“Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life?”
In this so-called “post-modern” age, even more than previously, it seems that everyone’s favorite Bible verse is “Judge not that you be not judged” (Matt 7:1) That is because now more than ever we insist that whatever we want to believe about life and the way to live it is up to each of us alone, and that no one may dare tell us that what we want is wrong.
Yet in the passage of Scripture where the above verses are found (1 Cor 5:1 – 6:20), Paul is shocked at the Corinthians that they have not passed judgment on one of their members for committing a flagrant case of incest.
So is Paul contradicting Jesus? To use Pauline language, “By no means!” As always in the Bible, context is everything.
When Jesus told his hearers not to judge, he meant that they were not to judge others to make themselves look better. They were not to judge others in order to deflect attention from themselves. They were not to judge others so that they could avoid dying to their own passions and desires.
He did not mean that we have no responsibility to each other to challenge one another to the best and highest. He did not mean that there are no standards of behavior for Christian believers. And he did not mean that we should allow our own imperfect performance to rob us of our voices.
As always, the issue is, “Why am I doing this?” Paul passed judgment on this case of sinful behavior and called for the Corinthians to carry out his judgment for two reasons. The first was for the sake of the Church, “the fellowship.” The second reason was for the sake of the sinful person himself. Paul clearly wished the man to repent and be restored to the fellowship.
As in every issue in the Christian faith, the key is love. Do I love the Church enough to speak, to act? Do I love the person enough to speak, to act? If passing judgment can be a selfish act, so can not passing judgment be a selfish act. In the end, the question is always, whom do I love?
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