Judging Others and Confronting Sin: Where to Start

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Let’s open up to 1 Corinthians 5 and read it again. Last week we talked about the danger of sin and the importance of calling it out in our own lives and protecting each other from it by stepping in and giving warnings. We touched on the importance of, when we see a fellow Christian heading for sin, dealing with them courageously, patiently, gently, and scripturally but we didn’t really get into how to do that, which we are going to cover some of today.

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”

Who Ought We Judge?

Let’s kick this off by covering an important question: Who are we talking about? In verse 3 we see Paul “pronouncing judgment” on someone for having unrepentant sin in their life. And in verses 9-11 we get a list of the sorts of sins that he’s judging: sexually immorality, greed, cheating, addiction, and idolatry – which is by no means meant as an exhaustive list, but is meant to be an examples of obvious, grievous, sins that everyone would be able to see.

But here’s the problem. If we want to obey scripture and pronounce judgement on sinners and have nothing to do with them, then we end up with a full time job because we are all constantly surrounded by this. Even if we just stick to this list, we can all admit that everywhere we look, even within our own families, are people who are not living by God’s standards of sexual purity, who are not using their money and possessions well, who bend and break the rules, who abuse alcohol or drugs, and who have practices in their life that show they are not fully committed to God.

I don’t think there is anyone here that cannot find something wrong with 99%-100% of the people around them, right? Do we know anyone who is perfectly blameless in the areas of sexuality, finances, obedience, and faith? No.

So then what are we to do? Who are we talking about judging then? Verse 9-10 eliminates a huge swath of the population. It says, “…not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world…I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother…”.

What that means is that our judgements are meant to be reserved for Christians only. It goes on to remind us in verse 12 that we have nothing to do with “judging outsiders”. It’s not our place and not our responsibility, but God’s (vs 13). Our responsibility is to those “inside”, meaning Christians. Our jurisdiction of judgement, the limits of who we are allowed to hold to the account of how the Bible tells us to live, is within the church. So, who ought we to judge and discipline? Fellow Christians.

Inside and Outside

The scriptures are very clear. From the beginning there are those who are outside and those who are inside. God chose the nation of Israel to be those who would be on the inside, but then set up laws saying that anyone who didn’t follow them must be cast outside.

Jesus divided people by inside and outside too. When He was asked why He spoke in parables that some people wouldn’t understand He said, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables…” (Mark 4:11). Those inside the kingdom would understand, those outside would not.

In the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-43) Jesus says that everyone seems sort of mixed up now, all growing together, like weeds growing in a field of wheat, but in the end, Jesus said, there would be a great separation of those who would be saved and brought into the barn and those who would be left outside to burn.

In the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) Jesus says that many will be invited to be inside but not everyone will accept the invitation, and they will be left outside. And then he will declare everything is ready, but look around to make sure everyone who is there is supposed to be there – and any outsider who had gotten in would be bound up and cast outside into the darkness.

Jesus is extremely clear that not everyone is saved and that there are those on the inside and those on the outside – and though it’s sometimes hard to tell, our responsibilities are to those on the inside. God will take care of those on the outside.

Keep reading in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11:

“When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

What’s the point here? It’s that those inside the church are the fittest and most able to judge right from wrong and discipline by God’s standards. Those who are outside the church are not nearly as fit to judge disputes and spiritual matters as Christians are.

Now, are we talking about breaking the law? No. We’re not talking about murder or anything that breaks the law of the land. God has given us worldly authorities to deal with that. The scriptures here are talking about disputes between Christians and sins that are not punished by law. Adultery, pornography, homosexuality, using people for sex, pagan worship, manipulating the system, getting drunk, gluttony, being lazy, racism, hate, taking advantage of the poor or naive, are not illegal – but they are sin.

And outsiders, those outside the church, are neither fit nor able to be able to see the dangers of those sins, nor the consequences of letting them go unchallenged. Christians do see the danger and so we are compelled, by God’s Word and God’s Spirit to say and do something about them – within our own walls. Again, this is why church membership is so important, which we talked about before.

The Bible tells us that we are to judge and discipline people who call themselves Christians but are willfully unrepentant. People who claim to be Christians yet continue to indulge themselves in sin, refuse to ask forgiveness, refuse to reconcile, but keep rationalizing why they can continue to sin, are dangerous to themselves and the believers around them, and tarnish the image of God in their lives and the reputation of Jesus and His church– so we are compelled to do something.

If someone says they are a Christian, and comes to a church surrounded by Christians, but are known to be sexually immoral, greedy, a cheat, an addict, or worships other gods – they are going to be a bad influence on the people around them and create a false understanding of God’s Will and the Gospel. They are, literally, a danger to themselves and others.

And so, it is our responsibility, as their brother or sister, compelled by our love for them and for God, as their church family, to tell them they need to stop their sin and ask forgiveness from God because they are harming themselves, their loved ones, their church, and their reputation.

By What Standard Ought We to Judge?

Now that we know who, we are brought to the standards by which we are to judge. How are we to judge them? The strict answer is: by scripture. We do not have the right to judge people by our own standards. We are bound to judge people only by what scripture says.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church telling them they needed to deal with this person in their midst, he wasn’t coming up with anything new. Every one of those sins in the list has been condemned by God since the beginning. Not only are they found condemned throughout scripture, but also universally offend the consciences of every human being. As Paul said, this man’s sins were “not tolerated even among the pagans”. (1 Cor 5)

We do not have the right to try to mold other Christians into our image, but only into the image of Christ. When someone offends us, hurts us, challenges us, or lives differently than us, we do not immediately have the right to judge and condemn them. All of our judgements must be by scripture.

