Judging—When SHOULD You Judge and When SHOULDN’T You Judge?
Judging is a generally misunderstood subject in Christendom. Numerous times I’ve heard people quote Jesus’ statement “Do not judge” insisting that Christians should never judge anyone for anything ever. This is no different than the topic of forgiveness where people take one or two passages, disregard the entire rest of the Bible, and “prove” that believers are required to automatically forgive everyone for everything all the time. It goes without saying that this is a very foolish and unbalanced approach to Bible interpretation. Don’t these people realize that anyone who conveys God’s Word in this unsound manner will ultimately have to answer to the LORD Himself? This is why James 3:1 dissuades believers from jumping the gun on teaching from the Bible, because those who minister the Word will be “judged more strictly.” Why will they be judged more strictly? Because they’re conveying to people the very Word of the Almighty. Consequently, those who teach the Bible are responsible for “correctly handling” the Scriptures, meaning they must strive to ‘get it right’ by being honest, unbiased, studious, thorough and balanced on every subject they teach. It’s a big responsibility.
With this understanding, let’s examine the topic of judging.
The Measure You Use Will Be Measured to You
Yes, Jesus said “Do not judge”, but we need to look at the full passage and then take into consideration other notable statements from the very same chapter:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. (2) For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
(3) “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (4) How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? (5) You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Verses 1-2 illustrate the law of sowing and reaping—you reap what you plant or get what you give. Are you often strict, judgmental, suspicious and critical toward others? People will generally treat you in like manner. Are you merciful and graceful? People will largely regard you the same way. This brings to mind the “golden rule” cited by Jesus seven verses later:
“So, in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and Prophets.”
Every social-moral law of the Old Testament is fulfilled by simply following this rule, called the “royal law” in Scripture (James 2:8). If you don’t like people stealing from you then don’t steal from others. If you don’t like someone messing with your spouse don’t mess with someone else’s mate. Etcetera.
In verses 3-5 Jesus shares the example of a person criticizing a speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye while that person has a plank sticking out of his or her own eye. It’s absurd, isn’t it? Jesus calls such a person a hypocrite—a clueless religious fake. He concludes by instructing what needs to be done in such a scene: The hypocritical judger needs to examine himself or herself, remove the plank, and then s/he can see clearly enough to help the other person remove the speck.
This is really just a matter of common sense, but I’m surprised at how often people refuse to see their “plank” while criticizing someone else’s “speck.” For instance, I was berated for 20 minutes by an in-law for canceling out of a one-night campfire with family, which was 3 hours away; I simply didn’t have it in me to drive that far after working hard all week. Even though I humbly apologized he still kept berating and antagonizing. It later dawned on me that this was the same person who had a record of canceling entire vacations with dubious excuses (e.g. “I went to the wrong airport”). Unbelievable.
Here’s another example: Many years ago I worked at a department store and there was this loss-prevention manager, a former Marine drill instructor, who would scream at meetings, “I don’t care if you steal a pack of gum or a candy bar; if I catch it you’re fired!!” He seemed hell-bent on saving the company money and time—monitoring the time clock, peering through security windows with binoculars, etc. Years later he was fired for stealing expensive items by hiding them behind the building to pick up later when he did his final security round. He had been doing this for years. Do you see the hypocrisy? He loudly condemned the possibility of an employee stealing a candy bar while he regularly stole expensive merchandise (?). You can’t make this stuff up.
I’m sure you see why Jesus said “Do not judge” in light of the context: The way we judge others generally determines how others will judge us. More importantly, it determines how God will judge us, and with the measure we use it will be measured to us. It’s an obvious and simple principle. Yet this is much different than saying we should never judge anyone ever, as some claim. Jesus never said this. In fact, later in the chapter he instructs believers to make judgments based on the fruitfulness of people who claim to speak for God. Let’s look at that…
The Importance of Judging Fruit
Notice what Jesus said in the very same chapter about those who falsely speak for God and the importance of judging a person’s “fruit”:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. (16) By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick up grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (17) Likewise every good tree bears good fruit but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. (19) Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
(21) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22) Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ (23) Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ”
Jesus is warning people here about “false prophets.” ‘False prophets’ in the Greek is one compound word pseudoprohetes (soo-doh-prah-FAY-tus); pseudo of course means false and prophetes refers to inspired speakers or those who propose to speak for God. Hence, pseudoprophetes or “false prophets” refers to people who falsely speak for the LORD.
Jesus doesn’t want believers to be misled so he warned us about those who falsely speak for God and revealed how to recognize them. How do we recognize them? As you can see, Jesus twice said that they can be recognized by their fruit (verses 16 & 20).
“Fruit” in this context refers to the “fruit of the spirit” or lack thereof as detailed in this next passage (which is the same Greek word):
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; (20) idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions (21) and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
(22) But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) gentleness and self-control.
As you can see, this passage contrasts the works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit.* How can you tell if people are living out of their flesh or out of their spirit? By the fruit they bear on a consistent basis: Are they sexually immoral? Hateful? Quarrelsome? Jealous? Have childish fits of rage? Selfish? Envious? Given to drunkard-ness**? If so, they’re obviously walking according to their flesh. We’re not talking about someone who stumbles or struggles, then humbly confesses and gets back up; we’re talking about people who regularly produce these types of fleshly acts with no concern to repent or change, even when corrected. It’s stubborn, selfish arrogance, pure and simple. People who live out of their flesh like this are fleshly and therefore carnal. A confessing believer who regularly manifests these traits without care of repentance is a carnal-Christian, a Christian ruled by his/her carnal nature. Of course, a “carnal Christian” is a total oxymoron and, if a lasting condition, would indicate that the person isn’t even saved. After all, didn’t Jesus say we could distinguish the true from the false by their fruit?
* Since there is no capitalization in the original Greek, translators have to discern whether “spirit” should be capitalized in reference to the Holy Spirit or not capitalized in reference to the human spirit (e.g. Matthew 26:41). I maintain that whenever a text contrasts flesh and spirit, like Matthew 26:41 or Mark 14:38, “spirit” obviously refers to the human spirit. It makes little difference, however, in light of the fact that the believer’s human spirit is indwelt and guided by the Holy Spirit; hence, if we’re living out of our human spirit (uncapitalized), we’re automatically following the Holy Spirit and therefore living by the Spirit (capitalized).
