When Christians ought to judge


Society acts like it’s a good thing! The church mustn’t.

Have you ever noticed that much of the American church today doesn’t like to mention sin?

Try saying aloud that something is sinful. If you’re not careful about what company you say it in, someone is bound to thunder, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

Why do they always quote it in King James? Simply because they have memorized it that way, and it becomes a handy club to beat up anyone who dares to criticize sin.

They have no clue that their use of the verse amounts to judgment of you, the one who dares to bring up the very idea of sin.

In fact, it’s a safe bet that these people can’t tell you the context of the quotation or whatever else the Bible might have to say about judgment. Including where it commands that we judge.

Jesus said that in Matthew 7:1 to introduce a condemnation of hypocrisy. The one with a log in his eye has no business trying to take the speck out of someone else’s eye. And what else is judgmentally quoting, “Judge not” but hypocrisy?

How to judge sin

A jury in 1906

A jury in 1906

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul brings up the case of a man committing a sin that even shocked the notoriously immoral pagans of Corinth.

He had an affair with his stepmother.

And the church apparently boasted of its “love and tolerance” for the man.

I’m treading on dangerous ground, because many people in today’s church have exactly the same attitude toward sexual sin.

They mistake indulgence for love and tolerate what God will not tolerate. And they harshly misuse Jesus’ words to put down whomever doesn’t go along.

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines the Greek word used here for judge, “properly to distinguish, that is, to decide (mentally or judicially): by implication, to try, condemn, punish.” People who misuse Jesus’ words go directly to the most serious implication, as if that’s all it means.

Paul refused to use his absence from Corinth as an excuse not to do anything. He says, in verse 3, that he has already judged the man. He commanded the congregation to withdraw fellowship from him.

Don’t miss verse 5: the object was so the offender would be among the saved when Jesus returns. So Christian judgment must be remedial. It must not merely result in punishment. The object is not to kick someone out of the church; it’s repentance, reconciliation, and restoration. And not restoration to the congregation, but to the state of salvation itself.

Paul also makes clear in verses 12-13 that Christians have authority to judge only within the church. To judge outsiders encroaches on God’s authority, authority he never gave to us.

He also makes it clear in verse 8 that he has more than sexual sin in mind. He compares sin to leaven, yeast. Specifically, the leaven of malice and evil. Sexual sinners aren’t necessarily malicious. And evil encompasses much more than whom someone sleeps with.

When you make yeast bread, the yeast never leaves part of the dough unleavened! To this day, Jews carefully go through their home before Passover to remove not only all leaven, but every crumb of anything with leaven in it.

Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, has taken away the sin of the world—the leaven of the world. What business do Christians have introducing any kind of sin back into the church?

Church people who refuse to acknowledged and confront sin in the church violate God’s direct commandment, just as the ancient Hebrews violated the direct commandment not to follow Canaanite practices. And with the same sorry result.

How to judge disputes

Judge's gavelWhen Paul turns to petty disputes in 1 Corinthians 6, he’s not changing the subject.

He’s still talking about the church judging church matters. But some in the Corinthian church took their disputes to court.

And who ran the judicial system in Corinth? Pagans.

Believers will ultimately judge the world. Believers will ultimately judge angels. Shouldn’t we be able to decide disputes that arise within the church?

Jesus provides the proper steps in Christian judgment in Matthew 18:15-19.

  1. If you have a dispute with someone, discuss it privately and try to come to a mutually agreeable outcome.
  2. If that’s impossible, call in a very few spiritually discerning church leaders—not limited to the paid staff, by the way. They will try to discern the right and wrong and resolve the issue.
  3. If one party is clearly in the wrong according to the prayerful judgment of these leaders, the whole church ought to treat the unrepentant one like a pagan or a tax gatherer. In other words, Jesus, like Paul, commands withdrawal of fellowship.

What does it mean that believers will ultimately judge the world, including angels?

For one thing, at the end of time, Christians become sovereign rulers. But unlike rulers of this world, we become rulers who will worship and obey God. I can’t imagine what there will be to rule in heaven. But it will certainly be done with perfect justice and equity. It will be done in perfect agreement with the will of God.

According to Jesus’ commandment in John 7:24, we ought to start practicing now. Judge according to right judgment (the word of God) instead of mere appearances.

Commanded and forbidden judgment

Christ the judge

Christ Judge, detail from Last Judgment, 1585, by Jean Cousin Younger

Believing, or not believing, has eternal consequences.

People who believe in Jesus find themselves subject to the judgment of other believers, with strict limits.

People who do not believe find themselves subject to God. And his wrath.

In his condemnation of hypocrisy, he did not forbid judgment.

In fact, he went on to say that once you have removed the log from your own eye, now you can see to remove the speck from someone else’s.

In other words, judge with right judgment. Paul uses the same word, with the same meaning.

To judge means to decide or distinguish. No one can or should avoid doing that! Jesus commands us to do it right. We have authority to judge actions. We have no authority to judge the worth of people.

Therefore, the first thing Christians must judge is our own thoughts and actions. Compare them with Scripture. If anything turns out to be sin, stop it. Repent. Be reconciled to God, the primary party injured by sin. That’s the log.

Second, Christians must speak the truth in love to other Christians caught in sin. God will not tolerate sin. We shouldn’t tolerate sin either in ourselves or the ones we love. That’s the speck.

Third, Christians must be willing to help others who have trouble getting along. Remember, though, that the leaders in Jesus’ second step receive an invitation to help judge the dispute. Busybodies don’t really help anyone.

The Corinthian church failed to judge where they should have judged. Paul’s rebuke falls equally on the church today.

Image credits:
Sin. Some rights reserved by Corey Balazowich.
Jury. Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0003451. Courtesy of Chicago History Museum. — permission for fair use
Gavel. Source unknown.
Last Judgment detail. Public domain.

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