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We’re speaking at this time on the theme of judging and ruling. This is the second message. I spoke this time on this theme last week. As Jim indicated, it’s not an easy subject but it’s a very important subject. And it’s one on which I feel there’s tremendous ignorance among Christians at large, and also, tremendous disobedience. And it costs us all dearly. I’ll review as quickly as I can what I said last week and then go on. There’s an apparent paradox primarily in the New Testament about whether we are to judge or not to judge. I won’t quote the scriptures I quoted last week but there are a number of scriptures that say don’t judge and there are just about as many scriptures that say do judge. So which are we to do—judge or not to judge? Now my explanation is that there’s a principle and we have to understand the principle in order to understand in any given situation whether we should or should not judge. The principle, very simply stated, is this: Judging is a function of ruling, descending downward from God himself.
In the Old Testament, first of all, judges were Israel’s rulers. And later, Israel’s rulers were their judges. But judging and ruling were never separated in the Old Testament. 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; they had the sacred name or title, Elohim, which is plural. Why were they called gods? Because their function as judges was to take God’s place and represent God to his people. That’s a measure of the importance that God attaches to the position of a judge. Four things go together. Responsibility, authority, judging and being judged. Wherever we have responsibility in any area of life, we must have authority. Otherwise, responsibility is ineffective and unfair. And wherever we have authority, we are obligated to judge. But, wherever we are obligated to judge we have to bear in mind that we shall also be judged by God. We shall answer to God for our judgment. So these four things go together: responsibility, authority, judging and being judged.
Now, this leads to the question: Where are we responsible to judge? Whom are we responsible to judge and for what? And all those three questions go together. You can’t adequately answer without taking into account in what area, whom and for what. It’s not enough to say I have the right to judge or even to say I have the right to judge you people. I also have to specify in what matters I have the right to judge and who the people are and why I have the right to judge those people and not other people. So we’re answering three questions. Where, whom and for what. And the first thing I said was let’s look at what we are never responsible to judge. We are never responsible to make a final evaluation of anyone’s character and conduct, including our own. The final evaluation, the great summing up of all life will be made by none other than the Lord. And we are specifically warned not to judge things like that before God’s time. And one reason is because God will bring to light the secret things of darkness and make manifest the counsels of the heart. When it comes to judging a person’s inner personality, the only person who knows all the truth is God. And without knowing all the truth we are not qualified to judge. We are not qualified to judge others; we’re not qualified to judge ourselves. Paul says, “I don’t know of anything against me. As far as I’m aware,” he says, “I’m innocent.” But he says, “That doesn’t justify me because I’m not the Judge. God is the judge.” And it’s repeated continually in one way or another in scripture: we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. We all is not just the unbelievers, but in that context primarily the believer. We’re all going to answer to God personally for the lives we’ve led. I think it’s important to bear that in mind. The scripture says that the doctrine of eternal judgment is one of the six basic doctrines of the Christian faith. I hear very little said today in most places about the fact that we’re going to answer to God. I think I can say that for many years I’ve lived my life with the consciousness that I’m going to have to answer to God for what I say and do. And I find it has a great effect on the way I live. That’s why I believe it’s one of the basic doctrines, because it’s so important in determining the way we live.
Now then, where are we responsible to judge, whom and for what? In my message in the last meeting, I gave the first answer to that question. We are responsible to judge ourself for our conduct and our relationship. We are to judge ourselves by the standard that’s revealed in the word of God. We’re not to judge ourselves by our feelings or by the opinions of society or even our own estimate of ourselves. But we’re to judge ourselves by the clear teaching of the word of God. And Paul says in connection with the Lord’s supper, which is particularly appropriate tonight, before you partake of that supper, examine yourself. By what standard? The word of God. He said if we judge ourselves, we will not be judged of God. But he says if we don’t judge ourselves and take the Lord’s supper unworthily, God will judge us. And he mentions two ways in which God had judged the Christians at Corinth for this very reason. Some were sick and some had died before their time. Bear in mind in that situation, the sickness and the premature death of those believers was a judgment of God because they had not judged themselves. So we are responsible to judge our own conduct and relationships. Am I at peace with my brother and my sister? Do I harbor bitterness or resentment in my heart? Have I slandered my fellow believer? Have I said things that were either untrue or uncharitable about another believer? Those are ways in which we are obligated to judge ourselves. You know what I’d like to suggest to you? If you took judging yourself seriously, you’d have a lot less time to judge others who you are not supposed to judge.
