Practicing Righteous Judgments


Within the church, there exist two extremes:

One group says we must not judge anyone at all. They incorrectly apply the Scripture, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt. 7:1, ESV). If you possess this mindset, I urge you to read this article, Should We Judge or Not Judge?

The other group is quick to judge anyone, either verbally (in words) or non-verbally (in thoughts). They think they are smart enough to know people’s motives and hearts. Sometimes they may be right, but, in most cases, they may be wrong—although they may deny admitting this and may think they are more often correct. They carry a disposition which is threatening to healthy church life. They merely practice unrighteous judgments.

UNRIGHTEOUS JUDGMENTS

What do I mean by unrighteous judgments? The judgments that are not right, because they are based entirely on one’s perceptions and feelings, and not on proven facts. People's judgments become unrighteous when they judge on unbiblical standards. In the words of the Lord Jesus to the Pharisees, they judge according to the flesh (Jn. 8:15). Such people must heed the words of Christ, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (Jn. 7:24, ESV).

I was an expert at judging people, and I still struggle with this problem. I had cultivated negative and critical attitude towards people, which also led me to give a false impression of them to others. But the Lord has been seriously dealing with my sinful attitude. He exposed my folly and taught me some wonderful truths from His Word about how to judge wisely and correctly.

The purpose of this article is to address the issue of judging one another, i.e., judging actions, attitudes, intentions, motives, nature, and character. This message does not pertain to judging doctrines and teachings.

One may question, "Why do you want to judge anyway?" May I remind you that we are not in a world of utopia. We are living in a world of sin with imperfections. So in interpersonal relationships, whether wisely or unwisely, whether righteously or unrighteously—we cannot avoid judging one another. Did you never judge anyone? I haven't met a single person in my entire life who doesn't judge people. I suppose, not a single day may pass without judging others.

Most importantly, when we live in close relationship with one another as brothers and sisters in the spiritual family of God, the possibility is high for misunderstandings and frictions due to the practice of unrighteous judgments.

My sincere desire, therefore, is to help believers in the church not to misjudge one another, but to exercise proper wisdom, understanding, and discernment when judging each other's actions and attitudes.

The purpose of right judgment is NOT to gratify the curiosity to know others' heart; it is NOT to despise, gossip, and become bitter against one another. It IS to restore believers to God's holiness, to guard the purity and unity of the church, and to build healthy and genuine relationships.

GOD ALONE KNOWS THE HEART

We all will fear and tremble to judge people’s hearts if we believe and practice the Holy Scripture which reveals this truth: God alone completely knows the hearts of people.

* Solomon prayed, “then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind).” (1 Kings 8:39, ESV)

The Lord reveals man’s nature to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7, ESV

The Psalmist acknowledged, “If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.” (Psalms 44:20-21, ESV

* "Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord; how much more the hearts of the children of man!" (Proverbs 15:11)

Jeremiah speaks insightfully about the condition of man’s heart, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10, ESV

The Scripture reveals that it is only before God that everything is naked, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13, ESV)

Due to space constraint, I have cited only a few Scriptures. The truth that I want you and me to understand is this:


Those who think they are smart in knowing people’s hearts and judge them accordingly—the Word of God reveals that they are fools. They walk in the shoes of Pharisees. They try to play ‘god’ in people’s lives. Beware! Let God be God.

Now, here is a thought to chew on. David prayed, "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" (Ps. 139:23-24, ESV). 

RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENTS

If God alone knows the heart, then how do we understand the acts and attitudes of people? Is there no way for us to judge rightly? How do we make righteous or right judgments?

I love the characteristic of the Messiah which was foretold by Isaiah: “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, BUT WITH RIGHTEOUSNESS HE SHALL JUDGE the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (Isaiah 11:3-4, ESV).

If we want to make righteous judgments, we should not be dependent on our eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings. Agreed, at times we may be right, but these senses are not always trustworthy. If we make them as our basis to judge others, we walk in stupidity, displeasing God and causing conflicts in interpersonal relationships. 

The following are suggestions, which I have been learning, for making righteous judgments:

1. TO JUDGE RIGHTEOUSLY, ACCEPT THE FACT THAT YOU DO NOT KNOW PEOPLE’S HEARTS. ONLY GOD KNOWS. Solomon was wise because he admitted this fact and sought God's wisdom to do justice: "So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?" (1 Kings 3:9; 8:39, NASB)

Without this sincere acknowledgment, there is no point in going further to read the rest of the message. We must admit that—what we see, what we think, what we hear, and what we feel—are prone to deception. Trusting ourselves is foolish. 

Although God alone knows the hearts of people, He revealed certain wisdom in His Word to identify people's actions, which to some extent reveals the condition of the heart. But we must be cautious and avoid judging the hearts and motives. Isn't it arrogant to think that we have the ability to judge others' intentions?


Note that not all the following factors are required to judge rightly. Any of these suggestions would be helpful. Moreover, remember that this knowledge is not to become judgmental. With humility, knowing we ourselves are weak and prone to sin, we must help one another grow in God's holiness and love, thus guarding the purity and unity of the church.  

2. TO JUDGE RIGHTEOUSLY, A PERSON'S ACTIONS MUST BE CLEAR AND EVIDENT. Regarding the false prophets, the Lord Jesus said, "Thus you will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:20, ESV). Actions reveal the heart of a person. But these actions must be visible, unmistakable, and reasonable.

For example, a person, right before your eyes, obviously lied to others. You have seen a married man having a sexual relationship with another woman, or a person is clearly bragging about himself before you. 

