Paul on the Topic of Self-Judgement

 I was chatting with some friends at church last week, and we started trying to figure out what Paul meant when he said he didn’t judge himself. Bible-readers know a lot about Paul’s history, and we can come up with plenty of reasons why he might have judgmental, condemning thoughts about himself and his past actions. He persecuted the church of God! Shouldn’t he judge himself for that? And yet it seems that he didn’t.

What did Paul mean when he said “I do not even judge myself”? And what might that mean for us as we look back on our own past sins and failures?

Judicial Investigation of the Self

Paul spends quite a bit of time in his epistles talking about judgement–judgements we’re supposed to make as we exercise discernment, judgements we shouldn’t make since we’re not permitted to condemn others, and judgements that God will make of us at the end times. There are only three passages that I’ve found where Paul specifically addresses self-judgement. We could perhaps include passages about self-examination, but that seems to be a separate concept.

The three passages we’ll look at all use the Greek word krino or one of its derivatives. This word means “to judge, to form an opinion after separating and considering the particulars of a case,” and it can include the passing of judgment as well (Zodhiates’ Word Study Dictionary, entry G2919). A related word, which Paul uses in the passage where he says he doesn’t judge himself, is anakrino. This word means “to judicially investigate,” “examine accurately and carefully,” and “to question in order to pass a judicial sentence” (Zodhiates, G350).

So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged (anakrino) by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge (anakrino) myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges (anakrino) me is the Lord. So then, do not judge (krino)anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

1 Corinthians 4:3-5, NET

For context, Paul has been talking about divisions in the church (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 2:1-5; 3:1-9) and the need for individuals to take responsibility for their own spiritual journeys (1 Cor. 2:6-16; 3:10-23). We belong to God and ought to follow Him, not some human no matter how impressive his qualifications. So now here in 1 Corinthians 4:1-21, Paul is talking about the apostles’ ministry using a courtroom analogy. He doesn’t care if others presume to “judicially investigate him,” and he doesn’t do that to himself either–that’s something he leaves to God because He’s the one with the perspective needed to pass an accurate and righteous judgment. Finally, Paul gives us warning not to judge (krino) anything before the Lord comes and reveals “the motives of hearts.” 

Image of scales, with text from 1 Cor. 4:3-4, CJB version: "And it matters very little to me how I am evaluated by you or by any human court; in fact, I don’t even evaluate myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against me, but this does not make me innocent. The one who is evaluating me is the Lord."
Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Taking a Proper View of Ourselves

Later in this same letter, Paul returns to the idea of judging ourselves when he’s talking about Passover. This is one of the self-examination passages I mentioned earlier (1 Cor. 11:26-30), but it also talks about self-judgement. Paul starts wrapping that discussion up with these lines:

But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

1 Corinthians 11:31-32, NET

“Examined” here is diakrino, and Zodhiates says that in this verse it could be translated “if we took a proper view” or “formed a just estimate of ourselves” (G1253). More generally, it means “to separate thoroughly, discriminate, make to differ, judge thoroughly.” It seems from these verses that there is a certain type of self-judgment Paul encourages, but it’s one that involves seeing ourselves accurately rather than seeking to condemn. It works alongside God’s accurate judgement (krino) to make us more and more like Him.

When Paul says he doesn’t judge himself, it doesn’t mean he ignores who he is. He knows he persecuted the church and is only an apostle by God’s grace (1 Cor. 15:9-10; Eph. 3:8). He realizes that he needs to keep moving forward in faith with Jesus’s righteousness applied to him, not become complacent (Phil. 3:8-14). But he doesn’t let a realistic look at himself lead to getting stuck in self-condemnation. Paul knows he has received God’s grace. He knows he has righteousness that comes from Jesus. That’s what lets him say he doesn’t judge himself and isn’t aware of any charge against him. 

For us, this seems to indicate that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over past mistakes. When God says He has removed our sins and forgiven us, He really means it (Ps. 103:12; Rom. 3:25). He’s not going to say our sins are gone, covered and paid in full by Jesus’s blood and then hold those over us in a judicial examination of our character. We need to have a realistic view of ourselves and not forget the things that we once did (so that we can learn from them, not do them again, and appreciate the magnitude of God’s forgiveness), but we’re not to keep judging ourselves for things in our pasts. 

