We hear this often enough: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” However, there are instances when believers are called upon to judge wisely.
Those who stay in glasshouses should not throw stones. For they themselves are vulnerable when others retaliate. If we have a critical, judgmental spirit and do not apply the same standards upon ourselves, then we are being unfair.
Jesus set the example for us to follow. The crowd was about to stone the woman caught in the act of adultery. But Jesus says, “"Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Eventually, no one was left standing around to condemn her.
We are told not to be rash in forming our opinions about other people’s words or actions: "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
We have to be careful lest we are harsh and unforgiving with regards to the shortcomings of others and are blind to our own faults: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3).
Having said all that, does it mean believers should not develop a spirit of discernment? Let’s look at some circumstances where the Bible says we are to exercise sound judgment.
Firstly, we have to be vigilant against deception: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
We have to be wary of false prophets. And one way to judge whether they are true or false is to look out for their fruit: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them” (Matthew 7:15-16).
Because we have the Holy Spirit in us, we are able to judge all things. We have the mind of Christ, being able to discern truth from error (1 Corinthians 2:15-16).
When we are ill-equipped with the Word, we might fall prey to deception; we are easily swept by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). Once we are well prepared – know how to correctly handle the Word – we will be able to distinguish truth from error (2 Timothy 2:15).
Paul commended the believers in Berea for they were diligent in scrutinising his teaching against scripture. "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
Notice that he did not censure them for having a spirit of independent inquiry. He did not say to them, “Listen, listen, listen. I am the apostle. Don’t question my teaching. Just accept it.”
Secondly, Paul says that disputes between believers should be handled within the body of believers. When a believer has a grievance against another believer, mediation by church leaders should be practised rather than going to court. Thus disputes between believers should ideally be settled within the church. The reason Paul gives is this: Since, one day in future, believers will be given the responsibility to judge the world and angels, there is no reason why they cannot handle such relatively trivial matters (1 Corinthians 6:1-6).
Thirdly, when it is clearly evident that someone is living in sin, it is the responsibility of the church leader(s) to confront the person concerned. Paul openly censured the man who committed incest (1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 9-12). The aim is to “save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 1:23). While sin is to be utterly abhorred and rejected, justice is to be tempered with mercy. The soul of the sinner is precious; repentance is to be relentlessly pursued.
Now this becomes a bit tricky in the case when the offender is a church leader. And the matter is further complicated when the church is run by one person who seemingly has absolute power. Isn’t this a strong case for churches not to be run by a single powerful personality but by a senior leader and a committee of elders?
While we should not be rash in heaping judgment on others, we should cultivate a spirit of discernment. We should be able to judge wisely as and when it is appropriate as outlined above.
“Truth has wings,” says the famed theologian A. W. Tozer. By examining the whole Bible, we do not dwell on half-truths or emphasise one truth at the expense of another equally fundamental truth (Acts 20:27).
Next time when people tell you, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1), you may want to remind them that there are instances when we are called upon to judge wisely: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24).
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