Peter’s hypocrisy was evident because he ate with the Gentiles in the absence of Jews, but when the Jews came from James, he separated himself from the Gentiles. Thus Paul opposed him on his face because he stood condemned (Gal. 2:11). Paul’s confrontation was based on apparent actions. This is how we must come to a conclusion about someone by establishing our assertions on clear facts.

When Paul exhorted the Corinthians to judge those inside the church, he gave them clear instructions on what actions they must judge: "But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?" (1 Cor. 5:11-12, ESV)

Again, beware of falsely assuming a person’s words and deeds. It is highly possible to misunderstand someone else’s words and actions. So make sure about being a witness to certain, clear-cut, and current actions. This witnessing should be as substantial and evident as you present your case in a witness stand before the judge in a law court.

Until we personally witness with a right understanding of a person’s words and deeds, we cannot make a righteous judgment.

3. TO JUDGE RIGHTEOUSLY, A PERSON HIMSELF MUST SINCERELY CONFESS HIS ACTIONS AND MOTIVES. For example, a person came to me and confessed that he gossipped. Another person confessed to me that he was offended by my words. Many times I had to confess my secret sins to my accountability partners, revealing the condition of my heart. 

It is to encourage transparency and integrity in interpersonal relationships that the Scripture says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (Jas. 5:16, ESV). Without transparency, there is no confession. And without confession, there is no openness of the heart.

Let me reiterate: Until a person is transparent and sincerely confesses, we cannot make a righteous judgment. Of course, a person may lie. Many try to hide their true selves. Sometimes there may be self-deception. Such inner motives are mysterious for us to know until there is clear evidence. For this reason, I mention “sincere confession.” Regrettably, not many who claim themselves to be Christians evident this fruit. 

4. TO JUDGE RIGHTEOUSLY, THERE MUST BE TWO OR THREE CLEAR WITNESSES. More than once the Scripture exhorts, “Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (2 Cor. 13:1; cf. Matt. 18:16; 1 Tim. 5:19; Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6, ESV).

For example, if two or three people give a clear witness about a person involving in lying or deception or gossip, that establishes the fact. Two or three witnesses may testify about seeing a person engaging in gross immoral sins. And these witnesses are not for gossip or defamation of character, but to resolve personal or interpersonal problems. 

Make sure these are trustworthy witnesses. They must not be liars (false witnesses) or assumers (simply assume things) or pessimists (possessing a negative mindset). They must be sincere eyewitnesses. You must thoroughly examine their witness before believing in what they say and have them testify before the person if required. What I wrote in the second point about yourself must be true of these witnesses too.

5. TO JUDGE RIGHTEOUSLY, IF ALL THE ABOVE THREE FACTORS ARE NOT AVAILABLE, YOU DARE NOT JUDGE ANYONE.
 I say again, do not come to conclusions. You have no right to judge without evidence.

It is quite common for many to make declarations about others’ hearts and intentions without proper examination. They are so judgmental that they cultivate the habit of scanning people's motives with their limited and marred perspective. They simply blurt out, "He is a hypocrite"....."She is arrogant"....."He is a people-pleaser"....."She shows partiality"....."They are a groupist"....."Others don't like me."

If these people were made to stand in a witness stand to present their case, the judge would immediately dismiss their baseless statements. O, yet how much defamation they bring upon people’s character!

I know a woman who believed that her husband was a sexually immoral person. I asked her about the above three points. She never with her eyes saw her husband involved in sexual sin, not a single witness came and said to her, and her husband boldly denied her accusation. Yet she believed that it was her strong conviction that her husband was sexually immoral. Honestly, that’s insanity. She ruined her family by her faulty assumptions. 

What I suggest you to do when you don’t have clear facts and trustworthy witnesses is this—If you presume some problem in a person, rather than hastily judging (in words or thoughts) and even gossiping (to others), go directly to the concerned person and ask for a clarification.

For instance, if I feel someone is having a problem with me, it is better to go to that person and express, “Brother, I feel I am ignored by you. I assume there may be some problem you have with me. I may be wrong. Could you please let me know whether this is true?”

A word of caution must be given here: Do not approach with judgmental and accusatory words, such as "You ignore me. You don't care for me. You pay attention to others more than me." Instead, as exemplified above, approach with uncertainty and humility, expressing just your feelings with doubts.

I love the wisdom in this Scripture, “The purpose (intentions) in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Pro. 20:5, ESV).

As expected, there would be some people, who are not transparent and honest, and may lie to you when you ask for a clarification. However, we cannot conclude about a person’s heart. We don't know everything. Don't worry about it. We must leave such things to the judgment of God. 

In unclear and uncertain situations, in which we cannot rightly judge, it is good to apply the counsel of Paul:

FINAL WORDS

I encourage you, dear brothers and sisters, to keep the above things in mind when it comes to judging one another. Don’t be wise in your own eyes. That’s a characteristic of a fool. The Scripture declares, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isa. 5:21, ESV)

Finally, resist unrighteous judgments. Fear and tremble to judge people's hearts and motives. Practice righteous judgments. When judging righteously, based on the factors as mentioned above, do so with humility. Strive towards love and unity in the church. Be warned from these words of Christ, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2, ESV).

Recommended Reading: Should We Judge or Not Judge?

_____________________________

C. Stephen David is a child of the Living God, a husband to Chaithanya, a father to two children, and an elder/shepherd of Ekklesia Evangelical Fellowship (www.eefchurch.org). He lives with his family in Hyderabad, India.

Enquiries:
mailekklesia@gmail.com

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