For the last few days, I’ve been examining the topic of judgment, specifically whether or not Christians should judge others. (See my posts “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God,” “Judging people based on their dishonorable passions,” “For what have I to do with judging outsiders?,” and “I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.”)
So far, from my study of (primarily) Romans 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 5, I have concluded that 1) followers of Jesus are not judge unbelievers because of their sinful lifestyles, but 2) are to associate with them, even sharing meals with them. And, finally, 3) there are circumstances and situations in which believers are to judge one another.
As I stated at the end of my previous post, this last conclusion leads to a question: What does it mean to judge another follower of Jesus Christ?
Neither Paul nor any of the other authors of the New Testament provide a treatise on this subject (or any other subject, for that matter). Instead, they answered specific questions and concerns as they were writing to specific people dealing with specific problems at specific times in specific places.
For example, in the case of 1 Corinthians 5, Paul was instructing his readers (believers in Corinth) about how he would deal with a certain person who was a Christians and who was sleeping with his father’s wife. We have to determine by comparing that passage with other passages to what extent his instructions would apply to other people in other situations.
For example, we know that Paul did not tell his readers to “hand over to Satan” anyone who has sinned. In fact, he consistently urged his readers to offer grace, mercy, and forgiveness to people and to help them when they fall. (Galatians 6:1 is a good example of this.) Thus, Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 5 (about not associating with the sinning brother) does not apply to everyone who sins… of course, we would be required to stay away from ourselves if that were true.
So, whatever it means to “judge” another Christian, it is not applied to someone who has committed some sin, either a specific sin against God or an offense against another person.
Also, in the case of 1 Corinthians 5, the “judgment” is not an issue of salvation, but an issue of relationship and fellowship. Notice some of the phrase that Paul uses in that passage: “be removed from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:2), “not to associate with sexually immoral people” (1 Corinthians 5:9), “not even to eat with such a one” (1 Corinthians 5:11), and “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:13).
Without existing relationships, the type of “judging” that Paul has in mind is not possible. (Unfortunately, because of the organizational nature of many groups of believers today, these kinds of relationship are few and far between.)
Finally, many believe that a passage in 2 Corinthians refers to this same individual and the results of the “judgment” he suffers:
Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely — to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11 ESV)
While Paul may not be quick to offer “judgment,” he does seem to be quick to offer forgiveness. Notice Paul says the Corinthians should “reaffirm” their love for the man, indicating that the love itself never ended (although the demonstration of love through close association was halted for a time).
Finally, while Paul used strong language related to judging the man (“you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” – 1 Corinthians 5:5), he offers just as strong language to those who may not want to welcome this brother back: “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” (1 Corinthians 5:11 ESV)
What can we take from all this? 1) “Judgment” or “punishment” is relational in nature. 2) “Judgment” is not the first option. 3) Reconciliation is always the first option, even for someone who is currently undergoing that relational judgment.
What would add to this discussion?