How often, in our efforts to “stand” for the truth and “withstand” error, we have been taken to task with the use of such Scripture passages as “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1) and “the servant of the Lord must not strive” (II Tim. 2:24).
These passages taken by themselves and out of context can induce weak believers to great irresponsibility, but it is our purpose in this article to examine the Scriptures as a whole and see what they have to say about judging others, or judging what they say or do.
The Scriptures have much to say about judging others and several synonyms are used. Since, however, one Greek word, “krino” is most often used in discussing this subject, and since this is the word our Lord used when He said, “Judge not,” we will deal only with those passages in which this Greek root “krino” (to judge) and its derivatives, “anakrino” (to judge strictly) and “diakrino” (to judge thoroughly) are used. In this way there can at least be little or no “strife about words.”
If the interpretation so often placed upon our Lord’s words, “Judge not,” were consistent with the Scriptures as a whole, we would not—indeed, should not—have had a Scofield, a Darby, a Calvin, a Luther—or a Paul, for those who interpret it thus surely would have taken strong exception as Paul and Barnabas “had no small dissension and disputation” with the Judaizers who had come to Antioch, seeking to bring the Gentile believers there under the Law, or as later at Jerusalem, Paul “gave place by subjection” to these same Judaizers, “no, not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with [the Gentiles]” (Acts 15:2; Gal. 2:5).
As to the root word “krino,” (to judge), it should be observed at the outset that some of the passages using this word urge us not to judge, while others teach as strongly that we should judge, indeed, that “he that is spiritual judgeth all things” (I Cor. 2:15), so that the interpretation of any Scriptural statement on judging must be determined, not by any “private interpretation,” but in the light of the context and/or of related Scripture passages.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1).
Our Lord’s words here have, of course, to do with judging persons (obviously for what they do or fail to do), but Verse 5 indicates that they have reference to a certain type of critic, “Thou hypocrite,” or one who has a “beam” in his own eye, while criticizing the “mote” (any small, dry particle) in his brother’s eye. Such a critic would surely not be the “spiritual” person of I Corinthians 2:15. Thus Matthew 7:1,2 is a warning that if you are too quick to judge others, you may expect others to judge you. The parallel passage in Luke 6:37,38 brings this out even more forcefully. Paul, also, in Romans 2:1, says to those who hypocritically condemn others:
“…wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.”
In Romans 14:4-13 the Apostle has an extended exhortation on such readiness to judge others. Dealing with the friction between those on the one hand who feel free to “eat all things,” and those on the other who are convicted that they should only “eat herbs,” he says:
“Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth; for God hath received him” (Ver. 3).
In Verses 10,12 he urges those on both sides to refrain from criticizing each other since all of us—each one individually—will one day give a personal account to God:
“But why dost thou judge thy brother?1 or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?2 for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
“So then, every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
And he concludes:
“Let us not therefore judge one another any more; but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” (Ver. 13).
It is important to note that all this has to do with judging one another as to way of life; indeed, Romans 14 has to do with judging one another in matters not specifically dealt with in the Word of God. Such judgment should be left to Christ, at whose “judgment seat” we shall all one day stand. In the same vein the Apostle says in I Corinthians 4:5:
“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”
Let us then rather be criticized than to criticize, rather be judged than to judge—except in matters where God has given us the clear knowledge of His will. To the Galatians, for example, who had been enticed to go back under the Law after Christ had so gloriously set them free, the Apostle wrote:
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).
And then he proceeds to tell them in stern language how they will belittle Christ, and what the results will be if they continue in their course.
Thus too, he writes to the brethren at Colosse, this time urging them not to accept the criticisms of those who would bring them under the Law:
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
“Which are a shadow of things to come, but the Body [i.e., the substance] is of Christ” (Col. 2:16,17).
HE THAT IS SPIRITUAL JUDGETH ALL THINGS
But where God has clearly made His truth and will known believers should judge between truth and error, not only “standing” for what is right, but “withstanding” what is wrong (Eph. 6:11,13), and this often involves “judging” and “withstanding” persons involved. Using the same root, krino, the Apostle says:
“But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man” (I Cor. 2:15).
The truly spiritual man is so far above the wisest sages of this world, yea, so far above the mass of Christians with whom he comes in contact with, that he can understand them, but they can never quite understand him.3 It is a sad fact, however, that in the Church today, as in that of Paul’s day, there are so few, comparatively, who are truly spiritual and truly qualified to judge. Referring to the senseless and shameful contentions among the Corinthian believers, Paul wrote:
“I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?” (I Cor. 6:5).
