This teaching includes a free sermon outline to download for personal use, message preparation or Bible study discussion.
My message tonight is on ruling and judging. I would say it’s one of those messages, if by any chance you left your mind out in the parking lot with the car, you better slip out and fetch it because you’re going to need it. I know a lot of people think they can safely leave their minds outside when they go to church because they won’t be needing them, but tonight you will!
Our theme for a number of weeks has been “Reigning in Life with Christ.” And this is very directly related to that theme because ruling is always directly related to judging. I’ve spoken on this subject before but somehow I got new insight when I was preparing the message today. I think judging is one of the difficult subjects in the Bible to get a clear grasp of. It’s also very important and I think partly through ignorance and partly through disobedience, multitudes of professing Christians are going contrary to scripture many, many times in the way they judge—or the way they don’t judge. There is an apparent paradox in the statements of scripture, just even to look only at the New Testament. There are some scriptures which say don’t judge and there are other scriptures which say do judge. What I’m going to try to do is offer you a principle through which you will be able to understand whether you ought to judge or not to judge in any given situation.
First of all let’s look at some of the scriptures against judging. I’ll only touch on them lightly but not dwell on them because we may come back to them. But I want you to see the apparent paradox to start with. In the sermon on the mount, Matthew 7:1–5, Jesus is speaking and he says:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure you measure out, it shall be measured back to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye [or the plank]? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye, and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”
Well Jesus says there very emphatically, don’t judge. And if you do judge, the judgment you judge with will come back to you. I believe it will come back to you from two sources: human and divine. I believe people, in the long run, judge you as you judge them. And I also believe God judges you in accordance with the way you’ve judged people.
Then in Romans 2:1–3:
“Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?”(KJV)
Romans 2 essentially deals with religious people. The Jews are the example but it applies in most ways to most religious people. I don’t know whether you’ve ever noticed that religious people often think that because they know what is right and can prove others wrong, that proves them right themselves. I want to tell you that is not so. In fact, the people that are always judging other people are usually wrong themselves.
And then in Romans 14:1–4:
“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to judge his speculations. For one may eat all things, another who is weak, eateth herbs [or vegetables]. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up; for God is able to make him stand.”
And then a little further on in the same chapter, verse 10–13:
“But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.”
And then in 1Corinthians 4:1–5. These are the passages against judging:
“Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment; yea, I judge not mine own self. For I am not conscious of anything against me, yet am I not hereby justified.”
That’s a remarkable statement. Paul says I don’t have anything on my conscious, I’m not aware of anything I’ve done wrong. But that doesn’t justify.
“But he that judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”
And one last passage against judging which really is one of the key passages. James 4:11–12:
“Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?”
I’m going to come back to that passage later on because I think it contains the key to understanding when we are to judge and when we are not. But notice which most Christians, I think, have overlooked. That speaking evil of another believer is judging that believer. And we are specifically prohibited to speak evil of one another. I would say, in my observations, at least fifty percent of the Christians I meet are guilty of doing that: of speaking evil of another believer. It’s contrary to scripture.
Now let’s look at the scriptures that say we shall judge. First of all, John 7:24. Jesus is speaking to the people of his day concerning his claim to be the Messiah. And he says:
“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
Judge righteously or justly. So there he tells them to judge. And then in 1Corinthians 5:1–5:
“It is commonly reported that fornication [or immorality] is among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, [notice—I have already judged] as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
Not merely was there a judgment, but it was an extremely severe judgment to deliver a man over to Satan. And then in the same chapter, 1Corinthians 5, verses 11–13:
“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. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”
When Paul says them that are without, whom is he referring to? The unbelievers. But when he says them that are within, who is he referring to? The believers, that’s right. So he says you don’t judge the unbelievers but you do judge the believers.
And then the same epistle, chapter 6, verses 1–6:
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the believers? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judge by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.”
However, that can equally well be translated as a question. Do you set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church? That’s more probable. You have to understand in the original Greek manuscripts there is no punctuation. So that always has to be supplied by the translator. They don’t have commas, periods, questions marks or anything. And sometimes you could equally well put a question mark or leave it out. But most of the modern versions put it with a question. Do you set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church? Verse 6:
“But brother goest to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law with one another. Why do ye not rather take wrong?”
