Paul wrote about the Jewish people in Romans 10:2, For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.


Some people have great zeal, but they lack knowledge. Many times people need a demonstration more than they need criticism!


If my grandpa had stopped to watch my method he might have seen where I was making my mistake. If he had demonstrated the proper way to do the job, perhaps I would have learned something useful.

Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

We have a Christian duty to help those who are overtaken in a fault, but if we don't stop to find out what is really going on, we won't be able to do that correctly. You can't help someone get something right if you don't even know where they are wrong in the first place.


There are many people who are trying to follow Christ, but they are doing it incorrectly. They know some things, they may even know enough to make it sound like they are truly saved or that they are really striving to walk in God’s will. But, if we would get down to the actual details with them, if we would observe them in their actual day-to-day struggles or talk with them and work with them in a way that is geared to show us where they are really at, we might find that there is a missing piece. In the case of my friend, Theresa, it was a major piece - she did not understand true salvation, and so she wasn’t even saved. Some others don’t “get” certain aspects of the Christian life. They may be trying and trying and yet somehow things just are not working for them. Something is missing.

Galatians 6:2-4 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.


We are commanded to bear one another's burdens. In this matter of learning to walk faithfully in God's truth, our desire and goal should be to see each believer be able to prove his or her own work and know in themselves that they are doing right before God.


Romans 14:19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.


1 Thessalonians 5:11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.


We are supposed to be edifying - building up - one another in the body of Christ. How much more those who are struggling and faltering?


1 Thessalonians 5:14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.


Hebrews 3:13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.


If you have a person in your life that is struggling with their Christian life, it very well may be your responsibility to get to the bottom of it and make sure they are “doing it right,” so to speak. Pray with them, read the Bible with them, walk with them in life, converse with them about the things of life and eternity and ask the Lord to show you if they are missing a piece or a step that needs to be there. First is the person truly born again? Do they have a sound understanding of who God is and what relationship to Him means? Do they understand why we need to strive against sin and how to do that? Are they following the clear commands of baptism and fellowship with the saints? Are they living in sin in their personal life in some way that is hindering their spiritual growth? Are they listening to a false teacher and so being led into error? These are some points to consider. The Lord will show you others if they are there and if you are available to really help.


Maybe this is you. Maybe you are struggling with your Christian life and other people keep telling you  how to do this or that, but they are not stepping into your life and showing you how to walk with Christ. Maybe no one has bothered to sit down and study God’s word with you in a private and more personal manner, and maybe you haven’t asked or sought for that. Maybe others are judging you of not trying hard enough but they are not helping you understand where you might be walking in a way that isn’t according to the word of God. Ask God to give you a wise and faithful Christian friend to help you with this, or to bring you the information you need to help you “walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:1.


I remember a lady at a women’s Bible study who had not been saved long talking about her prayer life and that she kept at it, but it was hard. She didn’t feel like her prayers were really reaching God. I’m not sure the answer she received was a big help. The woman teaching the class was one whom I now know to have been inclined to judge other people and tell them what she thought they were doing wrong, but not one to make sure someone was showing them Jesus like she should have. That newly saved lady probably needed a good prayer partner - some lady who was mature and wise in the Lord. It would have helped her considerably. She also needed to hear some sound teaching on prayer. One of the things that helped me much when I was in my teens and learning to pray on my own was a Bible study for ladies on the subject of prayer. It went on weekly for some weeks, and it left a lasting impact on my life. By the way, we didn’t just study, we prayed together too. It was a tremendous help.


Once, in a teen Sunday School class I was visiting, a young man in the group asked about how God could be sovereign and yet allow us a free will. This was quite an interesting question coming from a fellow in his teens, and it may have reflected some doubts or struggles he was having in his own life. I was not terribly knowledgeable of the Bible at the time, but I knew enough to know that the answer this young man received was confusing and didn’t really answer the question very well. I was disappointed in the teacher. I wonder how much more unhappy the young man was, especially if he had a specific reason for asking. I think what he really needed was for that man to not only give a better answer, but to make an appointment to meet him somewhere and sit down and talk about it and study it from scripture. The teacher, as his older brother in Christ, needed to find out if there was a special reason why the question was asked in the first place. Perhaps he did later. I hope so.

Ephesians 4:11-16 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.


Notice how this starts with those church leaders who are responsible for the edifying of the body of Christ, but it ends with the body edifying itself in love. This is not a job just for the pastors and preachers and Sunday School teachers, etc. It is something that every believer is to be participating in as the body grows. And, please notice that the edifying is to be done in love, in speaking the truth in love.


I wonder how many people wander off into error or give up on trying to walk godly in Christ Jesus because someone didn’t really listen to them when they talked about their struggle. We can’t always figure everything out, and I do believe that God is sovereign, but I also believe that we have a responsibility to help others as we are able – to edify one another in love. I know that I need to work on these things myself.


We need to let the Lord show us where we can be more helpful and not just assume we know what “someone’s problem is.” Let’s try to listen better and be more attentive to the situations where we might be able to make a difference and be a real help. Let’s not accuse someone of “doing it the wrong way” when we haven’t even bothered to find out what they are doing.

Hebrews 12:12-13 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

Graphics by Mary Stephens.
Vintage graphic - source unknown