Avoiding Judgmental Doubt

The final passage where Paul talks about self-judgement is found in Romans. For context, this is the section in chapter 14 where Paul is discussing mutual respect in the church. He exhorts readers not to judge others, but rather to take a close look at their own lives. “Each of us will give an account of himself to God,” and we ought to care more about that than pointing condemning fingers at God’s other servants. It’s our responsibility to “be fully convinced in” our own minds about the choices we make and act in a way guided by faith. (Rom. 14:1-12). We’re also to respect when people make other choices in matters where God hasn’t given clear guidelines one way or the other (the example Paul uses here is eating meat vs. eating only vegetables). Whichever choice we make, though, we need to be careful we don’t act in a way that causes others to stumble. Indeed, we ought to refrain from doing anything that would harm other believers (Rom. 14:13-21).

The faith you have, keep to yourself before God. Blessed is the one who does not judge (krino) himself by what he approves. But the man who doubts is condemned (katakrinio) if he eats, because he does not do so from faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Romans 14:22-23, NET

Since it’s linked to doubt, it seems here that not judging yourself is basically the same thing as not letting doubt take you to the point where you aren’t even walking in faith anymore. If we take self-judgement to an unhealthy extreme, then we could be so caught-up in it that we can’t live the vibrant lives of faith that God has planned for us. That leads to being “condemned;” another derivative of krino. It means “to pronounce sentence against, condemn, adjudge guilty” (Zodhiates G2632) and “to judge worthy of punishment” (Thayer).

It’s not easy to live a life of faith if we’re constantly second-guessing and beating ourselves up. Self-examination is vital, and when we discover something in ourselves that isn’t in line with God’s righteousness a certain amount of self-judgment can be productive if it brings us to repentance. But constant self-judgment–condemning ourselves for sins Jesus has already removed or questioning every choice over and over–is not productive. We don’t need to keep tormenting ourselves with past mistakes. Focus on actively engaging in your relationship with God, striving to follow Jesus’s example, and faithfully repenting when you miss the mark. Then, as Paul did, leave the judgement on your life in God’s hands.

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What Happens When God Takes Justice to the Next Level?

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus talks about commands given to ancient Israel and then gives new guidelines for how to obey God from a heart level. He wants us to shine as lights in the world so that all “can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16, NET).

As preface to taking the commands to a spiritual level, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17, NET). In other words, He has come “to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfillment” (Thayer’s dictionary entry on G4137, pleroo). And lest anyone think that the new covenant Jesus brings will make obedience any less of a priority, he adds, “unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven!” (Matt. 5:20, NET).

We must have a righteousness that “goes beyond” the letter of the law. It’s no longer enough to not murder; Jesus expects us not to despise or condemn others as well (Matt. 5:21-22). Not cheating on our spouses isn’t enough; we’re not even to lust after someone who doesn’t belong to us (Matt. 5:27-28). God has always cared more about the state of the human heart than what we do, and now that desire for heart and spirit-level obedience is made even more explicit. We might even say that what Jesus reveals demands a higher degree of commitment to God than what He expected under the Old Covenant.

A Life for a Life

One of the commands Jesus talks about is, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Matt 5:38, WEB). This alludes to three passages in the Torah (according to the reference list in MySword Bible app): Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21.

The rest of the people will hear and become afraid to keep doing such evil among you. You must not show pity; the principle will be a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and a foot for a foot.

Deuteronomy 19:2-21, NET

The NET footnote on this verse says, “This kind of justice is commonly called lex talionis or ‘measure for measure’… It is likely that it is the principle that is important and not always a strict application. That is, the punishment should fit the crime and it may do so by the payment of fines or other suitable and equitable compensation.” This interpretation may well be true, and perhaps Jesus had this in mind when He mentioned this law in His sermon. Maybe people had begun applying it too strictly and missed the heart of God for fairness and justice.

Jesus does not, however, tell people they need to keep applying this law but in a slightly different way. For the other “you have heard … but I say to you” passages, Jesus reinforces keeping the law and makes it more broadly applicable while taking it to a heart level. For example, “Do not break an oath” becomes “do not take oaths at all” (Matt. 5:33-37). This time, though, the exact connection to a broader spiritual application isn’t so direct.

What Happens When God Takes Justice to the Next Level? | LikeAnAnchor.com
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Mercy over Judgement

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42, NET, quoting Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20.

