Right Qualities Needed to Judge
“When having a hearing between your brothers, you must judge with righteousness between a man and his brother or his alien resident.”—Deut. 1:16.
1. What stands out in the requirements for judging that Moses expressed at Deuteronomy 1:16, 17?
JUDGING matters that affect people’s lives and relationships is a serious responsibility. Within the Christian congregation, elders especially should examine how they are discharging this responsibility. In giving counsel or rendering decisions it is one thing to express an opinion; it is quite another matter to judge in righteousness. To observe God’s standard for judging, elders should keep in mind what Moses commanded judges in his day: “When having a hearing between your brothers, you must judge with righteousness between a man and his brother or his alien resident. You must not be partial in judgment. You should hear the little one the same as the great one. You must not become frightened because of a man, for the judgment belongs to God.” (Deut. 1:16, 17) Whether the case involves someone seemingly great due to his material means, educational background or major accomplishments to his credit, or whether it involves one of “little means” in these respects, elders must be impartial. Their aim should be to do what is right, not in their own eyes, but according to God’s view of matters. (Prov. 21:2, 3) Thus the judgment will truly belong to Jehovah, as expressed through his Word and earthly channel.
2. Why is wisdom essential in judging, and what results therefrom?
2 Elders cannot properly decide matters on the basis of limited knowledge. They need to have the complete picture when hearing a matter. To isolate main points and to see how a problem developed or why something was done, elders must ask pertinent, discreet questions. Those involved in a case should cooperate with them by giving all the facts rather than a partial presentation of what they know. This enables elders to relate Bible laws to the issues raised or the charges being considered. Solomon requested wisdom to fulfill the responsibility placed upon him. (1 Ki. 3:9, 12) Elders, too, need heavenly wisdom in making proper application of what God’s Word says regarding situations that they are called on to handle. This results in producing righteous fruits within the congregation.—Jas. 3:17, 18.
3, 4. (a) In what ways should elders imitate Jehovah in showing mercy? (b) Who else besides wrongdoers are to be shown mercy in a positive way?
3 Another quality that elders must exercise in matters of judgment is mercy. (Jas. 2:13) They are to imitate Jehovah, about whom the psalmist wrote: “As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him.” (Ps. 103:13) When Israel strayed, how did Jehovah respond to their right heart attitude in seeking his favor? He expressed compassion, not just in a negative way to soften his judgment, but in a positive way to cover transgressions. His indignation was momentary in comparison with the lasting extension of his mercies. (Isa. 54:7, 8) As for those who were at a disadvantage, the inspired writer praises Jehovah as “guarding the alien residents; the fatherless boy and the widow he relieves.”—Ps. 146:9.
4 Likewise, the elders are to bring relief, not just to repentant wrongdoers, but to all disadvantaged ones. We have the sick, handicapped, aged, timid and poverty-stricken in our midst. (Jas. 1:27) So elders are to practice mercy, not only by exercising restraint in judicial matters where repentance is manifest, but by expressing kind consideration and pity in behalf of all those in need, whether due to having slipped into transgression, spiritual weakness or because of physical disadvantages.
EXERCISING GODLY QUALITIES IN JUDGING
5. (a) how does due commendation affect persons? (b) How may elders deal with unfavorable trends, and why should we be concerned about moderation in all things?
5 In their everyday dealings with brothers elders should look for the good in them, note their progress and be ready to commend. This encourages a desire to do even better. In areas of personal taste, they should not try to impose their personal ideas on others. Where Bible principles are not set aside they recognize that there is room for diversity in likes and dislikes. This is true in the field of recreation, in our eating and drinking habits and in customs of dress and grooming. When observing trends, rather than counteract something not desirable through rigid rules, discerning elders should be constructive, encouraging what is desirable. Of course, where some are no longer moderate but go to extremes or begin to violate God’s Word, then something needs to be said or done to help them.—Rom. 14:19-23; Titus 2:2-5.
6. (a) To make proper decisions with regard to dress and grooming, what Scriptural principles should we consider? (b) Keeping in mind points made in the inspired Proverbs, we should seek to find favor in whose eyes, and how can we do so?
