Should Christians Be Judging?

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt 7:1) is a well-known scripture that many people like to quote. It is often used to imply that being critical of anyone in anyway is a violation of how God wants us to act. However, this is only one scripture and should not be viewed as the definitive truth on this issue. The truth about any subject is found in everything the Bible has to say about that subject, and the Bible has much more to say on the subject of whether or not we should judge others and their actions.

The verses immediately following Matthew 7:1 shed further light on what it means to “not judge”.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt 7:1-5 NIV)

Notice that verse 2 says “in the same way you judge others”. So, this passage is not saying that we should never judge others but that we should be careful of the way that we judge others. Jesus warns against trying to remove a “speck” from our brother’s eye while we have a “plank” in our own eye. I believe the “plank” is an arrogant and condemning attitude that wants to expose someone else’s sin and see them pay for their wrong doing. Jesus doesn’t say that we should just ignore the “speck”, but that we should first deal with the “plank”, our attitude towards their sin, and then we will “see clearly to remove the speck”. If you evaluate the entire passage, it is not actually forbidding us to confront or correct others but it is warning us that our motives must be pure; we must function from a sincere concern for our brother’s well being and a desire to help him get victory over something that is harmful to him.

Jesus’ Love In Action

The Bible places a major emphasis on love, saying that if we don’t have love we are nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3). Jesus said that all the Law and Prophets hang on the two commandments to love God and to love our neighbor (Matt 22:36-40). While the Bible is very clear about the supreme importance of love, it can be challenging for us to get beyond the oversimplified idea that love means we are always nice and kind. We need to learn from the scriptures what real love looks like in action. Our actions can be misguided and ineffective if we depend on a limited, humanistic idea of what love does or does not do. When we observe Jesus in the scriptures we get a distinct picture of perfect love in action. However, he often said things that did not seem either nice or kind.

The Bible says that Jesus was considered a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34).  The fact that Jesus left heaven to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10), and that he was willing to associate with the lowly and undesirable, is a great testimony to the depth of his love and desire to see fallen man restored back to God. But there are other scriptures that must be considered if we want an accurate picture of Jesus’ love in action.

When Jesus associated with sinners it was to bring them back to relationship with God. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because Jesus was hanging out with them that relationship had been restored. Jesus said there will be those on the day of judgment that will say “We ate and drank with you” but his reply will be “I don’t know you… Away from me, all you evildoers!” (Luke 13:26-27). It was by way of repentance that Jesus called sinners back to relationship with God.

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32 NIV)

Repentance is a decision to change, to cease being “evildoers“, to forsake your old sinful lifestyle and to pursue a new life of obedience that honors God. The importance that repentance plays in restoring relationship to God can be seen in Jesus’ interactions with Zacchaeus, a notorious tax collector (Luke 19:2-9). When Jesus went to eat at Zacchaeus’ house people criticized him for being the guest of a sinner, but it was only after Zacchaeus told Jesus he would pay back four-fold anybody he had cheated and would give half his possessions to the poor, that Jesus proclaimed, “Today salvation has come to this house”. Salvation did not come to Zacchaeus just because he had Jesus over for a meal. Salvation came because he responded to Jesus with radical repentance.

But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:3 NIV)

Jesus “judged” that because all people are sinners they are in serious trouble with a holy God, and that unless they change and turn from their sinful way of living, they will be doomed to an eternity in hell. Jesus’ love is demonstrated in his willingness to speak this truth. Or you could say, he loves people too much to not speak this truth.

Accountability Is A Responsibility

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph 4:14-16 NIV)

The Bible reveals that Jesus loved people enough to speak the truth and this passage encourages us to quit being infants and to “grow up into him”. A primary attribute of maturity is the willingness to “speak the truth in love”; and when this is practiced properly it leads to a mutual growth and maturity within the body of Christ. However, for this to have any chance of succeeding, growth and maturity must first be highly valued as Godly goals. If there’s not a sincere desire to see the body of Christ mature and live righteous lives that honor God, then there is no real incentive to speak the truth and hold one another accountable. God wants a mature, healthy atmosphere among his people that fosters and promotes all of us becoming more like Christ; an atmosphere where believers love one another enough to engage in exchanging the truth in a way that benefits everyone.

