In the course of our lives we have to make many decisions or judgments, some of lesser moment and others that will have a large bearing upon our future. The greatest decision relates to Christ, whether to accept or reject him. This decision will have the most profound implications of all. When making judgments we have to take into account the pros and cons as well as the relative importance of each of them. The factors influencing decision will be totally different for followers of Christ than for worldlings. The believer has to ask whether the decision made will bring glory to God (1 Cor 10:31), and accords with the first commandment, to love the Lord God with all the heart, soul and mind; and if it relates to one’s neighbour, whether it is consistent with loving him as one would love oneself; and also with the ‘Golden Rule’ which calls on us to do unto others “whatsoever we would that men should do to unto us” (Matt 7:12).

It is very difficult to always “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24), because so often we have incomplete knowledge and may be prejudiced for some reason. We do not know the minds, the thinking of those we may have to make decision about. It is very important to listen carefully to all concerned with an issue and to be cautious and restrained: “Wherefore my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (Jas 1:19–20).

The Lord Jesus Christ has been appointed by the Father to judge on His behalf: “The Father… hath committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). He is qualified because he has the perfect balance. So aware was he of the Father’s will, and so great was his love of Him that he was able to bring all thoughts and actions into harmony with His will. He had no personal agenda, no bias or prejudices, and his whole objective was “to do always those things that pleased” his Father (John 8:29). Because he presented no challenge to God’s will, God has invested him with His power and His authority. We can only stand back and marvel at this because we all fall so far short of his example. And yet he is our example and we must strive to emulate what we see in him.

The Lord Jesus’ life and ministry demonstrate the perfect balance between God’s mercy and truth: John tells us that he had the fulcrum in the balance of these divergent characteristics in the right place: in beholding him the Father’s glory was to be seen, for he was “full of grace and truth”. His love for truth and justice was never at the expense of mercy and compassion. Men thought that he erred when he drove out those who profiteered in His Father’s house, making it a “house of merchandise”. But it was righteous indignation and the disciples were right when they saw in his actions fulfilment of the words, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (John 2:13–17; Psa 69:9). Even his mother and his brethren thought he had gone too far down the path of self-neglect when he taught the multitudes the essential saving truths they needed to know (Mark 3:21, 31–38). Yet this consuming zeal for His Father’s righteousness did not limit his compassion: “He was sent to bind up the broken hearted, and proclaim liberty to the captives.” The needs of men consumed him and he was prepared to spend and be spent meeting them: he heard the cry of the blind man, responded to the pleas of the father of the young epileptic boy, walked to the home of Jairus, encouraging him in the face of dire news of his daughter’s death; “was moved with compassion” when he saw the leaderless multitudes following him in a desert place – there he taught them and fed them.

We can have confidence too, that in the day of account he will judge righteous judgment. Unlike us who have to rely on the evidence of eye and ear, he will judge righteously: “the spirit of Yahweh shall rest upon him… and shall make him of quick understanding [mrg scent, smell] in the fear of Yahweh: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth” (Isa 11:2–4).

We might ask what this means so far as we are concerned today. Our personal awareness of failure and deficiency in these areas should caution us against “being righteous over much”. The truth is, we all fall short and are in need of God’s mercy, and certainly will be in the day of account. We know that no flesh will be justified in God’s sight, and that if He was to mark iniquity none of us would stand (Rom 3:19–20; Psa 130:3). But the next verse in Psalm 130 gives hope, “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” Micah even tells us that the Almighty actually “delights in mercy!” (7:18) When we stand before the Judge we will be acutely aware of our sins and failure: there will be no presentation of our righteous acts in that day, but a realization of desperate need for mercy. That is why the apostle Paul in his last words besought the Lord to grant Onesiphorus “mercy in that day”, because he had refreshed him and fearlessly sought and found him in desperate need (2 Tim 1:16–18). It is mercy that we shall all need then – there will be no exceptions. That need will be met if mercy and truth are found in our lives today. We may not get the balance always right, but by “beholding God’s servant” we will have a glowing example before our eyes. We must never let him fade from our thoughts. He must ever be “before our face”.

And lest we become self-righteous and judgmental of others, we must be conscious of our sin and need, and that if we are going to “err”, it must always be on the side of compassion; for “he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy: and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” Before saying this James reminds us that we have been judged by the law of liberty – set free from our sins by Christ through no merit of our own – and this being so we should “so speak and so do” (Jas 2:12–13).

So it is “balance” that we must strive for, but which we know we shall never attain perfectly as did our Lord. Awareness of this will condition us to deal compassionately with our fellow saints, whilst striving to uphold the truth in our lives, our words and deeds.

These are serious issues and should always be in the mind: they are the weightier matters of the law – “judgment [justice], mercy and faith” which, as the Lord said to his contemporaries, “ye ought to have done” (Matt 23:23).