By Pastor Glenn Pease
Arturo Toscanini, the great symphony conductor, once told this as his favorite story. And orchestra was playing Beethoven's Leonore Overture, in which there are two climaxes, each of which is followed by a trumpet passage from off stage. The first climax arrived, but not a sound came from the trumpet. The conductor was annoyed, but went on to the second climax. Again there was no trumpet. This time the conductor rushed into the wing of the concert hall, and he found his trumpet player struggling with the house fireman. "I tell you, you can't play that trumpet back here," the fireman was insisting, "There's a concert going on." Little did he realize that he was the one disturbing the concert, and not the trumpet player.
This same problem of misunderstanding arises in connection with this well known statement of Jesus, "Judge not that ye be not judged." It is one of the most misused verses in the Bible. So often some overly cautious person uses this verse to forbid our blowing of the trumpet of judgment, even though we know it is a part of the symphony of life being conducted by Christ. Much misunderstanding arises when men take a relative principle and turn it into an absolute rule. The house fireman knew that, as a rule, a concert would be spoiled by someone playing a trumpet off stage. What he did not know that this particular concert called for the unusual.
So many Christians know that being critical and judgmental can bring only discord into life, and so they forbid it as always and absolutely out of harmony with the symphony of the Christian life. What they fail to realize is that many parts of the symphony call for the trumpet of judgment. If we ever hope to be in harmony with the music of the Master, then we had better recognize that there is a time to sound, and a time to silence, our trumpets of judgment. We spoil the concert of obedience just as much by being silent when we should blow, as we do when we blow when we should be silent. Our task in this message will be to help us avoid either by learning that our conductor calls for both sounding and silencing the trumpets of judgment. First consider-
I. SOUNDING THE TRUMPET OF JUDGMENT.
We need to consider this first, for this seems to be the very thing that Jesus is forbidding us to do. He says very clearly, "Judge not." Every time you begin to judge the character or conduct of a person someone will repeat it just as simply and clearly-"judge not." This is usually a quick way to muffle the trumpet. It is like throwing a wet blanket on a flickering match. The critic immediately feels condemned if he persists in judging, and so he ceases. Now when that flickering match of judgment is kindled by envy, prejudice, or any other attitude inconsistent with Christ's likeness, then the wet blanket is a blessing. But when the flame is kindled by the legitimate desire to oppose an expose the works of darkness, then the wet blanket is being used to quench the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus did not intend to convey an absolute rule here. He did not expect His followers to suspend all their critical faculties, and live in a moral vacuum where all is neutral, and neither good nor bad. Jesus expected His followers to be especially keen at this point. That is why in verse 6 He commands, "Give not that which is holy to dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine." How can we possibly obey verse 6 if we take verse 1 as an absolute forbidding to judge? We need to judge both that which is holy and a pearl, and who are the dogs and swine. A Christian is to judge some people as being unworthy to be associated with the name of Christ. Just as you would not go to the stock yard and hang up the Lord's Prayer in a pig pen, so you do not talk of your answers to prayer with the mocker who is blaspheming the name of Christ. It is because you judge them to be incapable of recognizing spiritual values.
In verse 15 Jesus says we must be able to judge who are false prophets. We are not only to evaluate the character of men, but also their conduct and teaching. We are to be critical enough to detect what is false and reject it. Jesus was constantly judging the system of the Scribes and Pharisees, and frequently He called them hypocrites. All the reformers of the church through history were those who saw evil, and called it evil. They came to critical conclusions, and sounded the trumpet of judgment. It cannot be said of Jesus that He never had a bad word to say about anybody. Jesus said He did not come to judge, but He could not avoid distinguishing between good and evil men.
Jesus said there were those who were wolves in sheep clothing, and He did not say we were not to try and detect them, but we are to know them by their fruit. In other words, observe and use your critical faculties, and judge who is true, and who is false. Shakespeare said, "Oh, what may man within him hide, Though angel on the outward side." Jesus saw through the veneer to the rotten wood beneath. He saw through the whited tombs to the bones and decay within. Jesus was a judge, and He expected His disciples to be so as well. We can have no value system at all if we cannot evaluate men and ideas, and then judge them as good or evil. We cannot begin to cover all the material in the Epistles dealing with judging persons and doctrine, but no person can be obedient to the teachings of the New Testament without exercising their obligation to judge.