So Paul there definitely expected the church to judge disputes between members in the church.
And perhaps we could look in Matthew 18:15–17:
“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall ,hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”
Notice again this is a dispute between believers. And ultimately if they can’t settle it on a small scale, it has to go before the church. That’s not an option, it’s a definite commandment. We are not free to leave disputes unresolved. If we can resolve them before they get to the church that’s good. But otherwise we’re obligated to take them to the church.
“And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
A man who will not receive the decision of the church loses his right to be treated as a believer. That’s a tremendously solemn statement. So in those passages that I’ve just read we see scripture places upon us an obligation to judge. In the passages that I read before, we were warned against judging. What is the explanation? I’m coming to what I believe is the basic principle that resolves this apparent paradox.
The principle is this: judging is a function of ruling, descending downward from God. It’s hard for Americans to understand this because in the American Constitution, by deliberate design, judging has been separated from ruling. The executive branch rules and the judicial branch judges. Now that separation has no basis in scripture whatever. I’m not saying it’s wrong or bad, I’m not attacking the Constitution. In fact, I’m pledged to uphold the Constitution from the year l970 when I became an American citizen. And it’s my sincere intention to do that. But I’m just pointing out to you that if you look at things from the point of view of the American Constitution, you do not understand the principles of scripture because in scripture two things were always united: ruling and judging. This goes back to the very nature of God himself and it’s imparted from God downward into the human race.
Let’s look at a few scriptures. Genesis 18:25. This is a conversation between the Lord and Abraham concerning the Lord’s announced intention to judge Sodom. And Abraham is arguing with the Lord in a certain sense as to whether it’s going to be a just judgment.
“That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked; and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Who is the judge of all the earth? God. The ruler is also the judge. Notice in parenthesis, a principle that’s established right at the beginning—and I believe holds throughout scripture. It is contrary to justice to treat the righteous as the wicked. That’s very important to understand. A modern American culture is kind of against judging. There’s an attitude that dislikes authority and law and law enforcement and all that. It comes from a perverted idea that the primary function of judging is to punish the wicked. It’s not, that’s secondary. The primary function of judging is to protect the righteous. And that has almost gone by the board in modern America. The whole judicial system bends over backwards to protect the criminal and offers very little protection to the victim. This is a typical instance of perverted thinking in our modern culture. We have to bear in mind the primary function of justice is protect the righteous. And it is never in line with God’s will to deal with the righteous as with the wicked.
Let me make a parenthetical observation and I hope it doesn’t upset you. I believe that’s got a very direct bearing on how we treat the matter of divorce. I personally believe that it’s contrary to scripture to treat the innocent party the same as the guilty. I think it’s an absolute denial of the basic principle of scripture. That be far from thee, that it should be with the righteous as with the wicked. And by implication, God said that’s right Abraham, I’ll never depart from that principle. But notice that God is the judge of all the earth.
Now let’s look into the New Testament, we’ll see two more facts about judgment. First in 1Peter 1:17:
“And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear...”
Or, if you call him Father, who judges every man according to his work. So who is the ultimate judge? God the Father. But in the divine plan, God has delegated the office of judge to another, who’s that? Jesus. John 5:22. Jesus is speaking and he says:
“For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son.”
So you see there’s a downward process of transmitting the authority to judge. The Father is the ultimate authority, the ultimate ruler, the ultimate judge. But he has delegated the function of judging to his Son, Jesus Christ. There are two reasons given there which we don’t need to look at now. The first is that all men shall honor the Son as they honor the Father. So in order to make sure that all the human race pays honor to the Son, God has made him the judge. In a properly established legal system, in any court of law there is one person who is honored above all others. Who is that? The judge. And that’s how it is. Jesus is honored above all others because he’s the judge.
The second reason why he’s the judge is because he’s the Son of man. He’s a judge who can understand our human frailties and infirmities because he’s experienced them himself.