6 Take, for example, the matter of apparel. Although The Watchtower has commented on this matter from time to time, some have difficulty in weighing the Scriptural principles involved. Or, they look for ways to circumvent them, stretching a statement out of proportion to given situations. By considering basic questions and reasoning matters out, their thinking can be adjusted. Is the clothing neat and clean? Is it well arranged and modest, befitting those who reverence God? Is the apparel of the quiet and mild spirit being emphasized or is the extreme physical appearance getting most of the attention? (1 Tim. 2:9, 10; 1 Pet. 3:3-5) Will others be unpleasantly affected by what one wears? Does it detract from the dignity of the occasion, especially if it is at a place of worship? (2 Cor. 6:3, 4) What is the responsibility of the father or husband who exercises family headship? (Col. 3:18-21) If what is worn raises questions or reflects unfavorably on the congregation, what is the course recommended in the Bible? (1 Cor. 10:31-33) Is one humble enough to submerge one’s own preferences in order to avoid offending sensitive consciences? (Rom. 14:21) By considering such questions and the principles involved, elders can lay stress on God’s Word rather than be pressured into laying down rules. They will encourage what is right in God’s eyes, aiding individuals to make a Bible-based decision rather than leaning upon their own understanding or letting sentiments sway them.—Prov. 3:5-7; 12:15; 16:2.
7. (a) If a person commits minor trespasses, what course is open to him? (b) What do the Scriptures state in showing the only way to gain forgiveness?
7 Sometimes individuals err, committing minor trespasses. It is not a requisite to go to elders about every minor offense in order to ‘get right again with God.’ What should be done, for example, if disparaging speech was used against someone in an isolated case? Or, perhaps one lost his temper on occasion. Maybe there was a run-in with a brother and a slight altercation ensued that was shortly thereafter regretted. Such incidents could be mentioned to an elder, if one desires to do that. Keep in mind, however, that elders are not ‘father confessors’ having to be approached over every minor infraction of some principle. An elder who is approached about such things would endeavor to be helpful. But his counseling you would not, in itself, make the matter right for you. One gains forgiveness by going directly to Jehovah in prayer, confessing the wrong, repenting and then leaving the wrong course.—1 John 1:9; Heb. 4:14-16.
8. If a person feels condemned at heart due to committing sins, how can older men, if approached, aid him?
8 On the other hand, brothers who are spiritually disturbed over some problem should feel free to approach elders. If serious sins have been committed, that is an evidence of some weakness that needs to be rectified. A person may reach a point where his own prayers seem to be hindered or lack effectiveness; he may feel condemned in his heart, losing confidence and freeness of speech. (1 John 5:14; 4:17, 18) In such cases one is urged to approach the older men, confess one’s sins, and benefit from their counsel and prayers.—Jas. 5:14-16.
9. How can those who may become a source of annoyance be dealt with Scripturally?
9 Some cases call for long-suffering and restraint on the part of elders. Imperfection has deeply ingrained itself in the human family. This may be more pronounced in the actions of some who say or do things that are annoying. Without realizing it a person may make a “nuisance” of himself by repeatedly approaching the elders about some pet peeve or fancied wrong. Others may be overly critical of elders and how they do things. How should an elder react? He can follow Paul’s advice at 2 Timothy 2:24, 25, to “be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil,” and also to be “instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed,” as he copes with and corrects matters.
10. Where ingnorance is a factor or one is overreached in a moment of weakness, how may wisdom and mercy be exercised by elders?
10 It is not the course of wisdom hastily to impute bad motives to people. Some wrongdoing is done in ignorance. Where this is so, mercy will be appreciated by the one who erred. Paul, who committed wrongdoing in ignorance prior to his conversion, was grateful for the mercy extended to him. (1 Tim. 1:12-15) After becoming dedicated servants of God, what if individuals take a false step before they are aware of it? Elders have a responsibility in such cases to counsel and strive to readjust such erring ones in a merciful way.—Gal. 6:1.
ATTENDING TO MORE SERIOUS OFFENSES
11. What are some of the serious offenses that may require a judicial hearing, and how do these usually come to the attention of elders?
11 Cases of serious wrongdoing require attention by the elders to determine what is needed to preserve the spiritual health of all. These would include sins that the apostle Paul names at 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10 and Galatians 5:19-21, and which sins a person committed after baptism. A person who has committed a grave violation of God’s law may come forward to confess his sin. Or it may happen that an accusation of a serious nature is brought against a member of the congregation. In such cases, elders serving in a judicial capacity must weigh matters carefully, knowing that certain factors may distinguish one situation from another. Instead of looking to rigid rules for guidance, they need to think in terms of principles and judge each case on its own merits.
12. In judging a matter in righteousness, what are some things a judicial committee will do?
12 Knowing what God’s righteous standards call for, the judicial committee is obligated to get all the facts before rendering a decision. (Prov. 18:13) If the wrongdoer, or the one accused, does not openly make confession of a serious offense, then witnesses must be heard to establish whether a matter is true or not. (Deut. 19:15; 1 Tim. 5:19) The elders also look into the circumstances surrounding the case. Was previous counsel disregarded? Does the evidence indicate that the act was willful or that a practice of sin is involved? These factors have a bearing on the way the matter is handled. By prayerfully considering all the facts and circumstances and deliberating upon God’s law, the elders can usually make a firm decision.
