by G. Richard
It seems clear, since Jesus Himself said, "Judge not," (Matthew
7:1), that we cannot "judge." At first glance it appears that
Jesus not only forbids judging others, but that He catches Himself
in a glaring contradiction.
Verse 1 seems obvious, "Judge not," yet in verses 6, 15-16, we are
to judge "swine," "dogs," and the "fruit" of false apostles. How
do we reconcile this apparent contradiction?
Do we judge or not?
Churches have split along lines of those who wish to make
judgments and those who say we cannot. One side accuses the other
of being legalistic and loveless while the other side is called
liberal and spineless.
Rooting out the truth on this subject is essential and a thorough
search will reveal that there are different kinds of judgment
taught in Scripture. One form we are commanded to do; the other we
are forbidden to do. Both sides could be right and wrong
depending on what they are talking about. One could not read
Matthew 18:16-18 seriously and conclude that we never judge
anything. In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul takes the people of God to task
for not judging the right things the right way.
One of the biggest issues in the Church is how we arrive at truth.
We have churches that think frenzied laughter is a way to worship
God, while other churches conduct services that sound like a
barnyard. Our land is dotted with Word-Faith proponents that see
God as the great vending machine in the sky. All of the groups in
this confusing mix say they are preaching the truth and being led
by the Spirit.
It is also obvious that
some arrive at truth in the same fashion as the poem, "Why Are
Fire Engines Red?"
They have four
wheels and eight men
four plus eight is twelve
twelve inches make a ruler
a ruler is Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth sails the seven seas
the seven seas have fish
the fish have fins
The Finns hate the Russians
the Russians are red
Fire engines are always rushin'
So they're red.
Some groups handle the Bible in much the same way.
Let's consider four major points to help us unravel the question:
When to judge and when not to judge?
The lack of
Discernment is largely missing from the Church, partly for the
A. We have become
man-centered and experience-driven. Some think Christianity has
to emulate Disney World to capture and hold larger audiences.
Entertainment becomes more man-centered than God-centered.
Postmodernism and the death of reason permeate not only secular
culture but many of our churches.
C. The Church largely
accepts the philosophy that truth is relative. Books are
published today that try to stem the tide and argue for moral
absolutes. Fifty years ago that would not have been necessary.
B. We have lost
the knowledge of proper hermeneutics. Televangelists make up
their own subjective meanings of Scripture as they go along
saying only that they have "revelation knowledge" or "God told
them." In that way they hope to put themselves beyond scrutiny
Jay Adams in almost prophetic fashion sounded an alarm 10 years
ago that few listened to. In his book, A Call to Discernment,
he noted the departure from antithetical thinking. For thousands
of years, both with the Hebrew prophets and the Christian Church
people believed that there was right and wrong, black and white.
continuum thinking, the mode of thinking taught outside the church
(and largely within), every idea is a shade of gray. There is no
right and wrong or true and false, but only shades of right and
wrong or true and false spread along a continuum. The poles of
this continuum are extended so far out toward the wings that for
all practical purposes they are unattainable and therefore
worthless. Nothing, then, is wholly right or wrong. All is
relative; most of it is subjective."
Continuing he says:
"That is one reason
why biblical preaching, with its sharp antithesis, rubs many
people the wrong way: It is hard for modern minds to accept. For a
long time now educational institutions, newspapers, magazines,
radio, TV, etc. have inculcated continuum thinking. Antithetical
thinking is dismissed as fanatical or worse. Consequently, when
Christians (all of whom have been affected by this environment)
hear antithetical views expressed, they sound discordant. And
indeed they are! Because anything goes, discernment is not placed
at a premium" (pg. 30).
Adams points out that
the clean-unclean distinctions in the Old Testament were given by
God to create a totally antithetical view of life.
The Daily Bread
devotional for Nov. 13, 1995, notes that false teachers worm their
way in by zeroing in on our emotions:
"A false teacher
knows what appeals to our desires (2 Pet. 2). He doesn't wear a
lapel pin to warn of his lies, but he comes disguised as a
representative of the truth. He claims he will enrich lives, but
those who follow him learn at a high cost that they have been
The lack of discernment
in the Church today is costing dearly. The Church is like a tree
with every kind of bird (clean, unclean, wild, mild) nesting in
The liberty of
Judge — don't judge —
what do we do? Matthew 7:15 is clear that we can judge the message
and fruit of false apostles. However, Jesus is saying in Matthew
7:1 that we should be careful in nitpicking and judging people's
motives or eternal destiny. Ultimately only God is the judge of
those things. We can, after all, be too hard on people in minor
The mystery clears up
when we realize that the word "judge" can be used in different
ways in different contexts. Understanding the context is the key
to interpreting what kind of judging we are speaking about.
