Context!

It is not uncommon to hear someone in the church emphasizing the importance of considering individual Bible verses in their larger context. A prime example of this might be Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”

Without any context, someone might conclude that we should never judge anyone over anything. However, if you take the time to read and consider the next several verses, you will find that Jesus was actually warning us against hypocritical judgments in which we apply a harsher standard to others than we do to ourselves. Thus, in verse 5 He clarifies: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Another principle that can be important for understanding the true meaning of a verse or passage is to consider what other passages have to say about the subject in question. Once again, we can apply this principle to the question of passing judgment.

We have suggested that Matthew 7 encourages us to pass judgment, but only when we have first examined ourselves by the same standard. John 7:24 gives us another caution about our use of judgment: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

We might conclude based on these two passages that judgment is always appropriate, as long as we examine ourselves first, and take the time to consider the issue carefully rather than jumping to conclusions. But there are even more passages that might expand our thinking on judgment further.

“I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:4-5)

Wait a minute… I thought we were supposed to judge with righteous judgment, so why does Paul say we must not go on passing judgment before the time? It appears (from context) that Paul is speaking of matters in which the motives of men’s hearts are not outwardly apparent. We can judge outward actions, but at least in some instances, only God can see into their heart to judge their actual motives.

Also consider 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges.”

This would seem to suggest that we can only judge people who are members of the church. In that case, is it wrong to criticize the behavior of someone who is not a Christian, or to tell them that they are lost and need Jesus? After all, Paul spent the first chapter of the book of Romans calling out the Gentiles for their wickedness, even going so far as to list specific sins, such as the practice of homosexuality, and saying that they are “without excuse” and have incurred God’s wrath.

Examining the context of Romans 1 shows us that the judgment spoken of here is a kind of judgment that applies to all people: the assertion that their sins separate them from God. On the other hand, the judgment of 1 Corinthians 5, which is only appropriate towards those in the church, is a judgment that results in a period of disciplinary dis-fellowshipping that will enable the person to realize their hypocrisy as someone who claims to follow Christ but rebels against his commands.

It turns out that judgment is a more complicated topic than simply “It is always right to judge someone,” or “you should never judge someone.” The word “judgment” itself can have different meanings in different contexts, and can have a different application depending on who is doing the judging, who is being judged, and what the content of the judgment is.

Judgment is only one example. The moral of the story is that we must examine context carefully and consider multiple passages in order to avoid overcomplicating what God has made simple, or oversimplifying what God presents as nuanced.

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Representing Christ

The final words of Jesus that are recorded by Matthew are instructions for His followers to carry out while He is away: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The idea of spreading out all over the world is itself a daunting task, but for many of the early missionaries for Christ, travel and culture shock were only the beginning of their troubles. People were going to HATE them for being Christians: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)

This posed a real problem for the early church. Hatred can often lead to violence, and the Roman government had very little tolerance for troublemakers whose religion led to violence. So what could the church do, to maintain its credibility and its political freedom while also standing up for Christ? The book of 1 Peter appears to have been written as an answer to that question.

Peter writes the book specifically to the “aliens” who have been scattered all over the known world for the sake of Christ, and he addresses all kinds of difficult situations that they may encounter.

What if Christ’s people find themselves disagreeing with the governing authorities?
What if a Christian servant finds himself serving an unjust master?
What if a Christian wife finds herself with an unbelieving husband?
What if a Christian finds himself in an argument in which his faith is called into question?
What if there are arguments within the church itself?

All of these situations must have been common for the early church, and any of them could have ended badly for everyone involved, but Peter’s instructions contain a steady theme that runs throughout the book:

Stand up for Jesus Christ, but do so in a way that is above reproach. Do not give them any reason whatsoever to slander your character. Be respectful. Be gentle. Be humble. Demonstrate through your behavior just how beautiful and beneficial your religion really is.

As Jesus said in Matthew 7: “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

The world will judge our message not simply by what we say, but also by how we say it, and what we do to demonstrate it. When we argue on behalf of Christ, let us do it, as Peter says “with gentleness and reverence.”

After all, Jesus Himself is our ultimate example. He was unjustly nailed to a cross.   He could have called ten thousand angels. But instead He responded by praying for our forgiveness and entrusting Himself to the Father.

Scriptures and Thoughts on “Judgment”

What does the word judgment really mean?

Hebrew:
Shaphat – “to judge, govern, to uphold justice, to enact righteous decisions.” Commonly used in a “judicial” setting.
Mishpat – “judgment, justice.” The aspect of justice as well as the execution of judgment in litigation.
Yom YHWH – “Day of the LORD.” Can refer to impending historical judgments of God on ancient nations, or to the final judgment day. Israel perceived this as the time of their deliverance; ultimately a happy occasion.

