righteous judgment | John 7.24
24 “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” John 7.24 | ESV
“Will you stop rendering judgments on such a superficial level and start really getting to the heart of the matter, just for once?” MAV
This is like a one sentence prescription for closing the legalism gap in our lives.
Once again, legalism = a philosophy of focusing on the text of written law to the exclusion of the intent of law, elevating strict adherence to law over justice, mercy, grace and common sense.
The challenge in navigating the closing of such a gap is respecting the text while embracing intent without falling into the abyss of a nit-picking legalism or a malignant liberalism. Obviously, easier said than done. Just how many of us really dig the prospect of walking a tightrope? Over Niagara Falls?
I read something years ago from Josh McDowell – if I remember right it was in his book Right From Wrong. The illustration has always stuck with me. McDowell painted a three-tiered picture to help in processing laws and rules.
We start with the precept – what the rule actually says, the literal letters and words. Let’s use, as an example, the Old Testament law “Don’t muzzle the ox that’s treading out the grain.” There’s our precept.
Now move through the precept to the principle. In this case, the principle is “it’s just an ox, but it’s doing the work, so let it benefit from it!” It’s a principle of fairness at play (or at work!) here. In fact, Paul takes this precept totally out of its agricultural context, going so far as to say “God’s not talking about oxen at all!” and applies it to those who “labor in the Gospel” to benefit from said labor, yoking Moses’ precept with Jesus’ statement “the worker deserves his wages” (a right, having established it, Paul then refuses to utilize for himself).
And beyond precept and principle lay the person – the heart of the Lawgiver. God is just. Yes, he does too care about a big dumb ox and bristles at the unfairness of not seeing him able to eat the grain as he pulls the sledge that winnows it. And if he cares about the big dumb ox, what does that say about a human being made in his image?
Now imagine not taking this journey, and getting stuck at the precept level. Enacting massive fair ox legislation, cracking down on muzzling farmers who deprive their big dumb oxen of eating as they work – while you aren’t paying your own workers in your legislative machine pushing your fair ox agenda?
That’s kinda what we do.
All the time.
And Jesus tells us to look beyond precept’s face to the deeper principle residing in the living heart of the person of God.
And he calls that “righteous judgment.”
We need a bit more of that.
Where have you found yourself challenged most recently to “judge a righteous judgment” – to look beyond the face of facts and rules to the real heart of a matter? How did you do it? What happened?
Abba, help me to press beyond the mere face of things through to the heart of what lies before me today, to your Heart in it all. Show me how to “judge with righteous judgment” rather than parroting others’ or my own prejudices. And let all such judgment bring light and life. Through Christ.