It is common in Christian circles to hear believers state that “we should not judge other people,” and while we are never to condemn (Greek: kataÌkrima, to render “condemnation” ~ Romans 5:16, 18; 8:1) another person, as this is God’s role and not ours; this statement is not completely true, in fact sometimes it is completely false because we are commanded to judge others1.
We are to “keep” God’s Word (Deuteronomy 11:8, 18-22; Psalm 19:13), which mandates that we watch (Greek: gregoreuo: “which means to give strict attention to”; “to exercise judgment and discretion in the most serious sense of readiness and awareness”) how others interpret it (Acts 17:11), and teach it (Acts 20:28-32; Romans 16:17-18), which will lead to identifying those false prophets and teachers that distort the Word of God (2 Corinthians 11:12-15; Galatians 1:6-10; Ephesians 5:6-11; Colossians 2:4,8; 18-19), for without watching and staying aware (1 Thessalonians 5:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4), the ability to be productive workman for the kingdom is made null and void (2 Timothy 2:15).
We are also to judge other believer’s behaviors within the church which are sinful (1 Corinthians 5:1-12; 6:2-6).
We are to judge the actions of our leaders as well (Matthew 7:15-23), determining by their behavior, referred to as their “fruit”, if it lines up with sound Biblical doctrine, displaying what good spiritual leadership should entail, or if their behaviors can identify them as false leaders or prophets (2 Peter 2:1-3).
Fallen Human Nature & Judging
At the worldly, secular level it is common to observe a lack of desire to judge or be judged, which becomes understandable in light of the natural (fallen nature) human rejection of authority in general (Proverbs 12:15; 16:2; 21:2), and the authority of God in particular (Psalms 107:8-11; 10:4). Added to this is the observation that the display of judgment lends itself to the manifestation of condescension, aggression, a lack of sensitivity or being unsympathetic, and of being inconsiderate, callous, unkind, or harsh.
What is unfortunate is that those in the church are following this example, many times in the name of tolerance, diversity, acceptance, and what it refers to as love.
However, without the ability to discern, there is no ability to rightly choose, and without the ability to choose correctly [only made possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit] we are cursed to follow the sin nature, which is opposed to the Word of God.
The Source of Godly Discernment
Perhaps the most elegant passage that addresses the application of judgment, also referred to as discernment is found in Hebrews 5:11-14, which states:
What a pathetic picture the author draws, that of believers who should be spiritual adults, yet spiritually immature believers unable to dig deeper into God’s Word; not because they have not heard the teachings, not because there’s not been a teacher to explain it, not because there is a lack of ability to perceive what is stated cognitively; but because of their lack of exercising proper judgment concerning what is good and evil. In the same way that faith is like a muscle and must be stretched and used in order to grow, the same principle is true concerning Spirituality, wherein the muscle that must be stretched is that of judgment and discernment. There must be an application of God’s Word concerning what is right or wrong in order to create the condition for yet further growth.
There is a connection between spiritual perception, the understanding of God’s Word,
spiritual growth, the ability to discern good and evil
The repetitive and habitual use of Biblical judgment.
As was stated in the introduction, many times we hear well-meaning Christians state we are not to judge one another, citing Matthew 7:1, or Luke 6:37, or Romans 2:1.
What this means is that there are many believers who cannot perceive deeper spiritual truths in God’s Word, which are necessary for spiritual growth, because of their refusal to exercise discernment according to God’s Word; and are therefore lacking spiritual perception concerning what is good and what is evil.
However, concerning these three passages (which appear to be abused more than most), we need to exercise grammatical and contextual integrity in examining them. Matthew 7:1-5, states:
What this means is that the intention of the word was condemnation, not simple discernment or judgment, but putting oneself in a place of superiority in condemning another person, and doing so in hypocrisy. This is seen in contrast to the correct application of judgment where discernment and judgment are rendered rather than condemnation, and where the person doing the judgment does so not in hypocrisy, but yet in humility in accordance with God’s Word. The point is, this is not about a subjective opinion, this is about application of God’s determination of right and wrong. It is applying God’s Word to a situation where judgment is necessary in order to bring correction, as opposed to condemnation and self-righteousness which is never correct.
“The habit of censoriousness, sharp, unjust criticism. Our word ‘critic’ is from this very word. It means to separate, distinguish, discriminate, that is necessary. But prejudice (which is prejudgment) is unfair, and captious criticism.”5
It is by noticing that verse 5 goes on to instruct the hypocrite that once he has corrected his own error, to go on and address the error of his brother, in support of helping a brother by the exercise of judgment that needs to be focused in on concerning the subject of judgment.