** I should point out that being a drunkard is not the same as drinking a sip of alcohol. See Deuteronomy 14:26.
The point is that we can determine if people are living out of their spirit simply by the evidence and quantity of fruit of the spirit. Do you see love? Joy? Peace? Patience? Kindness? Goodness? Faith? Meekness (not weakness)? Self-control? If you generally see these fruits in people’s lives, they’re obviously living out of their spirit, meaning they’re spiritual. The more fruit you see, the more spiritual they are. You could also describe them as godly.
Speaking of which, people often misunderstand the term “godly.” They think it means to be staunchly religious in a lifeless and posturing Pharisaical sense, but nothing could be further from the truth. To be godly simply means to be like God. Is the Creator of the wonders of the universe some lifeless, dull fuddy-duddy? Of course not. The Almighty overflows with life, joy, love, peace, goodness and vitality – he’s literally the Fountain of LIFE (Psalm 36:9)! The fruits of the Spirit are, in reality, the fruits of God’s character. Consequently, to be godly or like-God means to consistently bear the fruit of the spirit or “new self,” which is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24, emphasis added). In other words, do you see a person consistently producing fruit of the spirit, the primary fruit being agape love as defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7? Such a person will be honest about his/her shortcomings and quick-to-repent. That person is godly. Do you see a person consistently producing works of the flesh and stubbornly unwilling to admit it or change when corrected? That person is ungodly. This isn’t deep; it’s simple as pie.
Keep in mind that this passage, Galatians 5:19-23, does not provide an exhaustive list of either works of the flesh or fruit of the spirit. For instance, arrogance, deceit and laziness are top works of the flesh but they’re not cited here, which explains why Paul added “and the like” to the end of the list. There are also more than just nine fruits of the spirit; for instance, righteousness and truth are also spiritual fruits according to Ephesians 5:9 and Philippians 1:11 (righteousness in this context would of course refer to practical righteousness, as shown in 1 John 2:29, rather than positional righteousness).
All this helps clarify what Jesus was talking about when he said “by their fruit you will recognize” those who falsely speak for God (Matthew 7:16,20). He then went on to explain this in verses 21-23, citing those who readily call him “Lord” but fail to walk according to God’s will. In fact, he ultimately calls them “evildoers” (verse 23). An evildoer is simply someone who chooses to live out of his or her flesh and, consequently, produces evil.
We must distinguish good fruit from good works because these people whom Jesus called “evildoers” clearly performed good works. When they stand before the Lord to give an account of their lives we see them boasting of many good works—prophesying, exorcizing demons and performing many miracles (verse 22). Such boasting indicates that they’re living out of their flesh because boasting stems from arrogance, which is in contrast to the fruit of meekness. It also signifies a strong works-orientation rather than relationship-orientation, a clear sign of legalism. In the passage Jesus does not deny that these people did these good works. Since there is no indication that they’re lying we must conclude that they did, in fact, do these good works. But Jesus plainly tells them, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
The obvious conclusion is that it’s possible to do good works and not produce fruit while doing them. This explains why Paul prayed this prayer for the Colossian believers:
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.
Notice Paul prayed that they bear fruit in every good work. Fruit is distinguished from good works. The reason Paul prayed this is because it’s possible to do a good work and not produce fruit of the spirit while doing it. You’ll see this all the time, just open your eyes. Have you ever seen someone doing a good work like “witnessing” in the flesh? I have. There’s no love, there’s no joy; they’re rude and arrogant. They may be doing a good work but they’re not bearing fruit of the spirit. Or how about a guy who gives $20 to a poor man—undoubtedly a good work—but he rudely adds, “Get a job ya worthless slob.” Or how about ministers who regularly give dull, lifeless, legalistic, rude or condemning sermons? Teaching the Word of God is definitely a good work, but they’re not bearing fruit doing it. (Don’t get me wrong here, there’s a time and place for open rebuke and righteous rudeness, like when Jesus called Peter “Satan” or rebuked the religionists as “blind fools” and “snakes”).
The problem with doing good works in the flesh like this is that they’re dead works; and the first basic doctrine of Christianity is repentance from dead works (Hebrews 6:1-2). This not only refers to repenting from sin but repenting from any good work done in the flesh to attain salvation or favor with God. This is the very definition of human religion. Christianity, by contrast, isn’t a mere religion; it’s rebirth, reconciliation, renewal and relationship with the Most High Creator of the universe! Genuine spiritual works spring forth naturally from this new nature and a loving, secure relationship with God.
Getting back to Matthew 7:15-23, according to Jesus the way we distinguish the true from the false, the genuine from the counterfeit, the sheep from the goats or wolves, is by fruit. Jesus backed this up elsewhere when he pointed out that “a tree is recognized by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33 & Luke 6:43-45). You can’t tell by good works, you can’t tell by personality/charisma and you can’t tell by gifts of the Spirit. Islamic terrorists perform good works. Hollywood celebrities have charisma to spare. The worldly Corinthian church had gifts of the Spirit because the gifts are given “without repentance” (Romans 11:29). I’m not saying these things are bad, just that they can’t be used as the primary gauge for distinguishing the genuine from the counterfeit. The way you distinguish the true from the false and the mature from the immature is by fruit of the spirit, the more consistency and greater quantity the better.
It’s true, of course, that we all miss it and fail from time to time as verified by 1 John 1:8, so if both true and false believers give in to the flesh what’s the difference? The obvious difference is that genuine believers produce the fruit of humility and are therefore open to correction and willing to repent, whereas counterfeits are proud, resistant to correction and stubbornly unwilling to repent. Not to mention that genuine believers consistently and increasingly produce fruit of the spirit, whereas the bogus do not.
By the way, when I say “correction” I don’t just mean face-to-face rebuke, which is what people automatically think of when they hear the term. Although open reproof is a legitimate means of correction, it’s probably the least common type. Correction can manifest in many ways—through the Word, through hearing a sermon, reading a book, by the Holy Spirit, during prayer or worship, while watching a movie, when alone and reflecting on things, etc. Learning, which is simply the act of acquiring accurate information, is the most common form of correction as the very process of learning corrects error and ignorance. Those with pliable, hungry hearts will receive correction in all these ways, making face-to-face rebuke either unnecessary or, at least, infrequent.
Summing this all up, in the very same chapter that Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” he also instructed believers to judge people’s fruit so we’re not hoodwinked by those who falsely speak for God. So Jesus obviously didn’t mean that we should never judge anyone for anything ever.