All right. Now, if you look at the history of Israel, you’ll see that judging and ruling were never divorced from one another. And it’s rather interesting because the first rulers were judges. The book of Judges is the first book describing people who ruled within the area of Israel’s inheritance. After that, the rulers became the judges. And if you study the period under the kings, you’ll find there was no Supreme Court to which anybody could appeal against the king’s judgment. The king’s judgment was ultimate. He was both the king and the judge. Now I’m not arguing in favor of that at the moment. What I’m pointing out is that you must never divorce judging from ruling. This is the principle which will help you to understand where you should judge and where you should not.
Now, in human society in various areas, on various levels, God has appointed men as judges. In the Old Testament these men were actually called gods. This is a very interesting fact. The sacred word for God, Elohim, is applied to men who were judges. Why was that? Because as judges they were representing God to his people. Their authority came from God as long as they rightly administered God’s law. So for any human being to have the word Elohim, which is the word for the one true God, applied to them, indicates the tremendous sanctity and authority of being a judge.
However, in the Old Testament in Psalm 82, God reproves the judges of Israel. And it’s interesting to read it because it brings this point out very clearly. Psalm 82, the whole psalm. It’s short, it’s just eight verses.
“God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods...”
That’s a remarkable statement. Who are the gods? The judges. God is judging the judges, which he will do. We need to bear that in mind. Now he’s judging the judges because they’ve been unjust judges.
“How long will ye judge unjustly; and accept the person of the wicked? Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and the needy.”
You see, the primary obligation of a judge is to protect the righteous.
“Deliver the poor and needy; rid them out of the hand of the wicked [but these people won’t listen]. They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are out of course.”
That’s a remarkable statement. To me it indicates that when judgment is no longer just, the whole structure of society is out of line. The whole of society depends on just judgment.
“I have said [this is God speaking], Ye are gods.”
Why? Because they were judges representing God to his people.
“And all of you are children of the most high. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.”
Why? Because they had abused their position as judges and perverted justice. And then the psalmist says in the last verse:
“Arise, O God, judge the earth; for thou shalt inherit all nations.”
What the psalmist is saying in effect is we haven’t had justice from human judges, God, reassert your right to judge. We want just judgment.
All right. Now we come to the principle summed up. If you can grasp this I really believe it can help you. There are four things that go together. I’ll say them and repeat them. One, responsibility. Two, authority. Three, judging. And four, being judged. I’ll say that again. One, responsibility. Two, authority. Three, judging. And four, being judged. The principle is this: wherever you have responsibility, you must have authority. Otherwise your responsibility cannot be discharged. In whatever area you give a person responsibility, you have to give them the needed authority to discharge their responsibility. If you give the elder sister the responsibility of baby-sitting the younger children then you have to give that older sister enough authority to see that she can do the job. Otherwise her job is a mockery, it’s impossible. Wherever there’s responsibility, there must be adequate authority to carry out the responsibility. You cannot divorce responsibility and authority.
Conversely, if a person has authority without responsibility, that person is a despot. And that’s of course, a situation in many areas of the earth today. Probably a lot of people in Iran would say that the Shah has been exercising authority without due responsibility. Whether that’s right or wrong—but you see, you cannot separate them one way or the other. Responsibility without authority is ineffective. But authority without responsibility is despotism. The two must go together. And where you have authority you are obligated to judge because part of having authority is judging. Every ruler, where he rules, must judge. And this we need to bear in mind, where you judge, you’re going to be judged by the ultimate judge. All judges are ultimately accountable to The Judge. There’s quite a good illustration of this in Hebrews 13:17.
“Obey them that have the rule over you [or that are your leaders] and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account...” (KJV)
To whom will they give account? To the Lord. Now because they have responsibility for your souls, what must they have with the responsibility? Authority. Otherwise their responsibility is vain. So we’re told to obey those who are responsible for our souls. Because they have responsibility and exercise authority, they’re going to have to exercise judgment. But being judges, they’re also going to have to give an account for the judgment that they exercise. So there are the four things in that one verse. Responsibility, authority, judging and being judged.
And notice, it’s applied to the Christian church. I would say that in one way or another, those words have a direct application to the lives of almost all of us here. And I don’t know anybody that would be an exception. All of us, I believe, should be in the position of either being under authority or exercising authority. And I just want to go a little further with that point. I want to make it a personal question to you. Does anybody rule over you? Does anybody watch for your soul? And if so, who? And if they do, do they know it? And do you know it? I believe there are some possible, legitimate exceptions; a Christian who is imprisoned for his faith is left on his own. But I don’t believe any Christian in normal daily living should be in a situation where he is answerable to nobody and nobody is watching over his soul. And those who watch over him have the obligation to judge him.
