Posts Tagged 'church discipline'

Judge Not! Why Not?


You hear it all the time. You’re in a group, talking about some shameful thing somebody else did and you hear it: “You shouldn’t be judging, you know.” Or they might say it like this: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” An admonition always sounds better when it’s spoken in the King James.

But, why shouldn’t we judge another person? I’m not talking about judging another person for the purpose of punishing them in any way. I mean judging another person for the purpose of assessing their character; to determine their trustworthiness or reliability. Or to determine if they’re being truthful in word or deed. Or to determine whether or not they would make a compatible friend or spouse. I would argue it’s vital to judge other people for the right reasons.

But what does the Bible say about the issue of judging? A lot of people (even non-believers) think they know what the Bible says because they have a vague idea that this verse in their someplace:

Judge not, that you be not judged. (Matthew 7:1 NKJV)

It always surprises people to know that the Bible actually encourages Christians TO judge. Let’s talk about that.

The problem of American culture

The American culture lends itself to the idea that nobody should judge anybody else. Ours is a radically individualistic culture, which is an admirable quality, sometimes. Who isn’t impressed with the individual who triumphs over the odds and succeeds where others have failed? We read about the heroic men and women who opened the West; who blazed trails alone so that others could follow. There is a lot to recommend healthy individualism.

But at the same time, there is an unhealthy aspect to out-of-control individualism. Children, from their first day in school, are taught that they are the center of the adult universe. They are bombarded by words and images that teach them to love themselves, to “be true to themselves.” Ours is a generation that has created a younger generation obsessed with themselves. Think about it. Entire traffic patterns are altered twice a day – once in the morning when the kids are on their way to school and once in the afternoon when the kids are coming home. The world really does stop just for them. Laws, policies, and regulations are written and passed ostensibly “for the children.” Whole industries have popped up and thrive today because parents, rightly or wrongly, live in mortal fear that their children might bump their head or scrape their knee or catch a cold.

Part of this “radical individualism” is a feeling that nobody should be criticized or judged; not them personally or their ideas, no matter how wacky they sound. So what if so-and-so’s lifestyle is a little different than mine. The way they live is just as valid as the way I live. Again, children have been successfully brainwashed to tolerate just about anything and to criticize nothing. Moral relativism is a way of thinking in America today; it has taken hold of hearts and minds so that we accept things previously unacceptable and we “judge not lest we be judged.”

This very secular idea of tolerance and acceptance of everything has also taken hold of hearts and minds in the church. It’s subtle, but it’s happening. When was the last time you heard a rip-roaring sermon against the evils of some sin? In bygone years, sin – any sin – was a popular topic. Now you’ll be more likely to hear a sermon on “How to be a better spouse/parent/employee.” Sin is rarely preached against because, in 21st century America, most Christians don’t what sin is. Most church members wouldn’t recognize sinful behavior unless it effected them personally. Christians have been slowly and subtly programmed by their culture to tolerate and accept anything and anybody without judging.

Biblical judgment

This brings us right back Matthew 7. Let’s look at verse 1 in context with what follows:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1 – 5 NIV)

These verses are part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and what Jesus is concerned about is “censoriousness.” That kind of attitude goes against the law of the Kingdom and was one of the absolute worst faults of the Pharisees. A hyper-critical spirit has no place in God’s Kingdom, and that was what Jesus addressed. His concern was that believers who possessed a righteousness far and above that of the Pharisees might let that righteousness lead them into the very sin of the Pharisees, thereby setting themselves up as judges over everybody else. There is an incident in John 7 that shines a bright light on the horrible attitude the Pharisees had about “everybody” else:

“Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.” (John 7:48, 49 TLB)

That’s the attitude Jesus forbids. The Pharisees thought “this mob,” or regular Jews, knew “nothing of the law.” These religious leaders gloried in their false holiness and thought they were superior to the other Jews.

Jesus is most certainly not contradicting the Biblical imperative of exercising proper judgment. Here are a few verses about that:

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24 NIV)

A Christian ought to judge correctly. Judge what? The Pharisees had judged Jesus by appearances. He healed somebody on the Sabbath. He appeared to be breaking the law of the Sabbath. What they didn’t see was that Jesus was the Lord of Sabbath. They judged Jesus incorrectly. He wanted them to judge Him correctly. We have to judge individuals correctly, not basing our judgment on what we hear or observe only, but on facts that are verifiable and irrefutable.