Also, although Jesus was referring to judging the fruits of people who presume to be spiritually mature to some degree since he was talking about those who propose to speak for God, this principle works in distinguishing the authenticity and maturity level of any believer. After all, aren’t all believers ambassadors for the Kingdom of God? Don’t we all represent Christ and speak for him to some degree (1 Peter 2:9 & 2 Corinthians 5:20)? Aren’t we all living epistles (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)? Don’t get me wrong here, young Christians who have only been in the Lord a matter of months or a handful of years should be given more leeway than those who’ve been Christians for two or three decades but, regardless, the evidence of spiritual fruit—consistency and quantity—is how we’re to determine legitimacy and maturity. It’s really that simple.
“Are You Not to Judge Those Inside?”
Like Jesus, Paul also taught that we should judge fruit in the lives of fellow believers, including those who claim to be fellow believers but are not.
First Corinthians 5:1-5 details the account of the unrepentant fornicator whom Paul insisted must be expelled from the church at Corinth. The apostle went on to say this:
I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—(10) not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave the world. (11) But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
(12) What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (13) God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
1 Corinthians 5:9-13
Paul points out that it’s none of his business—or our business—to judge those outside the church, referring to unbelievers; that’s God’s business. It’s also the business of the governing authorities who are ordained by God to “punish evildoers” (Romans 13:1-5). But it is our business to judge those inside the church, that is, fellow believers, as well as those who say they’re believers but aren’t. And notice what we’re supposed to judge—fruit. Are the people in question producing fruit of the spirit or bad fruit of the flesh? Paul points out in verse 11 that if a brother or sister in the Lord consistently produces works of the flesh with no concern of repentance we should cut associations with him or her. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we should never greet such a person or show kindness when the opportunity presents itself—situations vary and you have to be led of the Lord—but it is clear that we should have no close relations, which is indicated by the statement, “With such a man do not even eat.”
This type of “tough love” isn’t enacted for the purposes of being “holier than thou,” but rather to provoke the person to shame, self-examination and humble repentance. Keep in mind that ‘repentance’ means, “to change one’s mind or purpose for the better.” In other words, it’s a very positive thing. Once repentance is clear, whether verbally or non-verbally, the person should be received back into the fellowship with open arms and warm hearts. This is the Christian way—the way of love, humility, genuineness, hope, change and forgiveness.
What I want to stress here is that Paul clearly instructed the Corinthians to make judgments in certain situations. He asks in verse 12, “Are you not to judge those inside?” This is a rhetorical question; the obvious answer is ‘yes.’ Look what Paul goes on to say:
If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? (2) Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? (3) Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! (4) Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! (5) I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? (6) But instead, one brother goes to law against another – and this in front of unbelievers!
1 Corinthians 6:1-6
The church at Corinth was so immature and worldly that members were bringing lawsuits against one another. This is testimony to their carnal state of strife, an abysmal lack of peace and harmony. Paul contended that, instead of maligning Christianity by taking cases to secular court “in front of unbelievers,” wasn’t there someone in their midst wise enough to settle disputes? He argues in verses 2-3 that, since the saints (i.e. true believers) will judge the world and even angels to some degree, are we not competent enough to handle the trivial cases of this life?
How exactly will believers judge the world and angels? We will assist Christ to some measure in judging the world in the millennial kingdom (Revelation 2:26-27 & 3:21) and I’m sure there’s even more to it than this, but the Bible provides little detail. Such specifics will be made clear when the time comes and simply aren’t important now. As for judging angels, since ‘judge’ can mean “to rule or govern” it’s likely that this means we’ll govern angels in the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth. This seems reasonable since Hebrews 1:14 describes angels as “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (emphasis added); hence, it makes sense that angels will serve us in eternity as we govern them. Another possibility is that the reference is to judging fallen angels.
As you can plainly see, the notion that Christians are not to judge anyone for anything ever is a myth. Those who teach this are not balanced with the Scriptures; on the contrary, they’re improperly handling them and, consequently, spreading error.
Paul Judges and Corrects Peter
A good example of judging fruit can be found in Galatians 2:11-14 where Paul judged Peter and openly corrected him in front of other believers in Antioch. What did Peter do that was worthy of such a public rebuke? Peter was a “pillar” in the church with great influence, as shown in Galatians 2:9. He was the first to take the gospel to the gentiles after discovering the Mosaic command to disassociate from non-Jews was no longer relevant in the new covenant (Acts 10:9-48), yet in Antioch he withdrew from the gentile believers to side with the legalistic Judaizers who were espousing heresy. Peter’s actions started to negatively influence others, including Barnabas. This was a serious blow to the gospel of grace and Paul had no choice but to boldly address the matter. He was righteously angry and referred to Peter’s behavior as “hypocrisy,” which literally means putting on an act. How were Peter and those swayed by his example putting on an act? They were supposed to be committed to the gospel of grace but embraced Hebrew legalism because they were afraid of losing popularity with the Jewish religionists. You could also argue they were pretending to be committed to the gospel of grace while buddying up with the heretical Judaizers. Either way it’s hypocrisy.
Paul was acting according to godly wisdom. The book of Proverbs states, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (27:5). Paul observed Peter’s bad fruit, judged it, and corrected him accordingly. Since Peter’s error was in the open Christian community Paul reasoned that it called for a public reprimand. His motivation was love—love for God and love for people, which are the two greatest commands (Matthew 22:34-40). Paul loved the LORD and people too much to allow the gospel of grace to be poisoned by legalism. Had he not acted decisively and boldly at that moment the positive worldwide impact of Christianity would have suffered. Make no mistake, there was much at stake.
The good news is that Peter received the correction and reformed accordingly. This is testimony to his wise character as verified in Proverbs 9:7-9, which points out the differences of correcting a “mocker” and a godly man. If you rebuke a mocker, which is a proud man according to Proverbs 21:24, he’ll hate you and react with abuse, whereas if you correct a humble, righteous man he’ll appreciate it and add to his learning (Psalm 141:5). I’m only referring, of course, to legitimate corrections here; if someone attempts to correct you and it’s not legitimate don’t receive it. Correct him or her instead, particularly those who are overly gung-ho about correcting others, including pastors. Such people usually have an unhealthy need to be authoritative; in other words, they’re control freaks. This is a form of spiritual abuse, which is the misuse of power. They need taken down a peg or two. Do it.
Paul’s judgment and correction of Peter’s hypocrisy was legitimate, however, and Peter humbly received it.
