What is the difference between Judging and Discerning?. I think some people are too judgemental of others. (An e-mailer who wants to remain nameless asked this question)

That is a good question, and all Christians should understand the Biblical definition. It is most important to grasp the difference between being judgmental and discerning truth from error. In Matt. 7:1, Jesus said, "Do not judge lest you be judged." Then, in verses 2-5 he warns against trying to correct others without first correcting what is wrong in our own lives. If we can deal honestly with our own hearts, etc., then we will have the responsibility to help others. But there is also a warning in verse 6. He said, "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine" (vs. 6). This is the hard part!, how can we know that someone, in their spiritual condition, is like a dog or a pig (i.e., someone who is incapable of appreciating the truthóapathetic, cold, indifferent), unless you judge, discern their character or their spiritual condition?

This passage does not teach that judgments should never be made. In fact, Matthew 7:5 specifically speaks of removing the speck from your brotherís eye. But the Lordís point is that no one is qualified nor able to do that if they are habitually critical or condemnatory of the specks in someone elseís eye when they themselves have a plank (a hyperbole for effect) in their own eye. Such people are not truly interested in righteousness, only in playing spiritual king of the mountain, or holier than thou!.

So, as in selecting elders and deacons for office (1 Tim. 3), judgment is sometimes needed, but those making the distinctions (in Biblical Greek judge, means "to distinguish" and thus "to decide") must first be certain of their own lives and their motives. We need to ask questions like, "Am I doing this to show how much I know? Am I trying to play spiritual king of the mountain? Do I think I am better than they are because I know something they do not know?". These are some of the logs that we must remove from our own eyes (hearts). We are not judging people when we discern their behavior or beliefs are clearly unbiblical, (eg: Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists etc) even though they may be sincere about their beliefs. For an excellent passage on having a judgmental spirit versus a discerning spirit, read Paulís teaching on the problem of doubtful or questionable things in Romans 14.

Furthermore when seeking to help others, we must exercise care to discern their spiritual appetites and do what would be appreciated and beneficial. We need to test the waters, so to speak. Ask a question in a non-threatening way to see if they might be open to discussion. "Would you be interested in finding out what the Bible has to say about astrology?" We do this because one should never entrust holy things (what is sacred) to unholy people (dogs; cf. "dogs" in Phil. 3:2) or throw . . . pearls to pigs. Dogs and pigs were despised in those days. Bible thumping non-believers can actually harden them from hearing the gospel. Look throughout the Bible, do you see anywhere in the Scriptures where a Godly person rebuked a non believer with Scripture?. No! Jesus did rebuke the Pharasees though, because they were false teachers, making an outward show of their false holiness. Paul spoke in the aeropagus to pagan philosophers who believed in many gods. He spoke from what they could understand, and encouraged them to get to know the unknown God whom he was a messenger of, and whom he was speaking for.

The reason the Lord spoke in parables was to hide truth from the indifferent and to reveal it to those who were hungry and prepared.

As a quick side note: Remember The Lord Jesus isn't saying we are not to judge, but to remember that the standard we judge others by, is the same standard we will be judged by. Don't judge on outward appearance, but you can judge a teaching or teacher if they are claiming to be Christian and, yet coming out with unbiblical teachings or behaviour. The standard by which we judge is, and only can be the Scriptures, and the Scriptures will judge us also.

Finally, remember that the ultimate issue is not seeking to get people to change their behavior, but come to know and believe in Christ. This includes biblical repentance, but in a salvation context, that means recognizing their sinful condition and need and turning from their sources of trust (religion, human will power, cultic beliefs, astrology, etc.) to trust in Jesus and His death for their sin. It does not mean cleaning up their lives and then trusting in Christ. Only Christ can change lives in a way that is significant.

Shaun Aisbitt

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