Pete-sept2013Today in the post-modern world in which we live, it is almost criminal to judge anyone, unless, of course, you are judging those who judge others, in which case it is obligatory. (Smile or cry, whichever seems appropriate.) In other words, the judge of the judger is the only one who assumes that he or she has the high moral high ground. The one big problem with this set up is that someone assumes the role of judge, regardless. If it were not so supremely warped and sad, it would be humorous to watch those who pontificate against the right to judge others engage in judging those who do, but such is the human condition. All this points out what Paul wrote in Romans 2:

Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. Romans 2:1 (NASB)

Judging others is really a no-win situation, much like the one laid out by Solomon so long ago in Proverbs. Read and ponder.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him. 5  Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes. Proverbs 26:4-5 (NASB)

Whether or not you respond to a fool, someone usually gets hurt; nevertheless, sometimes fools need to be rebuked, for the good of all, even if it boomerangs on the one doing the rebuking. Judgment is something like that.

Jesus told his disciples:

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2  “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3  “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4  “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5  “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 7:1-5 (NASB)

One could wrongly conclude that Jesus is against all forms of judgment, but that is not the case. In fact, we learn from this verse that one key to having good judgment is to first allow the Lord to judge us. This is especially true when it comes to peer relationships. However, in the church, there is another type of relationship that carries a different standard and weight of responsibility. Church leaders, elders and five-fold ministry persons in particular, are commissioned by the Lord to rightly judge on behalf of the flock they shepherd, especially when it comes to protecting that flock from harmful persons, such as false prophets and false teachers, whom Jesus and Paul called wolves in sheep’s clothing. In this case, Jesus commands leaders to judge rightly, when he spoke these words:

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16  “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17  “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18  “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19  “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20  “So then, you will know them by their fruits. 21  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22  “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23  “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ Matthew 7:15-23 (NASB)

The Lord gives leaders spiritual discernment to assist them in the all important task of protecting the flock. Jesus said that his judgment is just because he judges only as he hears from his Father in heaven. Likewise, pastoral leaders depend on the Holy Spirit’s guidance to be able to protect the flock effectively, which always involves judgment to one degree or another.

Paul wrote the elders at Ephesus on his last visit to that church.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29  “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30  and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Acts 20:28-30 (NASB)

Our Lord instructs his church to highly esteem those who labor among them as shepherds and to give heed to their instructions and warnings. This is for the benefit of the sheep, who sometimes do not see the dangers as clearly as God’s overseers, who hopefully are very familiar with the Bible’s teachings and definitely equipped and assisted by the Holy Spirit.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. Hebrews 13:17 (NASB)

Although, all true believers are taught by God and have direct access to God through his Spirit and are able to study the Bible for themselves, our Lord still expects his people to highly esteem his delegated authority in the church, the pastoral leaders whose responsibility it is to feed, guide, care for, and protect the sheep.

Unfortunately, in our post-modern society, many times authority is lightly esteemed, if not disregarded entirely, even in the church. Those who lightly esteem authority may see no problem with ignoring, contradicting, or simply going around that authority.

This problem existed in the early church, too, and will always harm those who do it and those who are influenced by the transgressors.

God wants us to be cognizant of and alert to these authority issues, to repent of lightly esteeming authority, if need be, and to determine to live with a proper submission to God and his ordained authority. Ultimately this is all about the lordship of Christ.

What makes this so difficult and challenging for us is that all of use are prone to error and sin. Any discerning individual can see faults in those who are in leadership. In addition, some delegated authority figures have misused or abused their role, putting a bad taste in the mouths of those who were damaged by their actions and attitudes. Such bad experiences, past and ongoing, make it difficult for some to relate properly to authority.

In order to properly submit to God’s appointed authority, we must understand that by doing so we are submitting to God first and foremost. When we submit to human authority figures, we do so with the understanding that it is by faith in the truth that God is ultimately in charge. We must trust God to work in and through those in authority, correcting them where necessary. We will all answer to God, and those in authority will be held to a stricter accounting.

Past abuse by some in authority is not a valid reason to refuse to recognize and submit to present authority; although, it certainly feels like one.

If we do not trust those who have authority over us in the church, perhaps we are in the wrong church. If that is not the case, then the problems lies within us.

We owe it to ourselves to let God deal with any residual authority issues in our own lives. Otherwise we will consign ourselves to the realm of being only semi-unusable in the kingdom of God. Being properly under authority is huge.

Another angle on this is that if we fail to properly discern who has authority to judge, we may find ourselves judging God’s appointed judges. This calamity takes us right back into the first sin of Adam and Eve, who judged God as being unworthy of their obedience and judged themselves to be entirely capable of properly judging good and evil for and by themselves. We all know where this led!

Judgment and authority go hand in hand. We cannot properly judge without being under authority. That was true for Jesus, and it is certainly true for us.

I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 5:30 (NASB)

Being in proper relationship with God’s personal and delegated authority is a true litmus test of whether or not our judgment is just. All authority comes from God, and he delegates it to men. Discerning who are God’s appointed authorities is of paramount importance.

