John 7:24, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
In this simple verse Christ not only says “judge not” but also “judge.” But both statements are qualified. He is not saying don’t judge at any time or in any way. He says “Judge not according to the appearance”. Neither is He saying that we can judge haphazardly without any restraint or thought. If we do judge we must “judge righteous judgment”. All judgement is not Biblical. We can sin grievously in judging others if it is according to outward appearance or only by hearing something second hand. Here is a command to judge given by Christ but it must be righteous judgement. You cannot and must not separate judging from righteousness. Righteousness is what makes judgment right before God. It is the heart motive behind the judgment that matters. These two words stand or fall together. The only way to prevent you from judging wrong judgment according to outward appearance is to add righteousness to the judgment. Many judge according to outward appearance, or according to man’s judgement, or judge too soon, or judge presumptuously. Christ commands us to judge righteous judgment.
It is important to set this text in its context within the whole chapter in order to understanding why Christ said it and what He meant by it. The context is Christ going up to Jerusalem to start His ministry amidst militant opposition. At the beginning of the chapter “His brethren” (blood-brothers), who did not believe in Him at that point, gave Him all sorts of advice and were judging His life and ministry according to their own personal, natural, human judgment (Jn.7:3-5). What a misjudgement! They thought they knew Him. Throughout this chapter we see that everyone in Jerusalem had an opinion about Him. Some thought He was a good man, others that He was a deceiver, and still others thought that He had a demon in Him. All of these opinions were carried by the “murmurings” of the people but not openly for all to test or for Christ to respond to. Some misjudged Him from the scriptures but others correctly discerned by the same scriptures who He actually was (7:27, 31, 40-42). The priests and Pharisees judged Him according to their personal knowledge and interpretation of the scriptures but would not entertain the thought of obeying the scriptures by asking Him and allowing Him to respond to their many personal accusations and judgments (7:49-52). The sum total of it all was that “there was a division among the people because of him” (7:43). This is the context of Christ’s command to judge righteous judgment. There were a number of fatal flaws in all those who judged Christ wrongly in this chapter yet there are Biblical principles by which we may judge in a way that is righteous.
Christ did not pull this term “righteous judgment” out of the sky. It was a Biblical term and teaching taken from the written scriptures. Righteous judgment is spoken of many times in the scriptures. When Christ faced the temptations from Satan in the wilderness He did not rely upon His recent experience of hearing the audible voice of His Father speak from Heaven or of seeing the Holy Spirit descend upon Him in the form of a dove. Three times He reached back into the Book of Deuteronomy, which was written 1500 years previously, and pulled out a scripture text and said to Satan “It is written.” Christ walked in conformity to the written scriptures. I believe Christ was referring to a Biblical teaching on how to judge from the Old Testament. Let us take a look at some scriptures from this wonderful book concerning righteous judgment.
Godly character in judgment
When Moses taught God’s people concerning righteous judgment between fellow believers he gave very clear instructions. Every community was to have judges appointed for the task. Judges and judgment is appointed by God as a very necessary and good thing amongst His people. “And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him.” He then gives three bits of clear advice in the next verse concerning the character of the person who must make a judgment about disputes between “brethren”:
i) “Ye shall notrespect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great” – You must not give special care or attention to certain people. You must be free from prejudice, preference or the respect of persons. In judgment there are no big and small people. There are not levels of importance. Judgment is impartial. Personal feelings, thoughts and desires must not influence it. Friendships must not influence judgment. To be righteous the judgment must be God’s judgment not man’s personal judgement.
ii) “ye shall notbe afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s” – You must remember that the judgment is of God. Fear of man should not hinder you when making a judgment according to God’s mind revealed in His Word. You must not stop, draw back or hesitate in judgment for fear of man. The fear of man does bring a snare. To judge righteous judgment we must not fear man. We also must not fear the consequences of making righteous judgments.
iii) “and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it” – If the thing is too tough, severe, deep, or beyond you then ask others who are well trained, knowledgeable or wise in the scriptures. When you face extremely hard situation which need a judgment you are neither allowed to judge blindly or to wash your hands of judgment. We are not free not to judge when it is hard.
