Charitable Corrections: A Small Group Study Guide

Opening Questions:

Have you ever been in a situation where you thought someone was in the wrong only to find out later that you had misread the situation?

Does that mean we should never evaluate what other people do and have an opinion about it?

Digging Deeper:

What would be proof that we should evaluate or examples of times when we must evaluate?

-1 Kings 3:6-9
-Hebrews 5:14
-Matthew 7:6
-Matthew 7:15

Is there any danger in making these evaluations however?

What is that danger?

-James 4:11,12

-Matthew 7:1-6

How do many people interpret this verse?

What do you think is the essence of what Jesus is saying here?

Let’s read John MacArthur’s explanation and comment on this:

“All throughout the Bible we are commanded to discern, to try the spirits, to have our senses exercised to know the difference between good and evil says Hebrews 5:14. Now, having said that, then, we look at “Judge not.” We know it doesn’t mean that we’re not to discriminate between truth and error. I mean, that’s infantile. It is a child, according to Ephesians 4, that doesn’t know the difference between good and evil, that becomes victimized and prey to Satan’s cunning craftiness because of an inability to discern. We must discern. We must discriminate. We must evaluate. There are things we must judge. That’s not what the Lord’s talking about.

What is He talking about? What He’s talking about is the critical, judgmental, condemning, self-righteous egotism of the Pharisees. They weren’t criticizing people because of sin. They were criticizing them because of their personality, their character, their weaknesses, their frailties, perhaps the way they looked or the way they dressed or the fact that they didn’t do the things the way they did them. They were criticizing their motives, which they couldn’t see or perceive anyway in their humanness. You don’t know why a person does what he does.

To go around saying, “Well, we should love everybody and never judge anybody,” that isn’t what the Lord is saying. In fact, in Leviticus 19:17, it says this. “Thou shalt not hate thy brother.” Thou shalt not hate thy brother? What do you mean? “Thou shalt in any case rebuke they neighbor and not allow sin on him.” In other words, to allow him to sin is to hate him, not to love him. So, if you see, sin is love that makes a change. It is love that demands a repentance. People say, “Oh, I don’t want to say anything.” We just love everybody. No, when you find sin and you tolerate it, you are hating your brother, not loving him. It is love that confronts. It is hate that ignores a fault and a sin and lets a person go in that path.

Jesus expressed such evaluation. He condemned repeatedly. He judged, He evaluated, He criticized. He unmasked and stripped naked the Pharisees in Matthew 23. we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about the ugly, self- righteous, judgmental, critical spirit of the Pharisees, and not only the Pharisees, but a lot of other folks had the same problem, and we fight it, as well, even today. We’re not shirking church discipline. But we are talking about that personal critical spirit.

So if you want an easy translation of what it says in verse 1, it says, “Stop criticizing.” Stop criticizing. Who are you to criticize other people? That’s the issue. We must judge. We must evaluate. Romans 16:17 says, “We must mark them that cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which we’ve learned and avoid them.” We must make doctrinal distinctions, and we must mark the people who offend that doctrine, and we must avoid those people. We can’t all get together. We must make distinctions. And that judgment must begin, says, Peter, at the house of God. We have a right to judge righteous judgment. John 7:24. But not the carping criticism of the Pharisees. And that is essentially what He’s saying.”

Thinking It Through:

It’s true that we need to offer correction. It’s also true that we need to be careful not to become critical in our correcting. This tendency to being critical is a serious problem.

What are some biblical examples of the danger of being critical?

-Joshua 22:10-34
-1 Samuel 1:12-17
-2 Samuel 16:1-4
-2 Samuel 19:24-30
-Matthew 12:22-24
-Acts 21:26-29
-1 Corinthians 10-11

What are some ways you have struggled with making critical judgments?

Instead of being critical, we should learn to be charitable. Ken Sande explains, “Instead of judging others critically, God commands us to judge charitably. The church has historically used the word “charitable” as a synonym for the word “loving.” This has resulted in the expression, “charitable judgments.” Making a charitable judgment means that out of love for God, you strive to believe the best about others until you have facts to prove otherwise. In other words, if you can reasonably interpret facts in two possible ways, God calls you to embrace the positive interpretation over the negative, or at least to postpone making any judgment at all until you can acquire conclusive facts.”

Now, let’s think through the importance of charitable judgments.

