Judge not, so that you will not be judged.
- Jesus, in Matthew 7:1 (NASB)
To listen to some talk recently, one would think this isolated quote was the gospel. What is the greatest commandment, Jesus? Apparently not his answer, to love God with all your being. No, it must be this, right?
The rest of Scripture? Take it with a grain of salt, or at least interpret in the light of this one.
Until there's something we really want to judge.
There's a really popular term these days. It's hypocrite. Anytime the world sees a Christian fail to live up to the standards of our message, it prompts one reaction: hypocrisy! See? They must not really believe what they say. They don't practice it.
Of course, this is absurd. The absolute beauty of the gospel, the absolutely most marvelous thing about what Jesus did for us, is that he knows we are flawed, messy, broken, at times disgusting - and he loves us anyway. "But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8, NASB, emphasis mine)
You know who wrote that verse? A guy named Paul, who wrote several letters making up most of the New Testament. Paul's background? He spent much of his early adult life traveling about putting Christians to death. Murder. Cold-blooded murder. Grace was enough to cover him, and he never forgot it.
Now at this point, what you're thinking about depends on when you read this. If you're reading it near the date I wrote it, you're thinking about Josh Duggar. But I'm sure if you're reading it six months from now there will be another issue, another follower of Christ in the spotlight for some way in which their actions did not match up with what they believe. It has happened since the beginning, and it will happen until the end. So I'm going to try to keep these thoughts at a more general level, and not make it about one situation. Does it apply? Sure, but enough about that.
So followers of Christ fail. It does not invalidate our message, and in some ways it highlights the true message. Christ came in the world to save sinners. But we do have to acknowledge this: when those hostile to our cause see those failings, it does cause some to stumble. We should always take sin seriously, for many reasons. One of those reasons is that some will use it as an excuse to reject the Savior. And the more excuses we can remove, the better. Which brings me to 1 Corinthians 5, and the real point of this post.
Please use the link above to read it yourself; I'm going to assume you have done so from here on.
This is a passage we don't talk too much about, at least in my church. There are probably several reasons for this, all of which are reasons we need to talk about it:
- It talks about a perverse sexual situation - even for our desensitized culture.
- It proposes that the church discipline the person for the behavior.
- It criticizes the church for standing by and letting it happen.
- It says we should hold believers accountable for their behavior.
Now, there's a word for what Paul is asking the church to do. He uses it four times in the passage. It's not a popular one. It's the one in our opening passage:
So, if you read this passage carefully, it's pretty clear we have misinterpreted what Jesus meant. But that's a topic for another day. The topic for today is this: If we are going to be lights in the world, we have to take care of our own business. The time to say that anything goes in the church because we want to be loving and accepting is...well, it's not gone - it never was here. Yes, we have to speak the truth in love. But when we see our brother or sister doing things clearly against God's word, we need to react. If they claim the name of Jesus, they are by definition submitted themselves to the correction of the church. And we must start exercising it.
As Paul says in verse 10, he doesn't mean that we should expect nonbelievers to behave like us. That is not the gospel. We should show them Jesus, let therm know God loves them despite their sin, and let him change their hearts. But once they are one of his, the world is watching. The world is looking to see whether belonging to Christ really changes anything. So it's critical that we help each other to show them that it does.
True followers of Jesus will grow in love for God and their neighbors. They will increasingly want to do good, and find themselves desiring evil things less and less. And it's our job to help each other do that.
So how about it, church? Can we commit to helping each other? How? Well, look at the passage. Watch each other's back. When we see things that need to be addressed, stop turning away - do whatever is necessary to get each other back on track. And when we do, forgive and forget the past. Welcome the straying brother/sister back into fellowship, without reservation.
Do this, and the world will see that Jesus makes a difference. They may not like it - darkness has never done well around ther light. But maybe a few more of them will be attracted to a fellowship where people really love each other, love each other enough to keep them on track.
That's the church. And it is awesome.