He goes further in chapter 16:18-19 in adding further instructions for those who are to “judge the people with just judgment”.
iv) “Thou shalt not wrest judgment” – To “wrest” means to stretch it or bend it. This is usually the result of personal emotions and feelings. We are not allowed to be sterner than God’s Word but neither are we to
be more lenient. We must not change the clear commands of God’s Word. We must not sit in judgment of God’s Word by thinking our personal judgment is better that God’s judgment written in His Word.
v) “neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous” – We must be beyond being influenced carnally by those who we must judge righteously. Even a wise man be blinded by such a gift and a righteous man will overthrow his own words after a gift. We are free from influence and favouring anyone. We cannot be bought. We are not covetous. Our mouth cannot be shut. We are not to be influenced by flattery.
Judgment According to God’s Word
In chapter 17 Moses gives instruction on how to handle judgement amongst God’s people when issues arise that create a great controversy and are too hard to handle or too hot to handle. First, he says that they should go to God’s house in seeking an answer. In other words they are seeking a spiritual answer. Sadly many times judgments are made by God’s people without seeking a spiritual answer. Second, they are to consult the priests, the Levites or the appointed judge “to enquire”of them. Such godly wisdom amidst controversy is desperately needed in this hour. It is hard to find wise, godly, spiritual, mature and biblical councillors. Men who know how to weigh and discern situations beyond the natural eye and ear are very rare. Third, “and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment.” We are told that they will actually show you the very sentence in God’s Word concerning your hard situation. Notice it is not their personal opinion. They take you to the written Word. It says it will be “According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee.”This is righteous judgment. A preacher or pastor should give you God’s Word not personal opinion. Fourth, “thou shalt do according to the sentence…thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall shew thee, to the right hand, nor to the left.” The only way to be sure of judging righteous judgments in hard situations is to walk in the light of the Word. Don’t move into the realm of man’s opinion and prejudice.
Evidence beyond dispute
To be righteous judgment it must be beyond doubt. In the OT a man could not die at the mouth of one witness. There must at least be two but preferably three actual eye witnesses. In the NT we are told not to receive an accusation concerning an elder unless it is in the mouth of two or three actual eye witnesses. If we do it is not righteous judgment and it results in killing the elder’s reputation. We are also told that it is “before” the elder that the witnesses speak. In other words he has the right to face his accusers. It is not secret accusation unchecked. Even Christ gives the same principle for dealing with judgment amongst brothers in the church (Deut.17:6; 19:15; Mt.18:16; I Tim.5:19).
In Deuteronomy 13:14 we are given some wonderful wisdom to follow before making a judgment in order to be sure that it is righteous judgment. If we hear a damning and condemning report about someone, some preacher, ministry or church you must do the following: i) “Then shalt thou enquire” –the word enquire means to follow or walk out the trail. You must follow the paper trail back to the source. ii) “and make search” – to search is to examine intimately, penetrate to the facts and get to the root of things. iii) “and ask diligently” sadly false accusations are accepted without even being checked. A righteous judgment means you are going to go ask some questions. Go ask the accused for their side. Cowards never check facts! iv) “and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain” – you cannot act or make a judgment without being certain of the facts beyond doubt and without having weighed the actual evidence. v) Then “Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword” – you cannot apply the judgment of the sword (God’s Word) without following such a procedure. Judgments formed on any other basis are not righteous and do not have the backing of God.
If the righteous get condemned and the guilty go free then righteous judgment has not been applied by those judging the situation or controversy. The whole point of judging is to reveal who is guilty and who is innocent. Judgment that condemns the innocent—those who have done nothing wrong—is not righteous judgment. Righteous judgment reveals sin, compromise, heresy or wrong doing. Righteous judgment will never condemn someone for walking in holiness and uprightly in God’s Word. Deut.25:1, “If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.” Prov.17:15, “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.” Prov.11:1, “A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.” Any judgment that allows the guilty to go free or that condemns the innocent is an abomination to God. If you judge but it is not righteous according to what we have just dealt with it stinks to high heaven before God. You will be found guilty for making wrong judgments and will be held accountable by God.
Righteous Judgment is to be just, right or correct in giving a judgment. It is to be without prejudice or partiality. It is to give out justice according to a set principle. It is to scrutinize, investigate, to determine by asking, questioning, and examining; it is to weigh, separate, compare and evaluate the evidence; and then to make a judgment according to the mind and Word of God.