13. (a) A judicial committee’s efforts should be directed toward what objective, and how does Matthew 18:17 indicate that the wrongdoer’s response has a bearing on the outcome in his case? (b) Why is disfellowshiping action necessary at times?
13 Even though the wrongdoer is guilty of a serious offense, elders realize that their aim is to help one who has fallen into a wrong course wherever possible. If he ‘listens to them,’ showing true repentance, it may result in his being ‘gained’ as a brother and thus spared from being disfellowshiped. (Matt. 18:15-17) Otherwise, they cannot continue to deal with him in mercy, for this would show a disregard for God’s standard of righteousness and holiness. Such an unrepentant wrongdoer, if permitted to remain among God’s people, would be a bad influence on the spirit of the congregation. (1 Cor. 5:3-6) In such cases disfellowshiping action clears away reproach and maintains the purity of the Christian congregation.
14. Why is consultation with other qualified elders, at times, a wise course, as supported by Proverbs 13:10?
14 There may be times, however, when aspects of a certain case need clarification. Rather than hastily making a determination, what can be done to ensure that a righteous decision is rendered? Consulting other qualified congregation elders may help in reaching a sound conclusion, especially if the elders dealing with the problem are less experienced. (Prov. 13:10) If the matter still cannot be resolved, other experienced elders in the area or the traveling overseer, if he is visiting, can be called upon to aid with their observations. Such ones may have dealt with a similar problem and would be able to contribute valuable counsel.
15. Why are onetime disfellowshiped persons now back in good standing with Jehovah’s people, in harmony with the cited scriptures in this paragraph?
15 Many of those who have at one time been disfellowshiped are now back in good standing with Jehovah’s people. As repentant erring ones they were shown mercy, straightened out their lives and returned to Jehovah. (Isa. 55:7) God’s blessing has been evident in the case of those who accepted the action of Jehovah into a humbled heart. Others who are in a disfellowshiped state because of judicial action by the congregation may now have come to their senses, and yearn to return to Jehovah.—Luke 15:17, 18.
16. What does a judicial committee look for when disfellowshiped persons seek reinstatement, having in mind what questions?
16 In hearing pleas for reinstatement, elders need to be balanced. It is not just a matter of accepting a person back simply because of his request. There must be a Scriptural basis for restoring such a one who had gone wrong and brought reproach upon Jehovah’s name and the congregation. So before making any decision the elders must determine whether the wrongdoer is truly repentant. Has he produced works that befit repentance? (Acts 26:20) Obviously, this means more than words. Deeds must be in evidence. How has he been conducting himself? For how long? What does his heart attitude show? Has he been diligently studying God’s Word and endeavoring to apply it in correcting his way of life? (Jer. 10:23, 24) Does he really appreciate that his wrong was against Jehovah? Has he made appreciable changes for the better, showing that he has been moved by godly sorrow and not just regret for having been found out? These are questions that the elders have in mind when talking with the person. Then they are in a much better position to decide whether there are grounds for reinstatement at the time or not.
17. (a) How may elders act in order to judge in a just, wise and merciful way? (b) With what benefit to themselves?
17 In some cases a certain amount of conflicting testimony may have been involved when charges against a person were originally heard. Elders will guard against going to extremes by trying to exact a point-by-point admission of sins that may not have been that clearly proved. Consider the overall pattern, whether the person is repentant over wrongdoing that he really was guilty of and for which clear evidence existed. Where business transactions were involved or debts are still outstanding, it may not be necessary to insist on restitution as a prior basis for reinstatement in each and every case, as, for example, where a measure of fraud was involved. Elders, though, if all agree, can help in establishing what is reasonable to effect a settlement. Good judgment and a sense of righteousness must wisely be balanced with mercy. (Jas. 2:13) Thus, elders can expect mercy to be extended to them if they are judged at some future time.
BENEFITING NOW AND IN THE FUTURE
18. What can we all do in observing God’s standard of righteousness, and how will this benefit us now and in the future?
18 All of us have good reasons to be thankful for the arrangement that Jehovah has restored among his people in these last days. Elders, as judges and counselors, are assigned the responsibility of aiding us to conform to the divine standard of righteousness. We, in turn, have an obligation to show proper respect for those judging with godly qualities. How can we best do so? By our ready response to Scriptural counsel and willing submission to theocratic order. (Heb. 13:17) This works for our spiritual protection and welfare now, amid a lawless world. It demonstrates, too, our earnest desire to measure up to what God requires as we seek divine approval and prepare for life in the New Order.