Even John, the great Apostle of love, could write, "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God's speed, for he that bids him God's speed is partaker of his evil deeds." John is saying we must judge, or we will be judged. If you give indiscriminate support to every person who says he is serving God, your lack of critical judgment will lead you to condemnation instead of reward. Instead of judging being forbidden in the New Testament, we see that it becomes an essential part of our obligation as Christians to judge. Not to judge is to be shut up into perpetual silence, for one cannot even say to another, "Judge not," since this is judging them to be breaking this command. In other words, you can't use this verse at all without sounding the trumpet of judgment, for to quote it to another is making a judgment. We see then that the trumpet of judgment does belong in the orchestra of Christian living. Now we need to look at what this statement does say concerning-
II. SILENCING THE TRUMPET OF JUDGMENT.
Jesus is here warning against the dangerous consequences of being an habitual critic. The one who presumes to advise the whole world on how they are wrong, but does little examining of his own life, is the one that Jesus is warning. The trumpet of judgment is to be available when the script calls for it, but the man or woman who is blaring away with it all through the concert is a curse. He not only ruins the harmony for others, but he brings down the wrath of the conductor and other people upon himself. Therefore, when this trumpet is not appropriate and fitting, keep it silent.
For example, this trumpet should always be kept silent when we are ignorant and lack knowledge on a matter. If you don't know the tune, don't play. Prov. 18:13 says, "If one gives answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." Nothing is so inappropriate as a critic who has not heard the evidence. We would consider it an intolerable evil if men were condemned without a chance for explanation and defense in court, yet we think nothing of pronouncing judgment on men on the basis of rumor or hearsay. We have a double standard that leads to much evil and injustice. We expect men to be experts in dealing with us, but then turn around and take the intricate, complex, unpredictable, internal operations of the minds and motives of men, and rattle off evaluations and judgments without even an acquaintance with the person in question.
Rochefoucauld said, "Everyone complains of the badness of his memory, but nobody of his judgment." People have the foolish feeling of infallibility when they pronounce judgment. On the basis of the most flimsy evidence they are willing to form conclusive opinions. This is the kind of unjust judgment that Jesus condemns, and forbids in the life of the Christian. It is the kind of judgment the Pharisees pronounced upon Him and His ministry. It was judgment that was blind to the evidence, and unwilling to even consider the evidence in the light of Scripture. They were the kind of critics Charles Churchill complained about.
Though by whim, envy, or resentment led,
They damn those authors whom they never read.
This is the kind of judging that Jesus forbids. It is unjust, and has no place in the Christian life, and yet you hear it often. I know I hear people judging others of whom they know nothing. They have never sought to read the books of those men they are content to judge in ignorance. They listen to the critics of these men instead of the men themselves. This is a violation of the law of Christ, and the Christian who persists in this violation will suffer judgment themselves. When you are ignorant, keep the trumpet silent, for the innocent suffer when we blow before we listen.
This is especially the case when it comes to judging the motives of men. It is easy to be critical, but hard to be correct at this point. We are almost always on dangerous ground when we pronounce judgment on people's motives. Augustine said, "I think this text enjoins on us this one thing: that in the case of those actions where motivation is in doubt, we are to put the better construction on them." There are those who do things we think are foolish, but their motive is to please God, and we are displeasing God if we blast the trumpet of judgment at them. If we don't understand, let us silence the trumpet, for it is always inappropriate to blow it in ignorance. Joaquin Miller wrote,
In men whom men condemn as ill
I find so much of goodness still;
In men whom men pronounce divine
I find so much of sin and blot.
I hesitate to draw a line
Between the two, where God has not.
Jesus encourages us to examine ourselves and our motives to be sure we do not have a log hanging out of our own eye, as we presume to help others remove the speck in theirs. Judging others can be an escape mechanism to keep from facing up to our own sins. It is like the dog hitched to the lawn mowers who stopped to bark at every passer by. The boy in charge said, "Don't mind his barking, it is just an excuse to rest. It is easier to bark than to pull." So it is in life. It is easier to condemn the folly of others than to something wise yourself.
We delight to rip into the cults and condemn all their doctrines. This distracts us from looking at how little we do in comparison to their zeal. We deceive ourselves into thinking we atone for our failure to speak the truth by blasting untruth. This can lead to a judgmental attitude that leaves us continuously with a poor testimony. G. Campbell Morgan said, "There is nothing more ungodly than a critical spirit; nothing more unchristly than the false righteous that is always looking for a mote." When I hear a man condemn others on the basis of ignorance or false logic, even if he happens to be right, it is he who stands condemned, for he has blown the trumpet when the conductor demands that he be silent.
