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This punishment by the majority is enough

Posted by on Mar 15, 2013 in discipleship, scripture | 6 comments

This punishment by the majority is enough

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?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-15-2013

    Alan, I think this is so good and well put together. Alan, a question. How do you feel about Matt 18:15-20 or perhaps I should say, “would you elaborate that text a bit”? Thanks. I really like this. I would like to use some of this material. Been so busy trying to settle in… unpacking, and running around getting things done. Thanks….

  2. 3-15-2013


    I think Matthew 18:15-20 fits in very well with what I’m talking about here. I wrote about this passage a few years ago in a post called “Matthew 18 and discipline.”

    By the way, you are welcome to use anything on my site that you find helpful.


  3. 3-17-2013

    My wife and I often advise people having problems with kids to keep the relationship going – that’s the most important thing.

    If you reaffirm your love for someone – that might be the only love they ever know. To love someone in the middle of something you really disapprove of is a great testament of how strong love is.

    It’s the lovingkindness of the Lord that leads a man to repentance. ( Romans 2:4 ). Many times, judgment will not lead to repentance (i.e. Rev 16:9, 11; Rev 9:20, 21).

  4. 3-21-2013


    Thanks for the comment. Relationship is so important, both our relationship with those who are brothers and sisters in Christ and our relationship with those who are not believers.


  5. 3-23-2013

    Regarding the equation that the man in 1 Cor. equals same man in 2 Cor.
    Though this identification is old, Tertullian refuted it, F.F. Bruce, in his commentary, clearly shows the ineptness of this equation.

  6. 3-24-2013


    Although I haven’t read Bruce’s commentary on this passage, I think that “ineptness of this equation” is too strong. There is nothing specifically in either passage to connect them, nor is their anything specifically in either passage to indicate they are separate events. Either way, my conclusions in this article are not dependent on the two events being connected.