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How Must We Judge?

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How Must We Judge?

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Judging is an essential part of a godly life. Jesus ranked “judgment” on the level of “the love of God” (Luke 11:42 Luke 11:42But woe to you, Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
American King James Version×
, KJV).

Of course, we must confine judging to what God wants us to judge. We humans are limited to perceiving actions and attitudes. We dare not overstep into “the judgment seat of Christ” by presuming to be self-appointed judges of others (Romans 14:10 Romans 14:10But why do you judge your brother? or why do you set at nothing your brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
American King James Version×
). We must not condemn others or even sound condemning (Luke 6:37 Luke 6:37Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned: forgive, and you shall be forgiven:
American King James Version×
; Matthew 5:22 Matthew 5:22But I say to you, That whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
American King James Version×
).

Judgment is a big subject as there are several related meanings of the English words judge (a noun and verb) and judgment and the Hebrew and Greek words translated as judge and judgment . Hopefully this will whet your appetite to further study this subject in the Bible.

Regrettably, over the past few centuries, the English word judgment has been viewed increasingly in a negative light. Therefore biblical Hebrew and Greek words that had been previously translated as judgment are increasingly being translated as justice . For example, in the King James Version, judgment appears 294 times and justice 28 times. In the New King James Version (finished in 1982), judgment appears 188 times and justice 130 times.

Let us simply think of human judging as the process of analyzing, evaluating, assessing, distinguishing, perceiving, discerning, etc. Justice is an impartial process of godly judgment.

Part of the confusion is the current tendency to equate all judging with being judgmental . But look at a thesaurus. Synonyms for judgmental are prejudiced, biased, slanted, bigoted. A judgmental person is fault-finding, overly-critical and accusatory. Therefore, he is a poor judge, often doing more harm than good.

God’s way of judging is a good thing. We can “distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14 Hebrews 5:14But strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
American King James Version×
, New International Version) because we have God’s Word and His laws. However, we need diligent study, spiritual maturity and God’s guidance to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 2 Timothy 2:15Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
American King James Version×
).

We make judgments for many reasons. We must “distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean” (Leviticus 10:10 Leviticus 10:10And that you may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;
American King James Version×
). We must judge how to avoid temptations and bad influences (1 Corinthians 6:18 1 Corinthians 6:18Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body.
American King James Version×
; 10:14). We must be good judges of character in choosing our companions (2 Corinthians 6:14-7 2 Corinthians 6:14-7
American King James Version×
:1).

Sometimes Church leaders must judge disputes or bad conduct within the Church (1 Corinthians 5:1-13 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. 2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that has done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I truly, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that has so done this deed, 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your glorying is not good. Know you not that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote to you in an letter not to company with fornicators: 10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortionists, or with idolaters; for then must you needs go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortionist; with such an one no not to eat. 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not you judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judges. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
American King James Version×
; 6:1-6). If correction or disciplinary action is needed, it should be done gently out of love for all concerned to restore the offender to the path of salvation (Galatians 6:1 Galatians 6:1Brothers, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.
American King James Version×
; James 5:19-20 James 5:19-20 19 Brothers, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; 20 Let him know, that he which converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
American King James Version×
). And wherever possible, we should avoid embarrassing anyone. In most cases the rule to follow is: Praise in public and correct in private.

Much Wisdom in Old Testament

Our decisions are based on our judgment, and our judgment should be based on “the wisdom that is from above” (James 3:17 James 3:17But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
American King James Version×
).

The book of Proverbs is full of exhortations to “get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:5 Proverbs 4:5Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.
American King James Version×
), as well as discretion and prudence (foresight, forethought, carefulness, common sense—1:4). So pray regularly for godly wisdom and guidance (Colossians 1:9 Colossians 1:9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that you might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
American King James Version×
; James 1:5 James 1:5If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraides not; and it shall be given him.
American King James Version×
).

God places great emphasis on impartiality in judgment (Proverbs 24:23 Proverbs 24:23These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment.
American King James Version×
; 28:21). He forbade prejudice or favoritism toward rich or poor, Israelite or foreigner, friend or foe (Exodus 23:3-7 Exodus 23:3-7 3 Neither shall you countenance a poor man in his cause. 4 If you meet your enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. 5 If you see the ass of him that hates you lying under his burden, and would forbear to help him, you shall surely help with him. 6 You shall not wrest the judgment of your poor in his cause. 7 Keep you far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay you not: for I will not justify the wicked.
American King James Version×
; 12:49; Leviticus 19:15 Leviticus 19:15You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: you shall not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.
American King James Version×
). We should exercise this “judicial blindness” towards a person’s gender, race, rank or any other factor that is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Don’t be swayed by popular opinion and never take any kind of bribe (Exodus 23:2 Exodus 23:2You shall not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shall you speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:
American King James Version×
, 8; Deuteronomy 16:19 Deuteronomy 16:19You shall not wrest judgment; you shall not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift does blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.
American King James Version×
). Be on guard against any conflict of interest that could consciously or subconsciously distort your judgment.

