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Judging with Righteous Judgment

by Steven Harper

The world's favorite Bible passage must surely be Matthew 7:1, where Jesus said, "Judge not, that you be not judged." This verse is most often cited when someone points out a sin in the life of another and the accused one is then quick to reveal the depths of their Bible knowledge by citing this one verse - though they often do not actually comprehend its proper meaning and application. Now, even brethren feel compelled to use this as a defense [in reality, a diversion] when their sin or worldly behavior has been revealed. The fact is, Jesus was not forbidding judgment completely - just unrighteous judgment. He made that apparent when He then said, "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:2). Basically, Jesus is saying we should not judge others with a measure of judgment we would not want for ourselves.

But Jesus also went on to say, "Why do you see 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,' when there is the log 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). In this illustration, we should note a few things that are often overlooked when we get in a hurry to redirect attention off of our sins and onto the supposed faults of another.

First, Jesus said we should consider our own faults [which are sometimes bigger] before noting the faults of others. In this world, it is common for us to note how "terrible" some people's behavior is, but fail to notice our shortcomings. Often, the faults of others seem "major" while ours are only "minor" - at least in our own opinion. Jesus urges us to take a look at self before we take a look at others.

Second, we should note that Jesus did not forbid judging altogether. In the illustration of the mote and beam, please note that He said we should take care of self first and then take care of our brother. After we have honestly examined ourselves, it is then acceptable to note the fault of another - but not just to point it out. Which brings us to the next point:

Finally, Jesus said we should not just point out this fault in our brother, but we should then help him get rid of it! Again, in the illustration of the mote and beam, Jesus said we should take the beam out of our own eye so we can see clearly to "take the speck out of your brother's eye." It is not enough for us to simply note the faults of others; the only reason we should even note the fault of another is to help them get rid of that fault! Sometimes, we are so intent on pointing out the faults of others that we forget to do the more important task of helping them to rid that fault from their lives. Friends and brethren, that is often the sole difference between being a fault-finder and one who is an edifier! If you're looking for faults in others, you will probably find some; but Christ reminds us a greater effort should be put forth in helping one another to eliminate faults. What good would we be to the world if we simply pointed out each other's faults, but did nothing to rid those faults from our lives? We can claim no honor in just being able to list our faults or the faults of others; honor comes when we strive to rid them!

But let us again consider the matter of whether or not Jesus forbade judging. From this context - if read in its entirety - we can see that what Jesus was forbidding was unrighteous judgment, not all judging. In fact, we find that on another occasion Jesus said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment" (John 7:24). Jesus neither forbade nor exhorted His disciples to get involved in making judgments, but clearly taught that whatever judgments they did make had to be righteous judgments; their judgment was to be neither hypocritical nor unrighteous. But what is "righteous judgment?" If we are called upon to make judgments or if we are in situations where judgment is demanded, how is it to be done so it meets the definition of "righteous"? Let's consider a few things that will help us to better understand:

First, when we are called upon by the circumstances of any given situation to make a judgment about spiritual matters, the judgment we make cannot be based on our own standards. Personal opinion has no part in spiritual matters and all opinion is equally useless. The standard by which we will be judged is the words of Jesus Christ (John 12:47,48), so that is the standard we must use when making judgments about spiritual matters. A policemen who pulls you over cannot write you a ticket because he personally thought you should get one; he speaks and acts by the authority of the laws of the land in which he lives and works; in the same sense, we cannot impose our personal judgments on others, but must speak "as one who speaks oracles of God" (I Peter 4:11).

Second, we cannot make inconsistent judgments or judge with partiality; by that, I mean we cannot judge one more strictly than another when both are guilty of the same error. In order for judgment to be called "righteous," it must, of necessity, be fair and just. Of course, circumstances must be considered, but fairness must be the basic foundation of all judgment. Brethren who rightly condemn those who teach error must be willing to condemn their friends who teach error, too. When we apply a harsher judgment on one because he is not in our 'circle' of friends or judge another more leniently because he is, then we have judged with unrighteous [hypocritical] judgment.

Third, we cannot make judgments based on outward appearances; that is stated explicitly by Jesus in John 7:24. I am sure we have all been in situations when we would not want to be judged by our outward appearances at the time; we should consider that the same could be true of the one whom we are about to judge! Things are not always as they appear and the wise writer tells us, "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame" (Proverbs 18:13). If we have not heard or seen all the facts, and make a judgment anyway, we are truly foolish - but we are also unrighteous judges (James 2:1-3).

Fourth, we cannot make judgments merely as a response to someone judging us. The sad fact of life is, some brethren will make judgments about others only because the brother had said something that convicted them of sin and they, in return, sought to temper their guilt by now accusing their accuser of sinister intentions or - as we have already seen - they feel compelled to remind the accuser, "Judge not, that you be not judged." Such childishness is shameful when we hear it from those of the world; how much more so when our own brethren resort to such! When others convict us of sin, we would do well to follow the example of David who, in answer to Nathan's conviction, simply replied, "I have sinned against the Lord" (II Samuel 12:13), and we must resolve to make the necessary corrections. Our light will not shine any brighter when we blow out someone else's.

Fifth, If we must judge, we should judge with mercy, for "judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy" (James 2:13) This goes back to the earlier statement of Jesus that reminds us we will be judged with the same measure of judgment we have used on others (cf. Matthew 7:2). I cannot speak for you, but I am positive that we will all desire mercy when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

Finally, we must judge righteously - with no regard for possible consequences. Sadly, some withhold judgments because they know they fear losing favor, fear physical threats, or fear financial loss. In each of these cases, the standard [the words of Christ] is not what decides, but the consequences. Friends and brethren "right" is "right" regardless of what follows; judgment based on consequences cannot be called "righteous"! Yes, some may suffer because of righteous judgment, but it will still be righteous. If we must judge, judge with righteous judgment.