One other aspect concerning hypocrisy is seen in the Greek word for “hypocrite” which is based upon one of its derivatives combined with the Greek word for “to cover,” meaning: “a person that judges from behind a mask.“ This word was used of actors. The Greek plays, which were symbolized by two masks, one laughing and the other crying (this icon has been used ever since movies originated), goes back to this idea. Hypocrites are not those that say one thing, and do another, they are individuals that hide behind a mask and judge and mock those in front of them. This is what the actors had the ability to do because of the cover of the mask while they were wearing (these masks were not worn on the face, but held in front of the face with stick which was held by the actor, in order to disguise who they were, but also what they were really feeling. This was a valuable tool concerning sarcasm, condescension, and mockery. Sometimes the actor presented according to their words sympathy while behind the mask truly feeling sarcasm or contempt) them on stage.
This passage appears to be a reintegration of the sermon of the Mount as was in the above Matthew passage.
Concerning the context of the Romans 2:1 passage, it would be best to consider as much of it as possible to gain the full context, at least through verse 11, which states:
What we must understand is that there are many different aspects (over 12 words in the Hebrew and Greek, with more diverse renderings according to the grammar) to the root word for “judgment” (such as: judge, judging, judged, judgment, discern, separate, select, choose, to determine, to examine, investigate, question, to separate throughout, discriminate, to decide, to judge, to pronounce judgment, to condemn4).
2) Making the Judgment of Condemnation ~ Man’s wrong assumption ~ Rom. 2:1.
3) Exercising the Role of a Judge ~ Rulers ~ Matt. 5:25; 7:1; John 3:17 (Noun).
4) The Process of being under Judgment ~ A trial ~ John 3:18; 16:11; 18:31; Jas. 2:12.
5) Judgment Rendered ~ A sentence or verdict ~ Acts 15:19; 16:4; 21:25.
6) Legislative Judgment ~ Plaintiff ~ Matt. 5:40; 1 Cor. 6:1; Defendant ~ Acts 23:6.
7) Governmental Judgment ~ To administer affairs, to govern ~ Matt. 19:28; cf. Judg. 3:10.
8) Figurative Judgment ~ To make a resolve ~ Acts 3:13; 20:16; 1 Cor. 2:2.
9) Discerning Judgment ~ To form an opinion ~ Luke 7:43; John 7:24; Acts 4:19; Rom. 14:5; I Cor. 6:5, 11:31; Heb. 11:11.
10) Believers to Exercise ~ Judgment according the truthfulness of what is said (fulfilled prophecy, which is speaking for another, speaking for God, rather future tense or not) ~ Deut. 13:1-5; 2 John 7.
11) Believers to Exercise ~ Judgment according to the Biblical doctrine of the divinity of Christ ~ 1 John 4:1-3; and Jude 1:3.
12) Believers are commanded by Christ judge the fruit (behavior) of spiritual leaders in determining that they are not false prophets ~ Matthew 7:15.
13) Believers to Exercise ~ Judgment according to doctrine / God’s Word ~ Acts 20:28-32; Rom. 16:17-18; Gal. 1:9; Eph. 5:6-11; Colo. 2:8; 1 Thess. 5:6, 21; 2 Thess. 2:1-4; 2 Pet. 1:20 to 2:3.
14) Believers to Exercise ~ Judgment according to the prompting of the Holy Spirit within ~ Eph. 5:10; 1 John 4:1-3 ~ 1 Tim. 4:1.
15) Believers to Exercise ~ Judgment concerning the behavior of believers in the church ~ 1 Cor. 5:12-13, 6:2-5.
16) Believers to Exercise ~ Self-Examination/ Judgment ~ Mark 4:22-25; 1 Cor. 11:31.
17) Spiritual Leaders to Exercise ~ Guarding Their Doctrine ~ 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 4:3; Tit. 1:9 to 2:1.
18) Spiritual Leaders to Exercise ~ Guarding Their Congregation ~ 1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 2:23-25.
It is in understanding the diversity of a word that we gain clarity concerning what the Scriptures expect of us in exercising discretion, as compared to the act of condemnation. A good example can be found in I Corinthians 11:31, which states:
“For if we would judge [Greek: diakrino] ourselves, we should not be judged [Greek: krino].”
