Amateur Judges

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, July 7, 2019 0 comments

by Logan Ames

Because of my former position as an investigator for child abuse and neglect cases at the county level in Ohio, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know several judges pretty well. The judges I came to know worked hard for many years and demonstrated good judgment at lower levels of the court system in order to rise to the positions they held when I knew them. They went through all of the necessary steps to be counted worthy of pronouncing judgment on others within their jurisdiction. Regarding matters of law, these judges are far from amateurs.

With all of that being said about those tremendous judges, they are all part of a system which takes into account that they sometimes fail or execute poor judgment. There is an appeals process that can reverse or uphold any decision they make. So, though they may be far from amateurs, they are also far from perfect. I even remember several cases where the deciding judge in the courtroom where I was sitting openly admitted to the defense attorney that his decision may give the attorney grounds for an appeal. Those who have to judge others for a living know that it is absolutely impossible to get it right every time, so they carefully gather the evidence and make the best decision they can.

We live in a society today where many people do the exact opposite. They have no formal training or experience, have not taken any steps necessary to earn the right to pronounce judgment on others, gather little or no factual evidence, and still routinely make judgments regarding others, believing they have a perfect track record. Just who are these individuals I speak of? There is a good chance we’ve all been in that “judge’s seat” at some point in time. But, with the age of social media, 24-hour news coverage, and presumptive reporting by news outlets, the rise of such “amateur” judges has taken us by storm.

In the past eight months, I’ve witnessed examples of people rushing to judgment on social media in two cases that made local news headlines but had to do with people who I know personally. My wife and I have close friends who tragically lost their child to a dog attack. When the story was released, and before anything else was known, people immediately jumped on social media and declared that the dog must have been known to be vicious and the parents must not have been paying attention. The vitriol spewed by some people on social media toward individuals they didn’t even know really opened my eyes to how easy it is for any of us to judge. Then, just recently, a pastor I’ve known for over 15 years was arrested and charged with a despicable crime. The evidence that led to his arrest was plastered on every news network, and the social media “heroes” came out in full force again. The word “monster” was used to describe this man and others said “there is a special place in hell reserved for him." He deserves to face the consequences of his actions, but obviously no one can judge his eternal state. Furthermore, having known the man for so long, the word “monster” did not cross my mind even after I found out what he did. Instead, I felt more sorry for his family and disappointed that he allowed the sin to continue in his life.

While those comments led to a different reaction for me than usual since I knew the individuals being accused, truth be told, I probably would’ve had similar thoughts as those “amateur judges” if there had been no personal connection. Like anyone, I read the headlines and a few “facts” reported in the stories and then make up my mind who was right, who was wrong, and who should’ve been paying better attention. But James 4:11-12 makes it clear to us that this is unacceptable. James just finished a section of his letter on the proper humility before God, so now he is discussing what that humility looks like in ACTION towards other human beings. He writes that those who have truly repented and humbled themselves before God ought not to be slandering one another, for that would suggest that one had not truly humbled himself.

James explains that speaking against a brother or sister is the same as judging them, and to judge them puts oneself in the place of God. If you live as if you’re in the place of God, how can you ever say that you’ve humbled yourself before Him? James says, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy" (verse 12). Compared to God, every human being is an amateur judge. Only God knows the heart of the individual being judged. When we make snap judgments based on very limited information, we’re basically willfully choosing to stick to our opinions rather than get to know people. In verse 11, the command to not slander other believers comes from the Greek katalalia, which carries the idea of gossiping about someone around others when the person is not able to be there to defend himself. James says this cannot be in a group of followers of Jesus. We should be defending one another and building one another up instead of speaking evil about each other behind the scenes.

It would do every one of us well to remember that the only One who can see everything, hear everything, and know everything is God Himself! That’s why He is the only acceptable Lawgiver and Judge. The rest of us are judging with limited information and evidence. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:12 that believers should judge one another’s actions. He says this in response to the open sin in the Corinthian church and the fact that the church leaders were allowing it to continue. Paul’s command to judge those inside the church may seem contradictory to James’ words, but we have to remember that Paul’s reason for judging is so that the man’s spirit will be saved on Judgment Day (1 Corinthians 5:5). In addition, Paul is talking about judging immoral actions, while James is writing against judging a person’s heart or character and then gossiping about it.

Since anyone but God who judges a person’s character and heart is doing so as an “amateur” with no true gift of discernment, we ought to be very careful. We also ought to be compassionate and gracious toward others. And lastly, we must remember that God will use the same measure of judgment against us that we use against others (Matthew 7:1-2). If you want to be judged with grace and mercy, it’s time to show it toward others. Begin with those closest to you like your spouse, children, or friends. Then let it flow out to all you encounter.

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