Now, I want to give you examples of persons who are authorized to judge and persons who are not authorized to judge. First of all we’ll take an example of someone authorized to judge. In Matthew 25:31–33:
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory...”
What is indicated by his sitting on the throne, what is he doing? Ruling. What’s the next thing he’s going to do as a ruler? Judge, that’s right.
“Before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats...”
Notice his first public function as the God appointed ruler at the close of this age is to judge those whom he rules. Ruling and judgment go together.
Now let’s look at some examples of people who were challenged or tempted to judge but they didn’t have the authority because they weren’t rulers. We’ll go first of all to Lot in Sodom. Genesis 19:9. You remember the story, the angels had come to Lot’s house and the men of Sodom who were very wicked wanted to get in and have sex with the angels. And Lot was reproving them. Now Lot had gone to Sodom as a visitor and then had settled in the city but he never had been given any official position in the city. And so these men whom he was trying to reprove and discipline answered this way:
“And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them.”
They said, You have no authority to judge. Nobody made you a judge in this city, you’re just a visitor. Don’t try to tell us what to do. And they were absolutely right within those limits. They were not right in what they were attempting to do.
Then look at the case of Moses in Exodus 2:14. Moses, self appointed, went out to deliver Israel. The first day he killed an Egyptian who was persecuting one of his fellow Israelites. The next day he found two Israelites fighting and tried to administer judgment to them. But he got sent away. Incidentally, it’s usually easier to deal with an Egyptian than an Israelite. So, verse 13, Moses said to the one who was doing wrong to his fellow Israelite:
“Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? And he [the man] answered and said, Who made thee a prince [or a ruler] and a judge over us? Intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian?”
He had the right point. Moses had no authority. Nobody had made him a ruler. Therefore, he had no right to judge. He ended up running away, forty years of exile in the desert.
Now in Luke 12, Jesus actually quotes those words and he applies them to himself. Luke 12:13–14:
“And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.”
He said I’m being cheated out of my inheritance by my brother. Jesus said to him:
“Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?”
He said I don’t have any authority. There’s a court that’s here to do that, there are elders, there’s a Sanhedrin. I don’t have any authority, I can’t judge you. See the wisdom of the Lord? Although he was the Son of God and God’s representative, he did not have authority in that area. So he didn’t judge. How many of us would be as wise?
Now I’m going to ask a very important question. Where we have responsibility we have authority; where we have authority we are obligated to judge. I wonder if we could say that together. Say it after me. Where we have responsibility we have authority; where we have authority we are obligated to judge.
Now, here’s the thousand dollar question. Where are we responsible to judge? Whom are we responsible to judge? And what are we responsible to judge? See, I have a friend who walked past my tennis court about a year ago I suppose, a Jewish attorney. And he invited himself to play tennis with me and we’ve been playing tennis off and on ever since. Well, he was recently elected a County Court judge and so now I play tennis with the judge. And he was explaining to me the responsibilities that he felt in this new office. He said to me, Believe it or not, I go to bed at 8:00 o’clock every night, I find it so exhausting trying to do my job right. But he said I only am entitled the maximum penalty I can give is one year in prison. That’s the limit of my authority. So I was thinking about that and I thought there’s a good example. Where’s the area of his judgment? Only one county, Broward County. He has no authority in Dade County or Palm Beach County, only one county. What kind of people is he authorized to judge? Only those who commit offenses for which the maximum penalty is less than one year in prison. Otherwise other kinds of criminals are outside of his judgment. What is he entitled to judge? Anything that’s contrary to Florida law or the statutes or ordinances of Broward County. For instance, if a man in a 30 mile zone drives 35 miles an hour, he’s entitled to judge that man for that act. But if a man in that car driving at 30 miles an hour puts down his convertible hood, that’s not an offense, he can’t judge that man for that act. Or, if the man in a 55 mile area drives at 45 miles an hour, he’s got no authority to deal with that act. He’s only got authority to deal, to judge in a certain area with certain types of people in certain acts. That’s all.
