Judge Nothing Before the Time, Until the Lord Comes
“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”—1 Cor. 4:5
To understand this verse, I think we need to take a few steps back and make sure that we first have a real inward sight and sense of two fundamental things: 1) That there is a great division, an enormous gulf, between man in his fallen condition, and man in his redeemed condition. Or you could say, that a great breach has been made, and an enmity has been established between the fallen soul of man and its Creator, which breach can only be repaired by the of removing all sin, evil, and corruption from the soul, and by filling it again with the kingdom or reign of God’s life and righteousness. And 2) we must understand that God has given us a way—which is called the gospel—to “repair the breach,” “to build up the old waste places,” to “restore the paths to dwell in.” (Isa 58:12).
Now this way is not just a belief in the historical work of Christ, but rather the giving, the growing, and the reigning of the life of God which is sown by grace into the human heart. THIS is what every man and woman needs. Man needs God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done in him as it is done in heaven. This alone is what restores man, changes man, heals man, and saves man. Again, not a mental assent, or even a heart assent, to an outward or historical work of God, or to correct doctrines and facts. It is not by an outwardly imputed new status or legal position, as though God’s solution was simply to decide to call us something that we’re not, or to overlook what we really are. No, the solution or the gospel, is a gift of God’s own light, life, and power that can truly solve an unbelievably enormous problem. And you see, that is what man has. He has a terrible problem, a horrible disease. His problem is not a lack of outward prosperity, or a lack of correct teaching, or a need to learn the correct way of rendering homage to an offended God. No, his problem is far greater than this. Here’s the problem in short: Man was created to continually receive, live and walk in the light, life and love of God, but, by falling from this created state, he has died to all of it. He has lost everything he had, and become something else. And it is incredibly important that we allow the Lord to show us this, to make us see and feel the depth and horror of our true problem, so that thereby we can understand and receive the help He gives, in the way that He gives it.
The majority of our spiritual questions and confusion arise from great misunderstandings and imaginations about who and what God is, and what He desires; and from who and what man is (in the fall) and what he truly needs. If we begin wrong, we are going to end wrong. I mean, if we begin with false presuppositions about things of such great importance, then we are only going to find wrong solutions, wrong paths, wrong ideas, wrong prayers and wrong endeavors that have their root in falsehoods concerning what religion is, or what it means to repair the breach between God and man. If we begin with a wrong understanding of the problem, it then becomes impossible to understand and pursue the right solution. But if anyone will humble their heart and sincerely seek, ask, and knock, there is a God who wants to both show us the true problem, and to rescue us with the real solution. However, seeing and feeling and knowing the problem must come first.
This is why John the Baptist had to appear before the coming of Christ, and if you can understand my meaning, this is why the Spirit working in John the Baptist and Elijah always has to come to us first before the soul can recognize God’s gift. Before anyone in Israel could recognize their Savior, they had to first see and feel the nature of their problem. What did John the Baptist do? He declared to them their condition in sin, and turned them to the Lamb of God. He called them a “brood of vipers”, and asked “who warned you to flee from the wrath to come.” He told them to put no confidence in what they were according to the flesh, because God would put His axe to the root of that entire human tree. He told them to repent, and do works that were in keeping with repentance; that is to turn from self to God, to turn from the outward fallen world to the inward work of redemption, to remain turned, and so to bear the fruits of this sincere turning.
When descending from the Mount of Transfiguration, the following conversation took place:
And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.”
The Spirit that worked in Elijah, and in John the Baptist always comes first, enabling the soul to recognize its Savior by manifesting its true condition. I don’t mean it always comes first through an outward person, like John the Baptist or Elijah. But the Spirit must do a work in man like the one He did in Israel through these two servants of God in order to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. The Spirit of God, or messenger of the covenant cries out in the wilderness of our hearts.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low. The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth. The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. The voice said, “Cry out!” And he said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass.” (Isa. 40:3-7)
“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the LORD of hosts. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness.” (Mal 3.1-3)
The heart of man must first see and feel that the problem is within, that the plank is in our own eye, that the cup is filthy on the inside. Or in Jesus’ words: “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies, etc.” And it is only by seeing this, finding this, and feeling it to be true, that the soul can begin to awaken and say, “I am the blind, I am the deaf, the leprous, the lame, the poor in spirit, and living dead, who walks in sin and transgression just as naturally as a I breathe the air of this world.”
