Thoughts on Judging
In the church, and even beyond, Judging has become a very thorny, even taboo issue over the years. However, a brief overview of Scripture shows that many have approached this topic with a disablingly narrow view; mainly due to focusing on Matthew 7:1 without reading carefully the rest of the passage, i.e., Matthew 7:2-5. Indeed, the Bible clearly instructs christians what, who, how and why to judge.
To correctly explore this issue and understand its importance, first let us consider some apparently conflicting passages: the aforementioned Matthew 7:1-5, John 7:24 and 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 & 6:2-5.
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. ~Matthew 7:1-5
Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. ~ John 7:24
For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. ~ 1 Corinthians 5:12-13
Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? ~ 1 Corinthians 6:2-5
The first passage is often quoted to discourage judging, but the latter passages clearly advocate it. Now, since the Bible does not contradict itself, Jesus, likewise, is surely not contradicting Himself, and Jesus AND Paul must also be in agreement.
The confusion that often arises from comparing these two passages of Scripture comes from two sources:
- Incomplete reading
- Incomplete context
1. Read Completely
As mentioned earlier, for the Matthew 7:1-5 passage, too many of us stop at verse 1, instead of reading all the way to verse 5. In verse 5, Jesus clearly states (in the analogy) that we should take the mote out of our brother’s eye, i.e., judge our brother. Jesus is saying that we should get right with God before we help our brother, because the state of our relationship with God hinders our ability to provide assistance. Indeed, as Jesus makes even clearer in John 7:24, the foundation for correct judgment is “righteousness”.
In addition, we frequently get lost in the size comparison between the log and the mote. Jesus, I believe, was emphasizing the disabling presence of the log in one brother’s eye BUT not diminishing the irritation caused by the mote. Do you remember how irritating it can be when a hair or even a speck of sand, gets in your eye and how it can cause you to lose focus on everything else? The brother with the mote needed assistance, but only someone who could see properly could help. When sin invades our lives we need help too. We need a good judge. So Paul does agree with Jesus after all. In fact, Paul writes elsewhere:
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. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. ~ Galatians 6:1-2
In other words, those that have had the stump removed (by God) from their eye (i.e., the spiritual) should help (i.e., restore) those with mote in their eye (i.e., those overtaken in a fault).
2. Read Carefully
The original Greek word for “judge”,Krino (kriðnw), has multiple meanings. Hence, the understanding of the word must be done contextually. I believe that God, in His perfect Wisdom, did this to ensure that study the scripture carefully (2 Timothy 2:15–Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth). We will revisit this point later.
What to Judge: Fruit Inspection NOT Branch Destruction
If we now agree that its okay to judge, the next crucial issue is what to judge. Jesus provides the answer for us a few verses after showing us how to get rid of motes:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. ~ Matthew 7:15-20
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. ~ John 15:4-5
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. ~ Galatians 5:22-23
Fruit type and quantity comprise a window into the spiritual state of a believer. Thus any behavior that is inconsistent with the fruit of the Spirit, or even a dearth of fruit, signifies the presence of (at least) a mote—i.e., points to weaknesses/hindrances that a christian brother/sister needs help with.
Equally important, Jesus also shows us what not to judge.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit… If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. ~John 15:1-2, 6
Only God (the husbandman/gardener) judges people (the branches): that is NEVER our place/job. Only God knows the state of the relationship between a believer and Christ. Fruit inspection reveals the weaknesses in a brother’s life but it never reveals his standing with God. We can declare deeds as sinful (bad fruit), but we cannot declare any person unrighteous.
Who to Judge: An Inside Job
Now let us consider who to judge. Our answer is provided (above) in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, where Paul instructs us to only judge our christian brothers. Stating specifically, that God alone judges those outside of the Body of Christ. The reason for this of course is that those outside of the Body of Christ do not and cannot bear fruit!
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. ~Romans 8:5-9
Consequently, the interaction between believer and non-believer should always be limited to salvation. Without salvation, neither moral nor immoral behavior pleases God because no one can work-for/earn righteousness.
How to Judge: Use the Right Scales
In Matthew 7:2 (above), Jesus shows us both how to judge and how not to judge: Don’t use your scales. If we use our (human-nature-brand) scales, we will be judged on them. And that is not good because we are inherently unmerciful and unfair, biased and myopic. instead we should use God’s scales which are found in the entirety of His Word. We must use the clear and unbiased Word to guide our judgement, applying the Word with the fairness and mercy of God, Himself working through us.
But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth. ~Psalm 86:15
Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. ~Micah 7:18
Why to Judge: Watch for Wolves
There are two reasons scripture gives us for judging. The first is to protect. Jesus (and Peter and Jude) warns us, in Matthew 7:15, to beware of false prophets who seek to destroy the sheep/church. Fruit inspection he instructs is the key to discerning the false from the true.
The second reason for judging is found in Matthew 7:5, Galatians 6:1-2 and James 5:20. Therein God shows us that proper fruit inspection affords us the ability to help a brother in need; to save him.
Taken together, we should judge (inspect fruit) to preserve and protect the church. This is of crucial importance today, because of the plethora of the false. We must equip ourselves through study of the Word of God to discern the truth so that we ourselves are not lead astray AND so that we can help others to stay in line with God. We judge(inspect fruit) therefore, not out of self-righteousness, but out of humility (by using God’s scales not ours) and love (we bear each other’s burdens).