Greek:
Eschate Hemera – “last day.” Used to indicate the final judgment day.
Hemera Kyriou – “Day of the Lord.” Day of vindication by the Lord.
Krino – the act of carrying out a judicial process or making a judgment. The noun “Krisis” is closely related.
Bema – “judgment seat, judgment bench.”
Aphorizo – “to exclude, to separate.” Indicates separation of wicked and righteous.

The word is a “legal” term indicating the handing down of a verdict. The path for the future is determined by what the verdict is.

Judgment is typically viewed negatively in our society, but the Day of the LORD can also be seen as a happy occurrence because He comes to set things right and vindicate His people from all harm.

What will the judgment day be like?

(Matthew 24:36) “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”

 (2 Peter 3:10) “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. “

(Daniel 7:9-10) “I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. “A river of fire was flowing And coming out from before Him; Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; The court sat, And the books were opened.

 (Revelation 20:11-15) “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Does the specific wording of this passage teach that only those who are not in the Book of Life are the ones judged by the actions they have done in life?

(Matthew 25:31-43) “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world….Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’

(Matthew 13:49) “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous,”

(2 Thessalonians 1”6-8) “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

(Romans 12:19) “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

(John 12:31) “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.

(2 Timothy 4:8) “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

By what criteria will man be judged?

(Matthew 25) “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’”

(Revelation 20) “the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”

(Matthew 12:36-37) “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

(Matthew 16:27) “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.”

(Revelation 22:12) “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”

(Romans 2:16)“On that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

(2 Corinthians 5:10) “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

 (John 12:48) “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”

(Hebrews 10:26-27) “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.”

(John 3:18) “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Does this mean that much of the criteria we have mentioned will not be relevant for believers, because of justification by faith?

(John 3:19) “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

(1 John 1:7) “but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

(Matthew 10:32-33) “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”

 (Matthew 7:2) “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you”

(James 2:13) “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

(Matthew 6:15) “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

(Romans 3:28) “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

(Romans 6:23) “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Who will judge the world? Will it be the saints?

(1 Corinthians 6:1-3) “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?”

(Matthew 19:28) “And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

(Matthew 25) “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats

(John 5:22) “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son,”

(Acts 10:42) “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.”

(Hebrews 12:23) “to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,”

(Acts 17:31) “Because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

(1Peter 4:5) “but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

By what standard and in what manner are we to judge each other?

(2 Timothy 3:16) “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;”

 (John 7:24) “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

(James 2:12-13) “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

(Matthew 7:2) “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you”

(James 2:13) “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

(Matthew 10:13-14) “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”

Is it appropriate for me to judge my brother?

(James 4:12) “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”

 (1 Corinthians 4:5) “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”

(Romans 14:1-4) “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

(Romans 14:10-13) “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”

(1 Corinthians 5:9-13) “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.

(James 5:20) “let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

(Galatians 6:1) “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

(Matthew 18:15) “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

 Is it appropriate to judge those who are in the world?

(1 Corinthians 5:12-13) “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.”

(Matthew 28:19-20) “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Why Do the Right Thing?

It is no secret that God asks us to give up our sins, some of which may be very dear to our hearts. He asks us to change our lives in ways that can be difficult or painful. He asks us to give up our pride. He asks us to step out in faith and do things that get us out of our comfort zone. He asks for a lot.

So why should we do what He asks? Why do the right thing? Here are some possible answers:

So that life will be better for us here and now. After all, God’s commands are designed to protect us from harm. There can be no question that following where He leads is beneficial. In Mark 19:30, Jesus says of anyone who gives something up for Him, “he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age.”

So that we can go to heaven. In Matthew 6:20, Jesus encourages us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Romans 2:6-7 tells us that God “WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” Some day we want to hear Him say “well done.”

So that we won’t go to hell. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 says plainly, “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” For those who really believe all that the Bible says about hell (and the Bible says a LOT about it) this is a real motivation to do the right thing.

There are many other possible reasons to do the right thing. To be a good example to those younger than us. To avoid hurting family and friends. To keep a clear conscience. To maintain personal credibility.

But there is one primary reason to do the right thing that we must not forget.

We do the right thing because, as Christians, we don’t have a choice. God owns us. We gave up our rights when we died with Him through baptism (Romans 6). We signed up to be slaves of righteousness (also Romans 6). It is not we who live but Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). Our lives are living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).

We live in a society that esteems personal freedom over duty. Others may give us advice, but they are not to control us. No one can tell us what to do, we get to weigh the pros and cons and decide for ourselves. But the relationship between the Christian and his God is not this way.

God can and does tell us what to do. If you want to follow Him, you only have one choice: submit. We don’t get to pull out a list of pros and cons every time we want to sin, assess the situation, and decide whether discipleship seems personally advantageous. God either owns you or you do not belong to Him at all.

“Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33)

“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)