In one of Paul’s letters, Paul encourages an entire congregation to judge one member who was blatantly sinning, thereby harming the whole church.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Corinthians 5:12 NIV)

This is a highly significant verse. It tells us Christians shouldn’t be in the business of judging the sinful behavior of the world. We want to do that, though. We want to tell our neighbors to “stop taking the Lord’s Name in vain.” We want to tell them to stop some sinful practice that offends us when we ought to be telling them to get saved! The world sins; that’s what it does. Judging them is up to the Lord. We, rather, are to judge each other within the church. That’s what Paul wanted his friends in the Corinthian church to do: pass judgment on a sinning brother. However, that judgment was not for the purpose of punishing him. It was for the purpose of straightening him out.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1 NIV)

John urged his reader to “test the spirits.” That’s a fancy way to say, “make a judgment.” John is warning the reader to make a judgment about somebody claiming to be a fellow Christian. John uses the phrase “test the spirits,” but it’s not really spirits he’s concerned about, it’s the honesty of somebody claiming to be a fellow believer. Our tendency is to believe; to take that person at their word, because a Christian wouldn’t lie, right? If they say they are a Christian, then they must be. Well, John cautions his reader and us to make sure – to make a careful judgment – that they really are what they claim to be.

This kind of judgment, by the way, is for our benefit. As Christians, we should make every effort to guard our hearts against false teachers or abuse from some faux believer. It’s shocking how easily even the strongest believer can be led astray by some smooth talking false teacher or pseudo believer.

As far as Jesus was concerned, judgment is absolutely essential in a healthy church:

“If a brother sins against you, go to him privately and confront him with his fault. If he listens and confesses it, you have won back a brother. But if not, then take one or two others with you and go back to him again, proving everything you say by these witnesses. If he still refuses to listen, then take your case to the church, and if the church’s verdict favors you, but he won’t accept it, then the church should excommunicate him.” (Matthew 18:15 – 17 TLB)

You may not see the word “judge” in these verses, but it’s precisely what Jesus is talking about here. This is something every church should do when necessary, but rarely does. We’re so afraid of offending somebody instead of offending Jesus by not doing what we’re told to do! How many churches are forfeiting God’s richest blessings because they are not doing what these verses teach? Nobody likes church discipline. As a pastor I can attest to that! I’d rather have a root canal done on a Monday morning than deal with church discipline. But church discipline – not tolerating sinful behavior – is what glorifies God. We’ve got it backwards just like the Corinthians. We think tolerance glorifies God. It does not, as least as far as sin is concerned.

So go ahead and judge.  But do it in a way that glorifies God and benefits other believers.  In fact, you should start with judging yourself, first.

For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin first among God’s own children.  (1 Peter 4:17  TLB)


2 Thessalonians 3:6—18; Matthew 18:15—17

Paul had a lot of good things to say to and about the church in Thessalonica. But there was one very big problem in that congregation: laziness. This seems to have been long-standing problem in that church, reaching back into Paul’s first letter:

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12)

And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

What was hinted at in his first letter, Paul was forced to deal with explicitly in his second. This proclivity toward laziness was brought on by doctrinal misunderstanding. Frequently, practical misconduct results from doctrine misunderstanding, and in this case some members of the church misunderstood the doctrine of the Second Coming. They thought, incorrectly, that they needed only to watch and wait for Christ to return; that they need not work.

Paul’s gentle admonitions in his first letter failed to nip the problem in the bud, therefore he had to be much more forceful this second time around.

1. Avoid disorderly and divisive people, 2 Thess. 3:6, 7

What Paul was about to write was so important, he prefaced his admonition with the phrase, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This means that what he is about write carries the same authority as though Jesus Himself wrote it.

a. Choose your associates carefully, vs. 6

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.

The KJV translates this verse slightly differently:

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

Is it “disorderly” or “idle” brothers that should be avoided? There were, no doubt, brothers in the congregation engaging in “disorderly conduct,” which probably included the following:

  • laziness, or “loafing” around, doing nothing.