You may disagree with something I’m doing, and it may even be a problem for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sin or problem for someone else. You may find something disgusting or offensive, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sin. You may think someone is being stupid, but being stupid is not a sin!

Let me give you an example: Sister Sally goes to the same church as Brother Barney, but she doesn’t like the way he lives one bit. She was married at an early age, he’s 39 and still single. She only listens to Christian radio, he listens to classic rock. She volunteers at the church three times per week and takes every class they offer, he plays guitar on Sundays but the rest of the week hangs out with his buddies at a pub and plays video games. She has a bachelor of social work and helps the community, he has tattoos and works part time at pool hall. She reads theology books and Christian biographies, he hasn’t read a book in 15 years.

What’s worse is that Brother Barney doesn’t even seem to care. He comes to church, hangs out, cracks jokes that Sister Sally doesn’t find funny at all, has coffee with the same few people, and then goes home. Sister Sally comes to church and is busy, busy, busy. She does 12 things before service, three during, and four after – and she’s exhausted – but Brother Barney doesn’t even notice or care. He should be doing more. He should be learning more. He’s come to this church for years now and is doing the same thing he’s been doing since he first came. He’s wasting his life. Who knows what he’s doing in that pub? And the Elders and Pastors aren’t even doing anything!

Now, Sister Sally is mad and feels like she is going to take matters into her own hands. So she corners Brother Barney one day at church and has decided to fix his life for him. After all, he’s a fellow Christian and we’re supposed to help our fellow Christians, right? Well, she’s going to help him all right!

Now, what is Sister Sally going to say? What right does she have to judge him? What sin has she seen? None. What commandment is Brother Barney breaking? None.

But will that stop her? No. She’ll tell Brother Barney that he’s not committed enough, that he’s lazy, that he’s wasting God’s gifts, that he should feel ashamed for the life he’s leading….

Whose image is Sister Sally trying to form Brother Barney into? Her own. Will he ever fit? No. Should he? No.

When we confront someone it is incredibly important that we confront them with the Word of God, not our own words. We do not have the right to tell people to live up to our own standards, only the right to point them to God’s.

Before All That

But how can we do it? We still haven’t gotten to the “how to”. Maybe there is someone in your life, or in this church, that you’ve been thinking of over the past couple weeks, that you think God might be asking you to confront in their sin. Or, on the other hand, maybe you are sitting here nervous that someone is going to do that to you!

Maybe you are wondering if there are people that you need to “purge… from among you” or “not even eat with”, but you’re not sure how to proceed. Where should you start?

Most people, if you ask them will tell you to turn to Matthew 18 which is all about the pattern of addressing church discipline. Some will turn to our passage in 1 Corinthians 5 to talk about confronting the person and then dealing with them. Others will turn to Galatians 6:1 which says that we should find them, restore them in gentleness, but be careful not to be tempted with them. Others will go to 1 Timothy 5:20 which says that anyone who persists in sin needs to be rebuked in the presence of the whole church so everyone stands in fear.

All of this is premature. The place we need to turn is Matthew 7:1-5. Before we pull out any scriptures to talk about what others are doing wrong, before we talk about how to confront them, discipline them, or help them to repent, reconcile and recover, we must start here:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

I think we’ve established by now that when Jesus says “Judge not” He’s not telling us never to judge anybody for anything. His meaning is found more fully in the next verse. He says that when we judge we ought to realize that God is watching and our attitude, graciousness, harshness, motives, and methods are going to be judged. So when we judge, before we judge, before an analytical, judgemental, critical, or disapproving word passes our lips, the very first thing we must do is look inward.

He doesn’t say, “Don’t criticize others”. He says, “Before you criticize anyone else, take a long, hard look at yourself and your own moral failures. Don’t come down from on high as a holier-than-though know-it-all – come to them humbly, realizing that you are a sinner too.

As you look inwards and realize your own failures and faults, it will be easier to give grace to the one you are trying to help. As you repent before God, laying your sins before Him, asking for them to be washed away by the blood of Jesus, it will be easier for you to invite someone else to do the same. When you look inward at your own faults, and the many struggles you have in your life, and how you keep failing over and over, it lets you be patient with them, knowing that it will be a struggle. As you receive the grace of forgiveness from God, it will help you be gracious and forgiving to them.

And, as you learn to hate your own sin, but love yourself – asking others to hate the sin within you, but love you anyway – so you will be more able to differentiate between the sin and the sinner so you can show them love while hating their sin.

When you look at the porn addict, the adulterer, the homosexual, the drunkard, the cheat, the greedy, the idolater, instead of being filled with hate or fear towards the person, you will see them as a person like you – in need of grace, help, friendship, brotherhood, help, and love.

We’ll talk about the steps we need to take to confront people next week, but we must realize that step one of addressing our fellow Christians sins has nothing to do with them, but everything to do with us and God. It starts with realizing our own sin, asking God to soften our hearts, and gaining a perspective driven not only by the truth – but by grace.

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    […] talked about Step One last week, which was to look inward and evaluate our own sin, motives, and relationship with God, so that we […]

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