The LORD judges. We are equipped to recognize fruit.
Proclaiming judgements is not our role. We have people that are appointed to positions that require them to make judgements with specific guidelines and parameters. That work is done with enormous responsibility and weight. But in general, we are not given the role of judging one another.
There is a story about David and Saul (in the Old Testament) that offers some practical insight. Saul is king over Israel and David will become his successor. Saul is overcome by jealousy; he hates David’s success and he does not want David to become king. He pursues him and does everything he can to kill him. It’s a bit of a roller coaster with Saul; he is often unstable. He actually loves David like a son but his jealousy is relentless and it leads him down wrong paths.
There is a moment when David and his men are hidden in the back of a cave and Saul happens to stop by that exact spot and go in to relieve himself. David, who is a skillful shepherd and warrior, sneaks up on him and without Saul even knowing it…he cuts off a piece of his clothing! So close! David could have easily killed Saul and ended the madness, but he didn’t. And there is a reason.
David knew that God was the one that would have be the judge over Saul’s actions toward him. This was not a war environment, though what seemed like an “enemy” was present. David knew better. This was about two men and how they were doing life. It was about what God was doing in them.
David knew that God did not give him the role of avenging Saul’s actions. Instead, David was supposed to show grace in this moment AND David was to trust God for right judgements in the way only God can provide them. David was growing in his understanding of God’s ways. So, he didn’t kill Saul. He cut off a piece of his robe instead and then he let Saul know why:
May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds, so my hand will not touch you.
– I Samuel 24:12-13
Jesus talked about judgement too and provided some warning about being too quick to judge others.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
– Matthew 7:1-2
Jesus also offers wisdom for what we are to do as we are trying to discern and understand what we are hearing, seeing and experiencing with others. We absolutely need to practice wisdom and discernment; this guides our choices and decisions. Jesus reminds us of something we see in nature: fruit trees.
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
– Matthew 7:15-20
Notice how closely this teaching of Jesus connects with what David said to Saul, “From evildoers come evil deeds, so my hand will not touch you.” The lesson? Let the LORD be the judge of others. Train your eyes and spirit to recognize the what is being produced in a life. Don’t be confused by something that looks really good on the outside but is rotten on the inside. When our discernment is clouded, clarity is only a humble prayer away. God is faithful in moments and in seasons. We have been given what we need for this time.
God please help us grow in your wisdom for these days. We yield our desire to judge others to you. You are righteous and merciful and just. You will bring about your judgements at just the right time. You see and know all things; we see dimly and know very little. We are grateful for the ways you speak to us and help us when we ask. Please hear the prayers of your people. Help us all to mature in your wisdom so we can recognize fruit when that is what we need to do. And please let your wisdom be what guides everything we do. We love you Lord, and we need you. We trust you completely. Amen.
Go outside and spend a few moments noticing trees that are growing in ways that provide shade and shelter, or good wood for building or making fuel. Notice also brush and invasive plants or trees that choke out other growth or create danger in a particular environment. Let your eyes and mind understand how you are able to notice the difference. Pay attention to the many ways God helps us open our eyes to see.