I’m not known for an overwhelming abundance of mercy, but I am working on that. As part of this desire for personal improvement, I thought that I should perhaps vent some of my inner anger by writing about some of the things that add to the rage.
This week, I’ve chosen to write about some stupid sayings that truly bother me. Am I easily bothered? Yes, but I already admitted that. It’s why I’m writing this. Try to keep up.
Anyway, without wasting anymore time, let’s jump right into this.
“Only God can judge me.”
Judging others is not a habit that we out to encourage. I get that. However, this statement, like most, is built upon a false premise. Firstly, let’s pull up the only passage that most people seem to know about judgement.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
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? 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? 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.
Well, that sure sounds conclusive, but let’s read a bit from Paul.
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 idolater or 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 5:9-13
Now, unlike some writers, I’m not trying to pit Jesus and Paul against each other, so let’s take this slowly.
Clarifying Jesus & Paul
Jesus said not to judge, and Paul said to expel someone who is behaving badly—how do we reconcile these honestly? I think the safe thing is to realize that they’re not contradicting each other; they’re describing two different aspects of the same issue.
Jesus is warning against making a personal, prideful judgement wherein you judge yourself better than another, and in so doing, condescend to “help” this person fix their issue while you turn a blind (or “planked eye”) to your own flaws. This is a warning from Christ about being critical, condescending, and unmerciful to others while writing ourselves a pass for our weaknesses.
Paul, however, is talking about a different type of issue. Corinth was an incredibly sinful city, especially with regard to sex, as it had a reputation as being a great place to pick up a prostitute and have some illicit fun. The church in Corinth was filled with people who had come out of this culture, though some had not left all of that culture’s ways behind. In his first letter to the Corinthians—which has no survived to modern times—Paul told his disciples not to associate with the sexually immoral. Now, in this letter, he clarified himself: “I meant sexually immoral ‘Christians,’ not the sexually immoral outside the church. If you avoided them, you’d have to completely withdraw from your world!”
Why was he clarifying this message? Let’s look at the opening of this chapter:
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.
1 Corinthians 5:1-5
Ok, you can pause for a minute to gag if you want.
Back? Ok. So, in this scenario, Paul is calling out a man for having an affair with his step-mother. He specifically calls out the church for being proud of their tolerance of this man’s sin. However, the apostle was not proud: he’s furious. Why? A few reasons.
1. Even non-Christians think this is a terrible thing.
It should have been unthinkable that those on the outside of the church, outside of the resurrected body of Christ, would have a better sense of what’s right and wrong than those on the inside. Having sex with your step-mom was beyond wrong, even for those who had no problem going to temple prostitutes.
2. Mercy should be extended, of course; but only to those who either recognize their sinfulness or who don’t recognize Jesus as Lord.
Paul is very clear that Christians have no business passing judgment on non-Christians. We can’t hold them to our standards because they don’t have a reason to not sin; furthermore, they don’t have the power to resist sin because that power comes to us from God, whom they don’t know. Thus, they need to be approached with mercy. Secondly, we ought to extend mercy to Christians who, though engaged in sin, have realized the sinfulness of their actions and are in the process of moving past it. However, ‘Christians’ who are engaged in unrepentant, defiant, and obvious sin don’t deserve mercy from us because they’re already spurning the mercy that Christ gave to them at salvation. There’s no point in kicking someone while they’re down and trying to get up, and yet there’s no reason to extend mercy to someone who doesn’t think they need it because they’re blind to their sin.
3. Allowing sin to go on without response only leads to more sin.
The Corinthians might have thought they they were showing this fallen Christian mercy, but in reality, they were leaving themselves exposed to a constant source of danger. His sin, left unchecked, could have caused them to be drawn into sin as well. It’s not a foregone conclusion that one person’s sin will directly and immediately cause others to sin, but it’s a very common scenario, common enough that it’s not worth the risk.
Reconciling Jesus & Paul
Let’s start to draw these ideas together. Jesus was talking about not judging people, arrogantly, while turning a blind eye to your own sin. In fact, let’s quote another passage from Jesus:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
This is what Jesus is talking about. The Pharisee judged the tax collector as a part of his arrogant self-righteousness. Jesus wasn’t warning against humbly correcting someone who is obviously in sin, nor would He oppose expelling someone from the church who refused to repent. Oh you don’t believe me? You think only Paul could be that critical?
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Well, this is awkward. It seems that even Jesus agrees that someone who is unrepentantly sinning should be removed from the church. Interesting. So, it would seem that we can judge others. Hmmm.
You know, we just dropped a whole of truth bombs all over this statement. Maybe it would be good for us to summarize what we’ve learned?
1. Extend mercy to people who acknowledge their sin and are earnest in their desire to stop sinning.
The goal is to always follow Christ’s example; He approached us mercifully, so we should do the same. This may be a long and ugly process, and an individual’s initial earnest pleas for forgiveness may end up being proven…less than earnest. If that’s the case, follow the progression Jesus laid out in Matthew 18, but don’t start this process with the assumption that they’re being anything less than truthful.
2. Check your own heart before you ever approach anyone else in a corrective way.
We’re never going to be “holy enough” to walk around judging everyone, but we can do our best to make sure that our heart is in the right place before we judge others. Maybe “judge” is a bad word? How about “correct”? If a fellow Christian is doing something sinful, we should lovingly, humbly correct them, as the Spirit leads and directs us. Remember: you are correcting a child of God, and you’re not perfect (yet). You just might need correction next.
3. Anyone who won’t respond to correction should be removed from the church.
This sounds harsh, but it’s actually a form of tough love/mercy. If we allow an unrepentant sinner to continue as they are, we’re helping to feed their self-deception, their belief that they’re right in their behavior. Furthermore, removing this individual is a protective measure for others in the church, and a reminder to everyone that God is holy and refuses to let those who carry His name to behave in a way that would bring shame to His name. And to those who would say that Jesus would have us show this individual endless mercy, let me repeat His words, “For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.”1 Jesus is saying that if you’ve taken two or three individuals with you to correct this individual but without success, then the time for mercy is done because it wasn’t just the three or four of you who approached this person. It was the three or four of you with Jesus who made the approach. They didn’t reject you; they rejected Him.
We aren’t called to judge, but we are called to lovingly correct and care for our brothers and sisters in the church. If someone approaches you to correct you, I don’t imagine that it would feel very good, but I can assure you that being corrected and following through with this correction will be what’s best for you.
Ok, that’s enough of this. I’ll get to trashing some more ridiculousness soon.
This statement is so often applied to other topics that it might warrant a post in this series. ↩