In the past, God’s law let you exact equal retribution for a crime. Someone knocks your tooth out, they lose their tooth. God is a God of justice and judgement, and every time there is sin someone has to pay for it. One thing implied by that rule of justice is that when you transgress the law you will also be punished. That’s where we start to realize how much we need God to also be a God of mercy, and indeed He is.

For the one who obeys the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a violator of the law. Speak and act as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom. For judgment is merciless for the one who has shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:10-13, NET , quoting Exodus 20:13-14

God wants to show us mercy. He delights in seeing it triumph over judgement. But if we want God to show us mercy, we must also show mercy when we have that opportunity. When someone hits you you don’t hit them back; you turn the other cheek, turn vengeance over to God, and live at peace with everyone you can (Rom. 12:17-21).

Mimicking Jesus’s Mercy

What Happens When God Takes Justice to the Next Level? | LikeAnAnchor.com
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It is worth noting that when Jesus says, “resist not an evil doer,” the Greek word is anthistemi (G436). The only positive case of it being used between people is when Paul stood up to Peter’s hypocrisy in shunning Gentile believers (Gal. 2:11-17). It is also used when we’re told to “resist the devil” (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9) and to “withstand in the evil day” wearing God’s armor (Eph. 6:13). The command in the Sermon on the Mount does not mean we can’t correct someone in the spirit of love when they’ve made an error or that we do not resist the power behind all evil. We are, however, to commit ourselves to showing mercy and letting go of the option to revenge ourselves on someone else.

When God takes justice and fairness to the next level, it turns into mercy, long-suffering, peace, and love. The principle of “a life for a life” finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ dying to free us from all the things we’ve done that deserve death. He gave His life to redirect the “compensation due sin,” which “is death” (Rom. 6:23, LEB), to Himself even though He did not deserve to suffer and die.

Our human nature might rise up against this “turn the other cheek” passage and say that it isn’t fair to let others get away with these sorts of things. But it also was not “fair” that Jesus died instead of us to pay the penalty for our sin. His mercy triumphed over judgement, and if we follow Him in spirit and in truth our mercy should also triumph over judgement.

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Justice Belongs To God

One of the things we discussed in last week’s post about a Christian’s role in seeing justice done was that there are very few situations where God says it’s okay for us to judge other people. There’s an important reason for that which we only just touched on last week. It’s that justice and the application of judgement belong to God. We are to become like Him, yes, but there are certain roles that He does not share with us, at least not yet.

Paul says that one day the saints will judge the world and even angels. We’re not there yet, though there are certain situations where we can practice such as settling disputes in the church or discerning when there’s a sin being committed (1 Cor. 5:1-5, 11-13; 6:1-3). We’re not entrusted with final judgement, though, nor with the execution of justice or vengeance. In fact, we’re instructed to step aside and let God handle it whenever we’re tempted to take any vengeful action.

Judged by the Word of God

Back in Deuteronomy, Moses told Israel not to show partiality in judgement or be afraid of judging fairly (no matter what other people think) “for the judgement is God’s” (Deut. 1:17 all scriptures from the WEB translation). Judgement belongs to God, and He cares a great deal about seeing justice done properly. That’s one of the main reasons “You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality. You shall not take a bribe” (Deut. 16:19). Of course, these instructions were given to handle legal disputes in a nation where God’s law was the standard of government. We now live in nations with secular law systems and most of us aren’t involved in that. But the principles still apply. God cares about justice done rightly, and His definition of “rightly” might not always match with our human impulses. Read more

What Is a Christian’s Role in Seeing Justice Done?

Last week, we talked about Jesus’ heart for reconciliation. We studied how He’s strongly motivated to save sinners; to seek out the worst sort of people (us included) and make them clean. This presupposes that we are unclean without Him. That we’ve done something to separate us from God and need to be reconciled in order to have a relationship with Him.

Reconciliation is related to the concept of godly justice. If God were not a just God who will judge every human being for their actions, there would be no need for reconciliation and forgiveness. It is because we do things worthy of judgement that we need to be set right with God. There is such a thing as wrong and right in this world, and we attest to this fact every time our blood boils at seeing an innocent person hurt or our concepts of fairness violated.

