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Judge Righteous Judgment?

Carl said, “Hey I don’t think you should judge me. You know Jesus said, ‘Judge not that ye be not judged.'” Jasmine replied, “Well, Jesus also told us to ‘judge righteous judgment.'”

If you’re like me, then you have probably heard a variation of this argument at some point in your life. One person will feel like their faith is under attack, so they quote Matthew 7:1 at their assailant. The other person, Jasmine in this case, responds with John 7:24 which they use to say that their judgment is righteous and, therefore, valid.

I’ve heard John 7:24 used in this way dozens of times throughout my life, and it is basically used as a trump card to say, “Ha! Actually, I can judge you because I judge righteously! You see, unlike you, I interpret the Bible correctly, so I have every right to judge people.”

People basically treat this passage like it is a Wild Draw 4 card in Uno.

But there’s a lot of problems with using this passage in this way. First, I’ll share a more general point, and then we’ll get into something more specific.

Stop Using the Bible Like This

If you’ve seen the above debate, then I’m sure you’ve seen the classic “faith versus works” debate. One person will quote Romans 4 to show that one is justified by faith, and their brother or sister in Christ will fire back with James 2. Instead of actually dealing with the person’s arguments, they just fire passage after passage at each other without ever slowing down to talk about the specific context of that passage.

When we use the Bible in this way we are treating it more like pieces in a strategy game than a book inspired by God. For a lot of Christians, the Bible isn’t a sword that pierces ones own heart or defends against forces of evil; instead, it’s used more like ammunition to fire at any person they disagree with.

And so Scripture grenades are thrown and passage rounds are fired off at unsuspecting believers, and churches divide and dwindle down to nothing.

If someone quotes Matthew 7 at me, I shouldn’t just fire back with John 7. After all, they could simply respond with Romans 2, and on and on we could go. Whoever has the last Scripture wins.

This is hardly beneficial, and it definitely doesn’t work towards unity. Using the Bible in this way needlessly alienates other believers and does far more harm than good.

John 7:24 Turns Judging on Its Head

To better understand our passage, we have to know what’s going on in the book of John. Earlier, in John 5, the author tells us about how Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. To the crowds and religious leaders, Jesus was very clearly breaking God’s fourth command: remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

At first, they were upset because the man, who they knew to be paralyzed, was carrying his mat on the Sabbath, but when they realized what Jesus had done, they began persecuting him. To make matters worse, Jesus called God his “Father,” so that made them even more angry.

So, in John 7, we are told that Jesus didn’t want to go to the feast of booths just yet because the people still wanted him dead. After a while, though, he decides to go, and he immediately finds himself in a debate. Here’s the conversation:

[Jesus said,] “Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?”

The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?”

Jesus answered them, “I performed one work, and all of you are astonished. Moses gave you circumcision (it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs), and you circumcise a man on the sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the sabbath? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

John 7:19–24

So let’s break it down.

  1. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath.
  2. The people were made because he broke the Sabbath and encouraged the man to do the same.
  3. Jesus pointed out how sometimes one ends up technically breaking a law in order to keep another law.
  4. He then says that they are judging based upon appearances.
  5. It is within this context that he tells them to “judge with right judgment.”

Does this seem like a passage that gives us license to judge other believers who simply disagree with us on how we worship, interpret Scripture, or keep other traditions?

Actually, as you can see, it’s the opposite! What Jesus is saying is that what looks like breaking very clear laws of God on one hand may actually be someone fulfilling the law of God in a deeper way by loving their neighbor as themselves.

Jesus said, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

Paul similarly wrote, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8–10).

In other words, when someone does something that appears to you as breaking God’s law, it could be that there is something more subtle going on. Perhaps they have just healed someone on the Sabbath, so to speak. What Jesus is saying is that instead of jumping to conclusions, we should be patient with each other and consider each others motives. Don’t judge based off of appearance!

Another Example of Sabbath Breaking

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.

When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.”

He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests.

Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless?

I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

Matthew 12:1–8

In this scenario, Jesus broke the Sabbath again, at least on the surface, but when we dig deeper we see that Jesus is working at a deeper level: compassion or mercy instead of sacrifice.

When we focus all on sacrifice, that is, the surface level ritual, we will find all kinds of ways to condemn someone, but when we operate on the principle of mercy and compassion, then our judgment turns into understanding.

Judging right judgment means giving our brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt by assuming good motives and being patient with each other, even if it seems like they’re breaking very clear laws.

On a final note, Paul wrote, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things” (Galatians 5:22–23). I take this to mean that if someone exhibits this fruit of love which has the qualities of joy, peace, patience, etc., then there is no law which can condemn such a person. If they have the Spirit of God, as evidenced by this fruit, then they are a child of God regardless of what you or I may think.

Judge right judgment.

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