Other Examples of Judging Fruit
There are numerous instances in the New Testament where believers are encouraged to judge fruit. In all the following examples we are instructed to judge unrepentant fleshliness in one form or another and cut associations just like in the aforementioned cases, unless of course the person repents. Nowhere are we directed to just automatically forgive these people by unconditionally pardoning carnality.
Let’s look at a couple of passages that instruct us how to handle divisive people who unnecessarily provoke strife:
I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. (18) For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.
Paul tells the believers to watch out for those who have a penchant for causing strife and he instructs them to simply “keep away from them.” Notice he didn’t instruct them to confront and rebuke these divisive individuals; he simply told them to stay away from them. Were these divisive people Christians or unbelievers? It’s clear that Paul was referring to people within the community of Roman believers who at least proposed to be Christians. Regardless of whether or not they were legitimate Christians, Paul points out in verse 18 that they’re not serving the Lord but rather their own selfish desires. He then shares telltale signs of such divisive persons: They’re known for smooth talking and deceiving naïve people, meaning individuals who are unable to discern their true ungodly character. What’s “smooth talk”? In modern vernacular, it’s bullcrap or another word that shares the initials of Barbara Streisand, too crude to cite here. Such people have a natural gift for storytelling and exaggeration. In other words, they have a social talent to dazzle others with bullcrap, yet not everyone, just those who are naïve and unable to recognize their smooth talk for what it is—bullcrap. They’re liars, exaggerators, boasters and flatterers who naturally provoke strife and disunity wherever they go because it’s their nature. Be on guard against such supposed Christians and keep away from them. Don’t try to confront and correct them because they’ll hate you for it and turn the confrontation against you (Proverbs 9:7-9); they’ll do everything in their power to tear you to pieces like the savage wolves they are. They’ll draw you right into the realm of the flesh, which is the only plane they’re comfortable with, and bring out the worst in you. Don’t fall into their trap; don’t take the bait. Simply stay away from them, pray for them and protect the innocent lambs in your midst from their smooth-talking clutches.
This reminds me of an in-law who was so insulting and contentious that I simply stopped taking his calls. If he’d leave a message I’d automatically delete it without listening. Why? Because talking to him, or even listening to one of his messages, was like drinking spiritual poison; it would literally ruin my day—needlessly destroying my focus and sapping my positivity. I discovered that my godly sister Becky refused to take his calls as well. Trust me, neither of us came to this decision rashly; it took a full decade of loving patience, mercy and prayer. But life’s too precious to waste on people who have proven themselves to be disrespectful, arrogant ingrates, no matter how loudly they claim to be Christians. The only way I’d open my life or ears to such a proven divisive, aggravating person is if I hear from a respected source that he (or she) is willing to talk with a modicum of humility and respect. If so, I’m all ears.
Here’s a similar passage:
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. (10) Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. (11) You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Paul instructs his companion in ministry, Titus, to warn such people twice before disassociating with them. Why take such strict measures with people who needlessly cause division and strife? Because a quarrelsome spirit is rooted in fleshly traits like arrogance, malice, rivalry and selfish ambition. I don’t think we realize how severe and damaging these carnal fruits are. It’s not a small matter. Notice God’s list of the top seven sins:
There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: (17) haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, (18) a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, (19) a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.
As you can see, needlessly provoking strife and division is one of the worst sins a person can commit! And notice that a few of the others in the top seven feed discord—haughty eyes, which means an arrogant heart (Proverbs 21:4), a lying tongue, and a false witness who pours out lies, which is a slanderer – someone who concocts false accusations in order to discredit and hurt others. Make no mistake, people who spread slander and gossip hate those they malign, as Proverbs 26:28 points out: “A lying tongue hates those it hurts.” ‘Hate’ refers to hostility and hostility is the root of the slander, gossip and lies. But what is the cause of such hostility if the person lied about is innocent and has done nothing wrong? The motive is obviously traits like envy and jealousy, which are works of the flesh according to Galatians 5:19-21, cited earlier.
Look what the Bible says about those bent on provoking strife and dissension:
He who loves a quarrel loves sin;
This is a simple verse but it packs a wallop. It refers to those who habitually generate quarrels and division. We’re not talking about legitimate confrontations and corrections here, like when Paul corrected Peter. Such valid confrontations are necessary and have the capacity to get heated at times, but they’re positive because they spur spirituality since “iron sharpens iron.” No, we’re talking about people who customarily create an atmosphere of quarrels, insults and carnal criticism. Such people “love sin,” the text says. If the person is stubborn and unrepentant, is it any wonder the Bible encourages us to “have nothing to do with him”?
This next verse refers to lazy people who refuse to practice the Word of God:
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.
2 Thessalonians 3:6
Here Paul literally commands the Thessalonians to “keep away from” Christians who are idle and refuse to live according to the teaching of the Word. Once again, we are instructed to disassociate from people based on judging fleshly characteristics. Idleness refers to habitual inactivity or laziness, which the King James Bible calls sloth and other versions refer to as being a sluggard. Such people are too lazy to apply the Word of God in their lives, not to mention they refuse to get a job and work for their keep, which is why Paul follows up with a rule in verse 10: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” Of course he’s not referring to people who are unable to work or are legitimately out of work and looking for a job, but rather to lazy moochers who try to get by without working for a living.
Paul goes on to say:
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. (15) Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
Again, Paul is talking about sluggards who refuse to adhere to the Word of God. He encourages believers to cease associations with such people and also reveals the purpose for doing this: So they’ll experience shame, which of course inspires repentance. The intent of disassociating from people in such situations is twofold: First, to protect oneself from the sin in question since fleshliness is a spiritual disease that spreads socially (1 Corinthians 5:6 & Galatians 5:9); and, secondly, to provoke positive change through warning the brother or sister, whether verbally or simply through the act of disassociation. If the person shows signs of humble repentance it would indicate that he or she is willing to live according to the Word; such people should be warmly embraced and encouraged.
In this next passage Paul instructs his young protégé to “have nothing to do with” people who display all manner of fleshly qualities:
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. (2) People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, (3) without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, (4) treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – (5) having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
Although this passage could certainly apply to unbelievers, it more specifically refers to counterfeit believers in light of verse 5, which describes them as “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” This would indicate legalists, modern-day Pharisees, who have the outward veneer of religiosity but lack the inward reality of true godliness. Such people may go to church, wear the ‘right’ clothes, say “Amen” at the proper time and give offerings, but they lack the power of a transformed life that comes only through spiritual rebirth and a growing relationship with the Almighty. Hence, instead of producing fruit of the spirit they naturally produce the various carnal works noted above. The text could just as easily refer to those who embrace libertinism, which is lawlessness. Either way, as Jesus said, “You’ll know them by their fruit.”