Now we are going on with other areas in which we are supposed to judge. The next one is a man. A husband and father is responsible to judge his family. Let’s look in 1Timothy 3:4, speaking about the qualifications of an elder, one who is to rule the church. It says, amongst other qualifications:
One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; [then it goes on to say:] For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (KJV)
One important principle is that a man’s family is the proving ground for his public ministry. When he can make it work at home then he becomes a candidate for promotion to public leadership. But if he can’t make it work at home, he’s not qualified for public leadership. That’s very important. But you’ll see that there’s a direct relationship between a man’s position in his family and the position of an elder in the church. Each is ruling, therefore, each is obligated to judge.
Now what kind of conduct should a father or a husband be responsible for? And again, I want to say none of us is responsible for the final evaluation of the worth of any other person. A husband is not responsible for the final evaluation of his wife’s eternal worth. Nor is a father responsible for the final evaluation of the eternal worth of his children. Aren’t you glad? Those of you who have brought up children, how many of you ever misjudged your children? You thought one would make it and another wouldn’t. And it turned out the one you thought would make it didn’t and the one you thought wouldn’t did? Or am I the only one who’s experienced that? See, there are areas of the human heart that we cannot penetrate, we don’t have to.
Then what is a husband or a father required to judge? Well let me focus on conduct because that’s the main area of judgment. I think a father is expected to judge conduct that affects the welfare of those for whom he’s responsible. In other words, if I see my children always indulging in soft drinks and ice cream, I’m obligated to say to them that’s going to ruin your teeth and probably ruin your health. And I have a responsibility as a father to see that you grow up healthy as far as I can. Or, if I see a child reading a certain type of book, maybe ghost stories, and the child is obviously already nervous and doesn’t sleep too well at night, and that kind of reading is absolutely the last thing to suit that particular child, I’ve got an obligation to say I don’t want to see any more of those books in your bedroom. And in fact, I want to know what you’re reading. That’s the kind of judgment I’m obligated to make.
I’m also obligated to judge conduct that affects the honor and the order of our home. Because I’m going to be held accountable by God and by the neighbors. And if my children are rude and undisciplined in front of strangers, ultimately it reflects on me as a father. And it proves that I’m not fulfilling my function. They have a saying in Danish: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” That’s rather a neat way of saying it. In other words, what parents are like, it’s usually what their children will turn out like.
Another thing I’ve observed as a minister visiting families over the years is parents will be hypocrites. They’ll smile and be polite when they don’t like you, but the children won’t. I don’t listen so much to what the parents say but I pick up what the kids say. Because if they are sour and nasty I know that represents the real attitude of their parents. The parents can hide it, the children can’t. I think one of the words that’s almost dropped out of use today is honor. I remember a friend of mine who is a very well known preacher, if I mentioned his name, some of you would know it. But his children were giving him trouble. And he said to them, “I want you to know the name you bear is a very honorable name and you’re responsible for what people think about it.” And that broke his children up. They changed.
We could pick up many other examples but we’re just going through this in outline. The next area of judgment is the main one dealt with in the New Testament. It’s within the church, the corporate body of believers. And let me say, leaders are expected to judge those whom they lead. Let’s look in Hebrews 13:7 and 17. These words were addressed to the members but they indicate what’s expected of the leaders.
“Remember those which have the rule over you, [or who lead you] who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. [or the way their life ends. And in verse 17:] Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls...”(KJV)
So it’s very clear that in the church there is leadership that exercises authority and maintains discipline. In fact, where there’s no leadership that does that it’s really not permissible to talk about a church. In no scriptural sense is that a church. I pointed out I think maybe a week of two ago of somewhere I was recently that in Acts 14 disciples became churches when elders were appointed. Before the elders were appointed they were just disciples. It took leadership to make a church. And where there is no leadership you really don’t have a church. You have a mob, you have a gathering but you don’t have anything that the New Testament would acknowledge to be a church.
However, and this is something that’s just become real to me in a new way in the last few days because of meditating on this message. Ultimately the judgment is not merely with the leaders. The whole church is responsible to judge. I’ll show you some scriptures in just a moment. We need to bear in mind that the Greek word for church is ecclesiaand its normal meaning in contemporary secular literature was a governmental assembly. For instance, in Acts 19 the City of Ephesus was governed by its ecclesia, it’s assembly. The word is translated assembly three times. In other words, the very essence of the church is to be governmental. Without government there is no church. There’s nothing that justifies the use of that name. And ultimately, although the church is under leadership, it’s the whole church that has to accept responsibility for judgment.
Let me point this out and I’ll come back to it. As I look back over history, as far back as the Reformation, I see a kind of division in Christianity in our western world. One stream, shall we say, remained Catholic, the other became Protestant. And ever since then the Catholics have been busy finding out the errors of the Protestants and the Protestants being busy pointing out the errors of the Catholics. My friend Frank McNutt said wouldn’t it be better if we changed and each focused on the good points of the other and straightened out our own errors?
