There is great confusion about “judging” today, not only in Christianity at large but even in some of the most “fundamentalist” of circles. As soon as a prominent leader is named and critiqued, the cry issues forth from a thousand lips, “Judge not that ye be not judged! Who do you think you are? Mind your own business. You must be jealous. You must be a petty little man who has never done anything of substance. You must be a blogger with nothing else to do.”
This is because of biblical ignorance, lack of spiritual wisdom, out-and-out disobedience to God’s Word, and a man-following spirit.
The Bible condemns four types of judging, and we very much want to avoid these types of judging.
First, the Bible forbids hypocritical judging.
“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).
Matthew 7:1 is widely taken out of context and misused to teach against judging in general.
But Jesus explained exactly what He was talking about. He did not condemn all judging. He condemned hypocritical judging. To judge something in another person that I allow in my own life is hypocrisy, which is a great sin.
That Christ did not forbid all judging is evident from this very sermon, in which He taught His listeners to judge prophets in the sense of discerning whether they are true or false. “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” (Mt. 7:15-17). It is impossible to beware of false prophets without judging doctrine and practice by God’s Word. How can I know who is a false prophet if I do not measure preachers and teachers by the Bible?
Second, the Bible forbids judging on the basis of personal opinion or anything other than the clear teaching of Scripture.
“Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).
This is another passage that is widely abused. It is commonly said that this verse forbids the exposure of sin and error. Romans 14 is also used to support the doctrine that Scripture can be divided into essentials and non-essentials.
But Romans 14 has nothing to do with the popular idea that there are things in Scripture of “non-essential” or “secondary” importance.
We are not left to wonder what type of judging Paul was forbidding. He gives two specific examples: eating meats and keeping holy days (Ro. 14:2-3, 5-6). These are matters about which the Bible is silent. There are no divine mandates in the New Testament faith concerning these things.
Thus the subject of Romans 14 is how we are to deal with matters NOT CLEARLY TAUGHT IN SCRIPTURE. When God has not plainly spoken, I am to give liberty. On the other hand, in matters in which God has plainly spoken, the only “liberty” is to obey.
People use Romans 14:4 to defend many areas of plain disobedience, such as worldly music, immodest dress, women preachers, etc. Since the Bible has spoken plainly about these things, it is a misuse of Scripture to apply Romans 14:4 to them.
Romans 14 is not giving a blanket condemnation of judging, and it is not saying that there are some doctrines that are non-essential. It is saying that there are some things clearly taught in Scripture and those things are binding, but there are many things that are not addressed in Scripture and these are not binding. In such matters, each believer is at liberty to make his own decision before the Lord, but he cannot make his conviction a law for others and he cannot judge others in such things. The Bible’s silence is not law, but liberty.
Third, the Bible forbids judging on the basis of human thinking and tradition.
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
This is another widely misused passage. It is used to teach that believers should judge nothing in this present world and should leave all judgment to God. But this would be contrary to passages in the same epistle.
“But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judge of no man” (1 Corinthians 2:15).
“For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed” (1 Corinthians 5:3).
“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 6:5).
“Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge” (1 Corinthians 14:29).
In 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, Paul clearly describes the type of judging that he forbids. He forbids judging on the basis of “man’s judgment.” This is judging on the basis of human thinking and tradition rather than judging on the basis of God’s Word.
Paul is also saying that ultimate and final judgment belongs to the Lord; therefore, we must be humble and cautious in our judgments in this present time. Even though we have the Word of God and are obliged to judge everything on the basis of God’s Word, we must not think that we are infallible. We don’t even know our own hearts infallibly (Jeremiah 17:9). We have to walk in the light that we have and live our lives and exercise our ministries by that light, but our knowledge is imperfect in this present world and our judgments are fallible.
We can know if a man’s teaching is false and we can know enough, therefore, to mark his error and to avoid it, but we do not know the secrets of men’s hearts and we do not know all of the things that will come into play when God judges men in the perfect light. Thus we know that all of our judgments in this world are provisional and the final judgment will be given only by God.
Fourth, God forbids evil judging.
“Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” (James 4:11-12).
James is warning about two kinds of judging.
First, James is warning against evil speaking (Jas. 4:11).
Proper judging is to speak the truth in love. The truth is not evil, and speaking the truth in love is not evil. A passion for truth and zeal against error is not evil. The Psalmist modeled this. “Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way” (Ps. 119:128).
The type of judging condemned by James is judging in the sense of tearing down, tale bearing, and slander. It is judging with an evil intent. When one judges sin and error rightly and scripturally, it is never with a desire to hurt people.
We see an example of evil judgment in the Pharisees. They judged Jesus in an evil manner in that they were not judging on the basis of truth; they were judging by their own tradition, and they wanted to hurt Him (Joh. 7:52). The false teachers at Galatia and Corinth judged Paul in the same manner, trying to tear him down in the eyes of the churches (2 Co. 10:10).
This is what James forbids, but he is not forbidding the scriptural and compassionate and even zealous judging of error and of those who promote error. The apostles and prophets of the early churches exhibited this type of judgment constantly, as we see in the book of Acts and throughout the Epistles.
Second, James is warning about judging in a way that is contrary to the law of God (“there is one lawgiver,” Jas. 4:12).
This refers to judging others by human standards rather than divine, thus setting oneself up as the lawgiver. The Pharisees did this when they judged Jesus by their traditions (Mt. 15:1-3).
On the other hand, when a believer judges things by God’s Word in a godly and compassionate manner, he is not exercising his own judgment; he is exercising God’s judgment. When, for example, we say that it is wrong for a woman to be a pastor or that those who love the world are adulterers, this is not our judgment; it is God’s (1 Ti. 2:12; 1 Co. 11:14; Jas. 4:4).
In our preaching ministry, we do a lot of judging, but only the type of judging that God’s Word demands.
“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (Joh. 7:25).
“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” (Ac. 17:11).
“Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge” (1 Co. 14:29).
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Th. 5:21).
But we are very careful to avoid the type of judging that God condemns.
We don’t judge by our own thinking and opinions and traditions. We have studied the Word of God for 47 years with the intention of discerning truth from error. God is our witness. And it is by our knowledge of God’s Word that we judge men, churches, and movements. Our own thinking and opinion means nothing.
We do not make unkind or severe judgments. We wish no ill upon any man mentioned in this book, whether dead or living. We are convinced that many of the men we critique are greater Christians than we are in many ways, and in spite of any failings, they have great reward at Christ’s judgment seat. That’s what we believe. I think of J. Frank Norris, W.B. Riley, John R. Rice, Lee Roberson, Robert Ketcham, and Bob Jones Sr., for example. I consider these men to be true men of God. But that doesn’t mean I cannot examine their ministries and learn from them, both right and wrong.
We do not judge heart motives. We don’t know why men do what they do, and that is not our business. When J. Frank Norris published a photo of himself standing as a giant before his church, was it a matter of pride? We have no idea what was in the man’s heart, and we make no effort to try to figure that out, but we do believe that this type of self-promotion is wrong and that it has produced bad fruit among fundamental Baptists. That much we can judge, and no more.
We do not make final judgments. We are not so deluded that we think that God is going to put our poor, weak writings in His library and bring them out when He judges the saints. The all-knowing God has no need of frail human judgment, and it is His judgments that will be final.
So we do the best we can to judge righteous judgment in this present world, as we are plainly commanded, then we will take our place among the redeemed to await the final judgment against which there will be no appeal.
“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Co. 4:5).
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