Judging must involve some kind of measuring by a consistent authorized standard, whether physical or spiritual. “Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:35-36 Leviticus 19:35-36 35 You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in length, in weight, or in measure. 36 Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall you have: I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.
American King James Version×
, NIV; see also Deuteronomy 25:13-16 Deuteronomy 25:13-16 13 You shall not have in your bag divers weights, a great and a small. 14 You shall not have in your house divers measures, a great and a small. 15 But you shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shall you have: that your days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD your God gives you. 16 For all that do such things, and all that do unrighteously, are an abomination to the LORD your God.
American King James Version×
; Proverbs 11:1 Proverbs 11:1A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.
American King James Version×
; 20:10, 23).

Immediately after the above instruction, God refers to His spiritual standards of measurement: “Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:37 Leviticus 19:37Therefore shall you observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the LORD.
American King James Version×
, NIV). Judgment should be based on God’s laws, not our personal standards and preferences.

Listen First and Hear All Sides

“Listen before you answer. If you don’t, you are stupid and insulting” (Proverbs 18:13 Proverbs 18:13He that answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.
American King James Version×
, Today’s English Version). “What a shame, what a folly, to give advice before listening to the facts” (same verse, New Living Translation). Consider all the pertinent facts before judging or deciding an issue or giving advice. Seek truth!

And listen impartially to both sides—all sides—before forming opinions. “The one who first states a case seems right, until the other comes and cross-examines” (Proverbs 18:17 Proverbs 18:17He that is first in his own cause seems just; but his neighbor comes and searches him.
American King James Version×
, New Revised Standard Version). This is so true! Often the full truth is somewhere in between the two stories.

Discrepancies occur when one or more people are lying. But discrepancies occur for other reasons too. A person may have blind spots, not being aware of how his background and biases are affecting his testimony. We often can’t remember perfectly. Emotions can cloud our thinking. And people even have different definitions for their words.

Keep in mind that we all have human nature that tends to resent unsolicited correction and advice. Even when counseling is requested, a wise counselor will be very respectful, tactful and gentle toward all parties.

Appearance Versus the Heart

When God sent Samuel to anoint the next king, first he met David’s impressive older brothers. “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart’ ” (1 Samuel 16:7 1 Samuel 16:7But the LORD said to Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24 John 7:24Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
American King James Version×
). Or, as the Good News Bible translates it, “Stop judging by external standards, and judge by true standards.”

As much as humanly possible, these statements by God and Christ should guide us. We should be concerned about attitudes over appearance, true character over clothes and inner beauty over outer beauty. “Charm can be deceiving, and beauty fades away, but a woman [or man] who honors the LORD deserves to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30 Proverbs 31:30Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that fears the LORD, she shall be praised.
American King James Version×
, Contemporary English Version).

Therefore, good judgment requires considerable time—the time required to really get to know the attitudes of a person’s heart. We mustn’t jump to conclusions or rush to judgment. We must be patient, “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19 James 1:19Why, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
American King James Version×
). Generally, time must first be spent in building trust before advice and correction will be welcomed. The stronger the bridge of friendship, the more weighty advice that can be delivered.

It also makes us realize how limited we are as humans compared to God who can read minds and hearts at an instant. Hence, we human beings must be humble and very careful as we form opinions and before we begin to correct anyone.

We must also take into account a person’s level of understanding and spiritual maturity in order to know how accountable he is for his actions. “Sin is not imputed when there is no [knowledge of] law” (Romans 5:13 Romans 5:13(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
American King James Version×
). “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17 James 4:17Therefore to him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin.
American King James Version×
).

There are many things that a new babe in Christ will not understand right away. It’s much more important to make him feel welcomed and loved than to be in a hurry to correct any mistakes he is making (Romans 14:1 Romans 14:1Him that is weak in the faith receive you, but not to doubtful disputations.
American King James Version×
).

We are faced with a challenging balancing act. On one hand, we are to try to discern attitudes and take them into account. On the other hand, we must be cautious because we can easily think we know a person’s heart better than we really do. When an attitude is not clear, we should reserve judgment until it becomes clear. True love is not suspicious but optimistic (1 Corinthians 13:4-6 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 4 Charity suffers long, and is kind; charity envies not; charity braggs not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; 6 Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
American King James Version×
).

Every person is different—a mix of many different personality traits, habits, strengths and weaknesses. Each person is shaped by the varied experiences of his past, both good and bad. It’s tempting to look down on others, especially if they have noticeable weaknesses.

We ought to humbly think, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Paul said, “What makes you better than anyone else? What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if all you have is from God, why boast as though you have accomplished something on your own?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 1 Corinthians 4:7For who makes you to differ from another? and what have you that you did not receive? now if you did receive it, why do you glory, as if you had not received it?
American King James Version×
, NLT).

