Judge Not
Good News Magazine
May 1979
Volume: Vol XXVI, No. 5
Issue: ISSN 0432-0816
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Judge Not
Leslie E Stocker  

   Jesus said, "Judge not, that you be not judged." Yet, just a few verses later in that same Sermon on the Mount, He said, "You shall know them by their fruits."
   The first statement is clear. But at the same time, the second implies that some form of judgment or assessment takes place in the mind of a Christian. What is the real difference between these two concepts? The answer to that question underscores one of the toughest challenges to a Church member. It focuses on a fundamental quality of character essential to every begotten son of God!

Commanded not to condemn

   When Jesus said, "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matt. 7:1), the term obviously referred to judgment in the sense of condemnation or pronouncement of guilt. It is plain in the verses that follow that no one is really capable of such judgment because we all are blinded to some degree by our own shortcomings.
   Regardless of accomplishments in this life, no one has the prerogative to sit in spiritual judgment of others. Indeed, Jesus Himself did not come to judge (condemn): "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17). The word condemn in this verse is derived from the same Greek word that we have already seen in Matthew 7:1.
   There are a number of reasons why no man should sit in judgment (condemnation) of another. One important reason is expounded by the apostle Paul in Romans 2. The chapter begins with the same thought as Matthew 7:1. "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whosoever you are that judges... for you that judge do the same things." The term judge refers to condemnation as shown in the context. This is again the same Greek word as used in Matthew 7:1.
   As the apostle discusses the subject, he says in verse 4, "Or despise you the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?"
   This verse directly relates to II Peter 3:9, which says, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."

Space to repent

   It is a natural reaction to lunge quickly into accusation when we see the wrongdoing of others, all the while being blinded to our own shortcomings. But as we point the finger, we fail to remember that God is aware of all and has chosen not to intervene at the moment. He is literally giving us space to repent.
   In addressing the Thyatiran church in Revelation 2, God spoke of "that woman Jezebel" and mentioned her sins and pollutions within the church. He said, "And I gave her. space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not" (Rev. 2:21).
   The point is obvious. God has given us all "space to repent."
   God is not willing that any should perish. It is not our right to condemn a brother. In so doing we might be invading that space to repent that God has personally dealt to each person. Besides, all of us have some type of beam in our eyes that prevents us from seeing clearly.

Develop ability to discern

   Many reasons could be cited for not condemning another. The scriptural teachings are quite clear. But by the same token, Christians have an obligation to use their minds wisely and develop their judgment to the point of discernment.
It is not our right to condemn a brother. In so doing we might be invading that space to repent that God has personally dealt to each person.
   Paul wrote: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. "And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:1, 2).
   This, of course, requires constant study and contemplation of the Bible as well as the world around us. Paul found people of this mind when he visited Berea, "These were more noble than those in. Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11).
   Notice. These people were not cynical or sneering, neither did they sit in condemnation. Rather, they received the apostle "with all readiness of mind." They were open-minded with respect to all that he presented. Then they went about searching the Scriptures to see if everything spoken and done was in accordance with the Word of God. They obviously sought to follow the apostle Paul as he followed Christ (I Cor. 11:1).
   These Bereans were "more noble." They would have quickly followed the admonition with which Paul enjoined the Thessalonians, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thess. 5:21).
   In keeping with Romans 12:1-2 and I Thessalonians 5:21, the Bereans were using a form of judgment that is discernment. This type of discernment — or judgment — is precisely what was described by Jesus Christ when He said, "You shall know them by their fruits." The context of Matthew 7:16-20 makes that plain.

Spiritual perception

   We can also see the discernment illustrated as spiritual perception in I Corinthians 2:14-16: "But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
   "But he that is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
   "For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ." The spirit of God in us is intended to increase and sharpen our ability to discern.
   The contrast between judgment that is condemnation and judgment that is discernment is colorfully illustrated by a rule held by one Church family. That rule prohibits the children from ever calling each other liars during some disagreement or argument. One child might say that the other has told an untruth or a falsehood, but not a lie.
   You see, to call another person a liar is to imply premeditated resolve to deceive and bear false witness. It automatically implies guilt and malice of heart.
   On the other hand, errors about fact occur frequently. People will often relate what they perceive to be the truth. But through incomplete information, poor communication and human distortion, many falsehoods are spoken in true sincerity and honesty.
   To note such a falsehood or untruth is simply to deny its validity. To claim that it is a lie, however, is to imply guilt and violation of the Ninth Commandment. Such judgment belongs only to God!

Not an easy challenge

   The challenge to us as Christians is not an easy one. During times of crisis, we have to resist the natural inclination to point the finger and imagine the worst. Yet, at the same time, we must use discernment, which is founded upon the Word of God.
   To achieve this seemingly impossible balance one must exercise unswerving faith and confidence in God to accomplish all that He says He will.
   David, whose life was beset by many harsh trials, came to have greater faith in God rather than condemning others with an avenging attitude. In the 112th Psalm, he described that man (person) who truly fears (respects and trusts) God:
   "Light rises in the darkness for the upright; the Lord is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
   "It is well with the man who deals generously and lends, who conducts his affairs with justice.
   "For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered for ever.
   "He is not afraid of evil tidings; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
   "His heart is steady, he will not be afraid, until he sees his desire on his adversaries" (verses 4-8, Revised Standard Version).
   From the New Testament we understand exactly what a converted Christian desires for his enemy, namely repentance and a change of heart. To accuse and condemn would be inconsistent with that desire.
   In one of his last messages to the Church at large, Peter said, "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" (I Pet. 4:17).

God the judge of all

   It is true that God is the judge of us all. But we — within the house of God — must exercise discernment to keep our individual lives close to Him.
   Earlier in the above passage, Peter cautions us: "And above all things have fervent charity [love] among yourselves: for charity [love] shall cover the multitude of sins.
   "Use hospitality one to another without grudging" (I Pet. 4:8-9).
   To discern right from wrong, to give space to repent, to show love, to have faith that God is fully aware of and working with each individual — to do these things represents one of the toughest challenges for Christians of all times!

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Good News MagazineMay 1979Vol XXVI, No. 5ISSN 0432-0816