The literal Greek rendering is: “if we discern for ourselves, then we will not be eternally condemned” (according to the full context of the chapter which centers around the Lord’s Supper; what is implied is that if a person discerns according to Gospel, faith unto salvation, they will not be eternally judged, the discernment here is unto life. Those in verse 29 are unbelievers, which is displayed because they could not see the value of Christ’s death, and indulged in the Lord’s Support focusing on themselves, not on Jesus’ as the only acceptable sacrifice for their sins. In verse 32 it states literally in the Greek: “when we perceive we are condemned as sinners, this perception by faith leads to God’s training/teaching [by and through His Word] wherein we are saved apart from the world that is condemned to pay the price for that condemnation”). The first word for judge, diakrino, means to separate thoroughly, to withdraw from, to discriminate, or decide; depending on the grammatical breakdown. The second word for judge, krino according to its grammar means to condemn.
Therefore, we understand that this is stating that, “if we would discern ourselves; with the implied intent of change, we would not be subject to ultimate condemnation.” This is what is to take place within the life of the believer according to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Lack of Discernment
In these last days, one of the most predominant features within the church is this lack of discernment which allows carnality to run rampant, even disguising itself as spirituality.
Some have said the greatest trick the devil ever performed was to convince the world that he was nonexistent. Yet, I believe the greatest trick Satan has performed within the church of Jesus Christ is to convince us that the application of discernment and judgment has no place within Christendom, and that therefore tolerance and acceptance are true signs of Christian love.
It is when we lower the standards of God’s Word, either due to a lack of application, judgment; that we open ourselves to all kinds of worldly pursuits.
Corinth, a Church for 21st-century America
The church of Corinth displayed such poor judgment that it had allowed incest to be accepted openly, as well as believers defrauding other believers financially, their preoccupation with mysticism, along with signs and wonders in place of gifts of the Spirit, where the supper of the Lord was abused in drunkenness and gluttony, while others went hungry. Where selfishness became the norm to the extent that Paul worked a full-time job to support himself as well as the Ministry (which he later regretted because it added to their spiritual immaturity) no doubt exhibiting their lack of financial support in spite of the fact that they were very affluent. Yet, in a close examination it becomes apparent that all of this existed because of their lack of and refusal to exercise proper judgment according to the mind of Christ. They were a very worldly church that refused to judge and intervene according to the church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17). Unfortunately for us, of all the New Testament churches we most resemble them today.
We in America are affluent and prosperous, we suffer no persecution; and yet we are also arrogant, self-centered, and morally bankrupt as a society. The buzzwords of the day which display that which is politically correct (concerning a lack of judgment) are: tolerance, broadmindedness, open-mindedness, forbearance, patience, acceptance, conformity, understanding, and respect. As well as (concerning the selfish, me-first, “refusal to die to self,” egocentric mindset which is becoming predominant within the church) such politically correct buzzwords as: success oriented, victorious, expedience, pragmatic, and purpose driven; all words which display our narcissism, and underpin a mindset that is contingent upon a lack of judgment in what is good and what is evil concerning God’s perspective as reflected in His Word. It is the idolatry found within Christianity today which explains why America is becoming more and more ungodly in spite of its Biblical roots. Christian idolatry can be seen when believers:
Without judgment we have no ability to perceive danger when it is present. This is why Jesus spoke so often about deception. The only protection against deception is God’s Word and its application as seen in proper Biblical judgment.
Paul and others also warned us concerning deception as recorded in: John 7:24; Acts 20:28; Romans 16:18; I Corinthians 3:18; 5:1-13; 6:9; 15:33; Galatians 1:6-9; 6:3,7; Ephesians 4:14; 5:6; 5:11; II Thessalonians 2:3,10; 3:6; 3:14-15; Titus 1:10-16; II Timothy 2:15; 3:5-7; Hebrews 5:14, James 1:22,26; II Peter 2:14; I John 1:5, 8; 3:7; 4:1; II John 1:6-9; as well as the seven times that the word deceive is used concerning the Devil in the book of Revelation.
What we must keep in mind is that these references are exclusively to believers, it is the believers that can be deceived when they refuse to stand firmly on God’s Word and judge according to what God has said.
An Example from the book of Revelation
One of the common denominators within the seven letters to the seven churches as recorded in the book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3; is their inability to perceive their true spiritual state. It is their lack of discernment, their lack of judgment that stands out so predominantly concerning their condition, and was why they could not see the remedy to their problems.
