i think perhaps the most often quoted saying of Jesus in modern culture is His, “judge not, that you be not judged.” (matthew 7:1) anytime an absolute moral position is taken on a given subject, people are likely to throw this verse out. then we hear the Christian compliment to it…”we are called to love not to judge.” those that usually quote this verse most often do so in defense of themselves or of someone they love…or at least intend to and believe they love…but according to paul…we are supposed to judge those who call themselves believers:
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
(1 corinthians 5:11-13, esv, my emphasis added)
so which is it? well, there are many who would say that they would go with the words of Jesus over the words of paul, and that’s how they get around the problem…but this creates a much, MUCH, bigger problem…which is one of whether or not the Scripture is trustworthy. if Jesus (matthew, really) and paul are in disagreement, then we arrive a problem of determining which of the two authors is correct…and many people love these kinds of passages because they think they have found a “contradiction” in the Bible…nullifying its inerrancy.
but there is a much better truth here…both statements are true.
the problem with the matthew quote is the same problem we see with many other places we hear quoted…a problem of context. when we say context, usually we’re referring to the fact that there was more said than just a particular statement and that to understand that statement, we need to see all else that was said before and after it. but there is more to context than just a literary placement. there is a cultural aspect which is often totally overlooked. in this case, it totally changes its application.
it needs to be said that Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi. this means He was a teacher and a leader. there were many rabbinical traditions, teachings, and customs. one of them was that people were to generally think well of others…put in the language of our day, we may say that we should not be critical of others. in other words, we need not assume the worst of others, but give them the benefit of the doubt. the problem that He was addressing is similar to the way we backbite, criticize, and really just think ill of others today. He was saying that when we act that way, others will act that way in turn.
now on to paul…a much more straightforward statement that is much easier to get to the bottom of. here’s what he meant: we HAVE to judge each other. what do i mean by judge? i mean that we are to hold other believers accountable and that we are to be accountable to others…not condemnatory, but accountable. we need to make sure that our hearts are in the right place and that if someone’s actions are in conflict with the faith, then we confront them in love, condemning the actions and not the person.
unfortunately, after being “judged,” or confronted, i have seen many pitch fits, and truth be told, i’ve pitched my share. people don’t like to be told they’re wrong, and in this country, we have many that have never grown out of adolescence and will absolutely pitch a tantrum and act persecuted the moment confrontation takes place…but if we love each other…truly, then we must be willing to confront sinful actions and attitudes…because there is so much more for us than the darkness of this fallen world. we are made and redeemed for more than that. paul understood that in order to grow from one stage of faith to the next, we must sometimes be corrected.
Jesus confronted peter, “get behind me, satan!” this was one of several times He “judged” peter…and why? because He desperately loved him…just as He does me…just as He does you…and He wants us to grow…and that takes all kinds of methods…one of which is “judging.”
if we’re honest, most of us just don’t like to be told we’re wrong, and most of us don’t want to change our behavior, but there is no room in the Body for an unrepentant person. Christianity is not about people avoiding hell. it’s about people becoming human…new…alive…like Jesus. if we’re not interested in that, and we’re not interested in correcting behaviors that He has clearly drawn lines about…then, truly, we’re not interested in Jesus, and we should take a step back and reevaluate our standing.
if you love me, then you may have to correct me…and i’ll love you for being my “judge.”