-Matthew 7:1-6
-Matthew 7:12
-Matthew 22:39
-1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The importance of making charitable judgments goes all the way back to the Old Testament. Once again, Ken Sande explains, “The call to judge others charitably is not something new or novel. It finds its roots in the Ten Commandments and is consistent with hundreds of years of church doctrine. In Exodus 20:16 God says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” The church has historically interpreted this commandment not only to forbid lying but also to require charitable judgments. Luther’s Small Catechism teaches that this commandment means, “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” Similarly, the Westminster Larger Catechism teaches that this commandment requires “preserving and promoting truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, . . . a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocence; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them . . . .” Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s greatest theologians, thoroughly discussed God’s call for charitable judgments in his superb book, Charity and Its Fruits.[4] Drawing on the passages discussed above (Matt. 7 and 1 Cor. 13), he shows that the Bible condemns censoriousness, which he defines as “a disposition to think evil of others, or to judge evil in them,” and commends charitable judgments, which he describes as “a disposition to think the best of others that the case will allow.” The phrase “charitable judgments” may sound new to many of us today, but the concept itself is rooted deeply in the Word of God and the teaching of the church. Therefore, it should be rooted deeply in our hearts and displayed in our lives.”

We must judge charitable, but does that mean we are to evaluate with our eyes closed? What are the limits on charitable judgments?

1. Don’t have to believe an action is good when there is significant evidence to the contrary.
2. Don’t have to accept without question everything that people tell us.
3. Should be not used to stifle discussion, questioning and debate.
4. Does not mean we can’t apply church discipline.

In what areas should we be very careful of making critical judgments in particular?

Ken Sande suggests, “We should become alert to three ways that we judge critically.

First, we think negatively of the qualities of others. When we develop a critical attitude toward others, we start a subtle but steady process of selective data gathering. We easily overlook or minimize others’ good qualities, while at the same time we search for and magnify any unfavorable qualities. As we find faults that reinforce opinions we have already formed, we seize them eagerly, saying to ourselves (and sometimes others), “See, I told you so!” One critical judgment looks for and feeds on another, and the person’s character is steadily diminished and ultimately destroyed in our minds.

The second way we judge others wrongly is to think the worst of their words and actions. We hear rumors of conversations or observe fragments of an opponent’s behavior. Instead of searching for a favorable interpretation of their actions, or giving them a chance to explain what happened (Prov. 18:13), we prefer to put the worst construction on what they have done. We overlook things that are in the person’s favor and focus on the things that seem to be against him. To top it off, we fill in the gaps with assumptions and finally judge the person to have done wrong.

One day a small church was expecting a guest preacher. He arrived early and sat in his car writing additional thoughts in his notes. He periodically put his short, white pencil in his mouth so he could free a hand to turn to a verse in his Bible. A deacon pulled in beside him, watched him for a moment, and then went inside. When the guest preacher walked into the church a few minutes later, he sensed antagonism from the entire group of deacons. He asked if he had done something wrong. The head deacon replied, “We find it very offensive that you would sit in our church parking lot smoking a cigarette, especially when you were about to preach God’s Word from our pulpit!” You can imagine the deacons’ embarrassment when the man pulled the pencil from his pocket and explained that he had only been working on his sermon.

The third and most insidious type of critical judgment is to assume the worst about others’ motives. Some people are habitually cynical (distrustful or suspicious of others’ nature or motives); others assume the worst only in certain people. In either case, the effect is the same: they are quick to attribute others’ actions to an unworthy motive, such as pride, greed, selfishness, control, rebellion, stubbornness, or favoritism.

When doing this, they think or say things like, “All he cares about is money.” “She likes to go first so she can impress everyone.” “They are too proud to listen to advice.” “What he really wants is to force us out of the group.” “She is just too stubborn to admit she is wrong.” Although these appraisals may be true on some occasions, in many cases they will be false.

So, is there ever a time that we can properly form a firm opinion about someone’s motives? Yes, we may do so whenever the other person expressly admits to such motives, or when there is a pattern of incontrovertible facts that can lead to no other reasonable conclusion.

But when such clear proof is not present, it is wrong to presume we can look into others’ hearts and judge the motives for their actions. Scripture teaches that God alone can see into the heart and discern a person’s motives (see 1 Sam. 16:7; Ps. 44:21; Prov. 16:2). When we believe that we also are able to do this, we are guilty of sinful presumption.

All three types of critical judgments violate God’s will. Scripture sternly warns against those who indulge evil suspicions against their brothers and fail to give them a chance to explain themselves (1 Tim. 6:4; Ps. 15:3, 50:19-20). Our sin is compounded if we develop the habit of receiving or circulating evil reports about others (2 Cor. 12:20; Eph. 4:31). Jonathan Edwards likens our believing and spreading a critical judgment to “feeding on it, as carrion birds do on the worst of flesh.” That is what we are doing when we receive and circulate bad reports about others: it is like passing around rotting flesh.”

It’s important that we correct, but we must do so with the right attitude. The goal of becoming good at correcting is not the same as becoming good at being critical.

For further study:

Stop Criticizing: http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/2250
Charitable Judgments: http://www.peacemaker.net/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=aqKFLTOBIpH&b=1084263&ct=6869591#sthash.eW3EI4bW.dpuf

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