“Stop judging by the outward appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”—JOHN 7:24.
SONGS: 129, 125
1. What did Isaiah prophesy concerning Jesus, and why is this encouraging?
THROUGH his prophecy about our Lord Jesus Christ, Isaiah warms and reassures our hearts. Isaiah foretold that Jesus would “not judge by what appears to his eyes, nor reprove simply according to what his ears hear.” He would “judge the lowly with fairness.” (Isa. 11:3, 4) Why is this encouraging? Because we live in a world filled with bias and prejudice. We all long for the perfect Judge, who will never judge us by our outward appearance!
2. What did Jesus command us to do, and what will we discuss in this article?
2 Each day we make judgments about people. Yet, as imperfect humans, we are not able to judge matters perfectly as Jesus does. We tend to be influenced by what appears to our eyes. Nonetheless, when Jesus was on earth, he commanded: “Stop judging by the outward appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) Clearly, Jesus wants us to be like him and not judge others by their outward appearance. In this article, we will discuss three areas in which people are frequently influenced by what appears to their eyes: race or ethnicity, wealth, and age. In each area, we will consider practical ways to obey Jesus’ command.
JUDGING BY RACE OR ETHNICITY
3, 4. (a) What events led the apostle Peter to reevaluate his view of the Gentiles? (See opening picture.) (b) What new truth did Jehovah help Peter to understand?
3 Imagine the thoughts that were going through the apostle Peter’s mind when he was called to Caesarea to the home of the Gentile Cornelius. (Acts 10:17-29) Like other Jews of his time, Peter grew up believing that Gentiles were unclean. Yet, Peter had experienced events that caused him to reevaluate that position. For example, Peter had just had a miraculous vision. (Acts 10:9-16) What had Peter seen? A sheetlike vessel filled with unclean animals was lowered before him while a heavenly voice ordered: “Get up, Peter, slaughter and eat!” Peter firmly refused. Then that heavenly voice told him to “stop calling defiled the things God has cleansed.” As he awoke from the vision, Peter was perplexed as to what the voice was trying to tell him. Just then, the messengers from Cornelius arrived. After receiving direction from the holy spirit, Peter pressed forward and accompanied the messengers to the home of Cornelius.
4 If Peter had judged matters solely on outward appearance, he would never have entered the home of Cornelius. Jews simply did not enter the homes of Gentiles. Why did Peter move forward despite deep-seated prejudices? Peter was profoundly affected by the vision he had seen and by the reassurance he received from the holy spirit. After he listened to what Cornelius related, Peter, no doubt moved by the account, declared under inspiration: “Now I truly understand that God is not partial, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34, 35) What a thrilling new understanding for Peter—one with far-reaching implications! How would this truth about being impartial affect all Christians?
5. (a) What does Jehovah want all Christians to understand? (b) Despite our knowing the truth, what may linger within us?
5 By means of Peter, Jehovah was helping all Christians to understand that He is not partial. He places no significance on racial, ethnic, national, tribal, or linguistic differences. Any man or woman who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him. (Gal. 3:26-28; Rev. 7:9, 10) No doubt, you acknowledge that this is true. But what if you have grown up in a land or in a home filled with prejudice? While you might see yourself as being impartial, deep inside, prejudice may linger. Even Peter, who had the privilege of revealing Jehovah’s impartiality, later manifested prejudice. (Gal. 2:11-14) How can we listen to Jesus and stop judging by the outward appearance?
6. (a) What can help us to root out prejudiced attitudes from our hearts? (b) What did one responsible brother’s report reveal?
6 We need to examine ourselves carefully in the light of God’s Word to see if we are holding on to any prejudiced thoughts or feelings. (Ps. 119:105) We might also need loving help from others who may see prejudiced attitudes in us, even if we cannot see them in ourselves. (Gal. 2:11, 14) It could be that these attitudes are so ingrained in us that we are not conscious of them. Consider, for example, one responsible brother who submitted a report on a fine couple in full-time service. The husband was from an ethnic minority frequently looked down on by others. Apparently, the responsible brother was not aware that he himself harbored prejudiced views about this minority. In his report, he said many fine things about the husband; yet, he concluded by saying: “Although he is of [this nationality], his manners and way of life help others to understand that being [from this ethnicity] does not necessarily mean having a dirty, inferior lifestyle, typical of many from [this] descent.” Do you see the point? No matter what our responsibilities are, we must examine ourselves carefully and be willing to receive help so that we can identify any remaining traces of prejudice in our hearts. What else can we do?
7. How can we demonstrate that we are opening our heart wide?
7 If we open our heart wide, we will allow love to replace prejudice. (2 Cor. 6:11-13) Are you in the habit of having close association only with those of your own race, ethnicity, nationality, tribe, or language group? If so, widen out. Why not invite those of a different background to work with you in the field ministry or invite them to your home for a meal or a gathering? (Acts 16:14, 15) If you do so, you will fill your heart with so much love that there will be no room for prejudice. But there are additional areas in which we tend to judge others by their outward appearance. Let us next consider material wealth.
JUDGING BY RICHES OR POVERTY
8. According to Leviticus 19:15, how can riches or poverty affect our judgment?
8 Material wealth is another factor that can affect our view of others. Leviticus 19:15 says: “You must not show partiality to the poor or show preference to the rich. With justice you should judge your fellow man.” But how could a person’s wealth or his poverty affect the way we view him?
