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. (Matthew 7:1-2, italics mine)
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 5:11-13, italics mine)
Confused yet? I certainly have been. How can I reconcile verses that seemingly contradict one another?
The church seems pretty confused as well. On the one hand we have congregations expelling members over a single wine cooler. On the other hand, we frequently hear phrases such as, “Who am I to judge?” We’re expected to be open minded, since “everyone is on their own journey.”
My brain couldn’t handle the tension, so I pulled out all my Bible study aids. Several months and assorted headaches later, I’m coming to the conclusion that a big part of the problem is our tendency to extract verses from their context. Instead, let’s look at the surrounding verses for clues as to what the writers might have had in mind.
We’re pretty familiar with the verses telling us not to judge. In addition to Matthew 7:1-2, above, we have:
- How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,” when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:42)
- Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. (John 8:7)
- You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Romans 2:1-3)
- “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” (Romans 14:10)
At first glance, they all seem to be saying the same thing. We shouldn’t judge others. But on closer examination, they’re actually dealing with hypocrisy, not judgmentalism.
This is clear in the Luke 6 passage. Jesus isn’t saying, “Don’t judge.” In fact, he tells us to remove the speck in our brother’s eye. It’s just that we need to remove our own plank first. In other words, deal with our own sin, and then help someone else. Don’t be a hypocrite. Once you think in terms of hypocrisy, the rest of the verses fall into place.
Then what about Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 5? Doesn’t he contradict both himself and Jesus? Not at all.
In this case, it’s a matter of reputation. The church is being sanctified, set apart from the world, so that unbelievers can see what difference God makes in people’s lives. If those claiming to be believers continue to sin, they will look just like the culture around them.
You can see that Paul is concerned about the way pagans view the Corinthian church by his comments a few sentences later in 1 Corinthians 6:6, where he writes, “But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!”
Then, while it is clear that Paul is angry over the appalling behavior of this man (who was sleeping with his father’s wife), he eventually gets over his anger. In 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 Paul revisits this same issue. You can see that he has calmed down and rethought the situation. Here, he urges compassion:
Finally, Paul is actually paraphrasing something Jesus Himself said:
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.
(And how did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors? He loved them!)
It is the role of the church to sensitively and compassionately confront those who continue unrepentantly in a lifestyle of sin, no matter what the issue may be. Historically, the church has been pretty good at expelling wicked people. The problem is that it’s often done with a sanctimonious attitude that is the opposite of Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:2—“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
The solution isn’t to just accept people in their sin, saying it’s not our business—the Holy Spirit will deal with them. Yes, one of the Spirit’s jobs is to convict us of our sins. But the church has a role in that as well. It’s in the supportive, encouraging embrace of fellow believers that we have the strength to face our shortcomings and allow God to mold us into something much better—the image of His Son.