Before you jump to conclusions…

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”  John7:24 (ESV)

Jesus knew that perception is not always reality.  Appearances and our perceptions can often deceive us.  However, rendering a “right” and accurate judgment of a given situation is not always easy.  It requires spiritual discipline, careful investigation and a healthy dependence upon the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth, sent to lead us into all truth. (John 16:13)  This is especially applicable when it comes to dealing with reports of questionable behavior in others.

I don’t know about you, but frequently I hear things that people have said or done that stir a righteous indignation within me.  It is not just limited to people I know personally.  A case in point is the news story of the high profile hit and run that is presently providing fodder for heated expressions of public opinion in the media.  At such times, we would all do well to be reminded of the judging precaution Jesus gave us.  “Do not judge by appearances.”

What does He mean by that?  How do we judge with right judgment?  The best way to understand that is to look at how He Himself judges. And what better place to look than in the first books of the Old Testament where we see Him in action and giving instruction in rendering right judgment.  Here then are three judging precautions that can save all of us from jumping to conclusions.

1. Check it out personally. – Even the Lord is careful to investigate first hand the situation before passing judgment.  When He drew Abraham into His counsel regarding the outcry of wickedness coming from Sodom and Gomorrah He told him “I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.”  (Genesis18:21 NLT)  In other words, God was committed to personally checking out the situation before He passed a final judgment.  If God is that careful, even with angelic reports, should not we also exercise the same discipline to see and hear for ourselves rather than jump to conclusions?

2. Be careful to gather the facts. – God was very intentional about holding the Israelites to the same standard of judgment He Himself demonstrated withSodom andGomorrah.  He gave a very specific warning to  the Israelites against acting solely on hearsay evidence with regard to reports that a city had forsaken Him and fallen into idol worship.  He instructed them that when they heard such things about a city they were not to rush to judgment.  Rather, they first “must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you” then they were to take action.  (Deuteronomy 13:14)   That sounds like a very methodical and thorough process – no rush to judgment there!

I would hate to admit the number of times I have jumped to conclusions and passed judgments upon hearing something questionable about something someone has said or done without knowing all the facts. Invariably it was a case of my only hearing a slice of what really happened – a one-sided perspective on the situation.  First reports and impressions are frequently misleading.  “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”  (Proverbs 18:17)  This is all the more reason to be careful to gather all the facts before drawing a conclusion.

3. If necessary seek confirmation through two or three witnesses.  Another important judging precaution that God instituted was the requirement of two or three witnesses.  “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed.  A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  (Deuteronomy19:15 NIV)  Great care is given here to a corroboration of the facts before passing judgment.  That is good advice for all of us.

Any rush to judgment, often taking the form of gossip, slander and false accusations, has the potential to inflict deep wounds in people’s lives and in relationships.  That is why heeding the judging precautions is so critical and why James exhorts us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”  (James1:19 NIV) 

If all of us were more careful to practice these judging precautions we would save ourselves and others much needless pain and grief.  What thoughts do you have on this topic? 

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