by Mike Ratliff
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.“ (Matthew 7:1-2 ESV)
It is impossible to walk through one’s day without having to make judgments. In fact our Lord Jesus who made the oft misquoted and misunderstood command found in Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37 to “Judge Not!” also made the following command.
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:14-24 ESV)
To understand what type of judging our Lord commanded His people not to do in His Sermon on the Mount we must know the difference between judging that is wrong and judging that is right. In the passage above in which we read our Lord’s command to “Judge Not,” we are also given a metaphorical example by our Lord of what makes up judging incorrectly.
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 ESV)
Judging incorrectly is a fruit of hypocrisy. Think of that drive to work each day. In mine I have to negotiate a construction zone in which the speed limit is 60mph in the North bound lanes and 55mph in the South bound lanes. There are no shoulders on either side, only those temporary concrete barriers. I do not care how busy this area is during rush hour, there are countless drivers who will not drive that slow through there except for two reasons. The first reason is that traffic in both lanes is so heavy and slow that they have no choice. The second reason is that there is a Kansas State Trooper parked at each end of the construction zone with a Radar gun pointed right at them. That is not the issue though for the Christian. The issue is how we react when one of those impatient people gets on our bumper demanding that we either move over or speed up. Be careful how you reply to that my brethren for how do you react when the person in front of you is going slower than you want to go? We judge incorrectly here if we seek to make ourselves somehow superior to the one who is trying to move us out of the way. We may call the person a/an “insert favorite derogatory slam here” under our breath or even out loud. We may refuse to speed up or move over just to show them. This is all part of judging incorrectly for it is hypocritical unless we are 100% not guilty of doing the same thing.
We can also exercise hypocritical, harsh, censorious judgment from a self-righteous legalistic perspective as we read in John 7:14-24 (above). This one trips up a large number of Christians and when that happens it is always wrong. Our Lord called it judging by appearances. The KJV renders v24 as, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
The Greek word used here for “judge” is the same one used in Matthew 7:1. It is κρίνω or krinō. It means “to divide, separate make a distinction, come to a decision.” In the usage in Matthew 7:1 and John 7:24, however, it means “to judge, discern, form a mental judgment or opinion.” In other words, we are being commanded by our Lord to not form opinions leading to judgment based on “the appearance.” The Greek word used here for “the appearance” is ὄψις or opsis. This refers to the outward or external show or visage of something. To judge incorrectly would mean to not judge with “righteous judgment.” The word in Greek used here translated as “righteous” is δίκαιος or dikaios. It simply means “right justice.” It describes that which is just, which is expected by the one who sets the rules and regulations whereby man must live, in other words, this describes that which is according to the justice and standards of God Himself. The Greek word used here for “judgment” is κρίσις or krisis. This is a separation, a sundering, a judgment, or a sentence. In other words, our Lord is telling us to not judge incorrectly according to the flesh, but according to God’s truth, which is the exercise of moral and theological discernment.
This righteous judgment must be according to the Spirit, never according to the flesh. What I mean is that any exercise of “discernment” from a motivation other than obedience to God is more than likely going to be the fruit of judging according to appearance. Fortunately, we have God’s Word and we know what God teaches us from it that line up with His standards of righteousness. If professing Christians who are pastors, preachers, teachers, writers, et cetera stray from this then it is the duty of God’s people to “judge with right judgment.”
God gives this “ministry” to some to exercise moral and theological discernment to warn the body of Christ and expose those who will not repent of leading people astray or attempting to re-create Christianity itself in a way that clearly violates God’s δίκαιος form of our faith and how we serve and worship Him. Remember, this discernment must be according to God’s standards, His δίκαιος, not man’s. That is why it is so providential that God has given us His Word, which clearly shows us God’s δίκαιος that we may serve Him, worship Him, and obey Him in all we do, for His glory alone. It must be done according to the Spirit, never according to the flesh.
Humility is key my brethren. We are not humble if we judge by appearances for this is by the flesh. If we attempt to exercise discernment in our ministries from a fleshly perspective then all we are really doing is judging hypocritically. No, our judgment must be the exercise of moral and theological discernment and never for our own glory, but for God’s alone. It must also carry with it a warning to the body of Christ that such and such is not of God and we must avoid those ministries. This is also a time of teaching when we can teach God’s people the truth. Many church doctrines were developed to address heresies. Also, the one being exposed must be offered the avenue of repentance.
Since we are most effective in our ministries as humble servants of our mighty God then it is vital that we exercise continual mind renewal (Romans 12:1-2) as living sacrifices. We will then have a right perspective of our role in God’s Kingdom and that means we cannot serve Him correctly if we operate according to the flesh. We must mature to the point of denying and crucifying it as a way of life. The opposite would be to indulge our flesh which only puts us in bondage to it, hardens our hearts, and darkens our ability to see and hear the truth.
The flesh crucified walk is one of continual self-examination. We must examine our motives and become more and more tender hearted so that we can discern God’s warning and rebuking voice to bring to our attention that we are being fleshly rather than humble. That is when we come to the Cross. We must then run to the throne of grace in brokenness, repentance, and confession. If we do not exercise these spiritual disciplines then we will be undisciplined which leads only away from the narrow path of the spirit-filled life. If God has given you the ministry of discernment then it is nothing to take lightly. It must be done humbly and for His glory alone. Therefore, we must begin with our devotion to our Lord and commitment to His truth and His ways then we can humbly judge correctly and forsake judging incorrectly.
Soli Deo Gloria!