Judge Nothing Before The Time
Wednesday, August 6, 2008 at 10:17AM
Jeff Smith in Discipleship, Judgment

People make judgments all the time.

We make judgments every day about matters of varying importance, even about whether someone is telling us the truth. We judge whether the retiring general from Nigeria is really interested in securing our help in moving $23 million out of his country and needs our help. We judge whether our children really cleaned their rooms. We judge whether the preacher in the pulpit or on the internet is telling the truth. If we made no such judgments, our checking accounts would empty, our houses would crumble and our spirits would plummet into constant confusion.

Yet, the New Testament is replete with warnings against making judgments. Jesus famously warned in the sermon on the mount, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Likewise, the inspired apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes” (First Corinthians 4:5).

Snatched from their respective contexts, the warnings seem to forbid us to make any judgment, but surely such an application is both extreme and impossible. One would be paralyzed, morally and physically, if he were permitted to make no judgments based on the evidence before him.

Beyond logic, we find approved examples of New Testament characters making reasonable judgments. Newly converted Lydia asked Luke, Paul, Timothy and Silas to enjoy her hospitality, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord” (Acts 16:15). Paul himself judged that Peter and Barnabas were guilty of racial and doctrinal hypocrisy in Antioch (see Galatians 2:11-14). The Bereans were notably more fair-minded than the Thessalonians because they “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

Moreover, Paul upbraided the church in Corinth for a refusal to make a judgment about one of its members who was involved in scandalous immorality. Paul did their judging for them and ordered them “to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (First Corinthians 5:5). 

When the scriptural prohibitions of judgment are balanced against the positive commands to judge, the reader is left with principles that require “righteous judgment,” free from self-serving hypocrisy, harshness and impatience, and an imposition of one’s opinion upon the conscience of another.

It is not judgment that is proscribed, but rather judgmentalism. When Jesus says, “Judge not, lest you be judged,” he follows with instructions on ridding oneself of faults and failures before attempting to assist others in overcoming theirs (see Matthew 7:2-5). One is shortsighted, hypocritical and ultimately unsuccessful who endeavors to point out the shortcomings of others while turning a blind eye to his own glaring inadequacies. 

Paul was dealing with the sad fact that members of the Corinthian church were criticizing him unfairly, perhaps denigrating his stewardship “of the mysteries of God” (First Corinthians 4:1). While their harshness surely stung, Paul was relieved to know that only God himself would be his judge in eternity. Neither the Corinthians nor Paul himself would judge him worthy of Heaven or Hell. We are often imperfect judges of ourselves, tending to be too harsh at times and too lenient at others. Still, it is imperative that we learn to examine and test ourselves to ensure that we are in the faith (see Second Corinthians 13:5). “If we carefully judge ourselves, we won't be punished” (First Corinthians 11:31, CEV).

With God’s word as our standard – not creedal tradition, personal conviction or societal approval – we become capable of discerning good from evil (see Hebrews 5:14). “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one” (First Corinthians 2:15). Tolerance of transgression is nowhere a Bible virtue, especially now that times of ignorance have been eclipsed by the light of Christ and revelation (see Acts 17:30). Judging “nothing before the time, until the Lord comes” does not prohibit every judgment, but those that are hypocritical or which usurp the authority of God to determine the fate of men’s souls. 

Where Jesus could read minds, we fail miserably when we try to deduce motives and search our neighbors’ hearts. It is Jesus who “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (First Corinthians 4:5; cf. Hebrews 4:11-13).

Christians must “not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” so that they can know whom to rebuke and whom to exhort. (John 7:24). Preachers and pastors must judge doctrines to discern truth from error and to reject the latter (see Titus 1:9-13). Congregations must collectively reject divisive brethren and false teachers, lest they drink in their corruption and become wholly polluted and themselves rejected (Romans 16:17, Titus 3:9-11). It is wise to test the prophets and proclaimers and to reject those who prove unreliable (First Corinthians 10:15, First John 4:1-6, Revelation 2:1-6). 

Judgmentalism, however, is itself a damnable habit and one to be rejected. Holding others to an impossible standard or to one’s own opinion, is without divine blessing and brings strife and division to the body of Christ (see Romans 2:1-3). “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law … But who are you to judge your neighbor” (James 4:11-12)? We ought to hold our tongues instead of judging others in matters where there is liberty (see Romans 14:1-13). “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12-13).

Article originally appeared on ElectronicGospel (http://electronicgospel.com/).
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