Defending God’s Word
We, as the church of Jesus Christ have been granted the privilege of holding God’s Word in written form in our hands. And with privilege comes responsibility, which cannot be separated from accountability. This is why Peter said in I Peter 4:17:
A few insights concerning Church Discipline according to Jesus:
1. We, the reading audience are not who Jesus is directing addressing here as He is speaking to the second person (“thee,” or “you”), He does this to communicate that we have all been guilty of offending someone else, and within the church this is something that should be dwelt with rather than allowing it to fester.
We like to paint Jesus as a loving individual that showed mercy to all, without exception. Yet, this is an un-Biblical picture of Jesus, as repentance (changing direction ~ Acts 20:21) was mandatory (Matthew 9:13; Mark 1:4), as well as sorrow for wrongs committed (2 Corinthians 7:9, 10). The wrongdoer had to admit that they were wrong (Mark 2:17), seek for forgiveness, and be willing to make amends (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20). It is un-Biblical to allow sin to persist within the church, corrupting others; in the name of mercy, grace, and love; and allowing sin to go unanswered, which in reality has nothing to do with any of these 3 virtues.
It’s like allowing your oldest child to habitually violate your rules with no repercussions, while their younger siblings watch and learn from this pattern of rebellion. Excommunication is demanded in this situation, it is not an option. The motive was always to correct, to drive the brother to repentance, in order to receive him back (2 Corinthians 2:6-10). It must also be seen that when a brother was excommunicated, there was no Biblical defense against litigation. 1 Corinthians 6:1, forbids a brother from taking another brother to court, yet when a believer has been maltreated, or mistreated by a nonbeliever, they have the right as a citizen (Matthew 5:40 ~ presupposes involvement in the judicial system) to utilize the legal system which was meant as a defense against evil being allowed to permeate, and grow, perverting the community, and contaminating every one.
What About Forgiveness as in: “turning the cheek”
Matthew 5:38-41 ~“Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the left also. And if any man will sue the act the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”
An eye for an eye
The problem that we have in understanding this passage is our lack of awareness that it had become common during that period of time, that if a Jew (wealthy & powerful prominent individuals) had felt that he had been wronged and suffered loss at the hands of another, rather than following Gods ordained system of law (Deuteronomy 19:18-21) which dictated that a local magistrate would investigate the situation and render justice in the form of any prescribed punishment according to the law of God, the Jews would revenge themselves, which meant that it was no longer a system of justice, but of vengeance.
What Christ is NOT saying here is to disregard the law, which contained a criminal justice system concerning the punishment of criminal behavior (Matthew 7:12; Romans 3:31). What Christ is saying here is that believers are not to revenge themselves upon perpetrators, but being willing to forgo what had become the standard of the day, which was to retaliate when one was wrong. Christ is indicating that we should forgive those that offend us.
Resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other
It had become common that if a Jew felt humiliated or shamed by another, in return they would strike a person upon the cheek which in itself was viewed as a humiliation. This was usually done with an audience, in front of others as a display of shame and ridicule. The physical pain was minimal and not meant to address or correct negative behavior, but it was the humiliation of the act that was the point of the offense.
The very act of slapping another person on the face was an act of condescension, displaying pride and arrogance, and therefore considered evil in its self. The Greek phrase used here (me antistenai toi poneroi), would be more literally translated: “resist not him that is evil,” which concerning the grammar is in the infinitive (second aorist active), an indirect command; which could place the emphasis either on “the evil man,” or “the evil deed,” but either way this plays the assumption of the definite article (“THE“) in the English, which indicates not that Christ is saying to allow evil to permeate our society, without resisting it according to God’s law (1 Timothy 1:8). But that on any individual basis, when a believer is minimally assaulted physically, and (to the real issue at hand) is humiliated or shamed, which is evil or done by an evil person; don’t retaliate, or defend yourself physically. We must keep in view that the issue here is not so much the physical contact, but the humiliation and shame intended. This also doesn’t say that we don’t question or defend ourselves verbally. Jesus displayed this Himself when He was slapped (as a sign of humiliation and ridicule) by one of the Temple officer’s while being questioned by the High Priest (John 18:19-23), and Jesus responded by verbally defending himself and saying, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?”
The point is that Jesus is not presenting a pacifist doctrine here. As believers we are always to fight against evil, and those that promote it, otherwise we would violate the very law which God had given to man as a reference concerning what was good, which always mandated fighting and punishing what was evil. Jesus was not contradicting the law, He did not come to change the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:44) by dying for the sins of the world (2 Corinthians 5:21). The point was not that we are all forgiven, but that our punishment was paid by Jesus, but the point is there had to be punishment (1 John 2:2; Romans 3:25; 1 John 4:10) that the justice of God would be upheld (Romans 3:25).