Note, again, what Paul’s instructions are when dealing with such people: We are to judge the bad fruit and consequently “Have nothing to do with them.”
This doesn’t mean there’s no hope for them; there’s hope for everyone, but whether or not they positively change is dependent on their will and choices. All people, after all, wield the power of decision. Pray for them. Share the Word with them as the Spirit directs. Do a good deed for them if the opportunity presents itself. But, other than that, disassociate from them. Don’t have close relations with them. Unless, of course, they show signs of humble repentance, in which case you should extend your hand of fellowship with open arms.
This reminds me of a work situation several years ago where I was on break with a handful of men. One of the guys, a professing Christian, started boasting of committing adultery. Provoked by the Spirit, I immediately turned and left the room. I wasn’t being “holier than thou,” his words simply hurt my ears so much I couldn’t possibly stay. What did the Holy Spirit lead me to do in this situation? To disassociate – leave, “have nothing to do with.” This is in accordance with what the Bible teaches. Such an action corrects and provokes shame without inciting strife, which is particularly important in the workplace. Apparently it worked since I never again heard the man boast of infidelity, at least not when I was present.
For more passages on this topic and important additional insights see the article Gentle Love and Tough Love.
Saying Something is a Sin with Proof from God’s Word isn’t Judging; It’s Merely Affirming What God has ALREADY DETERMINED
Occasionally when I say something is a sin with proof from the Bible I’ll get the knee-jerk response “Do not judge!” But this isn’t a case of judging at all; it’s merely affirming a fact from God’s Word. To illustrate, consider this New Testament passage:
9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
This passage proves beyond any shadow of doubt that practices like adultery, homosexuality, stealing, greediness, drunkard-ness, slander and swindling are damning sins. It’s stated as fact in God’s Word. As such, citing this passage to prove these behaviors are sins and practicing them without care of repentance will prevent people from inheriting eternal life is not judging; it’s simply affirming what the Creator has already determined. It’s stating fact for the purpose of helping people escape sin and the resulting eternal damnation. It’s tough love.
If you observe your pet or a neighbor’s pet walking toward a busy street would you not try to stop the animal? Of course you would. Why? Because the street’s a death trap where the pet will likely get hit and either suffer severe injuries or die. Obviously your motive is concern for the animal’s welfare. It’s the same principle with warning people of the damning nature of sin, as the apostle Paul does in the above passage. It’s not being a “judgmental bigot” or whatever. It’s caring enough to tell people the awful truth—the severe negative consequences of immoral behavior. Of course, if you tell unbelievers the “awful truth,” be sure to tell them the good news of the message of Christ through which they can escape sin, be reconciled to the Creator and receive eternal life. Encourage them to get on God’s train and let Him sort out the baggage. Amen.
Love “Always Protects”
In the definition of agape love from 1 Corinthians 4-7, verse 7 says love “always protects,” which explains why John instructed Christians to not welcome so-called believers into their homes who contradicted the essentials of Christianity (see 2 John 10-11). His purpose was to protect them from being tainted and misled by false doctrine. Parents adhere to this principle when they object to their children hanging around kids of questionable character. They object because they love their children and instinctively realize that “bad company corrupts good character.” Love protects. It’s a wise principle to live by.
Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Why is it so vital to protect your heart? Because whatever you allow rooted in your heart will determine what you will become; in other words, who you are. Proverbs 27:19 puts it like this: “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.” Also consider what Jesus said:
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
You could also say: “For out of the overflow of the heart the person acts.” This is essentially what Jesus taught in Mark 7:20-23 where he pointed out that any carnal trait you can name stems from what we allow rooted in our hearts. Of course, all sin originates from one’s sinful nature, but you won’t habitually act on fleshly impulses until they get rooted in your heart. How do they get lodged in the heart? Through your eyes, your ears and the atmosphere you allow, including the company you keep. How do they grow? By feeding a fleshly desire via thought, imagination and word. The more you feed it the more it grows; and when the desire grows big enough you’ll act on it (James 1:14-15). The more you act on it the deeper it gets rooted and the greater the bondage.
I occasionally hear preachers erroneously proclaim that the heart itself is “desperately wicked,” quoting Jeremiah 17:9, but this simply isn’t true and Jesus Christ himself disagreed with it, as shown in Luke 6:45 above. Actually, the human heart is neutral and akin to soil in the Bible (Luke 8:15). Just as soil grows whatever a planter decides to sow in it, so the human heart will produce whatever a person chooses to plant in it, whether spiritual or fleshly. This explains Jesus’ declaration that a good man brings good things out of the good stored in his heart and the evil man brings bad things out of the evil in his heart. If this is so, how do we explain Jeremiah 17:9? Simple. This verse refers specifically to the stubborn hearts of the people of Judah of that time and place, not to every human heart throughout history. This is supported by Jeremiah 16:12, 17:1 and 18:12, which verify the context of 17:9 and, as they say, “context is king.” Besides, verse 10 says that the LORD examines the heart, which would make no sense if the heart is inherently wicked. After all, why search the heart if it’s always “desperately wicked”? No, God searches the heart of every human soul to see what’s planted there because whatever we allow in our hearts becomes who we are. Hence, although the heart certainly has the capacity to be desperately wicked, it could just as well be exceedingly good or somewhere in between. It’s contingent upon what each person allows sown in the heart.
I trust you’re getting this: YOU decide what’s planted in your heart and therefore what it regularly produces. Is your heart producing negative things like worry, fear, folly, sexual immorality and fits of rage? Rip it out! Start planting and watering seeds of peace, faith, wisdom, virtue and self-control. Be patient. Although weeds sprout up overnight, it takes time and effort to produce a good crop. But the fruit will come and you’ll be blessed. Just stay on track and, if you miss it, be honest about it and quick-to-repent.
Needless to say, if you love yourself – and I hope you do, since it’s impossible to love others if you don’t love yourself (Matthew 22:39) – be diligent to protect your heart! Put it at the top of your list of priorities.
