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June 12, 2016
You Be The Judge
In this age of “toleration,” even among those who are religious, statements such as, “Don’t judge me!” and “The Bible says not to judge!” are often heard. Of course, this is most frequently encountered when pointing out a moral or doctrinal error. Be aware that the Bible does not just say: “Do not judge.” Look at our above text from Matthew 7:1-5. It reads: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” But what does that mean?
It is not …
“Do not judge” does NOT refer to differentiating between right and wrong. In fact, distinguishing between right and wrong is very specifically an obligation for disciples. However, making this decision between right and wrong is the thing people cry out against saying, “You are judging and the Bible says not to judge.” Actually, the opposite is true. Jesus taught that His disciples should judge. “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). God expects us to be observant, consider the facts, hear the evidence, and then to reach a conclusion as to whether any matter is right or wrong. That obligation follows into the local congregation. Notice the language of 1Corinthians 11:13: “Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” The subject we wish to address at the moment is not the matter of a covering, but the matter of judging. This judging mentioned in Paul’s letter is certainly judging, but not that which is forbidden in Matthew 7:1. This judging is necessary and commanded.
“Do not judge” does NOT refer to testing works. Disciples are taught to test works and then decide if right or wrong. Once again, this is the judgment so many resent. However, notice that in the same chapter where we find the admonition, “Do not judge,” we also find this: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20). You see, men are obligated to consider a man's works, hear the evidence, and then reach a conclusion upon the basis of his works. That is judging. But that is not what is prohibited.
“Do not judge” does NOT refer to church discipline. When people within a local congregation walk out of order, the church is obligated to judge them. “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?” (1Corinthians 5:12). Sometimes people object to the church exercising discipline on the grounds that it is judging. Of course it is judging! Considering the matter, hearing the evidence, and reaching a conclusion is involved and that is exactly what is required. That is judging—not prohibited, but commanded.
It is …
The admonition, “Do not judge” has a meaning and it has an application. It means that we are not to have a harsh, bitter, fault-finding spirit that looks on a person just to find fault. Look again at our original text. Jesus explained the meaning and application: “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). When deciding between right and wrong, we are testing a man’s teaching by his works, or when church discipline is under consideration, we are not to have a harsh, bitter, fault-finding spirit. If he does, then he is guilty of judging as is found in Matthew 7:1.
Christians are forbidden to judge where evidence is lacking. Motives are not to be judged until they show in works. That is the teaching of 1Corinthians 4:5: “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”
There are some valid reasons why men ought not to have this harsh, bitter, fault-finding spirit. Jesus was clearly making men aware of the things we need to know.
This spirit engenders an attitude of retaliation (Matthew 7:2). If one has a harsh, bitter, fault-finding spirit when he decides between right and wrong or when he tests one's teaching by his works, that attitude will seldom make one correct that which is wrong but will only provoke retaliation.
This approach is to be abhorred because it is the very heart of hypocrisy. Remember what Jesus said—“You hypocrite” (Matthew 7:5).
This harsh, bitter, fault-finding spirit which Jesus called judging must be prohibited because of the prior instruction that is given. The prior instruction is to first cast out the log from our own eye. When that is done, the bad attitude will be gone.
Notice, even in our text of Matthew 7:1-5, where the prohibition is given concerning judging, there likewise comes a time for judging—for deciding between right and wrong and for testing one’s teaching and life by his works. This is something that is usually overlooked. See the last part of the paragraph? “And then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
There is a two-sided warning in order: (1) in deciding between right and wrong or in testing one's works, one may go about that in a harsh, bitter, fault-finding manner doing the thing which needs to be done but being condemned because of a bad attitude; (2) on the other hand, in deciding between right and wrong or in testing one's teaching by his works, one may become too lenient. This will result in the breaking down of truth as the standard. One will not be able to tell what is right or what is wrong. The results of this will be that one cannot tell who is right or wrong. This is tragic and ends in sorrow as it did for Israel. “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).
The Bible was written so that we might understand God's will for us. Let us use it for that purpose. Let us determine what is right and what is wrong and who is right and who is wrong, but let us have the right attitude in doing this judging.
—S. Scott Richardson Sr.