Now that basically is typical of all judgment. There’s an area, there are people and there are acts that we must judge. I’ll say that again because it applies practically speaking to all of us. There’s an area, there are certain people and there are certain acts. But outside the area and with other people, or with different acts, there is no authority to judge. Okay.
Now, I’m asking you in what areas are we authorized to judge? Whom are we authorized to judge and for what may we judge them? Is that clear? Have you got those three questions? In what area, whom and for what? See, the question of judgment is not complete till we’ve answered all three questions. For instance, you might have authority to judge some people but not about some things. And if you judge those people for things that you’re not authorized to judge, then you’re exceeding your authority.
Now first of all let me say one thing that we are never responsible to judge. I think this is very, very important. It was a great relief to me when I discovered I was never responsible to judge this thing because frankly, like most religious people, I’d been doing a lot of it. And it was a heavy responsibility and it was getting more and more difficult to be sure I was right. And then one day I just realized I didn’t have to do it at all. This is the way I’m going to describe it. We are not responsible for the final evaluation of anyone’s character or conduct, including our own. Okay? I’m going to say that again. We are not responsible for the final evaluation of anyone’s character or conduct, including our own. Isn’t that a relief? I know some Christians, they think they’ve got to decide just who is going to heaven, just who is going to hell, just who is good, just who is bad. Basically that’s not your worry. Leave it to God. He’s going to take care of it.
Now let’s look at some scriptures. 1 Corinthians 4, we’ve been there before but we’re going back now for the principle. 1Corinthians 4:1–5. The first two verses are just introductory.
“Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
It’s the word steward that leads to the thought of judging because a steward is answerable to the one for whom he is a steward for the way he conducts his stewardship. Okay?
“Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.”
A steward will be judged according to whether he has been faithful or not. Now Paul says I and my fellow ministers, we are stewards of the mysteries of God. We’re going to be judged for whether we’ve been faithful in handling those mysteries.
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.”
Paul says in the area I’m talking about, you don’t judge me, I don’t judge you, I don’t judge myself. This is an area of judgment that’s not left in our hands. Verse 4:
“For I know nothing by myself...”
But it’s better translated, I’m not conscious of anything against myself. I don’t know of anything that I’ve done wrong. But, he says, I’m not justified by that because I’m not the judge. Maybe the judge does know something I don’t know.
“He that judgeth me is the Lord.” Here is an area where the Lord alone is the judge.
“Therefore judge nothing before the time, [what time? The time when the Lord will do the judging] until the Lord come, [this is a judgment that will take place when the Lord comes] who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.”
Why is the Lord the only one who can judge in this area? Because nobody else knows all the secrets of men’s hearts and motives. And therefore we are not able to judge accurately or fairly and are not asked to do it. The only one that can do that is the Lord. He knows everything. He knows our motives. He knows how honest we’ve been. He knows when we’ve been hypocritical and insincere. Then he’s going to judge. Then it says:
“...then shall every man have praise of God.” (KJV)
When that praise comes, it will be accurately evaluated. I have sometimes praised people and later discovered they didn’t deserve it. Did you ever do that? In this case that won’t happen because God has it all figured out.
Now let’s look a little further about this type of judgment which is exclusively God’s, nobody shares it with him. Let’s look in Romans 2. Did you ever worry about who was going to heaven and who wasn’t? Did you ever think you knew? Let me tell you you don’t know. And if you think you know when you’re fortunate enough to make it, you’ll be surprised by a lot of things. You’ll be surprised by who is there and you’ll be surprised by who isn’t there too! Romans 2:16, it’s just part of a sentence. Paul speaks about:
“In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.”
So this judgment belongs only to God because only God knows the secret things of our lives. And then again in Romans 14:10–12:
“But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother. For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
We is who? All believers. This is not the judgment of unbelievers. It’s not a judgment for condemnation because there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. This is a judgment of believers. Where does judgment begin? With the unbelievers or the believers? That’s right, judgment must begin where? In the house of God. This is an example. Before the unbelievers are judged, the believers will be judged before the judgment seat, or bema, of Christ.