It’s important to point out, however, that this “love protects” principle can be abused and actually prevent believers from advancing spiritually. For instance, just because a certain denomination, camp or church labels something a “false doctrine” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s really an unbiblical teaching. It may simply be a Biblical teaching of which the sect is presently ignorant. In that case it’s a truth they actually need. We should keep in mind that Christendom went through a millennial “dark age” and didn’t start coming out of it until the Protestant Reformation, which involved masses of Christians objecting to all the unscriptural baggage that had accumulated over the centuries. Many of the great truths of the early church were foolishly discarded and laid dormant during this dark age. But since the Reformation the Holy Spirit has been restoring these truths one after another over the past five centuries. With each wave of restoration the Holy Spirit would raise up a person or people to proclaim a long-dormant truth and usually a denomination would result. Some camps or churches have kept up with these restorations and some haven’t, which is understandable in light of the fact that every legitimate restorative wave is accompanied by flakes and counterfeits. Regardless, it’s a mistake to have an arrogant “know-it-all” attitude that resists restorative moves of the Holy Spirit. This is a stubborn spirit that refuses to consider the possibility that one’s present understanding may be incomplete or even erroneous. This is all done under the guise of conservativism, of course – protecting the heart, protecting the faith, protecting the core doctrines of one’s sect – but that doesn’t make it right.
A good example would be the truths of the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit, which were restored to the church in the early 20th century. While this movement has had its share of flakes, untold millions from numerous camps have accepted these truths in the many decades since and have been immeasurably blessed. Yet, to this day, a large portion of the body of Christ refuses to embrace them, to their own limitation. This doesn’t mean, of course, that they’re inauthentic Christians. The bible teaches: “The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn that man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” (Romans 14:3-4). Those who reject the baptism and gifts of the Spirit should be embraced as fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord (and vice versa) but, the fact remains, they are limiting themselves by not eating everything the Word offers.
The bottom line is this: Be diligent to “guard your heart as the wellspring of life” but don’t be so stubbornly protective you resist legitimate truths that will keep you from spiritual stagnancy and dryness. Protect yourself but be wise and balanced; don’t be a stuffy “know it all” religionist. Flee rigid and stifling sectarianism like the plague (Luke 9:49-50, 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 & 3:3-9).
“Shake the Dust off Your Feet”
This next example of judging is in reference to Jesus’ instructions to his twelve disciples when he sent them out to various towns to minister:
“Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. (12) As you enter the home, give it your greeting. (13) If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. (14) If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. (15) I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (16) I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
As you can see, this is the opposite situation to what John addressed in 2 John 10-11. John instructed believers to not welcome people into their homes who contradicted the essentials of Christianity, whereas in this passage Jesus instructed believers to disassociate from the people who refused to welcome them in their homes and towns. The same principle applies to both.
Before examining this text it’s important that we take into consideration the historical context of Jesus’ instructions, otherwise immature individuals may be tempted to go off half-cocked condemning anyone who merely disagrees with them. Jesus was sending his disciples out to the villages of “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), which consisted of people already technically in covenant with the LORD and therefore generally familiar with the Scriptures and the things of God. Jesus’ “tough love” instructions were appropriate here since, after “400 silent years”*, these Israelites should have been receptive to an incredible move of God, to say the least. While this approach may be called for in similar situations today it’s obviously not appropriate in others. For instance, if you’re ministering to a culture that generally rejects the ideas of God and absolute truth (e.g. modern Western Civilization), you’ll have to be more patient, compassionate and gentle. As always, you have to be led of the Spirit, which means you must be tight with God.
* This refers to the absence of Divine revelation between the Old and New Testament eras.
With this understanding, let’s consider what Jesus said in the passage. In verse 14 he instructs his disciples to “shake the dust off” their feet when they leave a home or town that doesn’t welcome them. What’s the significance of this? When Hebrews would return to Israel from foreign lands they would shake the dust off their sandals and clothing to keep from defiling the Holy Land. Hence, shaking the dust off their feet delivered this warning: “If you reject the message of Christ you will face the same judgment as unbelieving foreigners.”
Jesus gave similar instructions to 72 other disciples when he sent them out:
“But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, (11) ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ ”
Jesus encouraged his disciples in these cases to make a judgment concerning the fruit of the people to whom they were ministering. Fruit comes from the heart, whether good fruit or bad fruit. Jesus taught, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.” The fact that some Israelites were going to reject the truth of the gospel revealed the condition of their hearts – they were stubborn, arrogant, resistant, selfish, and lacked hunger for God and truth. In such cases Jesus didn’t instruct his disciples to be non-judgmental and lovey-dovey but rather to judge the bad fruit and issue a proclamation of condemnation in no uncertain terms.
The “Turn Away Principle”
We’ve seen example after example where the New Testament instructs believers to disassociate from those who are hostile, quarrelsome, lazy or carnal and refuse to accept or follow God’s Word. I call this the “turn away principle” based on a notable Old Testament passage. Chapter 17 of 1 Samuel details the famous account of David and Goliath. The 9.5’ Goliath was the Philistine champion who came down from his camp and challenged the Israelites every morning and evening for forty days. King Saul and his entire army reacted with great fear to the giant’s menacing threats, but when the shepherd boy David came to visit his brothers in Saul’s camp he expressed courageous interest in fighting Goliath for the considerable reward. Note the hostile reaction of David’s oldest brother:
When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is: you came down only to watch the battle.”
1 Samuel 17:28-29
Why was Eliab so angry with his youngest brother? Why did he insult David’s work (“those few sheep”)? Why did he call him conceited and wicked? Why did he make erroneous judgments concerning his intentions for visiting the army (which David actually did in obedience to his father, Jesse)? Eliab’s objections were all rooted in the flesh since David was clearly anointed of God to fight Goliath and deliver the Israelites from the Philistines. Eliab was jealous, pure and simple. Why was he jealous? Obviously because he was ashamed since, if anyone in his family was going to take on Goliath, it should’ve been him, the eldest brother with the most military experience. Simply put, David’s ultra-confidence in the LORD and his boldness at the prospect of fighting Goliath while the entire army shrunk back in terror seriously threatened Eliab’s sense of manhood and self-respect. In addition, Eliab was passed over a few years earlier when the prophet Samuel anointed David (1 Samuel 16:6-13). He was also likely jealous of the honor David received at such a young age in Saul’s court as a musician and armor-bearer (1 Samuel 16:21-23). Notice David’s response to Eliab:
“Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” (30) He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before.