What Christ is saying is that if a (small) offense is committed against you, such as being shamed by another (to reiterate, which is what being stricken on the cheek meant to the Jews, striking on the cheek was considered a non-punishable offense, one of questioning another’s integrity by publicly shaming them), take the offense and don’t revenge yourself, show honor and character in the face of humiliation.
If any man will sue thee at the law
First, and most importantly, what Jesus indicates here is that you are guilty in this litigation, and that your accuser wins against you, according to the legal conclusion against you in that the court determines to: “take away thy coat.” The law was very specific concerning the loss of personal property, especially if it was the essentials, such as a personal wardrobe (which are many consisted of the clothes on their back).
Jesus is here referring to a common occurrence of his day, wherein an individual would utilize their (tunic) inner garment as collateral for a purchase, and after being found guilty of not having fulfilled your part of the bargain, be prepared to surrender your outer garment as well. Because of the essential nature of the need of clothing, such as the tunic, in Hebrew law, the only way that your adversary could seize your tunic was because you used it as collateral for a loan and default on the loan. It was common that if an individual conducted a street transaction (bartering) and did not have the items with them (which in a case where coinage was not used or available, bartering by using animals or other intrinsic articles was common), they would leave as collateral something of greater value with the person, such as their interior coat / tunic. This is seen when Judah doesn’t have the price of bartering (“a kid of the flock”) to pay Tamar, but uses as collateral (pledge) his signet, both bracelets and his staff.
Therefore what Christ is saying is if you lose litigation, indicating that you are wrong, be prepared to pay not just your obligation but even more in recompense, which in this case would be to allow the claimant to have your outer cloak as well, which was more expensive.
Whoever shall compel thee to go a mile
The expression “shall compel” was a specific terminology of Persian origin (a Figure of Speech, a current American cultural expression would be like saying “the few, the proud, …”, which would set the stage for the understanding that the reference was a expression concerning “…the Marines”), and was utilized concerning a royal standing command that was as a Royal law of the kingdom, throughout the conquered lands of Persia (from which the Jews had many times been under, such as Cyrus), and was understood that one of the officers of the King’s court could demand that a local citizen would personally escort them during their journey for a distance of up to 1 mile in aiding them during their travels. This principle was used by the Romans, and known as the law of Angaria. Whereas verbal instructions concerning directions could be misunderstood (“go straight for 1 mile, then turn right at where Farmer Joe’s barn used to be”), having a local citizen personally take you to your destination became necessary.
The point that Christ is making is that when it comes to our civil commitments (whether they seem righteous or not), we should be willing to not only fulfill the requirement of the law, but sacrifice even more than required. Believers, as citizens are not only to meet their requirements, but to exceed them.
A final thought
It is amazing to consider that due to a lack of understanding concerning cultural issues of the (Biblical) times, that when believers do not study (studying is far more than simply reading, it is using credible Biblical dictionaries, encyclopedias, commentaries, word studies, and being fed by Spirit and guided Bible teachers; and more. If we love God with our whole being [Mark 20:30], why would we do less) God’s Word, that what they perceive superficially ends up being much different than the reality that is presented.
Concerning Matthew 5:38-41, these 3 short verses hold tremendous insights and immense meaning.
First, do not revenge yourself, but allow the Powers that God has ordained (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17) to administer justice. ~ Be a forgiving person
Second, if someone shames, humiliates, or ridicules you; do not revenge yourself, but show honor and character by not reiterating the same back. ~ Be a humble person
Thirdly, if you have been found legally guilty, and rightly so, be prepared to suffer for your wrongs into pay back even more than what seems fair. ~ Be a righteous person
Fourthly, concerning your civil commitments; be willing to not simply meet your requirements, but to exceed them as well. ~ Be a good neighbor and good citizen, therefore be a good example
1. See section: “Judgment Commanded.”
2. See section: “Church Discipline.”
3. Thayer’s Greek Definitions, Parsons Technology Inc., Cedar Rapids, IA 52404.
4. Robinson’s Morphological Analysis Codes, eSword, Ver. 9, Rick Myers, esword.org.
5. Robertson’s Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol. IV, A.T. Robertson, Broadman Press Inc., Nashville, TN 37234.
6. Albert Barne’s Notes On The Bilbe, William McDonald, Thomas Nelson Pub., Nashville , TN.
7. Psalms 119:11 ~ “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.”
Taken from the endnotes of the “Faith” webpage of www.faithbibleministries.com