Shelby G. Floyd
Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
In John, chapter five, we have the record of Christ going up to Jerusalem, and healing a man at the pool of Bethesda who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. Jesus was condemned by the scribes and Pharisees because he made the man whole on the Sabbath day. Eighteen months later, when Jesus returned back to Jerusalem, these same people sought to kill him on the pretext that he had violated the Law of Moses by heal¬ing a man on the Sabbath day. When Jesus appeared in the temple during the feast of the tabernacles, he said to his critics,
“Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”… “Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7: 19, 22-24 NIV).
There is a common human tendency to condemn in other people that which we allow in ourselves and our friends. The Jews had condemned Christ in that which they allowed themselves to do. This was plainly inconsistent and unrighteous. The apostle Paul once said, “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves” (Romans 14: 22 NIV).
In condemning Christ for healing a man on the Sabbath day the Jews had condemned themselves. Moses had given them the law, and yet none of them kept the law. Why then should they go about to kill Christ for allegedly not keeping the law? A good rule works both ways. If Christ should be put to death for allegedly breaking the law, then also they should be put to death, for they had not kept the law. But the old adage which says, “They measure our corn by their bushel,” certainly applied to them. As an example therefore of their unrighteous judgment and inconsistency, Jesus applied to his critics an Argumentum ad Hominem—an argument to the man, his interest and prejudices.
Moses had given unto them the law of circumcision which stated that a male child should be circumcised on the eighth day. Sometimes the eighth day would fall on the Sabbath day, and they would circumcise a man on the Sabbath day. They did not condemn themselves as a violator of the law for circumcising a man on the Sabbath day. Therefore, if they could circumcise a man on the Sabbath day and not be guilty of breaking the law, why could not Christ then heal a man on the Sabbath day, who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years, and not be guilty of breaking the law of the Sabbath? But on the other hand if Christ was to be condemned as a law violator for healing a man on the Sabbath day, then they must condemn themselves as being law violators for circumcising a man on the Sabbath day. If not, why not?
If Christ were a law violator, they were much more so, for it was more of a secular work to circumcise a man than it was for Christ to heal a man on the Sabbath day by simply speaking the word. They had allowed a privilege for themselves which they would not allow for Christ, and therefore, they were unrighteous in their judgment which they had pronounced upon Christ for the good work which he had performed. From this Jesus draws the following conclusion, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7: 24 KJV.) Their judgment of Christ had been based on the outward appearance. Their judgment of Christ was not righteous.
Definition of the Term “Judge”
In John 7: 24, the term “judge” translates the Greek word krino, which Thayer says in this context means, “to pronounce judgment; to subject to censure; of those who act the part of judges or arbiters in the matters of common life, or pass judgment on the deeds and words of others” (Thayer, page 361). This term therefore means to select, separate, to choose or decide. The act of judging then always involves the process of making a decision or a judgment. This judgment may either be based upon fact or opinion. When upon fact it is a righteous judgment; when upon opinions it becomes an unrighteous judgment.
Acts of Judging
1. Let us notice some incidents in which judgments or decisions were made. In Luke 7, we have the parable of the creditor who forgave his two debtors. Christ asked Simon,
“And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged” (Luke 7: 42-43 NKJV).
You will observe that Simon had to make a decision or judgment based upon the story that Christ had just related. Since his decision was based upon the facts, and upon common logic, it was a true judgment.
2. In Acts 16, we read of Paul and Silas going to Philippi and teaching Lydia the word of the Lord. Concerning her conversion, Luke says, “And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us” (Acts 16: 15 KJV). Paul and Silas had to make a judgment of whether Lydia was faithful to the Lord. From all that she had said and done, she left the impression that she was sincere and honest in her obedience to the truth, and therefore they made the judgment or decision that she was a faithful child of God and they were constrained to enter her house and accept her hospitality.
From these examples one may draw the conclusion that to judge a man is to make a decision concerning the truth of any matter based upon the facts and not fiction.
3. In the gospel according to John, we have the record of Christ being judged guilty of death by the religious leaders at Jerusalem. They made this judgment because Christ had healed a man on the Sabbath day. Having completely answered them in debate, Jesus said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7: 24 KJV). The meaning of the phrase, “Judge not according to the appearance,” according to Robertson means not to judge superficially (cf. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 5, page 125). Vincent says to judge according to appearance means to judge primarily on seeing or sight, and therefore, external appearance (cf. Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. 2, page 160).
But this is precisely what the people had done in condemning Christ for healing the man on the Sabbath day. They had judged him merely with prima facie evidence which is evidence based on the first glance. They had not judged Christ based upon a thorough, fair and. impartial hearing and trial. Therefore, their judgment of Christ was not a righteous judgment which the law demanded on the part of all the judges of Israel.
Later, in John, chapter seven, when the chief priests and Pharisees were chiding the temple officers because they had returned empty handed without Christ, Nicodemus, one of the rulers of the Jews, stood up for Christ and asked this pertinent question, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing” (John 7:51)? They did not answer the question of Nicodemus, but rather sarcastically replied, “Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee” (John 7: 52). The reason they did not reply to Nicodemus directly is because they were guilty of judging Christ without hearing him and knowing what he had done. Therefore, they were the real law breakers, and not Christ, for Moses had condemned such actions in the law.