Seek Resolution and Reconciliation

If you have been mistreated, hurt or wrongly judged, remember the principles taught in the Bible about conflict resolution. Pray for wisdom, love, humility and tactfulness, and then speak privately with the offending brother or sister to clear up any misunderstandings and to pursue reconciliation.

This applies equally to all of us in God’s Church. For example, if you feel a minister has wronged you or is hurting someone else in some way, don’t complain and gossip to others or allow a growing resentment. Pray about it and then go to him and explain your concerns. That’s the true Christian approach.

We should all be open to others bringing up any of their concerns to us. And members of the United Church of God should know that our Church has an appeals process. If you have diligently tried to iron out a serious disagreement directly with a minister but you feel there has not been justice, members have the right to appeal to the next level of Church authority.

Judgment, Justice and Mercy

Throughout the Bible we see that godly judgment is based on both justice and mercy. (There could be no mercy if there was not the framework and foundation of justice.)

“Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13 James 2:13For he shall have judgment without mercy, that has showed no mercy; and mercy rejoices against judgment.
American King James Version×
). God has judged us all as being worthy of death, but by His mercy He removes that penalty from those who are repentant and merciful to others. If we make a mistake in judgment, it’s better to err on the side of mercy. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7 Matthew 5:7Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
American King James Version×
).

We must never be like the scribes and Pharisees who would “bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4 Matthew 23:4For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
American King James Version×
).

However, mercy does not mean injustice, such as any kind of favoritism. Mercy is not robbing from one person to give to another, like some kind of Robin Hood. Mercy is something voluntarily given.

Extending generous mercy is especially important when the person is truly repentant and when the mercy will likely help him spiritually.

An essential kind of mercy is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a big and wonderful subject that deserves much more space than we can give it here.

God is the perfect example of being amazingly forgiving. “LORD, if you kept a record of our sins, who O Lord, could ever survive? But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you” (Psalms 130:3-4 Psalms 130:3-4 3 If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared.
American King James Version×
, NLT).

God expects us to follow that example. Jesus said, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37 Luke 6:37Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned: forgive, and you shall be forgiven:
American King James Version×
).

Let’s remember this: With all kinds of godly judgment, the emphasis should be on the present and the future, not the past (Ezekiel 18:27-32 Ezekiel 18:27-32 27 Again, when the wicked man turns away from his wickedness that he has committed, and does that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. 28 Because he considers, and turns away from all his transgressions that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. 29 Yet said the house of Israel, The way of the LORD is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal? 30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, said the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby you have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies, said the Lord GOD: why turn yourselves, and live you.
American King James Version×
). What really counts is what the person does from now on.

“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father is also merciful” (Luke 6:36 Luke 6:36Be you therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
American King James Version×
). Anyone exercising judgment had better be merciful!

“He [God] has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 Micah 6:8He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
American King James Version×
). Judge righteous judgment! UN

Don Hooser is pastor of the Sedro-Woolley, Washington, congregation.

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Judging in Matthew 7

Matthew 7:1 Matthew 7:1Judge not, that you be not judged.
American King James Version×
is one of the most-quoted verses in the Bible: “Judge not that you be not judged.” It is also one of the most misjudged (misunderstood and misapplied) verses!

It is often quoted by those who are doing something wrong but don’t want anyone telling them that they are wrong.

A good start for understanding Matthew 7:1 Matthew 7:1Judge not, that you be not judged.
American King James Version×
is to read the next four verses. Jesus does not disapprove of the desire “to remove the speck [of sin] from your brother’s eye” (verse 5). However, you must first “see” (judge) the speck with humility, clarity and accuracy.

In order to do that, “first remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly…” Scrutinizing ourselves and repenting of our own sins must be first in order and first in priority. After repentance and spiritual growth, we can better “see” the way God sees.

Often it is those who have huge sins (planks) who tend to be self-righteous, opinionated, judgmental, unmerciful and accusatory. Jesus said a person who does this is a “hypocrite” (verse 5).

According to verse 2, we will receive the kind of judgment we have dished out to others. If we want to receive patience, mercy, forgiveness and generosity from God, we must be patient, merciful, forgiving and generous toward others (see also Luke 6:36-38 Luke 6:36-38 36 Be you therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 37 Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned: forgive, and you shall be forgiven: 38 Give, and it shall be given to you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you mete with it shall be measured to you again.
American King James Version×
).

God’s people definitely must make judgments. We must judge which gate leads to life and which leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 7:13-14 13 Enter you in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.
American King James Version×
). We must judge (recognize as deceivers) any “false prophets [preachers or teachers] who come to you” (verse 15). “You will know [judge] them by their fruits” (verses 16-20). Jesus proceeds to tell us that good fruit is doing the will of God and bad fruit is spiritual lawlessness (verses 21-23). In fact, the whole Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6 and 7) is largely about how we should judge matters according to the true spirit of God’s law as well as the letter of the law.