“Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in
malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.”
To judge or not to judge…
that is the question!
The above is the question I would like to answer in this brief article on the subject of ‘judging’.
This area seems to cause considerable difficulty and confusion for many Christians. Of course, anyone whose conscience has been ‘made alive’ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit finds that there is an acute sensitivity to the need for doing the right thing and thinking righteous thoughts. The Christian who walks after the Spirit is permeated with the strong desire to please ‘the One who has called him’ in all that he does and thinks.
There are two extremes of difficulty that arise concerning ‘judging’. The one extreme is that for many people subsequent to their conversion to Christ they find that there yet resides within them a very powerful and destructive tendency to be harshly critical of others (particularly other Christians) who do not live up to certain ideals. Although this can be very harmful in many ways on a more positive side I personally interpret this as being a sign of zeal for their Lord, but as yet not refined by the Spirit and life’s lessons! However, such a condition must be changed, and it is sometimes with great difficulty and through painful lessons that a person eventually gets freed from this. This is a case of JUDGEMENTALISM.
The second extreme is an ineffectual ability for Christians to make sharp, discerning judgements (assessments) about someone, or something said or done. This type of judgement, which all Christians should engage in constantly, is perhaps better referred to as DISCERNMENT.
There is a foundational principle of life in Christ that is an absolute requirement for any man or woman to be in a condition where they are able to judge (discern) aright. Jesus said, “If any man will do his (God’s) will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17). Simple obedience to God in all matters, without partiality or concern for what we want in a situation is the fundamental basis on which God will ‘speak’ to people and cause them to know His Will. Many will seldom discern aright simply because they do not walk in a clear place of fellowship with the Lord, seeking only His Will.
I want to try to be helpful to those who do have a pure desire to please God in all matters. Many are in a quandary over this matter of ‘judging’ others. Jesus said, “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.” (Mat 7:1,2). Similarly it is recorded in Luke (6:37) – “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” And so, taking these words deeply and sincerely to heart many think that it would be quite wrong of themselves if they were to make some sort of unfavourable assessment of someone or some thing said or done by someone.
But now read what Paul says, “But he that is spiritual judgeth all things.” (1Cor 2:15). At this point some people have a great struggle in distinguishing between, and therefore reconciling, these two statements. As I have no doubt at all that it was the Holy Spirit who inspired all that is written in Scripture I cannot for one moment believe that there is a contradiction between what Jesus said and what Paul said. The first and easiest way to resolve most of these matters is usually to look at context rather than side with the idea that there may be some kind of contradiction. So let’s see the wider the context of Paul’s statement here: “But the natural man receiveth 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 judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”
Note the two underlined parts above. I think these should be sufficient to show us that the context of what Paul is talking about is ‘spiritual discernment’ and ‘knowing the mind of the Lord’. Whereas Jesus was talking about that awful sin of judgementalism, Paul was talking about judging in the sense of coming to an understanding about something. Note that the motive for seeking the mind of God on a matter – “that he may instruct him.” We’re back to doing the Will of God. One reason why God will show us something (not the only one) is quite simply in order that we might carry out His wishes in some situation. If we have a God-driven pure motive for asking, we can be sure that we will receive clear instruction (somehow) from God on a matter. It is as simple as that really, although the Lord may sometimes want to take us first through some process of seeking, praying, fasting or learning some lesson.
For further confirmation about the difference between ‘judging’ and ‘judging’ in these two passages it is worth noting that they are actually translated from two different Greek words. The one that Matthew/Luke used contains the idea of ‘condemning’ and the word that Paul used means ‘scrutinizing’.
Now to the application of all this; Judgementalism is a sin, grievous to the Spirit of God in you. Sometimes harmful to others who are your victims and always harmful to yourself! “For whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap!” You’ll know judgementalism when it creeps in; it is a bitter fruit and leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. It never leads to building up but only tearing down. But if you have repented and received liberation from this condition then there is no reason in heaven or on earth that you should not be exercising full ‘judgement’ (discernment) about all matters that come your way. The spiritual man (the person who walks not after the flesh but after the Spirit) must, and indeed does, judge all things.
If you are bound by the sin of judgementalism then you will always be uneasy about making judgements in the sense of sharp assessments. Satan will tell you, as does the world whose philosophies originate with him, that you are unchristian, unloving, and unkind to make such ‘harsh’ criticisms of someone or some situation. In fact the wicked one will try telling that even to those who are free from a condemnatory attitude too! What do we do? Draw back and say, “Oh we mustn’t judge.” No, we must press on in a conscientious walk with our Lord, in the full knowledge that in me (that is in my flesh) there dwells no good thing and yet… God is greater than my flesh. I must walk after the spirit and I must ‘judge’ after the Spirit. Do I judge others in the sense of condemn them, thinking myself to be somehow better than they? No. Do I judge both the person and the deeds/words they speak in the sense of make a discerning assessment about them? Not only is the answer to this “Yes” but to do anything less is to fall short of an obligation placed upon everyone who names the Name of Christ as being their Shepherd and Teacher. We are duty bound to seek His judgements on a matter.
In summary: Walk closely with God embracing His judgement on your own Self-life – you can’t have one. Seek only to do His Will and so come into the category of those who have the ability to make right judgements. Ask for forgiveness and liberation from the sin of judgementalism if this is an issue. Now you are told to judge (scrutinize) anyone and anything said or done that may give cause for concerned. We’re not to be obsessed with this and were not to try to be psychic in ‘seeing’ into people’s souls! There is no such gift as ‘infallible discernment’, just keep walking humbly with God and keep studying the Inspired Scripture because all the general scenarios are already answered for us there. Judge but don’t be judgemental.