By Yomi Adegboye
Many times, Christians throw the phrase, “Judge not!” at those who in obedience to Scriptures exercise discernment in refuting error and exposing falsehood in the Church. Here I present a detailed study of what the Bible says about judging or not judging.
Introduction: A key to rightly interpreting Scriptures is to see the meaning of a statement within the immediate context in which it is used. This helps us to see clearly what is being said in order to avoid arriving at wrong conclusions. The word often translated “judge” are the verbs krino, anakrino, and diakrino. They primarily denote “to determine, pronounce judgment, examine, investigate, question, to exercise discernment, to contend, consider”.
Do Not Judge Hypocritically:
- Matthew 7:1-5 1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Looking at the context of what Jesus said above, He was not commanding us not to judge. He was commanding us not to judge if we are guilty of the same thing we are seeking to correct. In other words, don’t be a hypocrite.
In verse 6, Jesus said: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces”. But there is no way we can tell who is a “dog” and who is “swine”, except we judge. But we must not judge as hypocrites.
A few verses later Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets…You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15,16,20). Again Jesus demands spiritual discernment. In Jesus’ view it is not “judging” to conclude that someone is a false prophet.
Judge Not In Non-essentials:
- Romans 14:1-6 1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.
If you look at this passage, it is with reference to judging others about “doubtful things” (see verse 1). These are issues the Bible gives no commandments about e.g. what to eat, which day to fellowship etc. We are not to judge anyone on such issues.
Other references: 1 Corinthians 10:23-33; Colossians 2:16-17
Handling Personal Issues: In handling personal disputes, the Bible tells us not to take our brother to a court of law, but that a believer among us is to do the judging.
- 1 Corinthians 6:1-5 1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? 4 If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
As we can see from the context, Christians are to be able to judge or mediate in inter-personal affairs, and this should be done privately. This is about a brother wronging another, not about public false teaching. It also makes it clear that we are not to expect unbelievers to live by Bible standards, since they do not know God anyway.
We Are To Judge Righteously:
- John 7:23-24 23 “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? 24 “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
We are not to judge using appearances such as our opinion, society, human wisdom, or culture as standards. The right standard to use in making a judgment is God’s Word.
If One Is Spiritual, One Should Judge All Things:
- 1 Corinthians 2:13-15 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.
We Are To Judge What Ministers Teach and Say:
Acts 17:10-12 (Anakrino = Searched, Scrutinize, Investigate, Interrogate, Determine, Question, Ask, Discern, Examine, Judge)
- 10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
They “judged” Paul’s teachings. Even Paul made it clear that he required people to judge the things he told them:
- 1 Corinthians 10:15 15 I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.
Prophecies and supernatural manifestations are to be judged:
1 Corinthians 14:29 (Diakrino = Separate Thoroughly, Discern, Judge, Contend, Discriminate)
- 29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.
Unless You “Judge”, Then You Cannot Obey Many Scriptures: The Bible gives many instructions that require exercising judgment. Without judging, obedience to those commandments is not possible. If you do not judge or exercise judgment, you cannot obey:
- 1 Corinthians 5:11 11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
- 2 Timothy 3:5 (Apotrepo = Turn Away, Deflect, Avoid) 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
- 1 Timothy 6:3-5 3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, 4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, 5 useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.
- Romans 16:17 17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:6 6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
- Titus 1:10-14 10 For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth.
For example, those who say “Judge not!” in response to a Christian exercising discernment in matters of doctrine and behaviour immediately make themselves hypocrites. For in saying “Judge not”, they themselves have judged. Judging is an integral part of the Christian life. We only need to see clearly where we are commanded to or not to judge and act accordingly.
The Unity of the Body
The teachings of Jesus and the apostles make it clear that we are to discern (judge) false teachings and false teachers, and to stay away from such people. See Romans 16:17; 1 Timothy 6:3-5. Romans 16:17 in particular tells us that it is those who teach things contrary to what Jesus and the apostles taught that are dividing the Body of Christ. That is why we are told to stay away from them. Those correcting and judging are the ones mending the division.
- Matthew 3:7 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
And in the following passage, the most Spirit-filled man that ever lived, used some amazing language in judging and rebuking certain men:
- Matthew 23:29-33 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 “and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ 31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?
Paul judged Elymas in Acts 13: 9
Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said,
- ‘“O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?
Paul judged the fornicator among the Corinthians and encouraged them to do so too:
- 1 Corinthians 5:3 3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.
Paul judged Peter’s actions:
- Galatians 2:11 11 “Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed.”
Paul judged Hymenaeus and Philetus:
- 2 Timothy 2:15-18 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16 But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. 17 And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, 18 who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.
Peter judged in the case of Ananias and Saphirra (Acts 5:1-10). The two of them ended up dead.