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him (Luke 17:3 ESV)

This verse establishes a mutual accountability within the body of Christ. We all bear the responsibility of admonishing one another to be obedient to God and the truths of His word. But if we get honest with ourselves, the main reason we are reluctant to rebuke another believer is not that we love them too much, but that we don’t love them enough. We are more concerned about ourselves than we are them. We just don’t want to take the chance of someone getting upset with us, so we opt to hide behind the old familiar “do not judge” mentality.

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“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matt 18:15-17 NIV)

This passage is a great illustration of accountability in action. The phrase “he refuses to listen” implies that this is not just a minor disagreement or misunderstanding, but that a brother has clearly sinned against another brother. To deal with this, there are prescribed steps of confrontation, with increasing degrees of severity, designed to bring the errant brother to repentance. If at any point the brother repents, then all is forgiven and relationship is restored.  However, if these steps are followed and the brother refuses to repent, Jesus instructs us to “treat him as you would a pagan”; a pagan is someone outside the faith. This does not mean that you treat him with contempt, but it does mean that you no longer relate to him as a believer or a member of the family of God.

Many people cannot fathom that God would want us to respond to someone in this way, but here are some important things to consider. Being a follower of Christ is a lifestyle, not just a label that we take on. Being a follower of Christ is defined by the word of God and Jesus himself, not by the notions of any individual. Everyone is invited to be a follower of Christ but each individual must decide whether they will respond to what God requires. This does not mean that everyone calling them self a believer is expected to be perfect. It does mean that when there is sin, repentance is required, and if someone refuses to repent they will no longer be treated as a brother. It really comes down to the choice of the individual. If you want to be treated as a believer, you must behave as a believer; if you refuse to behave as a believer, you will not be treated as a believer. Treating someone as a pagan because they refuse to behave as a believer is actually respecting their choice. God, in his perfect wisdom, gives us these instructions for the health of the church and the good of all.

Real Love Is Often Tough Love

1 Corinthians chapter five has important insight about how we should deal with immorality within the church, when there is no repentance. This passage of scripture reveals the proper attitude the church should have, what action should be taken, and the danger of taking no action. In the present church culture, those involved in immorality are often viewed as victims and the prevailing concern is limited to how they can be helped. However, in 1 Corinthians chapter five, Paul puts forth three major concerns and how each one should be addressed.

1) The person in sin.

In verse 2, Paul says the church should “have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this”. He goes on in verse 5 to say “hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord”. And in verse 13 “Expel the wicked man from among you.” There’s no doubt that this is serious discipline, but it still has the best interest of the wicked man in mind. Paul’s hope is that the suffering the man will experience, as the result of being expelled from fellowship, will bring him to a place of true repentance, and this will result in his spirit being saved. He is willing to make the tough choice in the moment, because he has eternity in mind. He is looking ahead to when the person will stand accountable on the day of the Lord (2 Cor 5:10).

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians tells how church discipline worked God’s purpose in the individual and the church.

The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. (2 Cor 2:6-8 NIV)

The seriousness of the punishment brought about repentance and resulted in fully restored relationships.

2) Protecting the church.

1 Corinthians 5:1 says there is “sexual immorality among you”. The way this is stated conveys the idea of mutual accountability in the church, rather than sin being just a personal problem or a private matter. Verse 6 compares sin to yeast, saying “Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” Yeast is a living bacteria. Once it gets into a batch of dough, it will grow and spread until the whole batch is affected. This is not stated as a possibility but as a certainty. Verse 7 instructs the church to “get rid of the old yeast”. This is accomplished in verse 13; “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

Hebrews 3:13 warns about “the deceitfulness of sin”. This means that if there is immorality in the church, but no repentance and no discipline, people get deceived, they are  lulled into believing that sin is no big deal to God and carries no serious consequences. This is a grave danger that Paul was very concerned about. He understood that if sin goes unchecked it is like cancer invading the body of Christ. Even if expelling the man had failed to bring him to repentance, it still would have succeeded in keeping sin from infecting the rest of the church.