This is the fall of man. Almost everyone in the church believes in this fall, but very few are really willing to see and feel its greatness and severity in themselves. Man in the fall has lost all good, because he has lost the life of God, the fountain of all goodness. In the fall we have lost spiritual understanding, true love, real righteousness, innocence, light, truth, wisdom, etc. James says that we now have a wisdom from below, that is “earthly, sensual and demonic.” Paul says the natural man “conducts himself in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and is by nature a child of wrath.” Moses says, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” These are true descriptions of man’s condition in the fall, though most imagine themselves to be in a far better state. And consequently, it is only as we begin to see and feel that we live and walk and think and plan and dream in this condition, that we begin to awaken from a deep sleep and FEEL our need for a real solution.
This is why the Son of God became flesh. And I’m not solely talking about His own personal incarnation as a Man 2000 years ago. I also mean, it is for this reason that Christ has been given, planted, or sown in the heart of man, and has joined His Spirit to man while we still lives in the flesh. Christ came to us, and joined Himself to man in his fallen condition, in more ways than one. Of course we know He personally took upon Himself the nature of man in his weakness (“He was crucified in weakness” 2 Cor 13:4), in his mortality, being subject to the temptations and assaults of the enemy, and to the violence of men. He lived as a man, subject to the elements, to heat and cold, tiredness, hunger, even painful emotions (“a man of sorrows acquainted with grief” Isa. 53:3). He entered into this condition, not to be immune to the trials, difficulties, and weakness of it, but to perfectly overcome it by the Spirit, and then to share His overcoming life with men, who by its working in them—even while they are in the flesh—are given the ability to overcome.
Jesus lived as a Man dependent upon the Spirit, not doing his own human will, but always the will of His Father in heaven. Paul says, “being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross,” (Phil 2:8). Christ often said that He did not judge according to His own judgment, or speak His own words, or do His own works, but rather subjected Himself to the will and power of God as He walked in the flesh, saying “Not My will, but Yours be done.” And by His perfect conformity to the will of God, and His complete dependence upon the Spirit and power of God, He overcame all obstacles, overcame all weakness, overcame all evils and temptations that came against Him, and at last even overcame death. And He did this so that by our partaking of His Spirit, we could receive the real solution to our unspeakably great problem or disease. He suffered all of this in perfect submission to the Father, so that we could each receive and experience a measure or seed of His overcoming Spirit. THIS is the solution. THIS is Christianity. It is the miracle of Christ’s Spirit being given to us even while we are in the flesh, so that the human soul can experience the birth, growth, and reign of the overcoming life of Christ. Only a gift of the grace, life, and light of Christ can repair the breach, that can heal the wound, cure the disease, bring us out of the fall, out of darkness, slavery, sin, blindness, uncleanness, nothingness, enmity, into a living union with a perfect and holy God. And unless we truly experience the increase of the Spirit of Christ (“Christ formed in us” Gal 4:19) actually working in us; unless we feel its stirring, its light, its nature, its righteousness, its love, its transforming and redeeming power actually working in us in some measure, than we still have nothing. In other words, it is by the COMING of Christ and His reign in us that our problem is solved, and our disease is cured.
Now I know that Christians generally talk about the “comings” of Christ that are outside of us. I mean, they talk primarily about the coming of Christ in the past as a Man, or the coming of Christ in the future in judgment. And I have no desire to detract from either of these very important realities. But I can tell you that what you and I really need RIGHT NOW is a kind of “coming” that takes place in our own hearts, right where the disease is found, right where the breach has been made. My friends, if Christ comes outwardly when we have refused to accept and experience His inward coming, we are going to find ourselves in a great problem. What problem? When He appears, we will find that we are living, thinking, dreaming, planning, believing, pursuing, seeking, acting, desiring, in and from a nature that is totally contrary to Him.
Of course I believe in and thank God for Christ’s coming in the flesh 2000 years ago. This coming made every aspect of our salvation and redemption possible. And of course I believe that Christ is going to judge the living and the dead, separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, when the time of this world is at an end. But when I think about my true spiritual need TODAY, I think of my need to experience His coming to live and reign in me, as the only hope I have of finding and knowing any true experience of righteousness, life, peace, love, truth, discernment, purpose, and light. For this reason Revelation says that He knocks on the door of our hearts. Why? Because my only hope of loving my neighbor is in this inward coming of Christ. My only hope to be found righteous, spiritually alive, clean and prepared for the Bridegroom, is by this inward coming of Christ. Because without the coming of Christ and His kingdom in me, everything that I think, assume, believe, and do comes from that fallen nature that He came to destroy.
