Neither Good Nor Bad: Insight on Judging

The ensuing blanket of silence following his assertion, not only seemed to cause his words to hang indefinitely in the air, but also appeared to confirm the wisdom of their content. “You are judging when you insist that something is wrong even though the scriptures have not condemned it. Rather, where the scriptures are silent we have liberty.” The Christians who attentively listened failed to perceive the unspoken and implied assumption lying beneath these statements. In the speaker’s view, there were only two possibilities, either a person is guilty of judging by condemning what God had not condemned, or a person can rightly blaze a trail into uncharted territory under the banner of liberty./1 Not only did he unduly limit the nature of judging, but a third option exists.
The stories of Laban and Balaam give us reason to pause and think more deeply about judging. Undoubtedly, Laban was full of anger and strong opinions when he began to pursue Jacob. Laban was ready to be judge, jury, and perhaps even executioner, but God stepped in and “rendered judgment.”/2 God told Laban, “Be careful not to say to Jacob anything good or bad.”/3 For God’s judgment to prevail, Laban could neither condemned nor approve Jacob. For Laban to blaze a trail and give his opinion where God had been silent in proclaiming either blessing or condemnation would have involved Laban in taking matters into his own hands and acting as a judge.
Years after Jacob had died, the ruler Balak enticed a prophet named Balaam to curse Israel because Balak knew that Balaam’s pronouncements were known to be powerful. Balak wanted Balaam to render judgment on Israel by announcing her impending doom. But God forbade Balaam to take matters into his own hands by casting down a gauntlet of judgment upon Israel. In Balaam’s recounting of God’s directions, “I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the LORD – and I must say only what the Lord says.”/4
For Balaam to avoid acting upon his own accord as a judge, he had to limit himself to what God had revealed. For Balaam, not God, would be calling the shots if Balaam chose to say anything either good or bad beyond what God had spoken.
Like Balaam, Christians have been instructed to avoid going beyond what God has revealed./5 This will require us, like him, to neither approve nor condemn where God has not spoken. We are not the judge. In avoiding both of these caveats, Paul has pointed us toward a third option involving simply affirming what the scriptures teach.
Our heritage, which affirms, “we speak where the scriptures speak; and we are silent where the scriptures are silent,” is neither backward nor misguided. It is biblical.
1 While an investigation into Christian liberty falls beyond the scope of these few thoughts, perhaps it can be instructive to recognize the principle that to claim liberty, based upon Paul’s expressions of freedom from the Law, does not legitimately nor biblically empower a person to move beyond God’s revealed will.
2 Genesis 31:41 NASB
3 Genesis 31:24 See also Genesis 24:50
4 Numbers 24:13 NIV
5 1 Corinthians 4:6

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