Now, I imagine the majority of people here tonight are probably from some sort of quote, Protestant background. You might not think of yourself as a Protestant but probably a majority of you don’t have a Catholic background. Therefore, without realizing it we have certain preconceptions in our minds that mostly we haven’t examined. And I think one of the biggest errors of Protestantism is that everybody’s got a right to judge. That’s really the spirit of Protestantism. One of the countries that was most bitterly torn by this conflict between the Catholic and the Protestants was the country of Holland. And Corrie ten Boom from Holland once said to me about the Dutch people, every Dutchman is his own theologian. Well that really is particularly accurate of the Dutch people. But it really sums up the essence of Protestantism. I want to tell you, as far as I can see, that’s totally unscriptural. There is no valid scriptural base for that attitude. And most of the areas where we are responsible to judge, we do not judge individually, we judge collectively. Most times when the Bible says you have to judge, it’s you plural who have to judge, not you the little individual sitting on your pew or in the back seat of your car. How many of you are happy for back seat drivers? That’s really a good way of describing Protestantism. It’s a religion of back seat driving. Now please understand Catholicism certainly has its errors too. I’m not saying we’re to go from one to the other. But let me offer you an opinion. I think if there is hope for either, there’s more hope for the Catholics than the Protestants. And nobody paid me to say that. And I could be wrong. They say in the Swahili proverb in East Africa, “the distant mountains have no stones.” I’ve cut my feet on the Protestant stones so many times I’m fully aware they’re there!
Now, what I’m saying is essentially in most of the areas where the New Testament holds us accountable to judge, it’s us plural. In fact, it’s the church. Now, you can see how close that is to Catholicism. And I’m not saying the Catholic attitude is right but you can see if you go by the letter of scripture they’ve got a very strong case. Of course, the big question is what is the church? You’ll have to wait till the millennium for me to answer that question.
Now let’s look at the scriptures which tell us we are obligated to judge and let’s see that as far as I can determine, in every case it’s the church, the congregation of believers, the body, that’s responsible to do the judging. 1 Corinthians 5. Also, let’s look at what we’re responsible to judge. In this passage it speaks about the conduct of our fellow believers. Brothers and sisters, do you realize that the church has the obligation to judge your conduct? Were you aware of that? How do you feel about it? 1Corinthians 5:1–5:
“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication [immorality] is not so much as named among the Gentiles, [the Gentiles don’t even have a word for it, the Law of Moses did] that a man should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, [you’re all puffed up with your spiritual gifts and your prophesying and interpreting and you can’t deal with sin.] and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you [Paul says this man has no place in the church.] For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already...”
But notice, though Paul’s judgment was given as an apostle, it depended on the endorsement of the church. That’s why he was writing to them.
“...as though I was present, concerning him that hath so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, [notice the collective action of the whole body] and my spirit, [I won’t be able to be there in person but I’m coming through my letter and I’ll be praying and when you act, my spirit will be acting with you] with the authority 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.”
That’s frightening, isn’t it? It really is frightening.
What does it mean to deliver a person to Satan? Now I confess there are areas here that I believe I don’t have full understanding. But in a certain sense, Satan is the god of this world. And when a person is excluded from the fellowship of believers, they’re turned out into the world. And that’s a terrible destiny. I don’t know that you have to say, “Satan, here you are, we hand this person over to you.” I think to be excluded from the fellowship of God’s people, in a certain sense, is to be handed over to Satan.
What was the conduct? Well, we would call it adultery and incest. Let’s look on in the same chapter, verse 9:
“I wrote to you in a letter not to keep company with fornicators [or immoral persons]. But I didn’t mean the fornicators of this world, or the covetous or extortioners or idolaters. For then you’d have to go out of the world.”
Is that cynical? How is the world today? Paul says if you’re not going to mix with fornicators and idolaters and covetous people and so on, you just couldn’t mix with the world at all. What’s he saying? It’s not our business to judge the world but it is our business to judge our fellow believers. Because we’re answerable for them just like a father is answerable for his family. Verse 11:
“But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother [that’s the point] be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer [that’s use abusive language], or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.”
Why? Because if that person professes to be a Christian and I am known to be a Christian and I associate with that person, I am acknowledging to the world I accept him as a Christian. And I’m deceiving the world as to what a Christian really is. So the only way I can be honest and straight out with the world is to say I won’t fellowship with you brother, because if I did the world would think that I accept you as a Christian and I don’t. That’s hard. Sometimes parents have to take that stand with their grown up children. As long as you behave that way, there’s no place for you in this house. You say that sounds hard, I think in the long run it’s probably kinder than the opposite. Verse 12 and 13:
“For what have I to do to judge them who are also without?”