This is why Paul makes such strong declarations, like, “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Rom 14:23). Have you ever thought about the implications of that statement? Or Christ says, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” Apart from the kingdom of Christ coming in man, putting His enemies under His feet in man, reigning with His righteous scepter in man, man is perfectly incapable of seeing, understanding, or doing anything that is truly good.
Now, returning finally to this verse where Paul says, “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes,” I believe Paul is saying this very thing. He is saying that, in ourselves, and by ourselves, man has no capacity to judge. Which is why in some verses He says things like “Judge not, that you be not judged,” (Mat 7:1). And yet we find in other places, Jesus says, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24), or “Why do you not judge what is right? (Luke 12:57). In Romans 2, Paul says, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” And yet in other verses Paul talks about the necessity of judging, and says things like, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (1 Cor. 6:2); or “For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed,” (1 Cor 5:3).
At first glance, these things appear to be contradictory, but that is simply because we generally don’t understand that there are two completely different sources or origins of judgment, which are seen or discerned in two completely different kinds of light. In other words, there is a good and important reason for this seeming contradiction, and that reason is this: if judgment comes FROM us, FROM the flesh, then in our judging others we are inevitably and necessarily condemning ourselves, because our flesh is of the same nature, and desires and does the exact same things, though perhaps under a different disguise. Man, in and of himself, has no capacity to judge, because our judgment (when it doesn’t come from the light or living perspective of God) is nothing more than a human opinion or conclusion, and by it we condemn in others what we are in ourselves. If we judge out from ourselves, we cannot judge or condemn another person without also condemning ourselves, and it is for this reason that Jesus so often used the word “hypocrite” to describe the religious leaders of his day.
But though there is a judgment that comes from man, there is also a judgment that comes from God upon man, in which a man must live; and these two judgments are entirely different. Or you could say, there is an enormous difference between the judgment that comes from man, and the judgment that is made manifest in man when Christ comes. And this is why Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 4:5 “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.” By both Jesus and by His apostles, we are forbidden to judge according to, or out from ourselves. But by both Jesus and His apostles, we are encouraged and even commanded to judge according to the judgment that comes from above, which judges the same things in us as it does in our neighbor.
And so there is a great difference, an enormous gulf, between man living and walking in his own judgment, and man living and walking in the judgment of God, as one who has been “judged according to men in the flesh, but lives according to God in the spirit,” (1 Peter 4:6) In the first case, we are the source of the judgment. In the second case, we are the recipients of God’s judgment, and yet our hearts, minds, and will progressively come into alignment with it, and obedience to it.
However, to the unbeliever, or to anyone who is still living in the flesh, this difference is not seen or understood. I mean, when a Christian begins to feel the judgment of God against his own fallen, selfish, and proud nature, and begins to agree with God’s judgment, to submit to His light, to see and speak and live according to that heavenly judgment (a judgment that is no respecter of persons, and condemns sin in us just as severely as it condemns sin in others), then the people of the world who hear us speak, or watch us live, almost always say, “You are judging me!” or “You are being judgmental!” because they feel that our lives, our actions, and our words cannot approve of, or align with theirs. And this misunderstanding and accusation is something that we just have to bear. There’s no way (that I’ve found) to convince another person that you are simply trying to walk in a light that judges all sin wherever it is found, and that this light is reproving and judging YOU in the same way it judges others. Unfortunately, our words, decisions, and actions that are according to God’s judgment are almost always taken personally, as though the judgment came personally from us, and is aimed personally at another.
But the prophets, the apostles, and Christ Himself had to deal with this same misunderstanding, and with these same kinds of accusations. Multitudes in Israel, generation after generation, were enraged with the prophets for declaring God’s true judgments to the people. These were not the judgments of the prophets. I mean, these judgments did not originate in the prophet’s mind or opinion. No, these were the judgments of the Lord that often made the prophets weep, both for their own sin and for the sin of the people. And yet the people in general rejected, mocked, and killed these prophets because they refused to cry “Peace peace, when there was no peace,” (Jer. 6:14, 8:11) that is, no true peace with God. Instead they said to the prophets, “Speak to us smooth things,” (Isa. 30:10), which is what the flesh always wants to say to the righteous requirements of God.