Here he reprimands them because there is not one man among them who is spiritual enough to reprove the wrong and defend the right.
Indeed, Paul himself, an eminently spiritual man of God, once found it necessary to rebuke Peter publicly, even though Peter had been used of God to bring thousands to Messiah’s feet before Paul had even been converted. Read the passage carefully:
“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.
“For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the Circumcision.
“And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him, insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation [hypocrisy].
“But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (Gal. 2:11-14).
Surely this must have been embarrassing to Peter, but who can deny that Paul was right in thus dealing with this crisis, stepping in immediately to rebuke Peter’s hypocrisy in going back on the great truths which God had revealed to him with regard to the oneness of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. Paul’s action was not only right; it was necessary lest Peter “build again” the wall of separation between Jewish and Gentile believers which he himself had helped to “destroy” (Ver. 18 cf. Acts 15:9-11).
While Paul, in I Corinthians, deals with judging in the context of spirituality, he is not the first in Scripture to declare that God’s people should, when truly qualified, judge others. When Christ Himself was judged by His antagonists, He said:
“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
Surely our Lord indicated by these words that His hearers should judge—fairly and rightly, though “hypocrites” (as in Matt. 7:1-5 above) should take care not to judge at all.
In I Corinthians 6:2,3, the Apostle declares that believers will one day “judge the world” and will even “judge angels,” basing upon this fact his exhortation that they should be able to judge in matters pertaining to this life (Ver. 3) and reproving them for their inability “to judge the smallest matters” (Ver. 2). And in Verse 5, as we have seen, he speaks to their shame that there is not even one among them who is spiritual enough, and therefore respected enough, to judge between his brethren.
Thus God calls upon His people, not merely to judge others, but to be such as are qualified, morally and spiritually, to judge in matters concerning truth and error or right conduct and wrong.
Thus he instructs Timothy and Titus, both truly spiritual men of God, to act in situations in which it is necessary to judge. To Timothy he writes:
“Them that sin4 rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (I Tim. 5:20).
“…reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (II Tim. 4:2).
Likewise, to Titus he writes:
“For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I have appointed thee” (Titus 1:5).
“For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision;
“Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake” (Vers. 10,11).
Not just anyone would be qualified, spiritually and morally, to judge the recalcitrant believers to whom Timothy and Titus ministered, but these two men of God were thus qualified and the Apostle instructed them to do so firmly.
This brings us to a most important consideration appertaining to us all.
In Paul’s well-known passage on the Lord’s Supper, he warns against partaking of this sacred memorial in an unworthy manner (I Cor. 11:27), as some of the Corinthians were indeed doing. “Let a man examine himself,” he says, “and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (Ver. 28).
Indeed, it was because they had been so irresponsible in this matter that it had become necessary for God to discipline them. Many among them were “weak and sickly,” and some had even been taken away in death (Ver. 30). This would not have been necessary, the Apostle declares, if they had judged themselves (Vers. 31,32), each one carefully examining himself in the presence of the Lord so that he might be in the proper spiritual condition to celebrate the death of Christ for sin. Concluding his remarks about living so that they could partake of this remembrance in a worthy and sincere manner, he says:
“For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
“But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (I Cor. 11:31,32).
Whatever one’s dispensational views of the celebration of the Lord’s death at “the Lord’s table,” all of us should surely take the Apostle’s exhortation here to heart. If we would judge ourselves God would not have to discipline us for our irresponsibility and we would be in a better position to serve Him as those who are truly spiritual.
This writer is keenly aware that the mere fact that a man judges others does not of itself indicate that he is truly spiritual. Indeed, one who judges himself and is truly spiritual will not be quick to judge others. Yet, should it not be our desire to be truly spiritual so that we might correctly “judge all things” (I Cor. 2:15) and, thus judging, “stand” for what is Scriptural and right and “withstand” what is unscriptural and wrong, even when, in so doing, it is necessary to withstand those who teach or practice what is unscriptural and wrong?
Away, then, with the use of such passages as II Timothy 2:24 and Matthew 7:1 merely as excuses for irresponsibility and for the criticism of those who seek to stand true to God and His Word. Let us rather consider prayerfully all that God says about judging, that we might truly please and honor Him.
- i.e., the one who feels he may eat all things.
- i.e., the one who feels he should not eat all things.
- The writer’s book, True Spirituality, deals at length with this subject.
- The present active participle, i.e., those who persist in sin.