I’ve heard church leaders reject the idea of expelling anyone from fellowship because they say they love them too much to give up on them. However, you are not giving up on someone if you implement Biblical principles designed to bring the person back to right relationship with God and the church. Also, when you only show concern for the individual, at the expense of endangering the rest of the church, it looks more like misguided sentiment than real love.

3) Preserving the honor of God’s name.

“The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” (2 Tim 2:19 NIV)

As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Rom 2:24)

People who call themselves believers are expected to be different from the rest of the world. Anyone that confesses the name of the Lord is required by God to live in a way that honors his name. 1 Corinthians 5:11 says “But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. In these verses, Paul is not expressing concern for the individual, he is expressing concern over behavior that dishonor’s God’s name. He says it doesn’t even matter whether the person is a true believer or not. What matters is that if he “calls himself a brother”, then he is expected to live in a way that honors God’s name. If he will not do this, Paul instructs the church not to associate with him.

Sometimes It’s Wrong Not To Judge

1 Corinthians 5:12 says “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge”? Again, those inside the church are held to a standard of righteousness and holiness that the world is not, and God entrusts the church with the responsibility of holding each other accountable to this standard. Rather than declaring that it is wrong to judge, this verse declares that there are situations when it is wrong not to judge. Reading through 1 Corinthians chapter five, you will notice that Paul’s sharpest rebukes are directed primarily at the church for not taking action to discipline the immoral man, rather than at the man himself. The church then responded to Paul’s rebukes by expelling the man from their fellowship, and in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul commends them for their obedience.

See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. (2 Cor 7:11 NIV)

Paul describes their response to immorality in the church, using language you will rarely hear in today’s church culture. He commends them for being indignant, for being alarmed, for being concerned, for being ready to see justice done. When they judged the immoral man and expelled him from fellowship, justice was done. Please keep in mind this is not the prescribed attitude every time a believer sins, but it is the correct attitude when there is immorality but no repentance. Once the man repented, he was forgiven, loved, and received with open arms.

What Should We Do?

We need to quit second guessing God and take the Bible at face value. It’s been my experience that when believers don’t like something the Bible tells them to do, they will over-think and over-analyze the situation, coming up with endless what-if scenarios, until it seems so complicated they end up doing nothing. They will claim that they couldn’t come to a decision, when in truth doing nothing is a decision. We need to repent of thinking that our love and our wisdom can produce a way of doing things that is more effective than His. We need the faith to act on God’s word, and to embrace walking in His ways for our own good and the good of everyone that we care about; being confident that His ways are fully grounded in perfect love and infinite wisdom. The scriptures say that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6), and the truest demonstration of our faith is our obedience.

We need to value growth and maturity, over comfort and contentment. The ultimate good that God has for every believer is that we be conformed to be like Jesus. As inviting as this seems as an idea, in reality it is a very challenging and difficult process. That is why the Bible says things like “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11). Valuing growth and maturity will go hand in hand with valuing accountability. But if we lack the vision of becoming like Christ, we will not appreciate the value of being challenged in ways that are uncomfortable and sometimes even painful.

We need to value the eternal over the immediate.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10 NIV)

Being saved by grace does not mean that we will not give an account for how we lived our life during the time God gave us on this earth. Although this truth is not preached very much, it is communicated many times throughout the scriptures. One of the most powerful demonstrations of love is that we hold each other to a level of accountability that best prepares us to “have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him” (1 John 4:17).

While many people are uneasy with the idea of living at a high level of accountability, the Bible encourages this kind of environment because of the safety it provides for God’s people.

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb 3:12-13 ESV)

 

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