Without what? The church, that’s right. We don’t have to judge unbelievers, isn’t that a blessing?
“Do not ye judge them that are within?”
Who are them that are within? The fellow believers. And notice ye, it’s one of the benefits of the King James. It’s plural. We collectively judge those who claim to be our fellow believers.
“But them that are without God judgeth.”
God is responsible to judge the ungodly, we’re responsible to judge the believer.
“Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”
Take action. Don’t tolerate him. Of course, I have to say that was an unusual case of immorality. We need to understand something, that doesn’t happen in every church every day. But on the other hand, I have to say that in the course of my ministry visiting other churches, I have encountered cases of incest between father and daughter frequently and I’ve encountered cases of practicing homosexuals who were members of full gospel or professing Christian churches. So it’s not something remote from another age. As a matter of fact, I think we’re liable to be faced with more and more of these problems as the morality of our society deteriorates. Somebody once said this: A ship in the sea is all right. The sea in a ship is all wrong. The church in the world is all right. The world in the church is all wrong. That’s what we’re talking about. Keeping the world out of the church. And it’s a continual battle to do it.
What else are we responsible to judge besides conduct, immorality and things like that? The second kind of thing we’re responsible to judge is disputes between believers. The scriptures are very clear about this. Let’s go back to the words of Jesus to start with. Matthew 18:15–17:
“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee...”
Doing what? Borrowing $2,000, promising to pay it back within thirty days, keeping it six months. Would that be a trespass? I would say it would. Does that ever happen? Believe me brothers, it does. What are you going to do about it? Go to the attorney? Or what are you going to do? First thing:
“...go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”
What’s the first step? Go to him privately, don’t go to anybody else. Now, in my experience, in cases where there are disputes between fellow Christians, at least 50 percent of people start by doing the wrong thing. They go to somebody else other than the offending brother. When you do that, the thing is probably out of hand. Many of you recall my first wife, Lydia. Many of you will recall that she was a pretty outspoken person. Years back, before we were married, when she was a missionary in Israel, there was a certain pastor who was very critical of her because of the fact that she was Pentecostal. And he made all sorts of criticisms about her to other Christians. Eventually the Lord got hold of him and he came to her to apologize and asked her to forgive him. Her answer was rather typical. She said I have to forgive you for my sake but you go up into a tower with a bag of feathers and let them out in the wind and see how many feathers you can get back. In other words, what you’ve done can’t be undone. And when we misuse our tongues and go and talk to the wrong people, what we’re really doing is opening a bag of feathers in the wind. And you see how many you can get back. All right.
And let me tell you, I’ve done this, and it usually works. I’m not saying it always works but I remember years back when I was just a young Christian, a brother made remarks about somebody very close to me and I said I want to make an appointment to see you. And you know, it’s really true, when I saw him his knees were literally knocking with fright. And I didn’t roar at him. The scriptural way puts the fear of God into a person. All right. Jesus going on says:
“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.”
That’s another principle we’re coming to. Everything you’re going to deal with in matters of judgment has to be established by at least two witnesses. All right. If he still won’t hear them what do you do? What’s the next step? Turn it where? 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 [or a tax collector].”
What’s that saying in effect? The one who will not accept the decision of the church loses his right to be treated as a Christian. That’s frightening. I mean, it frightens me. I would be very, very frightened to deliberately set aside the decision of any church reached in a scriptural way. The other thing that frightens me is this: to think of the authority vested in the church and how few churches are in any way competent to exercise that authority. That’s frightening.
Let’s look on to 1Corinthians 6 and see that this principle is carried on in the epistles. Verses 1–5:
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the believers?”
Dare you. Think how strongly Paul felt about that.
“Do you not know that the believers shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you 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 you have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are the least esteemed in the church. I speak to your same. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brother?”
