Didn’t Jesus say to “judge not”? This is Part 4 of a 5-part series in which UMAction Director John Lomperis examines the very important, but so widely misunderstood, teaching of Jesus Christ in Matthew 7:1-6.
With His urging us to keep ourselves in perspective and to avoid harsh judgmentalism against others, Jesus is NOT inviting a lazy attitude of “oh, well, so we’re all sinners, so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and leave you to keep doing whatever you’re doing.” The cross shows how deadly seriously our Lord takes sin.
To be in authentic Christian community involves personally knowing others and letting yourself be known by them. This includes our messy struggles, brokenness, and failings.
Thus, all Christians need loving communal accountability.
This means submitting to and inviting accountability in our personal lives from church leaders and other Christians. There are especially rich resources within the Methodist/holiness tradition for how lay people can do this well in highly accountable small groups. This does not mean micro-managing every last detail of each other’s lives. But it does require our surrendering our idols of individual freedom, which is very counter-cultural for twenty-first-century Americans.
Anyone who becomes a member of what professes to be a Christian church, but who does not welcome any sort of moral accountability from the community has signed up for the wrong organization.
In Jesus’ analogy from that frequently selectively quoted Matthew 7:1-6 passage, our brother still has that problematic speck in his eye. And notice that Jesus does not say “let him worry about his own speck,” but understands that the brother will eventually need help removing his speck. How much more, then, will the one with a whole log in the eye need help!
So yes, within the church community, there absolutely needs to be correction of incorrect beliefs as well as wrong behaviors. Truly Christian love knows nothing of glibly allowing our brother or sister to persist in ultimately self-destructive sin. One friend has likened this to seeing someone unknowingly run towards the edge of a high cliff and refusing to warn them about their peril if they continue on their current path. Such an approach to sin is also profoundly unloving towards other church members, since “a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough,” as Paul warns. When churches refuse to have any sort of meaningful doctrinal and moral correction and, when need be, discipline, they are failing to be the sorts of communities Scripture calls them to be.
So for example, with the former stripper (mentioned in Part 1), if she was dressed in some sort of suggestive or low-cut sort of way, at some point it would have been important for this woman’s ongoing spiritual growth, and the health of whatever church community she found, for someone to talk to her about not being a stumbling block for her brothers. Of course, this must be done with a lot of tact and grace. A healthy church community will have people at all different points on their spiritual journeys. More spiritually mature believers need to be gracious towards new believers who are still learning the ropes of Christian living. We also should not be surprised or outraged when people who have not yet committed their lives to Christ do not live according to Christian morality.
For those who call themselves Christians, Jesus taught that there are times in church life to draw lines in the sand and have real disciplinary consequences when someone continues in unrepentant sin.
But it is SO important that we do this with a proper attitude.
We absolutely must seek to uphold biblical moral standards and the purity of God’s church. But if we focus on highlighting our neighbor’s sin without first devoting the same attention to our own sin, then Jesus in verse 7:5 has these strong words for us: “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.”
James 2:10 says that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” We all share a common identity as flawed sinners. And our sin is the one person’s sin that we are directly responsible for, that we are the most connected to, and that we have the greatest ability to correct. Remember that only God sees everything perfectly.
Therefore, we must be most horrified by and focused on fighting our own sin.
The great anti-Nazi German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, put it this way:
“The Cross of Jesus Christ destroys all pride. If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all. He who would serve his brother in the fellowship must sink all the way down to these depths of humility. How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own? Would I not be putting myself above him; could I have any hope for him?”
And in Matthew 7:5, Jesus says we ourselves are supposed to take the sin, which we must regard as the biggest log, out of our own eye. It does not say wait for someone else to do it. Yes, we need the help of accountability with others and even more the supernatural help of the Holy Spirit. But for our own part, we cannot remain passive.
Notice how Jesus does not say “make a show of shaving a sliver or two off of the log.” He commands us to take out the whole big thing! And the more sin and impurity remains in our life, the more distorted our view of reality will be.
So we must be horrified at sin, but none more than our own. To other people our attitude must be one of love and mercy.
Our motivation must be seeking the greatest good for others, out of genuine, self-sacrificial love for them. Remember that passage from 1 Corinthians 5, when it talks about the need to excommunicate people in certain extreme circumstances? This is indeed needed, but as a last resort, after other steps have failed. But even when someone is finally, in Paul’s words, “handed over to Satan,” that should be done not only to protect the community, but also for the person’s own good. Paul explains in verse 5 that this was to be done “so that “so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns (v5).”