Looking at the life of Jesus Christ we see a call to love and grace as we follow His example. But we also see how harsh he was to the religious leaders of the day. He called them vipers and whitewashed tombs that look good on the outside but are only good for housing dead bodies.
As I have examined my heart in light of the above scriptures and in juxtaposition with judgment and hypocrisy I came upon a few scripture passages that struck me as odd. One passage in particular is from 1st Corinthians 5:9-13 (NASB):
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
While I was reading this scripture the first thing I noticed was that Paul implores us to Judge people who claim to be Christians. I noticed this because it is posed as a rhetorical question, ‘do you not judge those who are within the church?’ Paul’s question struck me as odd because our American culture emphasizes the ‘don’t judge me’ attitude, which has infiltrated our churches. So much so that the church’s emphasis for the last few years has been on the verses like Matthew 7:1-2, Luke 6:37, James 4:11-12, Romans 2:1-3 etc. These verses are incredibly important to Christians because without these verses we can become incredibly prideful in our obedience to the Bible.
I was put off by the rhetorical question Paul posed because it seems like he is telling them that we can judge people based upon what we see. But what causes Paul to encourage us to judge people who are within the church? The answer if found in another one of Paul’s letters; the letter to the Roman Church:
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? (Romans 2:1-3 NIV, emphasis added)
The reason Paul encourages those in the Corinthian Church is because of that 3rd verse in Romans 2. If we do not judge hypocritical Christians how can they know that they are not following Jesus? They are not denying themselves by indulging in things that they judge others for doing. For when we judge as Christ judges, we speak the truth in love. To let hypocrites know that they are being hypocritical is the most loving thing we can do for them. We can show them that they are condemning themselves by their own words and restore them in the truth.
Jesus said some harsh things to the religious leaders because they were putting so much weight on the people and not doing anything that the Old Testament said of them to do (Matthew 23:4). Therefore if we do not judge hypocrites, they will put heavy weights on people, or push them away from Christ because of their hypocrisy and the perceived acceptance of hypocrisy by the church.
But when we talk to those outside the church we have no right to judge them because they do not claim Christianity. Therefore let us win them to Christ by our love for them and our love for our brothers who claim Christianity, just as Jesus spoke to us, ‘”As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35 ESV).’ If those outside the church first deny our testimony of Jesus power to change our personal lives, then as we emanate love in our actions toward others they might recognize the transformation brought on by Jesus. That power will certainly show that we are following the example of Jesus by denying ourselves, picking up our cross and counting others as more important than ourselves (see Philippians 2:3).
To that end, we must leave judgment up to Jesus, for we do not know the motivations of the heart like He does. Yet He has given us His selfless example to follow if we claim to be His. So when we see our brothers and sisters falling we can help them back up.