In other words, the scripture does not say a Christian must not go to law. I’ve heard that stated. At least that scripture doesn’t. It says a Christian must not go to law with who? A fellow Christian. Now you can be tested on this. Some years back, and I have to be careful how I say this, I bought a house from a believer. We agreed to use the same lawyer. I’ll never do that again. The reason we did was he was a tongue speaking lawyer. But he was also a crook. How many of you can believe that a tongue speaking lawyer can be a crook? And I paid the money that I was due to pay in all good faith and he appropriated to pay another debt—his own. It took me a few weeks to catch up with him. And when I discovered what he’d done I went to him about it but he was so bankrupt that he had no possibility of ever recovering the money. So I wrote to the man from who I bought the house who was in another place and I said, listen, this has happened, he’s our lawyer and he’s swindled us. I said us because the money that I paid that should have gone to you he’s diverted to another use. So I suggest that we hire the law. This fellow believer wrote back and said no, you paid the money, it’s your loss. So I went to a very first rate lawyer and I said what’s the situation? And he said according to my understanding it’s his loss because you bought the house free of encumbrances and you’re entitled to claim it that way. He has got to provide the money. Well then I had to do some praying. And I decided the Bible says don’t go to law with a fellow believer. So I accepted the loss. That was about 13 years ago. I would have to say that money I lost God gave me back hundreds of times over. So I’m glad but it really was a test.
Now if I had a contract with an unbeliever, I am not saying that I wouldn’t go to law with him if he broke the contract. Some people would say you mustn’t and I would pray it over, but I’m not talking about that. I’m saying simply that we are not free to go to law with our fellow believer. That should be settled in the church. How many churches ever do anything like that today?
I had a letter from a Methodist lady once, this is probably ten years ago. She complained about a member of their church who had rented some property from her husband and her and wasn’t paying the rent. What was my advice? I quoted this passage. I said, I suggest that you go to the leaders of your church and state the case before them. I never heard another word from her. I don’t think she was pleased with my advice or I could well believe that the leaders of the church wouldn’t have known what to do with it. But that’s the scriptural procedure.
So we are obligated to judge disputes between our fellow believers. It’s a reproach if they go before the worldly court. There was another situation in a city in Canada where I had been a pastor and the congregation after I left it joined with another congregation. And then after awhile they split up, they fought. And one congregation ended up with all the money. And the other congregation said half of that money is ours. And they actually did go to law in the civil courts and the judge publicly, and he was quoted in the papers, said it’s a reproach to you people that I have to judge this case.
What else are we required to judge? I would say doctrinal error. Let’s look in Romans 16:17. I have to go quicker than I am going yet I feel a certain pressure of God to say what I’m saying.
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”
If people raise doctrinal issues where their doctrine is incorrect and it becomes a source of division in the church, we have to notice those people and refuse fellowship to them. So another basis for refusing fellowship is doctrinal error that breeds division in the church.
What else do we have to judge? There are some things we have to judge, it may be within, it may be from without. And at this point I’ll simply give you some examples. We have to judge the ministries that come to us. We have to judge apostles, we have to judge prophets. Revelation 2:2. Jesus speaks to the church of Ephesus, he says:
“I know thy works, thy labor, thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou has tried [or tested] them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars...”
Jesus commended that church because when men came claiming to be apostles, the church collectively tested them and rejected their claim. Though it’s written in the singular thou, you understand that it’s the whole church that ultimately was responsible.
Then we are to judge prophets. Matthew 7. There are various ways to judge prophets. My little book, “How to Judge Prophecy” lists a number of ways. I can’t go into that tonight but here is one exhortation to judge prophets. Matthew 7:15:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”
What’s the point of that simile between a wolf and a sheep? What’s represented by the sheep? The true believers. The wolf is the natural enemy of the sheep. But when the wolf comes in sheep’s clothing what does that indicate? A hypocrite, somebody who is claiming to be a Christian but isn’t. And that’s what Jesus is warning us about.
“You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns? or figs of thistles?”
Let me ask you, how many times do you have to prick your finger before you conclude that’s a false prophet?
“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”
How many of you are saying I wish I learned that sooner? Oh, I can remember the days in Pentecost when anybody prophesied or spoke in tongues, that was wonderful. We didn’t look at the fruit. And how many times we pricked our fingers on thorns thinking we were getting figs. Verse 19:
“Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
Notice it’s all plural. It’s not primarily each of us individually but it’s us collectively. And then again in 1Corinthians 14:29. There used to be a kind of idea among us in Pentecost that if anybody shouted loud enough he must be speaking the truth. I want to tell you experience has convinced me that isn’t always so.
“Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other [do what?] judge [or discern].”
It is not scriptural to have the exercise of prophecy without it being submitted to judgment. And it’s others, plural, who judge. The others with that ministry and that ability.
Deacons have to be judged. 1Timothy 3:10, I’m not going to dwell on this point but just to show you. Talking about deacons:
“And let these also first be tested, then let them use the office of deacon.”
It’s the responsibility of the leaders of the church to examine the life, conduct, doctrine of any man who is a candidate for office in the church. It’s their responsibility to judge. If they don’t, they’re failing in their responsibility.
And then some general exhortations to judging. We go quickly here, 1Corinthians 12:1–3:
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.”
