And we often quote the New Testament in support of this. We like to find every passage that tells us not to judge. But I came across a passage tonight that shows how I (and maybe you?) have a tendency to pick out the ones I like and discard the ones I don't.
The context is something pretty distasteful. There was some sexual immorality in the church of Corinth and it's clear the people and leaders were ignoring it. "Live and let live." Who am I to judge?" And so on...
Here's the chapter in its entirety. Read it slowly, maybe twice. Read it for context, trying not to take individual verses out of context:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolator, slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
[ 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, NIV]
What are we to make of this as we try to live life in community with each other and with the Messiah Jesus, who came to bring God's love and mercy?
Than answer is pretty clear: We have taken the judging commands way out of context. Instead of a one dimensional view of judging, we can see from the entirety of God's word that:
- Judgment belongs to God, so the standard should always come from God rather than our opinions. Cheating, lying, oppressing the poor, sex outside of marriage, jealousy, hatred, racism...the list goes on. These things are not to be a part of the Kingdom and it is the right thing to say so. Paul did, in several places. So did Jesus.
- There is no point for a follower of Jesus to hammer nonbelievers about these things. Why should we expect them to adhere to a code of behavior that they have not signed up for? Jesus didn't come to give the world a set of rules. He came to change hearts. Even the passage above says, "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?" We are to love people and invite them to a relationship with Christ.
- But as a community who have come together to be the body of Christ, we are to hold each other accountable. It is the loving thing to do and we need to have the courage to do it. Within a community of believers who profess Jesus, the statement "Don't judge me, it's none of your business" should not exist. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us instructions on how to settle wrongs between Christians, and gives us a warning to work on our own sin before we do so. It's clear that he wants us to build each other up by holding each other accountable. And of course there's the example from the passage above.
- Finally, and most important, I need to open my heart to the correction of my fellow believers. Can I do that with you right now? Keep me on the path please. When I stray, when you see things in my life that do not bring glory to God, please help me. I need you. And if you are earnestly seeking to follow Jesus, you need it too.
[ For more, check out this article from Relevant Magazine - good stuff!]