1 Samuel 17:29-30
David’s response – “Now what have I done?” – reveals that he was used to Eliab’s hollow accusations and insults. As the firstborn and eldest brother, Eliab had sibling authority and he obviously abused that authority via his constant unprovoked attacks on David, the gifted and anointed sibling who most threatened him. But this time David wasn’t going to take it; his adrenalin was pumping with righteous anger after hearing Goliath’s defiant challenge (verse 26) and he wasn’t about to let his brother’s discouraging words hinder him from fulfilling his divine commission. So what did David do? He “turned away” from his brother and inquired of someone else about the king’s reward for slaying the giant. Saul caught word of David’s bold interest and gave him his blessing to face Goliath. The rest is history – David slew Goliath with his slingshot and the Israelites had a great victory. He received a high rank in Saul’s service, fought many successful campaigns and ultimately became king of Israel.
This is important: In one day David graduated from a lowly shepherd boy to a mighty warrior and Eliab tried to stop this incredible promotion because of his pathetic rivalry. Since David’s promotion was clearly God-ordained, Eliab’s attempt to abort it was not only carnal, it was Satanic. But David was very close to God and therefore knew his divine calling; he wasn’t about to let Eliab’s false accusations and insults discourage him from fulfilling the LORD’s will and receiving the subsequent reward and promotion.
Yet, notice what David did and didn’t do. He didn’t enter into some draining quarrel with his brother; he simply “turned away,” which means he disassociated from him.
At some point you too will have to “turn away” from some of your relatives, friends or colleagues if they’re treating you the way Eliab treated David. Don’t fight with them, as far as it is possible. Like David, refuse to enter into life-sapping conflicts of this sort because they’ll inevitably pull you into the realm of the flesh and break your focus. If you make a battle out of everything you won’t have enough energy left over for what’s important. Just turn away.
And always remember that spirit is thicker than blood. What’s this mean? On one occasion Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him while he was ministering from town to town but weren’t able to get inside the domicile where he was teaching due to the crowds. Someone announced that his mother and brothers were outside waiting and Jesus responded, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:19-21). Was Jesus disrespecting his blood relatives? No, he was simply making an important point: Your true relatives or friends are any who follow the ways of God and truth, which naturally includes those who recognize your worth and respect your divine assignment, not those who mock and discourage you because they’re arrogant, ignorant, insecure or jealous.
One last thing: Turning away from someone doesn’t have to be a lifelong affair; hopefully it’s temporary, depending on the person’s change of heart. David, for example, didn’t turn away from his oldest brother forever as Eliab later acknowledged David’s divine call and served as an officer under his kingship. This shows that, although Eliab really blew it on this occasion, he wasn’t a hopeless fool.
I’ve had to “turn away” from a few people over the years due to consistent bad fruit like arrogance, disrespect, strife and pure folly; one was even a best friend for about decade. They were stubborn and unrepentant, so I cut ties. But this doesn’t mean it has to last a lifetime. I’m more than willing to restore these relationships if any show genuine signs of repentance. They don’t even have to vocalize it to me; all they have to do is indicate that they’ve had a sincere change of heart. Heck, I’m open to being best buddies, as long as they repent. Isn’t this exactly how God deals with humanity? He’s willing to be close with any of us as long as we come to him with humble, respectful, pliable, repentant hearts, but if we’re stubborn and disrespectful, forget it. I’m happy to report, by the way, that one of these relationships was restored recently – God is good!
Summing Up Judging
Let me share an encounter that nicely sums up the issue of judging.
A few years ago I respectfully corrected a man on the internet who left his wife and children to pursue adulterous relationships. He responded by pointing out that Jesus said we are not to judge and that “he who is without sin cast the first stone.” This quote is derived from John 8:1-11 where a woman was caught in adultery and the legalists insisted that she be stoned to death according to Old Testament law (Leviticus 20:10 & Deuteronomy 22:22). Jesus’ merciful response – “he who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (NKJV) – reveals the vast difference between the old covenant and the new one, “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
I responded, “Yes, but how does the story end?” The Biblical account shows that the condemning legalists all walked away because none of them were without sin. So Jesus asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (emphasis added). My point was that, although Jesus mercifully pardoned the woman, he made a judgment concerning her immoral behavior and instructed her to stop doing it in no uncertain terms. Unsurprisingly, the man never wrote back, obviously because he was unable to refute the whole story. You see, he cut out a couple of snippets of Scripture, disregarded the surrounding passages, as well as the entire rest of the Bible, and used them to defend his foolish lifestyle choices. When faced with the truth – the full truth, not snippets taken out of context – he couldn’t handle it and therefore backed out of the discussion. It goes without saying that’s it’s important to be balanced and honest with the Scriptures and not cut out small bits, using them to support folly and sin.
Yes, Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” This is an important principle to live by since we’re called to practice the golden rule – doing on to others as we would have done to ourselves. But in the very same chapter Jesus also taught that we should judge fruit in others, especially those who proclaim to speak for God. In addition to this, we examined example after example where the Bible instructs us to judge bad fruit of a wide variety and respond in a “tough love” fashion – warn them and/or disassociate if they refuse to humbly repent.
On top of all this, the New Testament plainly declares that “the spiritual man makes judgments about all things” (1 Corinthians 2:15), but notice the qualification for judging – the person must be “spiritual,” not carnal. This is just common sense. After all, is it even possible for an individual bound up by the flesh to make wise and proper judgments? Of course not. But the spiritual man or woman can make sound judgments about all things, naturally because they’re living out of their spirit, which is indwelt and guided by the Holy Spirit. Needless to say, if we want to make judgments, and make them wisely, we have to first make sure that we’re spirit-ruled rather than flesh-ruled.
“Mercy Triumphs over Judgment”
In light of all this Biblical support, we can soundly conclude it’s a colossal lie that we should never judge anyone for anything ever.
Even though this is so, it’s important to keep balanced on the matter. Let’s not go to the other extreme by being judge-mongers frothing at the mouth with criticisms, evil suspicions and premature conclusions. I think it’s obvious that people who function like this have bigger problems than the ones they judge. Not to mention this type of judgment smacks of a superiority complex, i.e. arrogance, which is sin numero uno in God’s eyes (Proverbs 6:16-19). This explains Paul’s condemnation of believers judging fellow believers in “disputable matters,” whether for lesser or greater understanding (Romans 14). Paul asks a humbling question, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls” (verse 4) and ultimately concludes, “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (verse 22).
