Discernment and Judging

Jesus prohibits a critical spirit, but does not forbid all use of the critical faculty. To follow Jesus, we must therefore discover why he says, “Judge not,” in Matthew 7, but says, “Judge with right judgment,” in John 7. Notice first that Jesus tells His disciples to make judgments in the very chapter that says “Judge not.” Later in Matthew 7, Jesus says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them (vv. 15-16). That is, disciples must discern – must judge – who is a false prophet and who is a true one. 

I just read again what is most likely the most misused and abused passage in all of Scripture. And I also just read two obvious correctives to such lousy interpretations and understandings that immediately follow from it. I refer of course to Matthew 7. Verses 1-5 – especially v. 1 – are the ones routinely massacred, even by so many Christians. They are certainly quite well known:

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.

How many times have you heard it said – even by rather clueless Christians – that we must never judge? Yet if you press these folks and say that folks ARE to make distinctions between what is true and false, right and wrong, they will reply, ‘Oh, but that is different.’

Um, no it is not different. You cannot judge without being discerning and making distinctions. Whenever you discern and test and evaluate you are of necessity making a judgment. They go together – it is a package deal. Christians and non-Christians alike thus judge every single day – whether they are making a choice between a cappuccino and a flat white, or between one person and another for a marriage partner.

Judgment and discernment go together. And the very next verse in Matthew 7 makes this clear. Jesus goes on to say this in v. 6: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Deciding who is a dog or a pig, and deciding what is holy, are all matters of judgment and discernment. – can’t be avoided.

But it does not stop there. Just a few verses later we get even more commands by Jesus to judge and discern. Verses 15-20 say this:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

No one reading all of Matthew 7 can ever come away with the nonsensical notion that the Christian is not to judge. Quite the opposite: while the Christian is not to engage in HYPOCRITICAL judging (which is exactly the point of verses 1-5), the believer IS to constantly judge, discern, assess, test, and weigh things up. This is commanded throughout Scripture.

All sensible (and discriminating) expositors of Scripture of course understand this. They will not fall for the ‘do not judge’ silliness. Let me draw upon a few of them here. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his Studies on the Sermon on the Mount says this:

If our Lord had finished His teaching with those first five verses, it would undoubtedly have led to a false position. Men and women would be so careful to avoid the terrible danger of judging in that wrong sense that they would exercise no discrimination, no judgment whatsoever. There would be no such thing as discipline in the Church, and the whole of the Christian life would be chaotic.

Read More