In the business world, there is a saying, “Perception is Truth.” The concept basically is this: you should react to people the way they perceive you, regardless of whether those perceptions are correct or not. The result of this type of thinking is a one-way relationship. These relationships are commonly practiced in business and “understanding” is not part of the equation if you are on the wrong side of that relationship. Customers do not want to understand a vendor’s problems; they just want them fixed. A boss does not want to understand an employee’s problems; he just wants results. There are exceptions to these circumstances, but they are few and far between. This is probably one of the more difficult things that I have had to deal with in the business world being a Christian. When it comes to relationships, Christianity is about understanding your brother and not being quick to judge wrongfully.
The idea of “Perception is Truth” often invades the church. A brother will get slightly offended at another brother for some small thing. Instead of asking about the offense, he just dismisses it. Over time, small offences build up and a perception is built regarding that brother. That perception may or may not be warranted, but to the brother who is offended, it is “truth.” These perceptions often generate gossip and tale bearing. In the end, they cause strife and division within the church, all because someone judged another based upon a perception.
Many today have been infected with this notion. Is this concept correct? The Bible clearly teaches that it is not. We read in John 7:24: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” Jesus rejects and repudiates this popular notion that one may judge based upon perception. In the context of John 7:24, Jesus was teaching in the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles (v.2). Many were speaking about Jesus at the feast, but quietly (v.11-13). Part of this gossip included the rumor that he had a demon (v.20). Jesus reads their hearts and repudiates this by showing that the same critics formed hypocritical judgments regarding healing on the Sabbath (22, 23). They had quickly come to wrong judgment regarding Jesus based upon gossip that they heard. The “evidence” upon which they had drawn their conclusions regarding him was all perception. So Jesus rebukes them, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
Christians also get bogged down in the same nonsense and become objects of this rebuke as well. It is so easy for us to listen to gossip regarding other Christians. Unlike Jesus, we cannot read the hearts of individuals who act this way, so the Bible gives us several principles upon which to ensure that our Christian relationships remain in tact. These principles are love, patience, longsuffering, and brotherly kindness. Applying these principles in our life will go a long way toward not judging according to appearance.
How do we use love to not judge according to appearance?
How do we use patience to not judge according to appearance?
How do we use longsuffering to not judge according to appearance?
How do we use brotherly kindness to not judge according to appearance?
Are there any additional items that must be respected after all of these have been applied? Jesus has set down a few items for us to follow in regard to our personal Christian relationships. Our problem is that we fail to follow these rules and thereby cause great hurt and pain among our brethren unnecessarily. (Please note that the situation under consideration is a personal relationship between two Christians; these rules do not apply to publicly taught false doctrine or immoral public behavior.) What are these rules? Jesus states them in Matthew 18:15-17 “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. 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. 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.”
The first step is to speak to the brother privately about his offence. This is probably the most uncomfortable step that we have to take. It is much easier to go to others and start talking about someone else; it is much harder to talk to the person who has committed the trespass directly. However, this is for the good of everyone, and is consistent with the Biblical teaching of love. Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:8, “And above all things have fervent love among yourselves: for love shall cover the multitude of sins.” When we go to a brother privately and discuss things and resolve them, we have helped to not spread things beyond what they should be known. The Holy Spirit calls this love. This first private consultation may reveal a number of things regarding the brother who trespassed against you; it may in fact reveal that you misjudged something that he did. These things can be cleared up privately without the need for additional parties to intervene and especially without having to go before the “unjust” (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
After one has spoken to a brother privately and this brother refuses to repent, the second step is to bring two or three witnesses for the purpose of establishing every word. It is not enough with God for one person to go and start telling every one about this situation. God demands that we take two or three with us to establish every word. At this meeting, an accounting of all that has taken place will be recorded; the additional witnesses will judge the trespass. If the judgment of these additional witnesses is not heard and obeyed, then the matter will be brought before the church.
The church has final authority in regard to the trespass. By the time the issue is presented to the church, it should be clear what the offending party has done and what he needs to do to correct the situation. If the church’s decision is not obeyed in this regard, then the one who committed the offence is to be as a heathen or publican.
What should we do so that we do not practice this in our lives? We must practice the instruction that Jesus gave in regard to personal relationships regardless of our own personal comforts.