It is a sin which will lead to judgment on the one who does it. Paul in Rom. 2:1 says, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things." Those who are hard in their judgment of others will be dealt with in a hard manner by God. Those who are kind and merciful, and who give the benefit of the doubt, will be dealt with mercifully by God. Therefore, only a fool, or a perfect man, will be a judgmental person. God hates the judgmental person. Mercy is the only hope any of us have, for only the merciful will obtain mercy. But woe unto the judges, for they shall be judged. This is a warning to all those Christians who feel called to be critical to all other Christians who have a different perspective.
On the practical level the reason this is so important is because the judgmental Christian is more concerned about condemning people than saving them, and that is the exact opposite of the purpose of Christ. J. J. Lamberts, professor of English at Arizona State University, tells of how her non-judgmental attitude led an atheist into the kingdom of Christ. One day after class a girl name Paula came to her confessing she could not hand in the paper due that day. "What kind of an excuse do you have?" she asked. "Just that I have been busy," was Paula's reply. Lamberts responded, "I can't think of a better one. Come up to my office and talk to me." That was the beginning of a friendship. It was months later that Paula told her it was the beginning of a new life for her.
She had been a Congregationalist and a Catholic, and she even tried Buddhism, but at the age of 18 she gave up trying to be religious and rejected God. She was an atheist, and she decided that if life didn't take on meaning in one year she would end her life. She only had two months left when she had this encounter with her English professor. The kind word and concern was a turning point, and after months more of struggle she came to a point where she opened her heart to Christ after an evening of listening to Corrie Ten Boom. Professor Lamberts almost perspires with fright when she considers how crucial her attitude was at that point. Had she been judgmental then she could have lost the chance to have touched this life for time and eternity.
We need to be aware that every time we are critical and judgmental we could be leading some seeker down the dark path of doubt. Let us instead be merciful in our judging, and point people to the light. Professor Lamberts did not accept Paula's ideas, or her conduct, but she accepted Paula. Jesus came not to condemn but to save, and that should be our attitude in relationship to all people that God brings across our path. Our purpose should never be just to win an argument. Our purpose should always be to win the person.
John R. Rice was a fighting fundamentalist, and he said in a sermon on this text, "Not a single Christian on earth is to pass judgment on the state of any person's heart or to judge whether others are saved. Yet here is a wide spread sin. The more fundamental in doctrine Christians are the more they are tempted to become like Pharisees, feeling themselves perfectly capable to pass judgment on others. Often the more separated Christians are from the world, the more like pharisaical hypocrites they become, freely passing judgment on others who profess to be children of God, but who do not live clean lives separated from worldliness." He says further, "It is a wicked sin, a sin of pride, of self-righteousness, of arrogance."
He points out that in this very chapter we can judge false doctrine, and those who peddle it, but we cannot judge whether they are Christians or not, for even Christians can be victims of false doctrine and spread it. He said we know that Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, was a false prophet, but we cannot tell whether or not she was saved. He writes, "It looks doubtful, but no one can know. Saved people have often fallen into false doctrine."
We can judge right and wrong, and that certain Christians are not worthy of fellowship because of their sinful behavior. We have the right to suppose there are people who are lost because they do not claim to trust in Christ. Even here, however, he points out that just as babies are born, and know nothing of who their parents are, and nothing about their birth apart from being taught, so there are those who are saved, but who do not understand, and cannot give a clear testimony of when, where, or how. They need to be taught, and until they are they have very little to share about their salvation.
If Peter was judged at the time he denied his Lord, you would say he was not a true Christian, but was just as lost as Judas. The evidence would support your judgment, but you would be wrong, for Peter, in spite of his deliberate sin, did love the Lord, and both he and the Lord knew it, even if no one else could suspect it. Noah in a drunken stupor, or Christians at Corinth, who even drank at the Lord's Supper, would have brought clear judgment that they were lying hypocrites, but the critics would have been wrong. Lot did many foolish things by moving his family to Sodom. He even offered his virgin daughters for the lewd pleasure of a crowd of sex perverts. He kept the company of wicked men and tried to please them. He got drunk and abused his own daughters. You would certainly judge him to be unsaved, but again you would be wrong.
Jesus told His disciples not to gather up the tares, for in so doing they would root up the wheat also. In other words, you cannot pretend to be capable of pulling up only the weeds, for you will likely pull up some who are the plants of God. However poor they may be, they are still God's people. Someone said, "If we knew all about any Christian in the world, there would be plenty of reason to be shocked and disgusted with his sin, and plenty of reason for a presumptuous judge to decide that any such Christian was not saved, judged by his life." Therefore, let us be warned, and let us be extremely careful in sounding the trumpet of judgment.