By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 17:15 NKJV).
The balance demanded of the Lord – neither justifying the wicked nor condemning the just – is not always easy to maintain. This is especially so in our dealings with religious people, even our own brethren. Easy or not, it is a balance for which Christians must strive. The ability to strike that balance comes through study, growth, and spiritual exercise (cf. Heb. 5:14). Through these, one learns to look at things more as the Lord does – seeing good as good and evil as evil.
Brethren constantly damage the Lord’s cause by neither understanding nor striving for this balance. The disposition of many finds a way to condemn others regardless of the good that is in them, while the temperament of others is to justify brethren regardless to the wickedness that is in them. Still others are apt to do both.
I hear praise for individuals because “they never see any evil in anyone.” One gets the impression that this must be the greatest of all virtues. It is really? Could it be that backbiting and gossip have caused many of us to flop to the opposite extreme?
Justifying the wicked is not the greatest trait that one can develop. One does not have to be a super-critic who condemns even the just; nor does one have to a super-conciliator who finds a way to justify even the wicked.
Preachers can be found without such balance in their preaching and dealing with their fellow man. They may have developed one extreme or the other by misunderstanding the “whole counsel of God.” They may have succumbed to the constant pressure to preach the gospel in a way that reflects the prevailing mood of those who support them. If the supporters tend to justify the wicked, then so does the preaching. If the supporters tend to condemn the just, then so does the preaching. Regardless of how either extreme comes about, the church is hurt when the preaching it receives and/or supports is turned predominately in either direction.
One aspect of the overall problem may be a misunderstanding and/or misapplication of terms. One may excuse and/or justify the wicked because he has a different view of “just,” “righteous,” wicked,” “abomination” than God. We may think of these terms in the light of our own thinking and that of those around us rather than from God’s perspective.
The super-critic equates “righteous” or “just” with near absolute perfection. It does not take long for this man to condemn as wicked almost everyone (but himself, of course) because he can find perfection in no one. The Lord’s righteous man or just man is one made so by the pardon that comes through the blood of Christ when one obeys from the heart the gospel of Christ (Rom. 6:3,4,17; Acts 2:38; 22:16). He is kept righteous or just by practicing righteousness (I John 3:7), confessing his sins (1 John 1:9), and asking God’s forgiveness (Acts 8:22). He may even show unwise judgment in word and deed in some matter without sinning (cf. 1 Cor. 7:36-38). Further, the super-critic tends not to give another the benefit of a doubt before passing judgment.
The super-conciliator equates “wicked” or “abominable” with near total depravity. “Wicked” and “abominable” are reserved for the lowest forms of immorality, if ever used at all. Maybe he should examine some wicked in the New Testament:
In both the parables of the talents and pounds (minas NKJV) the unfaithful servants were called wicked. They were not murderers, robbers, adulterers, or the like; they simply ignored the authority of the master. They did not carry out the expressed will of the master – thus were disobedient (Matt. 25:26; Luke 19:22).
Simon, in Acts 8:22, was guilty of wickedness when he tried to buy the power of God with money.
A brother who married his father’s wife was a wicked person (1 Cor. 5:17).
Jesus warned some, “For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). So, man and God may not have the same list of abominations. Some of God’s abominations may be high on religious men’s lists of virtues.
One needs to be careful in passing judgment upon others because Jesus said, “Judge not that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). Jesus also tells us to judge righteously (John 7:24). There may be times that one simply withholds judgment, neither condemning nor justifying. He is simply in no position to know the facts in the matter.
However, one needs to understand God considers both those who justify the wicked and those who condemn the just equally abominable before Him. God through Isaiah put it rather strongly by saying: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitterl Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isa. 5:20,21).
There are basically two ways that one may go about justifying the wicked. (1) He may not see their conduct as wickedness. He agrees that the deed in question was done, but does not believe it to be wrong. (2) He may see the conduct as sinful, but finds ways to excuse the person for having done the deed. He may even tell himself that he is acting out of love for the offender. How loving is it to let people continue in their wickedness without having to face up to the responsibility and consequences of it? In either case he has justified the wicked.
There are basically three ways that one may go about condemning the just. (1) He understands what is done, but May think it is something a Christian has no right to do. His lack of knowledge and discernment causes him to condemn what God allows. (2) He does not really understand what is done because he bases his judgment upon insufficient evidence and/or hasty judgment. (3) He may not be able to condemn what is done, but imagines without evidence, it to be done from wicked motives.
I stand amazed at brethren who will freely admit that certain brethren are guilty of unrepented of wickedness -immorality, worldliness, compromise, destructive heresies and general unfaithfulness. The evidence is open, sufficient, and so strong that even those who refuse to rebuke them have to admit that the thing was done. They will find some way to say that such may be so, but . . . … They simply cannot find the courage to deal with these brethren as unfaithful, as compromisers, as worldlings and as teachers of destructive heresies. They are often more critical of those who do recognize and deal with such brethren in a way that the Bible teaches they should.
I stand just as a amazed at many who upon flimsy and often contradictory bits of evidence think they must inform the brotherhood that a certain brother or church has departed from the faith. If brethren everywhere do not share their judgment in the matter, then woe be to them! These seem to be unwilling to consider that they just might have misinterpreted the “evidence” at hand. They are not willing to consider that what may seem to be clear evidence might not be as clear to another.
There might be little disagreement as to how we should treat the brother or church in question – if indeed they are guilty as charged. The Bible is sufficiently clear, complete and confirmed. All brethren have equal access to this information in it. If one has indeed violated its teachings then he should be dealt with accordingly. Yet, the evidence of what was actually done in the incident(s) in question may not be so clear, complete, reliable and readily accessible. That is why we have hung juries and mistrials in civil law. It is not that the law is vague, but the evidence as to what actually happened may be. So, we need to be careful that we do not “condemn the just.”
In all cases one would do well to study the Bible to better discern between good and evil. He needs to practice applying it to real life situations, having the wisdom and courage to call evil “evil” and good “good” wherever he finds it – even among religious people.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 10, pp. 291-292
May 21, 1987