Peter Judged Simon in Acts 8:20-23: 20
- But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 “You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 “For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
Jesus Commended Believers Who Judged Ministers
Jesus commended the Ephesians for testing and exposing certain men who claimed to be God’s ministers as liars:
- Revelations 2:22 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; Jesus didn’t strike the Ephesians with sickness or pestilence for “touching the Lord’s anointed”.Rather, He commended them for a job well done. In the passage below, we also see that He rebuked those who tolerated false teachings and refused to judge the teachers behind the falsehood:
- Revelations 2:20 20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a “prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
If we do not do a balanced study of the Bible on any subject, we will arrive at wrong conclusions, and be found guilty by God. The Bible tells believers not to judge in certain ways and on certain issues, but also commands us to judge in others.
Where are the Preachers who will Obey Scriptures?
Those who are ministers especially have a strong role to play here. Instructions to Timothy and Titus (ministers) specifically require them to judge and rebuke sharply (2 Timothy 4:2-4; Titus 1:13). We see that Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul and Peter did this. They rebuked false teachings and teachers and wrong practices sharply. As strong as their words were, it was all in love, and perfectly Scriptural.
We also see that their “judging” and rebukes, often done publicly, did not divide the Body. It is God’s way of righting wrongs and keeping the leaven of errors from spreading. Yes; those exposed and rebuked did not always repent, but that is between them and God.
Biblical judgment, discernment and rebuke is required if the purposes of God are to be fulfilled. As it is written, indeed, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Proverbs 27:6).
Judging False Teachers Not fruit of the Spirit? A number of people have gone over the top about the fact that I personalize points when I refute error, and especially that I dare to agree with what Scriptures say about a category of men.
In the words of one of them, “All he does is ridicule Christian Ministries all over the world with his arrogant, haughty, self righteous, wicked, insulting, holier than thou tone! (I don’t see the fruit of the spirit in any of those characteristics)”
But if judging with sharp words is not the fruit of the Spirit, how do we explain the often harsh, judgmental and intolerant language of God’s most faithful in the Bible? All through the Old and New Testaments, those who loved God the most used the very harshest of words on false teachers and prophets. Were they not Spirit-filled? Were they not walking in love?
Here are a few examples from Scriptures.
- Matthew 23:27 27 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
I am also wondering how much of the fruit of the Spirit modern Christians would have seen in Jesus when He drove people out of the temple in Jerusalem the way He did? Does this Man overturning tables and throwing things around sound like the sweet Jesus that deceived men have taught us? Our generation does not seem to know the real Jesus. They’ve been told about another person who is so tolerant that he smiles at everyone and pronounces blessings on evil-doers.
Thank God the real Jesus was – and is – nothing like that. And He is not the only one who walked this intolerant road.
Stephen is a man the Bible refers to as full of the Spirit and wisdom. See his presentation of the good news:
- Acts 7:51-54 51 “You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 “who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” 54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.
Certainly doesn’t sound like good news. At least to the postmodern, liberal believer. Certainly very holier-than-thou, it sounds. Certainly not a ‘humble’ way to present the Gospel to people. The rebuke was so stinging that the hearers were cut to their heart and gnashed their teeth.
Apostle Paul was ‘bad’. Hear him:
- Galatians 1:8, 9 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
I haven’t even started with woes and curses yet, and I have been branded ‘the accuser of the brethren’.
Simon, the ex-sorcerer, had just gotten saved. Then he offered the apostles money, believing to share in their anointing. That’s much like what we see going on today. A young minister takes a ’seed’ to an ‘anointed man of God’ because he wants to tap into the man’s ‘anointing’. What’s so bad with that? But hear Peter:
- Acts 8:21-23 “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 “You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 “For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
That sounds very judgmental. For one, the guy is a ‘baby’ Christian; why not give him the benefit of doubt? He probably made a mistake. Peter didn’t think so. Peter’s words were as bad as it can be.
Rebuking in Love
Blind, deceived people may holler all they like about us not walking in love when we rebuke false teaching and their teachers. They know not the Scriptures, nor the power of God. Jesus was walking in love when He rebuked those religious leaders of His day who were twisting God’s Word for their own ends. Stephen was walking in love and full of the Spirit when he rebuked those who eventually killed him. Peter was walking in love when he hit Simon hard. Paul was walking in love when he ‘cursed’ (or whatever we choose to call what he did) those teaching error to the Galatians.
Note that these rebukes were often to ‘insiders’; yet they were sharp and may sound very judgmental. But they were in love all the same.
Let me say it up front: I do not care a chicken leg what I am called. Like the early apostles, I consider it a privilege to suffer so for the sake of the Kingdom. I have presented clear Biblical arguments to show that exposing false teachers and prophets is Scriptural. Those of us who God has brought out of the grand deception of postmodern Christianity in all its shades and hues will continue to refute, correct, exhort, and – yes – rebuke with all authority.
Those who are cut to the heart by our rebuke and who are gnashing their teeth are the very ones the rebukes are for. The fact that they are raving stark mad about it is firm proof that their hearts are not right. The ball is in their court.
What Should Be Our Attitude to False Teaching and Teachers?
