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By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them
March 21, 2010
Some Christians try to justify judging one another on points of disagreement on what a particular Bible verse teaches by invoking the scripture about recognizing someone by their fruits. They take this verse, and others, out of context in order to "prove" their point. All Bible subjects must be understood in their true context. Those who want to judge in doctrine and spiritual matters abuse scriptures pertaining to other matters in order to justify their un-Christ-like behavior.
By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them
By Bernie Parsons
Presented to Globe church of Christ on 03-21-2010
Presented to Load church of Christ on 03-28-2010
I had not planned on giving this lesson in this series on the freedoms that we enjoy in Christ, but I know that many of my brothers and sisters will object to my previous lesson, “Judge Not, That Ye Be Not Judged”. Many desire to judge, think that they have the right to judge, and even feel compelled to judge! They will say that I left out key scriptures. Since my lessons have been running about an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half, if I crammed in every relevant scripture, we would be here for three hours, and most would not accept that!
One of the favorite scriptures to justify judging others, aside from the misappropriated one that the take out of context, “…judge righteous judgment”, is the following, also used out of context:
One preacher taught his several flocks that we Christians are “fruit inspectors”. He used this erroneous argument to get around the fact that we are not to judge one another in spiritual and personal matters. Let us look at the verse in its context.
Matthew 7:15 "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."
Jesus was warning about false prophets, not brothers and sisters who are trying to understand and keep God’s will! He was not authorizing the judging of our righteous spiritual siblings! He said that those who bring forth withered or rotten spiritual fruit will be rejected by God. But, by that bad fruit, the righteous would be able to recognize the false teachers and preachers.
Another oft-quoted and misused scripture is:
1 Corinthians 6:2 “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?”
This is again taken out of context and used as a justification to judge one another in spiritual and personal matters. Consider it in its proper context:
1 Corinthians 6:1 "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?
2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?
4 If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.
5 I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?
6 But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.
7 Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?
8 Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren."
As we can see, this was advice on how to handle matters of material dispute between Christian believers. Paul told those Corinthian Christians not to take such disputes before the civil courts. Rather, he told them to settle earthly matters between themselves. Jesus addressed this:
Luke 12:13 "And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
14 And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?
15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth."
Luke 12:57 "Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?
58 When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison.
59 I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite."
We should be able to settle material disagreements quickly and easily, between one another, whether believer or not. We should not have to take these matters into the civil courts.
Matthew 18:15 "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven."
Jesus outlined a process to settle problems between Christians. Again, this is not a way to pass spiritual judgment regarding doctrine, but a process to settle personal disputes.
(1) Try to work it out in private. If that fails,
(2) Take witnesses to show who is trying to work it, and who is stubbornly refusing.
(3) Make the recalcitrant member’s stubbornness known to the entire assembly.
(4) Treat as an unbeliever one who will not amicably work toward a fair settlement.
Those who claim that this is talking about challenging someone regarding doctrine, and jamming it down their throats, using coercion from “witnesses” and the congregation, are flat out wrong!
Here are a few more examples of situations where decisions have to be made. Note that in each case, the idea is to encourage godly behavior. Our goal is to edify, or build up, not tear down.
1 Corinthians 5:11 “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.
2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,
4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?
7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”
This serious transgression of God’s instruction was so heinous that even the immoral Gentiles refused to condone it – a man having sexual relations with his father’s wife. Whether a single wife, one of multiple wives, or a stepmother, it does not matter. It was wrong. Some try to compare this to someone who has been divorced and remarried, but this is a unique situation. Paul also categorizes this with other blatantly ungodly practices. None of these have to do with differing doctrinal understandings, but with un-Christ-like behavior.
Another situation touted as showing that we can be judgmental is found in these verses:
Romans 16:17 "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple."
Similar to the advice about knowing the fruits of false prophets, the advice is to steer clear of such. In this case, stay clear of those who divide and destroy congregations for their own gain.
And finally, there is this example that is sometimes trotted out:
2 Thessalonians 3:10 "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.
14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother."
Again, this is not about judging someone regarding their understanding of a Bible topic. This deals with slothfulness, or laziness. Christians are not charged with supporting those among them who refuse to work, using their free time to put into the personal business of others.
All of the “judging” in the instances given above have to do with bad behavior. They deal with those who claim to believe in, and follow, Christ, but who continue to live like unbelievers. They reject the basic premises of Christianity, choosing instead to misbehave and engage in decidedly ungodly activity.
None of these examples give us the right to judge others in personal choices and matters of doctrinal understanding. As we saw last time, as spoken by Jesus and His apostles and disciples, we are not to judge one another in those things. We are to be able to discern between godly and ungodly people and behavior. By their fruits you shall recognize them!