Jesus said, "Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgement." (John 7:24.) The Jews found fault with Jesus because he healed on the sabbath, although it was no more a violation of the sabbath law to heal than to circumcise a man. They were condemning him for something that was identical in principle with that which they allowed. To do that is to be a respector of persons, and that was prohibited by the law, "Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgement: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor." (Leviticus 19:15.) One of the greatest human failings is to judge the conduct of a man by the standard of, who he is.
When Jesus said "Judge righteous judgement," he was but making application of the law of Moses. He taught the same thing on other occasions, and the apostles confirmed that teaching to us. For instance, Jesus said, "Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ, or, Here: believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect." (Matthew 24:23-24.) No doubt, some of the false prophets who arose in the days of the apostles were highly respected men, and some of them did wonderful things. Those who judged by appearance were doubtless deceived. Jesus said not to judge that way, but to judge righteous judgement.
The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to commend certain people for their manner of judging. "And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who when they were come thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the scriptures daily, whether these things were so." (Acts 17:10:11.) There was surely a temptation for these people to judge according to appearance. The Jews at Thessalonica had denounced Paul and Silas, and driven them away. For many people that would be enough.
Within recent years many faithful gospel preachers have incurred the displeasure of certain powers in the "brotherhood" These brethren have been branded as "antis," or "hobbyists." Brethren find their services unwanted because they are not in favor with the Gospel Advocate. To reject one on such ground is to be guilty of judging unrighteously. The right way to make a decision in such cases would be to compare what the man preaches with what the Bible says.
The apostle John was inspired to write a commendation for the church at Ephesus in that they judged righteously concerning certain teachers. "I know thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil me, and didst try them that say they are apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false." (Revelation 2:2.) The Bereans were commended for judging Paul and Silas favorably; while the Ephesians were commended for judging certain men unfavorably. What was the standard of judgement? In the case of the Bereans, it was the word of God. The things taught were simply compared with what the scriptures say. In the case of the Ephesians, the passage quoted does not say.
Jesus said to judge righteous judgement He also said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" (Matthew 7:16-16.) What is the fruit by which a prophet is to be judged ? It is what results from his prophesying. If the same principle is applied to a teacher, the fruit is the result of the teaching. Fruit of preaching is the result of the preaching. The fruit of gospel preaching is a child of God. When that fruit is plural it is a church of Christ. Philip preached Christ to the people of Samaria. When they believed what he preached they were baptized. (Acts 8:12.)
Jesus said, "The seed is the word of God." (Luke 8:11.) When that seed is sown, and received, the result is a Christian. This is one way we can judge preachers. Does their preaching cause people to be Christians, or sectarians. It has been well said, that, "Only the New Testament makes Christians; and the New Testament makes Christians only." The world is prone to judge according to appearance, or on the basis of respect of persons. Men attend respected schools, and receive the degrees that are thought to befit a servant of God. These men are then designated "Doctor, Reverend, Father," etc. The world looks to these men for religious guidance, and it is even thought that Jesus said not judge such. The truth is that Jesus said to judge them, and to beware of them. He warned against being deceived by appearance. "Judge not according to appearance." "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themeselves into apostles of Christ And no marvel; for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light. It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works." (II Corinthians 11:13-15.)
It seems from the fruit being born that the churches of Christ of today are becoming saturated with the attitude of the world. More and more, the emphasis is being placed on who one is. If a man is a successful entertainer, it seems that he is, because of that, of far greater influence in the church than an ordinary Christian. Preachers and teachers are respected because of the degrees that they have, rather than for their faithfulness to the word. One of the newest schools operated by the brethren is Northeastern Institute of Christian Education. This institute has been promoted as the answer to a great need in the Northeast. Already several Doctors have been secured to teach in the school. One has a doctorate from Harvard, another from Boston University. Since one's schooling is supposed to be vital to his faith, I wonder how much faith these men have left after sitting at the feet of some of the rankest modernists in the world? Of course that does not matter to people who have set out to impress the world. The law prohibited judging on the basis of persons. Jesus stated his approval of that statute, and the apostles of Jesus confirmed it for the people of God.
One of our greatest dangers is the tendency to follow, without question, the teaching of religious Doctors. A few months ago, I spoke to a neighboring church on "The Qualifications of Elders." One man did not like what was said. He said nothing to me, but told the local preacher that he was going to call two well known Doctors to learn what they thought. The man who said that has been active in churches of Christ for years. Has the gospel become so mysterious that only those educated in the lore of the world can understand it? Does the Bible cease to mean what it says because some respected Doctor says it means something else? No, a thousand times, No. "For behold your calling, brethren, that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called." (I Corinthians 1:26.)