Righteous Judgment (1)
Jesus answered and said to them, “I did one work, and you all marvel. Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” John 7.21-24
Jesus was continually misjudged by the people of His day, especially those who should have known better.
In our text, Jesus upbraided the people who challenged Him because they were not diligent in considering Him. They marveled at the work He did healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda (Jn. 5). But they choked on the fact that He did that work on the Sabbath. No one was supposed to work on the Sabbath, or to cause anyone else to work on the Sabbath. In the mind of the religious leaders of His day, Jesus had broken the Sabbath by doing a work, and He had broken it by causing another man to do a work as well, by telling him to take up his bed and carry it.
Jesus rebuked His opponents for a failure of judgment. First, they failed to consider the full teaching of God’s Law. He explained to them that works of mercy are always appropriate on the Sabbath, just as Moses taught. Second, the religious leaders failed to care about the man who was healed. Rather than rejoice with him, they charged him with Sabbath-breaking, leaving him, in one sense, worse off than before he was healed.
Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ failure of diligence in judging was to instruct them not to judge superficially or in accord with their own convenience or interests (“according to appearance”), but to “judge with righteous judgment.” We will unpack His instruction in more detail in Part 3 of our series, To Judge the World.
Judge with care
Every day we make judgments of various kinds. We plan, make choices, offer opinions, endorse or question the behavior of others, express our views on issues of the day, and follow certain protocols, procedures, and practices. All these entail acts of judging and judgment. Most of these are small; we would not consider them to be earth-shattering or life-changing. Just routine, small stuff.
But we would be wrong. For each small act of judgment contributes to a foundation and scaffolding for life that is either stable and unshaking, or tentative and infirm.
We need to make sure we are judging with righteous judgment, and judging righteously means, first of all, judging diligently. The Pharisees Jesus rebuked did not judge diligently, but merely casually, without any real care or conscientiousness, but merely in defense of their own views and practices.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines one who is diligent as “having or showing care and conscientiousness in one’s work or duties.” We are judging with righteous judgment when we judge with care,and when our acts of judging are done conscientiously.
Judging with care entails three things. First, we take care to make sure we are well prepared to judge with righteous judgment. We read the Scriptures to discern the mind of Christ, and work hard to bring all our thoughts into submission to His. We take care to anticipate opportunities for judging and judgment that may lie ahead of us, and we prepare ourselves to judge as Jesus would.
Second, we take care to make sure that our acts of judgment are edifying for ourselves and others. We want God’s shalom to issue from our choices, decisions, and opinions, so we have to think carefully about the impact of our judgments and the likely outcomes for ourselves and those around us. That is, we care whether our judging and judgments are helpful, edifying, and beneficial, as Jesus cared about that man at the Bethesda pool.
Finally, we take care to ensure that our acts of judgment are honoring to God. Do they express His holy and righteous and good Law? Do they implement His just and holy ways? Do they embody His truth? Do they point others to Him?
Obviously, taking care to judge righteously requires that we think carefully, pray faithfully, and judge conscientiously in all our acts of judgment.
Diligence in judging and judgment also requires that we judge conscientiously. This also entails three things: attention, initiation, and thoroughness. Here we can be brief.
If we’re going to be diligent in judging righteously, then we need to “walk circumspectly,” as Paul put it (Eph. 5.15), paying attention to what’s going on around us and what we’re about to say or do at any moment. God gives us the time of our lives as an arena within which to know, enjoy, and serve Him, so that His shalom might flourish and His glory be known. We can exercise this kind of judging and judgment in every area of our lives, but we must be mindful of our time and pay close attention to everything we are doing with the time God allots us.
Second, when opportunities for exercising righteous judgment arise, we must not wait around to be asked. We must take the initiative, expressing our views or making decisions with care to ensure that love for God and neighbors are the objective. Jesus took the initiative to embody and proclaim God’s Kingdom; He didn’t wait around for people to ask His views or seek His help. He was always on the go, always prepared, always paying attention to His surroundings, and always initiating grace and truth toward the people around Him.
Finally, being conscientious in judgment means we must judge thoroughly. We need to see our acts of judgment through to the end, doing whatever we must to ensure that the full weight of divine truth flows into every situation, bathing and shaping and finishing our acts of judging and judgment with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
We must judge, and we must make sure to judge righteously. This means, in the first instance, being diligent in all our acts of judging and judgment to judge carefully and conscientiously, that the judgment of Jesus and the shalomof God may be achieved.
1. What does it mean to be diligent in judging with righteous judgment?
2. Do you agree that all our daily, small acts of judging and judgment matter? Explain.
3. Review this article. How can you improve in judging diligently– conscientiously and with care – in all your judging and judgments?
Next steps – Transformation: Identify one way to show more care in judging, and one way to improve conscientiousness in your acts of judgment. Pray about these, then make sure to practice them diligently throughout the day.
T. M. Moore
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This week’s study is part 3 of a 4-part series, To Judge the World. Each part consists of seven lessons and is available as a free PDF download at the end of the study. In the tag for part 7, we’ll give you a link to download part 3, Righteous Judgment.
An excellent companion to this series is our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics. Here you’ll discover the basis on which Christians learn to judge with righteous judgment. You can order a copy by clicking here.And when you order, we’ll send you a free copy of Bricks and Rungs: Poems on Calling.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.