I am a crusader for Biblical truth. I do not mean some personal revelation someone claims to have on a topic, because to all intents and purposes, that leads to error. The Bible is the revealed Word of God to us. We do not need any extra revelation to understand God, His plans and His ways. Unfortunately today, we have placed “rhema”, “new revelation” and the like above a logical, systematic understanding of the Bible. And that has created more problems for the Church.
Generally, I am uncomfortable that a number of those teaching and practicing error are regarded as leaders of the church. I find it embarrassing that they represent the faith to millions. Any sincere person cannot look at the state of the church today and not see how much nonsense is being peddled in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Every now and then, someone asks me why I seem to take this personal. Christianity is not just a life. It is also doctrine. Truth. Without truth, we erode the foundations of our faith. That is why I cannot shut up about the errors being peddled all over the place. And here are a few things the Bible has to say about what our attitude should be on the issue:
- Titus 1:10,11 10 For there are men who are not ruled by law; foolish talkers, false teachers, specially those of the circumcision, 11 By whom some families have been completely overturned; who take money for teaching things which are not right; these will have to be stopped.
Have you noticed that most of the ministers and ministries involved in these errors have one common denominator? They are all money-centred: they call for your money via tithes, seed-faith, and all what-not's. The Bible says they must be resisted.
That is why I won’t keep quiet.
- Romans 16:17,18 17 Now, it is my desire, brothers, that you will take note of those who are causing division and trouble among you, quite against the teaching which was given to you: and keep away from them. 18 For such people are not servants of the Lord Christ, but of their stomachs; and by their smooth and well-said words the hearts of those who have no knowledge of evil are tricked.
Take note. Paul said to keep away from them. They are NOT servants of the Lord but are out for their stomachs, wallets and bank accounts. Take note that verse 18 mentions “well-said” words. The KJV version calls it “good words and fair speeches”. Sounds familiar? I’m thinking of the numerous smooth-talking pastors we see on television daily.
Using Sharp Words
- 2 Timothy 4:2-4 2 Be preaching the word at all times, in every place; make protests, say sharp words, give comfort, with long waiting and teaching; 3 For the time will come when they will not take the true teaching; but, moved by their desires, they will get for themselves a great number of teachers for the pleasure of hearing them; 4 And shutting their ears to what is true, will be turned away to belief in foolish stories.
Yes; there are times we have to use sharp words. To the simple and undiscerning, it may look like we are not walking in love using such words, but there it is in black and white. People sometimes need to be jolted out of their hardness of heart.
Some like to stay on the fence preaching “love” and “unity”. But we see from the Bible what God’s stand on the issue is. In our day there seems to be more concern about “not touching the anointed of God”, and “not judging”; both teachings arrived at by the same twisting of Scriptures that produces all errors.
Taking a Stand
Someone has asked: Why won’t the church take a stand? I have asked myself that question over and over. Are we afraid to attack evil in the supposed name of unity? Is it that we are so far gone that we figure that it does not matter what you believe as long as you “love Jesus”?
If so, let’s quit calling other religions false and accept the cults into our fold. Let’s bring in the Jehovah’s Witnesses who love their Jesus (even though to them he is the archangel Michael, the first and greatest created being). Let’s bring in the Mormons, and the Unitarians, etc. Let’s say good-bye to the creeds and sound doctrine. Let’s forget the stern warnings of the Apostle Paul to beware of false teachers and false doctrine which spreads like gangrene. Let’s all just “love Jesus” (whoever that Jesus might be to us)?
NO! We cannot forget the creeds, we will not abandon truth. We must obey our Lord when He tells us to “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Mat. 7:15-16). The fruit of the Word-Faith teachers is none other than the fruit that the devil deceived our ancient mother Eve with. It is still as deadly and still as putrid in God’s sight as it was then. The Word-Faith teachers and their movement must be actively opposed and rejected as non-Christian! Who will stand for Christ?
People don’t take a stand for the simple reason that they love the praise of man more than the God they profess to serve.
If we won’t take a stand, we might as well throw in the New Age movement. Oh, don’t forget people like Dan Brown of the DaVinci Code fame. After all, it does not matter what we teach, believe and practice, so long as Jesus is in the picture; right?
What should be your attitude to false teaching and teachers? Keep away from them. Reprove their teachings, mention names where necessary so people know who to be on guard against. We see all that in Scriptures. Jesus did that. Paul did. Others like them did too. Take a stand, brothers and sisters!
Say NO to false teachers and ministries. Don’t stay in their churches, stop throwing your money their way, don’t buy their books or attend their meetings. Talk about their lies. Expose their deception everywhere you go. Even if those deceivers and their deceived followers do not turn to the knowledge of the truth, your taking a stand strengthens the truth you and others have been taught, and will also help some who are not yet caught in their traps.
Here is a direct instruction to us from the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ:
- Finally, Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle (2 Timothy 2:15 ).
If you truly are a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, your obedience will speak of your allegiance to Him as you obey Him in judging the fruits and works of false teachers in our day and age. Praise and glory be to His Name for ever.