By Mark W . Swarbrick
A popular notion today is that Christians are never to judge. Jesus did say, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1). However, many people who follow false teachers take this out of context. They use this passage as a defense against any objective or analytical judgement about whether someone’s teaching is biblical or not. In the “judge not” passage of Matthew 7:1 Jesus was speaking against judging people hypocritically, pridefully, blindly, condescendingly or spitefully. He did not mean that we shouldn’t be on guard against false teachers, for that would contradict the Scripture’s command to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing.
John 7:24 tell us that we are in fact called to judge, but to “judge with right judgment.” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:3, “Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?” When a minister publicly broadcasts false doctrine, the Scripture teaches that a public rebuttal is entirely proper. I Timothy 5:19-20 says: “Rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” Paul warns, “their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth…whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not…” (II Timothy 2:16-18 & Titus 1:11)
Discernment is a Gift for All
Jesus taught that he deeply cares that correct doctrine is taught in His church. We know the apostles got the Lord’s message about this loud and clear, for we find them writing things such as are found in 1 John 4:1, where we are adjured to “test the spirits.” 1 Co 14:29 says the church should “judge when the prophets speak.” Luke, in chapter one and verse three, tells us that he had been “investigating everything carefully from the beginning.” Acts 17:11 says that the “The Bereans were more noble minded because they were examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”
All through the New Testament, Christians are instructed to think, investigate and judge all matters carefully and critically. New Testament Christians are never ever told to accept blindly something any so-called prophet says. The church as a whole is given the power and authority to use their God-given discernment.
Mark Them Which Cause Divisions
Ephesians 5:11 says, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness but instead even expose them.” In Romans 16:17, Paul commands, “Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them.” It says to “mark them.” The word used in the original Greek is scopio, which means: “To scope out, to take aim at, to consider, to watch.”
And mark them they did. They named names. In 2 Timothy 4:14-16 the Apostle Paul says “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil.” In Galatians 2:11 Paul says “when Peter came to Antioch I withstood him to his face because he was to be blamed.” In 2 Tim 4:10 Paul says, “For Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me…” 1 Tim 1:19-20 Paul says “…some…concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” In 2 Tim 2:17 Paul says, “Among them are Armenaeus and Phileitus, men who have gone astray from the truth.” In 3 John 1:9 the Apostle John reports, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.”
The reason we find the apostles writing to the Church and naming names is to warn the church about these men. It wasn’t enough just to point out false teachings. The false teachers themselves were “marked” so that the Church would be cautioned concerning them. No doubt the followers of divisive people such as Diotrephes complained that the Apostle John was judging and wasn’t being loving and forgiving. The cultic tactic of screaming, “don’t judge!” is a trick of Satan as old as the Bible.
Jesus taught the disciples to dramatically pronounce judgment on those who reject the truth. In Luke 10:10-11 Jesus instructed the disciples, “But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you.” And they did. In Acts 14:51 we read that Paul and Barnabas “shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium.” Seems like the apostles didn’t get that memo about not judging.
The apostles didn’t just ignore false teachers and hope they went away. They marked them. According to Irenaeus, his teacher Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John, told the following story: The Apostle John, the apostle of love, had entered a public bath-house in Ephesus to bathe, as was the custom of the day. Then he saw that the heretic Cerinthus was there. Cerinthus was a gnostic Christian, a popular false teacher with a large following. John the Apostle rushed out of the bath-house exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is inside!” John was making a dramatic public statement that Christians should steer clear of a false teacher such as Cerinthus. The apostles of our Lord took false teachers very seriously. So should we
Jesus never wants his followers to be condescending, unkind and condemnatory. We should endeavor to show forth the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what Jesus meant by not judging. Yes, we should be gentle as doves, but also wise as serpents. We are not to judge with a mean spirit, but we are to make discerning judgment calls about truth, error, sin and righteousness.
The next time you hear someone proclaiming that Christians are not ever to judge, ask yourself why they are saying that. It could be they are rejecting truth. Perhaps they are following a false teacher. Maybe they are living sinfully and don’t want to hear any exhortation to righteousness. Every situation is different. If they are rejecting truth it may be that God’s will in that situation is for believers to stand firm and “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” (Jude 1:3)