Why does he use the word dumb? I don’t think he’s meaning stupid. What was the point of calling the idols dumb? They never spoke. He said now you’re in a spiritual realm where people speak representing God. And now you need to know whether it really is God speaking or not. That’s the essence. How do you know? Here’s one test.
“Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit.”
So what is the attitude to Jesus? I’ve actually put that test to people who had spirits in them more than once and said, “You spirit that’s in this man, is Jesus Lord?” And I’ve had some very angry, negative answers at times. 1John 4:1–3:
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
You’ll notice the relationship between a false prophet and a false spirit. A prophet is one who speaks by a spirit which is not his own. If it’s the Holy Spirit he’s a true prophet. If it’s any other spirit he’s a false prophet. But it’s the spirit that you’re testing.
“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that does not confess Jesus Christ is not of God.”
Again, it’s primarily the attitude to Jesus. And then in 2John, verses 7–11:
“For many deceivers are entered into the world, who do not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.”
Notice the essence of the test. Has Jesus the Messiah come in the flesh?
“This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth...”
That’s the King James translation. The modern translation is whosoever goes beyond, goes beyond the simple basic truth of the gospel. Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid which is Jesus Christ the righteous. Anybody who goes beyond that foundation is a deceiver.
“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed. For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
Now we need to understand what this doctrine is. It’s not the doctrine that women should have their heads covered when they prophesy. Nor is it the right meeting day is Sunday. I’ve known Christian disfellowship one another for points as minor as that. Actually refuse to fellowship. What is this doctrine? It’s the basic truth that Jesus the Messiah has come in the flesh. Now anybody that denies that, you better be careful how you deal with them. Let me say, and I trust I’ll offend nobody, normally I will not invite a Jehovah’s Witness into my house. Because they do deny that. And I don’t want to get involved in their evil deeds. If you welcome somebody, knowing that they are rejecting this basic truth, then you become a partaker of their evil deeds.
Now there might be exceptions. I wouldn’t be legalistic. I once got a Jehovah’s Witness lady into my house when I was in Seattle, Washington. I spent probably an hour with her. But she was very open to the gospel. You know what I discovered? She had been a Catholic and she’d been Pentecostal. It really shocked me to discover that she wandered from place to place and she was still apparently looking for the truth because she listened to me for at least an hour. So I don’t want to be legalistic. But basically I’m very careful when I say good bye, God bless you. I don’t want to bless the devil’s representatives. And I believe when I say God bless you, it means something.
Now then. I was going to speak about the responsibility of secular rulers to judge but I think I’ll leave that because it’s not really in line with what we’re talking about tonight. It’s a whole different area, though the Bible has plenty to say about it. So we’ll go on to where are we not responsible to judge? Now you could give an infinite number of answers to this question. I’ll just give you some suggested answers. And it’s necessary to get this right. As individuals, we are not responsible to judge our fellow believers. If judgment is of an individual, it’s by the church, not by another individual. See the difference? When their conduct does not affect our conduct. Now if their conduct is directed towards getting us to do something we believe wrong, then we have the right to judge their conduct. But if it doesn’t affect our conduct, it’s not our business to judge. And the examples that Paul gives in Romans 13 are people who believe they should only eat vegetables, people who believe they should eat meat, people who believe they must observe certain religious days and people who don’t observe any religious days. As long as his observances don’t affect my life, I am not responsible to judge him. In fact, I am responsible not to judge him. But if anything that another believer does affects my life to the point where it would influence me or cause me to do something that I don’t believe, then I’m responsible to judge. In other words, the area of my individual judgment in this case is my own life and conduct. And if it’s outside that it’s outside my jurisdiction.
Another area that we’re not responsible to judge is other people’s children. That’s very tempting, isn’t it? Unless their conduct affects us. Again, the same limitations. You know what I discovered? Most of the people who judge other people’s children would be better occupied correcting their own.
Another area we’re not responsible to judge is other Christian groups. What are you going to do from now on? You’ve got nothing left to talk about! Of course, we have to say in the New Testament that situation didn’t arise because there were no other Christian groups. All Christians belonged to one group. So in a sense, it’s an unnatural situation.
Now you say you’re having trouble with the members of another church. It’s not your responsibility to judge them. If you really think the situation needs to be dealt with, you go to your shepherd and he goes to their shepherd, that’s the way to handle it; shepherd to shepherd. Not sheep to sheep.
Now then, this is very important. I hope I’m not going overtime. How are we to judge? If you’re making notes about anything, make notes about this because most judgment in the Christian circles that I move in transgresses these rules. John 7:24. I’m not going to turn there but Jesus says judge righteous judgment. Never be unrighteous in your judgment. Remember, everything you judge you’re going to be judged for.
