In an essay on not judging others, Barbara Markway tells a story about a person walking through the forest. This person sees a cute little dog in the distance. As they approach the dog, trying to pet it and perhaps find the owner, the dog suddenly snarls and snaps at the person approaching. They immediately make the judgment that the dog is dangerous and begin to move away. As they move away, the wind suddenly gusts up and leaves that covered over a trap are blown away. The judgment changes and the person sees the dog with more compassion and begins trying to figure out how to free the dog.
If there is anything that everyone knows about Christianity, it’s that we’re not supposed to judge. If a Christian speaks out on an evil behavior, he or she is inundated with a reminder of that “fact.” Many people, usually non-believers judge Christians solely on whether or not they judge others. It seems that many of us still are involved with judging others. Would it surprise you if I told you that as Christians, there are times when we are supposed to judge others? Paul made a point of that when writing to the Corinthian Church. The problem is, that for most of us, we tend to judge those outside the church, and let people inside the church slide on bad behavior because of “grace.” Paul made it clear how we were supposed to judge: “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.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)
Paul was dealing with a judging problem in the Corinthian Church that is much like the problem we have in the church today. He had told people not to associate with others who had sins who fit into this list of sins that he mentioned in this verse. The Corinthian Church sought to avoid non-believers who acted like this, but would accept believers who lived sinful lifestyles because they were forgiven and should receive grace. I don’t know if Paul went into a major rant, or if he just shook his head sorrowfully, but he made the point that if we were to avoid being with non-believers because they sinned, we would have to leave this world. We are to judge those inside the church, not outside the church. The point is that while the church must be a haven for sinners among the saints, we can’t accept, or even celebrate our tolerance for sin within the church. Why would we say harsh things about a non-Christian who is sexually immoral while welcoming a Christian who keeps committing the same sin because they are forgiven by God?
I fully believe that the easiest way to cause non-believers to shun the church is to spend our time attacking them for their sins. This is especially true when we are lenient to believers on the same issue. Non-believers have not committed themselves to a lifestyle that is meant to honor God as believers have. Why do we seek to hold them accountable for something they never signed up for? It would be like getting a notice that I had a bad grade in Russian 101 from a local college and that it would affect my standing in school. I never took Russian, so how can they hold that grade against me? Paul would say to associate with non-believers who engage in sinful behavior that we wouldn’t accept in the church. The purpose, to show people the grace of God in action in our lives. Most non-believers recognize their own separation from God. They aren’t looking to find out what they are doing wrong, they want acceptance from God. We are the ones to show them His grace. The problem comes when they realize they need to get right with God and they see people who claim to be believers engaging in the very activities that they realized were sinful. We cannot accept sinful behavior in the church. Judge well, brothers and sisters.
Lord, help me to look at non-believers with the same compassion that You have for them. You have reminded us that judgment begins with the House of God. Help me to being by judging my own thoughts and behaviors. Give me the grace to overcome my sinfulness. Then, Lord, work on the people in the church to make them more like You.