9. What sad truth did Solomon record, and what does it teach us?
9 Holy spirit moved Solomon to record a sad truth about imperfect humans. At Proverbs 14:20, he states: “The poor man is hated even by his neighbors, but many are the friends of the rich person.” What does this proverb teach us? If we are not careful, we could desire the friendship of brothers who are wealthy while shunning brothers who are poor. Why is it so dangerous to measure the value of others solely on the basis of their material wealth?
10. What problem did James identify?
10 If we judge others on the basis of their material wealth, we could create class distinctions in the congregation. The disciple James warned that this problem was dividing some congregations in the first century. (Read James 2:1-4.) We must be on guard not to allow this thinking to affect our congregations today. How can we fight against such judgments based on the outward appearance?
11. How does a person’s material possessions affect his relationship with Jehovah? Explain.
11 We need to see our brothers as Jehovah sees them. A person is not precious to Jehovah because he is wealthy or because he is poor. Our relationship with Jehovah will never be determined by how many material possessions we have or by what we lack. While it is true that Jesus said that “it will be difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of the heavens,” he did not say that it would be impossible. (Matt. 19:23) On the other hand, Jesus also said: “Happy are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20) Yet, this did not mean that all poor people were specially blessed and responded to the teaching of Jesus. Many poor people did not respond. The point is, We simply cannot judge a person’s relationship with Jehovah by his material possessions.
12. What instruction do the Scriptures provide to the rich and to the poor?
12 We are blessed to have many brothers and sisters, rich and poor, who love and serve Jehovah with a complete heart. The Scriptures instruct those who are rich “to place their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God.” (Read 1 Timothy 6:17-19.) At the same time, God’s Word admonishes all of God’s people, rich and poor, to be careful not to love money. (1 Tim. 6:9, 10) Indeed, when we open our eyes and see our brothers as Jehovah sees them, we will not be tempted to judge them solely on what they have or do not have materially. But what about a person’s age? Is that a sound basis for judging others? Let us see.
JUDGING BY AGE
13. What do the Scriptures teach us concerning respect for older ones?
13 The Scriptures frequently instruct us to show proper respect for older ones. Leviticus 19:32 says: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show honor to an older man, and you must be in fear of your God.” Proverbs 16:31 similarly instructs us that “gray hair is a crown of beauty when it is found in the way of righteousness.” Then, too, Paul admonished Timothy not to criticize an older man severely but to view such an older brother as a father. (1 Tim. 5:1, 2) Although Timothy had a measure of authority over such older brothers, he was to treat them with compassion and respect.
14. In what circumstance might it be proper for us to give needed counsel or discipline to a person who is older than we are?
14 However, how far would we take that principle? For example, should we feel obligated to defer to someone older if he is willfully sinning or is advocating something displeasing to Jehovah? Jehovah will not judge by the outward appearance and will not excuse a willful sinner simply because he is older. Note the principle found at Isaiah 65:20: “The sinner will be cursed, even though he is a hundred years of age.” A similar principle is demonstrated in Ezekiel’s vision. (Ezek. 9:5-7) Thus, our main concern must always be to show respect for the Ancient of Days, Jehovah God. (Dan. 7:9, 10, 13, 14) If we do so, we will not be afraid to correct a person needing counsel, regardless of his age.—Gal. 6:1.
15. What lesson do we learn from the apostle Paul about showing respect for younger brothers?
15 What about younger brothers in the congregation? How do you view them? To the young man Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote: “Never let anyone look down on your youth. Instead, become an example to the faithful ones in speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness.” (1 Tim. 4:12) At the time that Paul wrote these words, Timothy may have been in his early 30’s. Yet, Paul had assigned him to care for weighty responsibilities. Regardless of the underlying reason for this counsel, the point is clear. We must not judge younger brothers simply based on their age. We do well to remember that even our Lord Jesus carried out his entire earthly ministry while he was in his early 30’s.
16, 17. (a) How do elders determine if a brother is qualified to be recommended as a ministerial servant or an elder? (b) How might personal or cultural viewpoints conflict with the Scriptures?
16 We may be part of a culture that tends to look down on younger men. If so, elders in the congregation may hesitate to recommend qualified young brothers to serve as ministerial servants or elders. All elders do well to remember that the Scriptures do not give a minimum age for a man to be recommended as a ministerial servant or an elder. (1 Tim. 3:1-10, 12, 13; Titus 1:5-9) If an elder establishes a rule based on culture, he is not acting according to the Scriptures. Younger men must be evaluated, not by personal or cultural viewpoints, but by the measuring stick of God’s Word.—2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
17 Consider how such unscriptural cultural views can hold back qualified brothers. In one country, a well-qualified ministerial servant was entrusted with weighty responsibilities. Although the elders in his congregation agreed that the young brother met the Scriptural qualifications of an elder to a reasonable degree, he was not recommended for appointment. A few older elders insisted that the brother looked too young to be viewed as an elder. Sadly, the brother was held back from appointment simply because of the way he looked. Although this is only one experience, reports indicate that this way of thinking affects many in various parts of the world. How important it is that we rely on the Scriptures rather than on our own cultural or personal viewpoints! That is the only way to obey Jesus and stop judging by the outward appearance.
JUDGE WITH RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT
18, 19. What does it take for us to see others as Jehovah sees them?
18 In spite of our human imperfection, we can learn to see others through the impartial eyes of Jehovah. (Acts 10:34, 35) But it takes continual effort on our part and constant reminders from God’s Word. By applying these reminders, we will progress in obeying the command of Jesus to stop judging by the outward appearance.—John 7:24.
19 Soon our King, Jesus Christ, will judge all mankind, not by what appears to his eyes or by what his ears hear, but by righteous judgment. (Isa. 11:3, 4) How wonderful that will be!