Ralph Walter in his
small book, Tortured Texts, notes the differences:
"Consider first the
Greek word Krino, translated judge in our text. If
you look at a concordance of the King James Version, you will find
the word has been translated: conclude, condemn, damn, decree,
determine, esteem, ordain, think and then judge 87
times. Other Greek scholars say that Krino means to call
in question, conclude, decree, esteem, determine, think and
sentence. From all of this I think it would be safe to say
that the word our Lord used means to condemn or to pass judgment
upon someone maliciously; while the context shows that we have the
responsibility to properly evaluate a thing or an act" (pp.
An illustration might be
a house in poor maintenance. We can see the paint peeling and the
broken windows but would we condemn the owner as lazy? Suppose
that the owner was an invalid or just too poor to have it fixed?
We must be careful about judging without facts or beyond the
obvious. Such judgments are condemnations and these are what Jesus
condemned in Matthew 7:1. The Pharisees were notorious for judging
based on silly rules and traditions and not the Scriptures.
Peter, Paul and
John did a lot of judging the right way. Every second epistle is a
judgment on apostasy. In 2 Timothy 4:10, Paul judges and warns
about a man named Demas. In the same epistle (2:17) he warns of
the heresies of two others by name. Paul did a lot of judging and
evaluating when it came to false teachers. We are mandated to
judge false doctrine.
Jesus in John 7:24 says:
"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge righteous
judgment." Jesus is saying "judge without maliciousness and by all
means have the facts." To find a balance between legalism and
mysticism we must judge righteous judgment.
First Corinthians 6:3-5
demands that we judge certain matters. We can judge the overt and
gross sins mentioned later in verse 9. However our judgment must
always be tempered with a desire to restore, not punish. The goal
On a larger note, we can
judge qualifications for ministry. We are given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7
a number of qualifications for eldership. Qualifications are
external and we can judge certain externals. Is an elder
hospitable, a good teacher, the husband of one wife and so on?
Negatively, is he argumentative, or does he have a bad reputation
or is he easily angered? These things are easy to see and
We can judge
qualifications, however we cannot judge qualities. Qualities are
internal motivations known only by God Himself.
In John 21:16-17, Jesus
said, "Peter, feed my sheep." The feeding of sheep has to do with
external qualifications. We can evaluate a man's sermons, appraise
if he has studied and researched. Lack of preparation will become
obvious in time. Poor doctrine or overtly false doctrine is
But Jesus also said in
John 21:15-17, "Peter, do you love me?" This has to do with
qualities and internal motivation. Does a man feed the sheep for
power? For prestige? For money? Only God knows the motivation. Or
is he doing it out of love for Christ? Again, only God knows. If
the person is living an ostentatious and lavish lifestyle, those
externals all say something and may be an obvious outworking of
the inner motivation.
The book of Titus deals
with external qualifications for ministry while 1 Timothy 4:16
tells the pastor to judge himself, to take heed to himself, that
is, be aware of his inner motivation, his inner qualities.
It does help us to see
and understand the difference between the unseen inner qualities
and motivations and the external qualifications which can be
as pointed out by Campbell Morgan, changes according to the
context. Sometimes you judge, sometimes you do not. We must not be
censorious but we cannot give up our right to a careful
discrimination when that is required. As Morgan puts it: "The
first five verses forbid censoriousness; and the sixth verse
insists upon a careful discrimination" (The Gospel According to
Matthew, pg. 71).
So it is always right to judge false teachers and false teaching
using the Word of God as the standard. Nitpicking is one thing.
Removing rotten fruit is another. We must be discerning in our
discernment and always proceed on the basis of truth and facts
leaving the unknown areas of motivation to God.
The labor of discernment
It seems that people have forgotten the word "discernment" and
forgotten that encouragements to do the same are found in the
Bible (see Young's Analytical Concordance to The Bible, pg.
257). There are two main Greek words translated as "discernment."