Secondly, judge on the basis of proven facts. I’d like to go, first of all, to Genesis 18. This is something that really impresses me. The Lord is having a conversation with Abraham and he’s telling Abraham he’s on his way to inspect Sodom and Gomorrah because he’s had a lot of bad reports. And the bad reports, I presume, came from angels. What impresses me is that the Lord didn’t merely accept the angels reports without verifying them for himself. Listen to what he says. Verse 20– 21:
“And the Lord said, because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.”
That amazes me. Even though the Lord wouldn’t judge without going to see the situation for himself. How dare we if God doesn’t?
Then look in Deuteronomy 13:12:
“If thou shall hear say...”
What about hear say? Do you ever hear say?
“If thou shall hear say in one of thy cities, which the Lord thy God hath given thee to dwell there saying, Certain men, the children of Belial [real bad characters] are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known.”
This is a terrible sin. It’s turning people away from the true God to idolatry. Now what are you to do if you hear say? Listen to this, it’s so good in the King James. I looked at the other translations, the King James is more vivid.
“Then thou shalt inquire, and make search and ask diligently...”
Three protections: inquire, make search, ask diligently.
“...and behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain...”
There are five safeguards before you act: inquire, search, ask diligently, and if it’s true and proven. All right? Then what do you do? You do something about it. You blot them out. You see, what frustrates me is Christians are passing judgment all the time on other Christians and never doing anything about it. There is no purpose in judgment if it isn’t followed by action. It’s illegitimate. The thing about God’s ordinance for Israel was if anybody ever judged, he had to act on the basis of proven facts.
The third requirement, the accused must be allowed to face his accusers. Okay? John 7:51. You find the worst offenders of this are religious people. In fact, they’re the worst offenders of most things. You think that’s not true, it is. John 7:51. The Sanhedrin, the Jewish legal council was discussing Jesus. They had heard a lot of bad reports and they were magnifying it amongst themselves. One honest man, Nicodemus, spoke up.
“Doth our law judge any man before it hear him and know what he doeth?”
It is not scriptural to judge anybody till you’ve let them speak for themselves to your face. It’s unscriptural. You know, I made a rule with myself that I wouldn’t, if possible, ever form an opinion about somebody till I met them. Because I discovered so many times I’d formed opinions on what I heard and when I met the person my opinion changed instantly. I was going on prejudice and misinformation and bias. I don’t say I always stick to it, but basically I’ll never try to form an opinion of a person till I’ve met them personally. People are so different from what you hear about them, do you know that?
Let’s look again in Acts 25:16. The principle here is the accused must have his accusers face to face. This is Festus, the Roman procurator and he’s talking about his dealings with Paul. Beginning in verse 15:
“About whom, [Paul] when I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, [misinformed him] desiring to have judgment against him. [Now listen to what this Gentile, Roman procurator told those religious Jews:] To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have license [or liberty] to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.”
Can you see the irony of that? There were the Jewish leaders, the keepers of God’s law deliberately trying to get Paul condemned against God’s law and it took a Roman governor to straighten them out on their conduct. How many times the world is more just in its judgments than the church?
The next principle, and I’ll recapitulate these, there must be at least two reliable witnesses to anything. Let’s look at some of the principles. Deuteronomy 19:15:
“One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.”
You are never to condemn a person on only one witness. The minimum is two, more desirable is three. Matthew 18:16, we read it already. If your brother won’t listen to you alone, take with you at least two witnesses so that from then on it’s not what I said or he said, it’s what the witnesses heard.
2Corinthians 13:1. There was trouble in the church in Corinth, Paul was on his way to resolve the troubles. He hoped he could come in love and grace and he said if not I’m coming with a rod. But I’m coming anyhow. And this is what he said:
“This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses there shall every word be established.”
Don’t bring anything to me that isn’t supported by at least two witnesses. I won’t even listen to it. I imagine half the problems ceased at that moment.
“Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.”
Why? Particularly to protect an elder. Because any man in leadership is always liable to be slandered. You’ve heard Bob Mumford’s new beatitude. Blessed are they that lead, for they shall be shot down. So the Bible says protect leaders. Guard them. Never entertain any accusation against a leader unless there are at least two and preferably three witnesses. I can’t tell you, and I’m not complaining because I think I get by pretty well, but I can’t tell you how many false statements have been circulated about me in the last ten years that don’t have even one reliable witness. Continually, including the report that I committed suicide—which came from the highest sources! It’s true, it’s a fact. Let me tell you friends, when you hear something from the best sources, be very suspicious.