The Principles of Justice in the Law
Let us notice some of the principles established by Moses in the law concerning righteous judgments in civil and religious matters.
1. Exodus 23: 1-3, “You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice. You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute.”
2. Leviticus 19: 15, “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.”
3. Deuteronomy 1: 16-17, “Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.”
4. Deuteronomy 17: 8-13, “If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the LORD your God chooses. And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the LORD chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you. According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you. Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously.”
5. Deuteronomy 19: 15-21, “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you. And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
The Unjust Judgment of Christ
These verses we have noticed teach that every man charged with breaking the law deserves a fair and impartial trial. Christ had not received a fair and impartial trial by the religious leaders at Jerusalem. Therefore, they had broken the law in passing judgment upon Christ without hearing Christ and knowing what he had done.
Let us remember again that Christ said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7: 24). In this passage we are commanded both to judge and not to judge. We are not to judge superficially and unjustly, but we are commanded to judge with righteous and fair judgment.
In John, chapter eight, we have an example of unrighteous judgment concerning another individual. After Jesus had spent the night in the Mount of Olives, he returned very early the next morning to the temple and he sat down and taught the people. His lesson was interrupted when the scribes and the Pharisees brought unto him a woman that had been taken in the very act of adultery. They stated to Christ that Moses had taught in the law that such should be stoned, and they desired that he give his judgment concerning her case.
The Bible tells us that they had framed this problem to Christ in order that they might tempt him and find something to accuse him, thus showing that their real motive was not to carry out justice concerning the breaking of the Law of Moses. After all, the law had stated that both the adulterer and adulteress should be judged and punished. Why had they brought only the woman and not the man? And why did they bring her to Christ instead of taking her to the judicial authorities who had been appointed to hear such cases. They were more interested in destroying Christ and this woman than they were in any sense of honor for the Law of Moses.
Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground as if he had not heard them. When they continued to press him for an answer, he finally stood up and said to the accusers, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” When the accusers heard that statement, their conscience convicted them and each one of them left the presence of Christ and the woman that they had condemned. This strongly implies that they were seeking to put to death a woman who was guilty of the same sin that each one of them had committed, or one just as serious. This is an excellent example of making unrighteous judgments. Our judgments are unrighteous when we seek to condemn in others that which we are guilty of ourselves. The apostle Paul stated it best to the Roman Christians: “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves” (Romans 14:22 NKJV).
In the days of Christ and the apostles, the Jews had been guilty of doing this for a long time. They condemned the Gentiles for being guilty of sins which they practiced openly themselves. Paul said, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1 NIV.) To the Jews Paul also said, “You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2: 21-24 NIV).
The scribes and Pharisees who had brought the woman taken in adultery for Christ to judge had actually judged themselves because they had been guilty of the same types of sin for which they sought to put her to death. We are never in a position to judge others when we are guilty of the same sin we seek to condemn in them.
A man is not in a position to judge others when he seeks to cast the moat out of their eye when he has a beam in his own. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7: 1-5 ESV).
Some Principles to Consider in Judging Others
Let us notice some of the principles taught by Christ and his apostles that should be taken into consideration in our judgment of the mistakes, sins and faults of other people. First, in Mark 4: 24, Jesus said, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.”
Secondly, in Luke 6: 36-38, we read, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Let us make sure in our judgments of others who are at fault that we consider ourselves also, and may we also remember that God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved (John 3: 17). Our purpose in judging others should be to save them and not to destroy them. When James and John once wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans, Jesus said, “For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9: 56). Let us be merciful and righteous in our judgments of others.
Some Teach We Should Make No Judgments
Some in the religious world today are teaching that we should make no judgments concerning other people whatsoever. But this is manifestly false for we are commanded to try the spirits to see whether they are of God:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4: 1-6 NKJV).
We are even commanded to make judgments concerning differences between brethren (1 Corinthians 6: 5). Also, the apostle Paul commanded the Corinthian church to pass judgment upon those involved in immorality (1 Corinthians 5: 1-5). And the apostle exhorts the Thessalonians to prove all things and to hold fast to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5: 21).
But when we judge let us judge with righteous judgment. The following words illustrate what we mean:
Pray don’t find fault with the man who limps
Or stumbles along the road,
Unless you have worn the shoes he wears
Or struggled beneath his load.
There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt,
Though hidden away from view,
Or the burden he bears, placed on your back,
Might cause you to stumble, too.
Don’t sneer at the man who is down today,
Unless you have felt the blow
That caused his fall, or felt the shame
That only the fallen know.
You may be strong, but still the blows
That were his, if dealt to you
In the self same way at the self same time,
Might cause you to stagger, too.
Don’t be too harsh with the man who sins,
Or pelt him with words or stones,
Unless you are sure, yea, doubly sure,
That you have not sins of your own.
For you know, perhaps, if the tempter’s voice
Should whisper as soft to you
As it did to him when he went astray
‘Twould cause you to falter, too.
As Abraham Lincoln remarked one time, “No one knows how the shoe pinches the foot as the man who wears the shoes.” Or as the American Indian proverb says, “Do not criticize until you walk a mile in my moccasins.”
Copyright © 2015 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142