Righteous Judgment (4)
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you…Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7.1, 2, 12
You and I are not the only people who are daily involved in the work of judging and judgment. Everyone else is as well.
And that inevitably means that some of the judgments others make will have to do with us. The people around us will make judgments about us – about our work, our appearance, the way we treat them, our opinions and views, and much else beside. We can’t stop people from judging us, any more than they can stop us from judging them. We’re trying to make sure that all our judging and judgments are righteous judgments, done with diligence, discretion, prayer, and more.
And isn’t this the way we want to be judged as well? We don’t want people misunderstanding or misrepresenting us to others, or making decisions about us based on false perceptions, wrong assumptions, or untrue notions. We want to be judged fairly; we want to be judged generously, given the benefit of the doubt, and treated with respect and love.
And so we must learn to judge generously as well. And this is yet another aspect of what it means to judge according to righteous judgment; this is the way Jesus would judge. We want others to look upon us with the mind of Christ – understanding, patient, gracious, edifying, and forgiving. And since this is how we want others to judge us, then we must judge them this way as well.
But can we be more specific? What is it like to judge others generously?
Paul has some advice for us here, in particular regarding when our judging and judgments involve another person. First, we need to make sure that our judgments are rendered with the intention of serving others, rather than vaunting ourselves: “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Rom. 12.3). We ought to think of ourselves as servants of Christ and others and stewards of the grace of God (1 Cor. 4.1). We will be more likely to realize the Lord’s shalom if our judgments are rendered out of a heart of grace and service.
The judgments we render – the opinions we express, the criticisms we offer, the course corrections we suggest – must never be intended as put-downs. Our objective, as we have seen, is to build others up in Christ by judging them with the mind of Christ. And this is how we want to be judged ourselves. Any comments or suggestions directed toward me, that I recognize as intended to help or edify me, I am much more likely to receive than if they are meant only to criticize or condemn.
Remember, as Paul reminds us, the Lord Himself stands as Judge over all our acts of judging and judgment (Rom. 12.4). He is looking to see whether our acts of judgment reflect what He Himself would do. To the extent they do, we can expect Him to be in them with us. But if our acts of judgment are merely self-serving, we can expect the Lord to oppose us, even to the point of bringing discipline against us for straying from His righteous path (Heb. 12.3-11).
Better than ourselves
Second, in judging others generously we must try to see them as better than ourselves, and thus as deserving respect, dignity, honor, and address appropriate to one who ranks above us: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Phil. 2.3). Imagine the two of you as members of a royal court or invited guests at the party of a distinguished person. Imagine yourself as lowlier – in rank or preference or social status – than your friend. It’s hard to do, I know, but this is exactly what Paul commends, because this is what Jesus did. Jesus “made Himself of no reputation” (v. 7) as He came to judge the sins of the world.
Like Jesus, esteeming others better than ourselves may involve suffering – denial, rejection, mocking, scorn, or worse. Part of what it means to regard others as better than ourselves is to be willing to have our observations, opinions, or suggestions rejected outright, even with anger and scorn. It is not our place in judging others to make them agree with us, only to hear us; and for others to hear us when we have something difficult to say, they’re going to have to believe that we have their best interests in mind and we esteem them highly, even better than ourselves.
Jesus, Who practiced such judgment with expert skill and powerful effects, can give us the grace we require in our times of need, so that we can judge others generously, as we ourselves would like to be judged (Heb. 4.16).
Judge actions, not motives
Finally, we judge others generously when we focus on actions, not motives. We cannot know what others may have been thinking, or what their intentions were in something they might have done or said: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” (1 Cor. 2.11) We can only observe and render judgments on people’s actions, for this is all we can see.
We would not want someone to presume to know our thoughts, desires, or motivations in any situation. We would want them to think highly of us, give us the benefit of the doubt as to what we were trying to accomplish, and even consider that all our motives are devoted to Christ, His Kingdom, and His righteousness. And if we sense this is the case, we will be more open to hearing them regarding some particular word or deed concerning which they have made a judgment. As this is how we would like to be treated, we are judging others generously when we do the same, focusing on observable behaviors rather than presumed motives and intents.
Making judgments can be difficult at times, especially when those judgments involve others. But if we can concentrate on judging generously, we will fulfill the righteous requirements of judgment and be more likely to receive a fruitful hearing, than if we fail in humility or service, or if we presume on others in areas beyond our ken.
1. How might you be able to tell when someone was judging you generously in a manner? What would you hear in that person’s voice? See in that person’s countenance?
2. We will be more effective in edifying others when we approach them as servants. Explain.
3. How can we keep our egos out of the way in our acts of judging and judgment?
Next steps – Preparation: As we have seen in this series, prayer is the place where we must prepare ourselves for the acts of judging and judgment that we will perform during the day. How can you use your prayers to prepare to judge generously?
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.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.