Part of being set right with God involves a transformation in how we think. We’re to be like Him, motivated to reconcile with others and also to see justice done. We humans often see judgement and mercy as an either/or dichotomy, but God sees them both as important things which must be exercised in careful balance. Justice and mercy are both among the weightiest matters of His law and they must not be “left undone” (Matt. 23:23). Moreover, once we become part of His people God requires us to “act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with” Him (Mic. 6:8). But how do we do that? What is our role in seeing justice done?

Be Careful How and Who You Judge

In modern English, we tend to see justice as a good thing — fair and equitable upholding of what is right — and judgement as a bad thing — passing a sentence on someone for something done wrong. They’re much more closely connected in scripture, though. For one thing, they’re both translated from the same words — mishpat in Hebrew and krino or krisis in Greek (note: in addition to this, Greek also has separate words for concepts like condemn, katadikazo, and righteous/just, dikaios). Both these words have to do with forming a personal opinion, making distinctions, and/or deciding the outcome of a court case. Justice involves administering God’s law properly to make a judgement, which can be favorable or unfavorable.

We are very strictly warned to be careful how we form opinions, make judgements, and separate people into groups such as “good” and “bad.” Jesus flat-out says, “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.” He goes on to say that however we choose to judge is the way that we will be judged. He also points out that when we cannot see ourselves clearly, it would be hypocritical to try and pass judgements on others (Matt. 7:1-5). This goes along with something Paul said in one of his letters.

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each man will get his praise from God. (1 Cor. 4:5, all quotes from WEB translation)

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Personality Type Myth-Busting: Are Judging Types More Judgmental?

Thinking that the Judging/Perceiving preference has to do with how judgmental or perceptive an individual is is a common misconception, especially when people are first learning about Myers-Briggs® types. It’s easy to see where this idea comes from. Judging and Perceiving are right there in the names, after all.

In reality, the Judging-Perceiving distinction is more about describing how we make decisions and learn new information, as well as which side of our personality we prefer to use in the outer world. Before we can answer the question of, “Are Judging types more judgmental?” or a related question such as, “Are Perceiving types more perceptive?” we need to take a closer look at exactly what these terms mean in Myers-Briggs® theory.

Judging and Perceiving Traits

Sensing and Intuition are both Perceiving functions.  You can click here to read an article that provides an overview of the whole concept of functions in Myers-Briggs®. For more on the traits of Judging and Perceiving types, you can see Personality Hacker by Joel Mark Witt and Antonia Dodge and Personality Types by Lenore Thomas. I referenced both books when writing this post.

If you’re a Perceiving-type, then you use either Sensing or Intuition as your preferred way of learning (i.e. perceiving) new information. The P in your type tells us that for you, this function is outer-world oriented (Extroverted Sensing or Extroverted Intuition). Perceiving traits include flexibility, information seeking and gathering, resistance to structure, improvisation skills, impulsiveness, and a present-moment focus (Personality Hacker, p. 29; Personality Types, p. 48-49).

Feeling and Thinking are both Judging functions. If your’e a Judging-type, then you use either Feeling or Thinking as your preferred way of making decisions (i.e. judging). Having a J in your type tells us that for you, this function is outer-world oriented (Extroverted Feeling or Extroverted Thinking). Judging traits include understanding and valuing structure, a tendency to make and follow plans, long-term focus, organizational skills, comfort with familiar environments, and responsibleness. Read more

Don’t Be Something Jesus Would Throw Out Of His Father’s Temple

Let’s take a trip back to the early 1st century. It’s a few days before Passover and the Jews are heading to Jerusalem for the Feast. As they travel, they sing the songs of ascent like they do every year. On this particular year, though, there’s an extra level of excitement. A man named Yeshua (Jesus) arrived on the scene a few years ago and many think he could be the Messiah. He’s even riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, as Zechariah said the Messiah would.

Hoshiya-na! Baruch haba B’Shem Adonai!” they call. Save us now! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

As Yeshua rides in, the people spread their garments in the way. They also cut palm branches as if they were here for the Feast of Tabernacles instead of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They’re expecting the Messiah to kick the Romans out, redeem Israel, and restore the kingdom. They’re hoping for the fulfillment of Tabernacles — the Messiah, son of David, ruling in power and might.

Instead, this Yeshua turns his donkey toward the temple. Once there, he “drove out all of those who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the money changers’ tables and the seats of those who sold the doves.” Instead of driving the pagans out of Jerusalem, he drove corruption out of God’s house, saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers!” Read more