If we are not in right relationship with delegated authority, we tend to do things “on our own” without reference to that authority, which puts us out on the same sawn off limb as Adam and Eve when they elected to disobey God’s clear command and go it on their own. That did not end well, and good results will not follow any form of living independently from God and his delegated authority.

On the other hand, I do not advocate the necessity of giving someone else dominion over every area of our lives, except for the Lord. Godly authorities do not desire control over people. Instead, they want to be gentle shepherds. The key is good communication at all times, especially before we take action, not after. The old saw that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission did not come from God. Nevertheless, godly authority never discourages initiative in those they oversee, as long as those taking initiative are correctable and teachable.

So, we are right back where we began: should we judge or not? A simple answer is that we are not to condemn one another ever, but we must discriminate between good and bad, right and wrong, and falsehood and truth.

When a person practices or promulgates evil in a fashion that threatens the well being of God’s church, a community, a nation, a business, or a family, God requires leaders to step into the gap and use sound judgment to discern, warn, rebuke if necessary, and even severely discipline the perpetrators in some cases.

Paul wrote about both sides of judgment in the verses below:

Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. 1 Corinthians 4:5 (NASB)

You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. 3  For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4  In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5  I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:2-5 (NASB)

To conclude, we are to refrain from condemnatory judgments against one another, especially regarding one another’s motives; while, at the same time, church leaders are commanded to exercise functional judgment against those who threaten to harm God’s people or lead them astray. In every case, however, the long-term good of the person or persons being functionally judged stays in view. Our hope is always that our functional judgments will provoke the offender to repent and be reinstated to the church and God’s truth.

Love must undergird every proper judgment and every refusal to judge incorrectly.

So, to conclude, we are pretty much in the same boat as the wise man in Proverbs who had to decide whether to answer the fool or not. Either way, it was not going to be pretty. Judgment carries the same kind of weightiness. If we fail to properly judge, people can get hurt. If we judge properly, sometimes people get hurt and sometimes it comes back to bite us, because none of us are without fault. The important thing is for each of us to operate in wisdom, courage, faith, and love as led by the Holy Spirit in conformity to the teachings of the Bible. Beyond that, we must trust the Lord for the results. May He have mercy on us all!

For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13 (ESV)

 

In other words, if we fail to properly discern who has authority to judge, we may find ourselves judging God’s appointed judges. This calamity takes us right back into the first sin of Adam and Eve, who judged God as being unworthy of their obedience and judged themselves to be entirely capable of properly judging good and evil for and by themselves. We all know where this led! Judgment and authority go hand in hand. We cannot properly judge without being under authority. That was true for Jesus, and it is certainly true for us.

“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 5:30 (NASB)

Being in proper relationship with God’s personal and delegated authority is the true litmus test of whether or not our judgment is just. All authority comes from God, and he delegates it to men. Discerning who are God’s appointed authorities is of paramount importance. The Bible teaches us who these people are, which will be the topic for another meditation. If we are not in right relationship with delegated authority, we tend to do things “on our own” without reference to that authority, which puts us out on the same sawed off limb as Adam and Eve when they elected to disobey God’s clear command and go it on their own. That did not end well, and good results will not follow any form of living independently from God and his delegated authority.

So, we are right back where we began: should we judge or not? A simple answer is that we are not to condemn one another EVER, but we MUST discriminate between good and bad, right and wrong, and falsehood and truth. When a person practices or promulgates evil in a fashion that threatens the well being of God’s church, God requires his leaders to step into the gap and use sound judgment to discern, warn, rebuke if necessary, and even excommunicate in extreme cases. Paul warned the church not to judge others before the Second Coming, but he did not hesitate to judge a brother or sister whose sin, teaching, or lifestyle threatened the church. Look at how Paul handled the different situations.

Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. 1 Corinthians 4:5 (NASB)

You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. 3  For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4  In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5  I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:2-5 (NASB)

To conclude, we are to refrain from condemnatory judgments against one another, while at the same time church leaders are commanded to exercise functional judgment against those who threaten to harm God’s people or lead them astray. In every case, however, the long-term good of the person or persons being functionally judged stays in view. Our hope is always that our functional judgments will provoke the offender to repent and be reinstated to the church and God’s truth. Love is behind every proper judgment and every refusal to judge incorrectly.

So, all being said, we are pretty much in the same boat as the wise man in Proverbs who had to decide whether to answer the fool or not. Either way, it was not going to be pretty. Judgment carries the same kind of weightiness. If we fail to properly judge, people can get hurt. If we judge properly, sometimes people get hurt and sometimes it comes back to bite us, because none of us are without fault. The important thing is that we operate in wisdom, courage, faith, and love as led by the Holy Spirit in conformity to the teachings of the Bible. Beyond that, we must trust the Lord for the results. May He have mercy on us all!

To read more of Pete’s articles, go to www.journey-online.org.