One is anakrino, meaning to examine or judge closely; the
other diakrino, to separate out, to investigate, to
This is work. We must put in the work of discernment. We must
study to show ourselves approved workmen (2 Timothy 3:16).
D.A. Carson rightly observes:
"We will not go
far astray if we approach the Bible with a humble mind and then
resolve to focus on central truths. Gradually we will build up our
exegetical skills by evenhanded study and a reverent prayerful
determination to become like the workman 'who correctly handles
the word of truth'" (Exegetical Fallacies, pg. 144).
We must know the rules. We must dust off the hermeneutics
textbooks. We must insist on one of the basic rules and that is
the rule of context.
The following quotes from Edwin Hartill's Principles of
Biblical Hermeneutics show us the extreme importance of the
"Torrey — 'Too
much importance cannot be laid upon a close study of the
'Consideration of the context in examining any verse or passage is
of utmost importance. Failure to do this is one of the causes of
misinterpretation of scripture.'"
"Moyer — 'Too
many preachers prepare a message and then hunt a text to fit it.
That is not a text, it is a pretext.'"
'The context is the key to the meaning.'" (pg. 80).
Hartill himself says:
"The Bible can
be made to prove anything, but NOT when studied in the light of
the context" (ibid., pg. 79).
In his classic, Biblical Hermeneutics, M.S. Terry insists:
"Many a passage
of Scripture will not be understood at all without the help
afforded by the context; for many a sentence derives all its point
and force from the connexion [sic] in which it stands" (pg. 219).
Benny Hinn can stand up in front of a national audience via
television and tell them that the Egyptians were not drowned in
the Red Sea but rather were crushed by falling ice (Praise The
Lord Show 7/14/94). Flying by the seat of his pants he ignores
the context of Exodus 14 that talks of the waters coming back over
the Egyptians (verse 26) and the waters covering the chariots
(verse 28). His followers "ooh" and "aah" over this "new truth."
By ripping verses out of context, the Word-Faith teachers have
created a "Daddy Warbucks" God who is false. All cults trick their
followers by wresting verses from their context. In doing so, they
twist the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).
Another rule is Contextual Proximity, which broadens the context
rule. Thomas Schmidt writes:
distant from the immediate context we travel in search of meaning,
the more variables enter in and the more complicated the process
becomes. For example, an Old Testament book might illuminate
Paul's meaning, even though it is written in another language and
hundreds of years earlier, because we can be confident that Paul
knew it and considered it authoritative. On the other hand, a
moral philosopher writing in Greek near the time of Paul might use
similar words in entirely different ways" (Straight and Narrow,
It is also important that we try to understand the biblical world.
Background studies in Edershiems' works are helpful in this. How
were the words being used and understood by the people in their
world and in their culture?
In Dr. Edwin W. Rice's book, Orientalisms in Bible Lands he
lays out the disparities in Eastern and Western mind sets:
people reverse, upset, and completely turn around the customs and
habits of Oriental nations. How different must be the thought and
expression of the East, growing necessarily out of these opposite
ways of life and manners. ... No study of the Bible, therefore,
can be satisfactory that does not include some knowledge of life
and thought in the East" (pp. 11-12).
A good exegesis will interpret the text and draw out the meaning.
Knowing the rules aids us in being good exegetes.
Those that handle the Word of God need to know something about
metaphors and similes. They need to be acquainted with Hebrew
poetry and parallelisms. Good hermeneutics may be hard work but is
an absolute must for anyone who wants to handle the Scriptures
Living in discernment
Paul spoke of having transformed minds (Romans 12:1). We can best
read and understand Scripture when our minds are in the right
place and we are in tune with the Savior. Living in discernment is
more than just knowing the rules as important as that is. However
without the last two considerations we can become, arrogant, and
harsh, with a know-it-all attitude. Peter tells us (1 Peter 3:15)
that we are to defend our faith with meekness and fear. This
indicates a humble attitude in reliance on God. Earlier in that
same verse Peter says, "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." Two
things make that possible:
A. Love the Savior. Walk with Christ, commune often with Christ,
obey Him, keep your eyes on Him (Hebrews 12:1-2). Fellowship with
the author of the Book is vital.
B. Live with the end in view. Holding eternity as a present
reality gives us God's perspective of life and the Scriptures.
Proper discernment is our privilege and right. The work is worth
the effort and the reward will be not only the favor and blessing
of God but our ability to truly enrich the lives of others.
© 1996 Personal Freedom Outreach.
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