So always strive for mercy and patience above judgment and criticism because, if you wrongly judge someone, any criticism or gossip based on your false conclusion is tantamount to slander or false witness, which is a heinous sin in God’s eyes (James 4:11-12 & Proverbs 6:16-19).
Some people have a weakness toward gossipy slander. One guy I know has a penchant for declaring ugly premature judgments about fellow believers, and then it inevitably turns out to be wrong. What’s this make his words? Not just gossip, which is bad enough, but vile false accusation. I’ve been earnestly praying for him to repent because such slanderous backbiting – even if it’s given under the guise of innocent talk – will draw God’s judgment, no doubt about it.
Similarly, another individual I know, a part-time preacher no less, has the tendency to label as “gay” practically any man he perceives as a rival, particularly fellow ministers (!). He does this because he knows calling a guy “gay” is the ultimate put-down for a man. What juvenile carnality!
Even if the slandered man in question struggled with homosexuality at some time in the past – or even if he stumbled in the present – how is smearing him behind his back and poisoning people’s minds against him going to help? It’s a malicious attack, pure and simple, and the motive is obviously envy and rivalry. If the man’s a believer and sincerely keeping in repentance then he’s a new creation in Christ. Woe to those who would smear what God Himself has declared to be a new creation!
This reminds me of an occasion years ago when I was getting counseling from a pastor who had a Master’s degree (and he made sure you knew it). A famous family-oriented minister came up in our discussion, a man of proven integrity, and the pastor bluntly informed me that he was gay. I was shocked and asked why he would say such a thing. Incredibly, he had zero evidence; he just came up with this slanderous conclusion on his own. His reasoning was that the minister habitually denounced homosexuality and so he confidently deduced that he had to be a homosexual. Do you smell arrogance?
According to this absurd line of reasoning a minister is guilty of every sin he or she denounces! If I preach against adultery, then I’m an adulterer; if I teach against alcohol idolatry, I’m a drunkard. Why sure! Although it’s true that a minister may at times preach against something for which he or she has a weakness, it’s certainly not usually the case. After all, Jesus spoke against all manner of sins and yet was sinless. The Holy Spirit later revealed to me the real reason why this pastor slandered the popular minister – he was jealous of his success! I earnestly pray for such people to wise-up and repent. I truly fear for them if they refuse. Don’t they realize that they’ll have to stand before the Lawgiver and Judge one day to give an account? And, yes, those are New Testament terms for God (James 4:11-12 & 5:9).
The Diotrephes Spirit vs. the Davidic Spirit
Needless to say, there’s simply too much rivalry in the church today, even in leadership. Too many ministers view anyone who’s knowledgeable and gifted with an eye of evil suspicion. They don’t want anyone “stealing their thunder,” so they turn people against those they deem rivals, sometimes even resorting to slander, as unbelievable as that may seem. In fact, they’ll cite the gifts of the Spirit to back up their smear campaigns, e.g. “I discerned by the Spirit that he’s here to provoke disunity and to do the devil’s work.” Of course there are people who cause serious problems and they need to be rebuked and driven out if necessary, but such people are proud mockers and will show clear signs of the flesh. That’s not who I’m referring to here. I’m talking about solid, fruit-bearing Christians who are slandered and chased out of churches because pastors or elders feel threatened by them. Such rivalry is rooted in insecurity and selfish ambition (Philippians 1:15-17). They’re weak leaders, pure and simple.
There’s a good example of this in the Bible: The apostle John cited a leader of one of the churches he oversaw – Diotrephes (dye OT rah feez) – who refused to welcome John and other godly ministers in the church and even ran a smear campaign against them (!); those in the congregation who objected to Diotrephes’ fleshly tactics were swiftly excommunicated by the man (3 John 9-10)! This indicates that Diotrephes was likely the head pastor. After all, who else but the pastor would have the authority to prevent leaders of John’s stature from coming and ministering? Who else but the pastor has the power to excommunicate?
John readily understood Diotrephes’ root problem – he loved to be first (verse 9). In other words, Diotrephes was an arrogant control-freak who wasn’t interested in serving others, but rather desired others to serve him. Such an attitude is, of course, in direct opposition to Jesus & Paul’s teaching and example of servant-leadership (Matthew 23:1-11, 2 Corinthians 10:8, 13:10 & 1 Peter 5:2-3). John may have been renowned for his loving spirit, but he wasn’t about to overlook such heinous abuses in the name of peace and niceness; no, he was fully intent on exposing and correcting the man (verse 10). In fact, John’s third epistle was/is a public judgment and exposal of Diotrephes’ error to every person who has read it ever since! This includes you, right now.
Sad to say, there are ungodly “ministers” in the church today just like Diotrephes. Mature Christians need to boldly rise up and call attention to the abuses of these selfish control-freaks whenever such abuses occur, like John did, even at the threat of excommunication or losing one’s ministry gig. After all, evil thrives when good people do nothing! (Speaking of which, there’s nothing more pathetic than weak ‘yes men’ or ‘yes women’ who condone corruption in the name of meekness or due to idolization of a relationship or position).
Strong leaders, by contrast, are able to utilize strong people and properly integrate them in their work. Take the example of David, “a man after God’s own heart.” The Bible goes into quite a bit of detail about David’s “mighty men,” which were some 53 men who helped David become king of Israel (2 Samuel 23:8-39 & 1 Chronicles 11:10-47). They formed David’s inner circle of leadership. These powerful men were more skilled than David in their areas of expertise (!). Yet David knew his calling and strengths, and was therefore secure and unthreatened. He also knew his limitations. He realized he wasn’t going to make it alone because no one makes it alone – no one. All great men and women embrace the help and skills of others. Consequently, David enlisted a formidable group to assist him in fulfilling God’s assignment. In short, David didn’t automatically view gifted people with an eye of evil suspicion and chase them away. No, he wisely recognized their uniqueness & greatness and released them to operate in their strengths on his team. Thus David became the greatest king of Israel. Oh, that there were more leaders like David in the church today!
Needless to say, go where you’re celebrated and encouraged to walk in your strengths and not where you’re tolerated, ignored, suppressed or slandered.
Here’s how the Bible sums up the matter of judging:
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, (13) because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
It goes without saying that it’s better to err on the side of patient mercy than on the side of premature or harsh judgment.
For further insights see the 14-minute video Wrong Judging & Right Judging.
This article was edited from The Believer’s Guide to FORGIVENESS & WARFARE. You can pick up a copy here (both print and eBook versions are available).
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