“For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”
And in that judgment we’ll have no alibis, we’ll have no excuses and we’ll not be able to misrepresent a single thing. That’s rather solemn, isn’t it? And every one of us here who is a committed believer will stand before that judgment seat. Verse 12:
“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (KJV)
I’ll tell you what, when I realized that, it keeps me busy getting ready. I really don’t have time to judge other people. Verse 13:
“Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.”
That’s important. We’re going to be judged if we have made it difficult for a fellow believer. That’s something we’ll be judged for. Remember what Jesus said about those who offend the little one who believes in him? He said it would be better for them that a millstone were hung about their neck and they were cast in the depth of the sea. Because the judgment that they’re going to confront will be terrible.
And then one more passage along that line in 2 Corinthians 5 which is very closely parallel. I think it’s important that we realize that in the New Testament we are specifically told twice that we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. My personal opinion is that we do not talk enough about judgment in modern preaching. And I find whenever I study about judgment to preach about it, it does something to me. See, the one thing that modern man hates is being told he’s accountable. But he is. We’re all accountable, every one of us is accountable to God. Most modern culture and philosophy is an undercover way to reject accountability. But we can’t do it. 2Corinthians 5:9:
“Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.”
Our main endeavor is to live such a life that it would be approved by God.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”
Every one of us is going to have to account to Jesus Christ for the things we’ve done in our body. And you know what I notice? There’s just two categories of things. Good or bad. I believe when it comes to that judgment there’s nothing that’s valueless. Everything has either a positive or a negative value. Everything that is not done for the glory of God shouldn’t have been done at all. There is only one legitimate motive for anything we ever do; do all to the glory of God whether you eat or drink. Frankly I have to say I think some people would change their eating habits if they ate only to the glory of God. And the Bible says that’s what we should do. Did you know that you’re going to account for the way you eat? It’s a solemn thought, isn’t it? Verse 11:
“Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God...” (KJV)
I wonder how many of us do know the terror of the Lord? That was one of the chief apostles speaking, a man who had converted thousands and founded many churches. He said I live my life as one who is going to have to account to God for everything I have done. And he said in effect, it fills me with terror. So, if you’re so much more spiritual than the apostle Paul you have nothing to worry about. Believe me, if you think that way you have a lot to worry about. You haven’t even begun to understand.
I’ll go a little further and stop in a few minutes. We’ve got that clear. We are not required to judge or to make a final evaluation of the absolute value of anybody, including ourself. That was a relief to me. I discovered I didn’t have to go around assessing myself all the time. I’m not good, I’m just a poor sinner. It isn’t your business. Nor is it your business to say I’m number one, I’m the great preacher, I’m the one who always does it right. That’s not your business.
Where are we responsible to judge? Whom and for what? Did you get that? In what areas? Which people? And for what things? You’ve got to keep the three questions there or you can be misled. Let’s take the first one. To me this is logically where we begin. In a certain way we are responsible to judge ourselves. Now not to make a final evaluation but to judge ourselves by the standards of God’s word in our conduct. It seems to me that essentially every judgment that we are required to make is a judgment of conduct, not an absolute evaluation of a person’s worth. Let’s look in 1Corinthians 11:28–32.
“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”
This is speaking about taking the Lord’s Supper. We’re warned before we do it we should examine ourselves. I believe that’s always true. I can say it’s a principle with me. I never take communion without first examining myself. Because if I do or you do, we’re really endangering ourselves.
“For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh condemnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.”
Many have died untimely. That’s a very solemn fact. That if we don’t examine ourselves and partake of communion we’re liable to bring upon ourselves sickness and even untimely death. Verse 31:
“For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.”
We have the option. If we judge ourselves we preempt God’s judgment. He won’t judge us in those areas where we’ve judged ourselves.
There’s three alternatives in descending order of goodness. Number one; judge yourself and don’t come under God’s judgment. Number two; you fail to judge yourself, you come under God’s judgment but you’re spared God’s judgment on the world. Number three; if you miss those two then you’re judged with the unbelievers. But judged somewhere each of us will be.
