Judgment. This word carries a stigma of great unpopularity today. However, as my women’s Bible study group works through the book of 1 Corinthians this summer, the topic of judgment comes up a lot. Paul speaks often of judging as he writes words of admonition to the church living in Corinth, a city known for its loose living and paganism. Corinth was a port city with 1,000 temple prostitutes in the temple of Aphrodite. Paul knew the believers needed to make judgments about how to live, but also knew the dangers of Christians spending their time and energy criticizing each other rather than growing in Christ.
As I prepared this week, I found myself asking this question, “What is the difference between sinful judgment of other believers and biblical confronting of sin?”
On the one hand, there are many passages that tell us to be careful not to judge. 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 “As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.” Jesus said in Luke 6:37, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.” Also, James 4:11 also clearly says, “Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.” It seems open and shut – we shouldn’t judge. We especially like to refer to these passages when we feel criticized, convicted, or have been confronted by others about sin in our lives. However, there are other passages that tell us we should judge.
My pastor from my high school days, Nick Harris, posted this recently on Facebook, “Judgment is seen today as a negative act. ‘Judge not’ is the cry of millions of voices today, especially those who are violating God’s commands. Everyone judges. Even those who cry against judgment are judging those who judge them. Funny, isn’t it? The Bible does not actually forbid judging, it says we must judge rightly. Judgment is essential for all of life. We make judgments every day. (Do I stop when the light turns yellow, or go on through? Do I eat the whole piece of cheesecake or…–bad example, of course I eat it all.) Judging simply means making moral decisions. I make them for myself and I observe and evaluate decisions that others make. ‘Good judgment’ is a great quality. Proverbs is intended to help us make wise judgment so we will make right choices and properly evaluate the choices of others as well.” Turning just a few pages into 1 Corinthians 5:12 we see Paul saying, “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.” In fact, all of Paul’s letters including this one written to the church in Corinth contain judgments for individuals and the whole group with instructions such as: stop playing favorites among the leaders, avoid lawsuits with other believers, and quit being prideful. Paul seems to judge – A LOT. As I study through the book, I find that judgment is something we need God’s Holy Spirit to guide us because the flesh likes to judge with arrogance, self-righteousness, and to keep us from looking at our sin. So we need a caution light to be careful and intentional about how we judge.
Three important principles I find about judgment in 1 Corinthians are:
1. First, recognize God as the ultimate judge. Passages such as Matthew 25:31-46 (sheep and goats), Romans 2:5-11, and Hebrews 10:30-38 reveal that He will judge us all at the end of our lives. A day is coming when God will sort it all out. We will all stand before Him one day and give an account. Unbelievers will stand before the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15). You don’t want to be at this judgment. It does not end well for those who must give an account before a holy God and do not have the blood of Christ to cover their sin and justify them before the judge. For believers, we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (Bema seat) The gospel will never be more real to us than it is on that day when our sin is called to account and Jesus washes us clean and rewards us for the work we have done in His name that stands the test of fire. (1 Corinthians 3:13 “But on judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.”) We need to live wisely – realizing that how we live matters and that a day of reckoning is coming. This also helps us when evil deeds seem to go unpunished and people are “getting away” with abuse, deceit, or hurtful actions against us or our families. No need to worry, “For we know the One who said, ‘I will take revenge. I will pay them back.’ He also said, ‘The Lord will judge his own people.’ It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” No one is “getting away with it.” Release your desire to judge into God’s very capable hands.
2. Next, check your motives… very thoroughly. Judgment of others should be rooted in love, bathed in prayer, and led by the Holy Spirit. My husband says that if you are excited to go confront someone, you probably don’t have the right heart. Bringing up sin in other’s lives must be done out of love, just as we correct our children to help not harm them. However, it should not be done thoughtlessly, without all the facts, or with impure motives. We must confess and repent of our sin, ask good questions first to make sure we have all the information, and then humbly bring sin issues to our fellow believers. Too many times I have gotten this wrong and caused pain and relational strife which did much more harm than good. Others have also hurt me by judging me without all the facts and with malice rather than love. The harm it causes when we try to judge others in the flesh cannot be understated. The damage to the faith of others is great when we judge them without a teachable and humble spirit that is utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit.
3. Commit not to gossip when sin needs to be confronted. Paul addressed things to the people directly. He didn’t write to the church in Ephesians about the sins of the Corinthians. When you see blatant sin in the life of another believer, go privately. Gather information straight from the horse’s mouth. Too many times we choose one of these wrong options:
- Call another friend for “counsel” on what to do. (Instead, pray and seek God’s word for counsel. The amount of resources on the internet with sermons, blogs, etc. should be enough to help you approach someone’s sin without needing to gossip to other gals in the church about it. If you really need counsel, seek out a godly person outside your local church family who doesn’t personally know the individual.)
- Bring it up as a “prayer request” in Bible study or small group with way too many specific details. (You can ask for prayer without revealing names or trying to make yourself look better by focusing on other’s faults. Instead ask for prayer for your own sin issues – perhaps fleshly judgment?)
- Let your mind go wild. (Be sure it’s a sin issue rather than a preference and then use your mental energy to pray instead of grow balloons in your head until you’ve demonized the person.)
So today I pray God will help me make judgments that honor Him and build up the body of Christ rather than tear it down. I think I’ll start by asking God to hold up the mirror on my own sinful heart and put down my microscope… and my gavel.