John 7:24 “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
We sometimes hear someone quoting Scripture: “judge not, lest you be judged.” The Bible does not prohibit judgment – it is in fact commanded in this passage. The prohibitions have to do with abuses of judgment (John 8:15; Mat 7:1-5). One failure in judgment is the attempt to judge motives, when only God looks on the heart. Human judgment must always, can only, be a judgment of words and actions (Man can only look on the outward appearances). Even that judgment must be based upon the full investigation of the facts (Prov. 18:13, 15, 17).
The standard one uses in judgment must also be a right standard! Several decades ago in one of Detroit’s automobile factories, the company and the union at the plant had arrived at a contract specifying the number of cars it would produce in a year’s time. It was calculated that the cars would come-down the assembly line at a certain speed and the cars would be spaced at a specified distance from one another to maintain the right pace to meet the criteria of the contract. Spacing sticks of a certain length were placed between the back bumper of the leading car and the front bumper of the trailing car to enforce this plan. However, one Christmas break at the factory, someone from the company shaved down each stick by a couple of inches. Unless one had measured the sticks exactly, one wouldn’t immediately spot something was wrong. The plant ended up producing a few thousand more cars than were contracted! People were producing the cars without thinking through the evidence of the measuring sticks, assuming they were correct.
Here, in John 7, Jesus was being judged by people who were not thinking through the evidence, and making an unrighteous judgment.
We tend to error in one of two directions:
1. We have too good of an opinion of someone. We’re easily deceived by their show of piety. The mere fact that someone professes to be a Christian does not prove that he is one. That he appears moral outwardly and is in regular attendance at worship is no certain indicator in and of itself of the condition of his heart.
2. On the other hand, some are too critical and harsh in their judgment! We must not make a man an offender for a word. In many things we ALL offend: Ecclesiastes 7:20 “there is not a just man on earth that does good and sins not.” The remnants of the evil nature, inherited from Adam, remains in every Christian. Although it no longer has dominion over us, it is still there until the Lord takes us home. God also worked more than in others. So, there is a real danger that we forget the frailties of the flesh and regard some who are really Christians as unbelievers. It is highly probable upon reaching heaven that we will be surprised who is and who isn’t there! So, let us be seeking God’s grace to listen to and follow Jesus’ instruction to us to judge not according to the appearance, but to judge with righteous judgment.
With regards to ourselves, if we have grasped the message of the Gospel, we know this is the truth about ourselves: that we grotesquely overestimate our own goodness; we underestimate the measure of our rebellion against God; and we hide it all behind a veneer of morality and zeal for what is right.
To know ourselves this way is the first part of our recovery to life and fellowship with God. Jesus came preaching repentance for the kingdom of God is near. And now we know we have more to repent of than we ourselves will ever even be able to discover. Which is why we need a Saviour, a Saviour whose salvation is so complete and so perfectly suited to our need – who can make monumental sinners right with a holy God and who can turn even our hypocrisy into honesty before God and man.