Now, I want to say a little bit about submission at this point and then I’ll close because I think the Lord gave me some thoughts. We judge our own conduct and our own actions by the word of God, is that right? I didn’t point out to you but we said that God the Father delegated authority to judge to the Son. The Son actually said I don’t judge anybody, it’s the word that will judge. So there’s a further delegation of judgmental authority to the word of God. The ultimate standard is the word of God. So if we are to judge ourselves, by what standard are we to judge ourselves? By the same standard that God uses, the word of God. And if we judge ourselves by the word of God, bring our lives into line with the word of God, then God has nothing to judge us for. Speaking now in terms of conduct: the ultimate evaluation of our character is in eternity before the judgment seat of Christ.
Now, one of the thorny questions is to submit or not to submit. You’ve never been faced with that question? Well, I’ll speak in generalities because there are exceptions. It’s not my business tonight to single out exceptions. Basically, I believe, every Christian normally is obligated to be in submission to authority within the church. And I suspect that the majority of those that are not are what I call religious rebels. But, when you submit to authority, you don’t completely renounce all responsibility for your life. Because you’re responsible for whom you submit to. That’s your decision and you can never pass the responsibility on to anybody else. You’re also responsible if you don’t submit. That’s your decision. God will hold you accountable. Whether you submit or not, and to whom you submit.
Now, I’m going to close with this thought. I suggest to you that the purpose of submission is not to hand over total responsibility for your life to somebody else. I don’t believe that’s scriptural. I would suggest that it is to share responsibility for your life with another. Wherever people would say that they are submitted to me or look to me for oversight or whatever word they want to use, I never dictate to them. Never. But I’ll say, Now listen, let’s look at this thing together. If you do this, this is what will happen. If you do this, what about the scripture that says that? I would never abrogate the ultimate decision from the person I’m related to. Nor would I ever hand over the ultimate decision in my life to another. Never. But, if I recognize authority and reject whatever that authority counsels or required, I’m going to be answerable to God.
Let me say there’s a difference between conscience and convenience. If it’s a matter of conscience, you have every right to say, I appeal to the supreme judge—and before him you’ll stand. But you better be careful before you do. But whether we have meetings on Sunday morning or Friday night, is not a matter of conscience. That’s convenience. You might say, Well I don’t like meeting on Friday night. Well, maybe I don’t. But if I’m committed to this fellowship, I’m committed to its meetings. And I can’t hide behind conscience when it’s convenience. You get what I’m trying to share with you? All right. I can never finally abrogate the responsibility for my own decisions. But if I decide not to submit, I’m responsible for that decision. In my opinion, in most cases it’s a wrong decision.
So—what? Together with the one who answers and watches for my soul—do you have somebody who watches for your soul? I’m sorry for you if you don’t. But together with that one who watches for my soul, or those ones because it’s plural in the New Testament, I chart my course through life. But I never expect anybody else to take total responsibility for what I do. Does that make sense to you? I wonder if I’m communicating? You can go overboard in either direction. You can refuse to let anybody else take responsibility—that’s wrong. Or you can dump all the responsibility and say, I won’t even think about it—that’s wrong. There’s a balance. I share authority over my life with others. And many, many times I would go against my own personal desire or even opinion in submission to their authority. But I would never say there is no situation in which I will never say I cannot accept that. Does that make sense to you? I hope I’ve communicated it. I’m not quite sure I have.
Let me say something else and I’m going to stop. It’s really a tricky situation about how much to let other people into your life. Isn’t it? Some people keep other people right out. Those people basically are lonely, frustrated people. See, there’s a law in the universe if you want to be fruitful you’ve got to unite. Every living creature that’s going to bring forth has to unite with another creature. That’s true spiritually. You unite with nobody, you remain sterile. But whom are you going to unite with and how far are you going to let them in? Now I have a little theory. I believe that every one of us has a Holy of Holies deep inside. The most sacred area of my personality. You know what I notice about God? He has a Holy of Holies too. And God has got strict rules about who gets into the Holy of Holies. And there’s only one way in, you know what that is? Blood. What did the blood represent? A life laid down. And I believe that you and I should do the same. We don’t admit anybody into our Holy of Holies who doesn’t come with the blood of a life laid down. I am not obligated to open up to anybody who won’t lay his life down for me. And if you do, you’ll probably regret it.
So, there’s this scriptural balance between being responsible for your own life and being accountable to others, not talking of God. And to find the balance, I think, is one of the keys to real successful Christian living.