All right. Now one more and this is really where we’re getting right down to it. The witnesses are accountable for their testimony. Let’s go back to Deuteronomy 5:20. Let’s read a few verses there. These are the ten commandments. Let’s just take a few of them. Beginning at verse 17:
“Thou shalt not kill. Neither shalt thou commit adultery. Neither shalt thou steal. Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Bearing false witness is lined up with what? Murder, stealing and committing adultery. And yet, I would have to say multitudes of Christians bring false witness against fellow believers without any sense of guilt whatever. As far as I understand scripture, God keeps them in the same category as murderers, adulterers and thieves. Let’s look on in Deuteronomy 17:6–7:
“At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. [listen, this is where it really gets down to it] The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people.”
What’s the point of that? If you carry tales about somebody and it brings trouble, you’ve got to stand behind what you say. You are not free to say things and then say I didn’t really mean it. All right, you give testimony, the man is to be put to death, you who gave the testimony have to cast the first stone. In other words, you’ve got to have the guts to go through with what you were saying. That’s frightening. Deuteronomy 19:16–21. As I’ve been through this study I just marvel at the wisdom of the law of Moses.
“If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days. And the judges shall make diligent inquisition; [notice diligent inquisition] and behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother; so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.”
For instance, somebody accuses me of committing adultery and is proved wrong, the man who accuses me is to be dealt with as if he committed adultery. Get the message? That would make him think. Verse 20:
“And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. And thine eye shall not pity [the false witness]; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
In other words, if the penalty for the crime of which this man is wrongly accused is that he has to lose his life, then the false witness loses his life. If the man merely has his hand cut off, the false witness has his hand cut off. I just wish that would get back somehow. But what I have to say is this: God’s estimate of being a false witness never changes. His method of dealing with it may but his estimate doesn’t.
Let me give you then the five basic points of judgment. I’m coming pretty close to the end. Stay with me.
Number one, it has to be righteous judgment.
Number two, it has to be on the basis of proven fact.
Number three, the accused has the right to face his accusers.
Number four, it must be on the basis of at least two reliable witnesses, preferably three.
Number five, the witnesses are accountable for their testimony. And if their testimony was false, they are to be treated in the way the man accused would have been treated if their testimony was true.
Now let me point out that these principles of judgment really are basic to the whole history of the human race. First of all, they’re the principles of divine practice. God himself does it that way. Secondly, they’re the principles of the law of Moses. Thirdly, they’re the principles of the Sanhedrin in the New Testament period. Fourthly, they’re the principles of Roman law. And fifthly, they’re the principles of church practice. So everybody that goes against those principles is going against divine practice, the law of Moses, the principles of the Sanhedrin, Roman law and the practice laid down for the church. How many of you want to do that?
One final question. If we judge when we are not authorized to judge, what does that make us? I’ll just give you two scriptures. 1Peter 4:15. It’s talking about suffering as Christians. Then it says:
“But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.”
What are you and I if we judge when we’re not authorized to judge? Busybodies. And we’re categorized as a murderer, a thief, the evildoer. That word in Greek means somebody who is an overseer over that which has not been given him to oversee. It’s a very lengthy, compound Greek word. Those of you who know Greek, it’s ?alotrealpiscopal?. A bishop over things that are not ordained for him. Don’t be one.
And then James 4:11–12. This is a scripture that is really the key to everything and we close with this.
“Speak not evil one of another, brethren.”
Did you know that? We are not permitted to speak evil of one another even if it’s true. We’re not permitted to say it, it’s not our business. In Romans 1:30 the same word is translated backbiter and it’s put right next to haters of God.
“He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, [why? Because the law says not to do it.] and judgeth the law: [because he’s putting himself above God’s law doing something which the law says he’s not authorized to do.] 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?”
Notice it’s in the singular. How many of you have been in a law court at any time? Most of us, I have. The higher the court, the greater the solemnity and the dignity. And basically, the whole court revolves around one chair. Whose chair? The judge’s chair. Everything else is around that. When the judge eventually comes in, in most courts, everybody has to rise. That’s respect for the office of judge. And usually there’s some kind of protection or barricade of some sort to prevent people from the court getting direct access to the judge.
Now imagine that we are in a court and you’re sitting there on the seat, the judge hasn’t come in yet. The judge’s chair is vacant and everything is silent and solemn. And you suddenly get up out of your seat, walk right up, push your way past some guard and sit down in the judge’s chair. What’s the next thing that’s going to happen to you? You are going to be thrown out. That’s exactly what you are doing when you take the place of a judge that God hasn’t given you. Just picture it for yourself. You’d never dare to do it. If you can see the truth about this you’d never dare to do it. Amen? Amen.
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