Judge thy neighbor, part 1

I read recently that the highest paid person on television these days is Judy Sheindlin.  Who the heck is Judy Sheindlin?  You probably know her as “Judge Judy,” and she makes about $47 million per year.  To put that in perspective, that’s more than double what the Miami Heat pay LeBron James.  Small claims court or the basketball court?  Is litigation the more popular spectator sport?

While some find it curiously entertaining to watch exasperated television judges fire hose people with common sense, Christians are often ambivalent and confused about the matter of passing judgment on one another.  That’s not to say we don’t do it (sometimes with relish); we’re just not sure when it’s okay to do so, if ever.

As noted in previous posts, Paul himself had to endure the judgment of certain Corinthian believers who found him unimpressive.  “I couldn’t care less,” was his basic response: he cared only for what Jesus would say at the final judgment, and wanted them to have the same perspective.

But while all Christians are ultimately accountable only to Jesus, that doesn’t mean that there’s no accountability between Christians now, as the tone and intent of the letter as a whole make obvious.  Paul didn’t give a fig about the Corinthians’ judgment of him because it was not of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:1-4).  There is a proper place for sober and unhypocritical moral judgment in the church, as Paul makes clear in response to the test-case of the incestuous Corinthian brother:

I wrote to you in my earlier letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.  But I wasn’t talking about the sexually immoral people in the outside world by any means—or the greedy, or the swindlers, or people who worship false gods—otherwise, you would have to leave the world entirely!  But now I’m writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls themselves “brother” or “sister” who is sexually immoral, greedy, someone who worships false gods, an abusive person, a drunk, or a swindler.  Don’t even eat with anyone like this.  What do I care about judging outsiders?  Isn’t it your job to judge insiders?  God will judge outsiders. “Expel the evil one from among you!” (1 Cor 5:9-13, CEB)

1 Corinthians was not the first letter Paul had written to the congregation, and he had apparently addressed the issue of sexual immorality before.  Reading between the lines, one can easily imagine the willful way in which his earlier letter was misrepresented by Paul’s detractors: Oh, come now, the man can’t be serious.  Break off relationships with anyone who engages in any kind of immoral behavior?  What planet is this guy from?  And on what planet does he expect us to live? 

Thus, Paul is forced to clarify, broadening the point with one of his so-called “vice lists”: No, you misunderstand.  I’m not talking about relationships between you and those outside the church.  I have no interest in passing judgment on them–that’s God’s business.  I’m talking about the relationships inside the church.  Judging each other rightly and acting on that judgment is the job of everyone in the congregation.

Scary thought, right?  More on that in the next post.

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