  • spreading all kinds of gossip (see 2:2).

  • asking to be supported by the church (see vs. 12).

  • meddlesomeness (see vs. 11)

All of this unruly conduct resulted from their idleness. We all know how the old saw goes: “Idle hands are the Devil’s playthings.” Clearly not every member of the church was like this, but there were more now than when the first letter was written, hence this rather lengthy admonition. These erring members were properly called “disorderly,” from a Greek military term meaning “those out of rank.” In other words, they were behaving in a most unchrist-like manner.

Paul’s authoritative admonition was to “withdraw” or “remain aloof” from these lazy people. This self-imposed “aloofness” was not to be characterized by an air of superiority or condemnation, but rather it was to be an “aloofness” that signified no condoning of the erring brother’s way of life. This advice was consistent with Paul’s teaching elsewhere, especially of his advice to the Corinthians, which was to excommunicate a brother involved in sexual immorality. Here, excommunication was not called for, but a kind shunning was.

b. Follow good examples, vs. 7

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you…

While avoiding these lazy members, Paul wanted the Thessalonians to copy his (Paul’s) example, and the example of his friends, who were anything but idle. Paul and his companions never sponged off anybody, therefore no member of the Thessalonian church should, either. Paul’s use of the word “ought” suggests this was more than an exhortation, it was an obligation. In other words, it is the obligation of every believer to work as Paul did: diligent and hard.

2. Fulfill your responsibilities, 2 Thess. 3:8—13

a. Financial responsibility, vs. 8—11

Paul’s example of hard work was the polar opposite of how the erring, lazy brothers were living. Paul and his friends not only preached the Gospel in the church, they worked “on the side” to support themselves! The missionaries had every right to be paid for their work in the church by the church, but here was a “teachable moment” too good to pass up! Paul and his friends would lead by example. Since some members of the congregation were too thick to understand his written word, Paul would show them the right way to live.

We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. (vs. 9)

Verse 10 is Paul’s stern, clear piece of advice on this matter of laziness:

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

The quotations around the rule suggests this was a common saying of Paul’s day; one which Paul appropriated for use within the church. Simply put: no work, no eat.

Paul was not cold and heartless. His was a perfectly balanced theology. Here was a man who had no trouble telling people “get a job” and “stop sponging off others,” but at the same time risked life and limb to collect offerings for the poor. He had no sympathy for those who could work but refused not to.

Ultimately, all believers need to understand Paul’s doctrine of welfare versus work: it all boils down to imitating Christ. He sacrificed everything to help those who could not help themselves. Those recipients of Christ’s saving grace ought not to be a burden on others, but should be willing to, like Christ, sacrifice what they have for others who don’t have it themselves to help themselves.

b. Calm dispositions, vs. 12

Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.

Instead of being busy, these lazy brothers had become busybodies! The interesting thought behind verse 12 is that when one is able to work but does not, he becomes restless; he literally looks for trouble to get into. But when one works, the opposite happens: he has a kind of inner peace and he keeps out of trouble.

c. Doing good, vs. 13

And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.

This is a great piece of advice for the folks in Thessalonica who where living as they ought. Regardless of how long the Lord’s coming may be delayed, regardless of whatever “disorderliness” surround us, we should always engage good work; we should conduct ourselves according to the highest standards we are capable of reaching in terms of word, discipline, orderliness, and quietness of mind.

3. Discipline lovingly, 2 Thess. 3:14—16; Matt. 18:15—17

a. Fellowship withdrawn, vs. 14—16

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Bringing his letter to a conclusion, Paul again stresses the importance of church discipline, a subject foreign to the average church-goer these days. This advice included two very important points:

  • Take special note” of those who will not obey Paul’s advice in this letter to work hard and live properly. Every member of the church needed to heed Paul’s instruction to become a part of the disciplinary process. Offenders needed to be taken note of so that the whole congregation could co-operate in disciplining them

  • Do not regard” lazy members, but “warn” them as brothers. These were fellow believers, after all, men whom Christ died for. Even though their behavior wasn’t right, it wasn’t motived by maliciousness. The entire church had an obligation to warn them and to help back on track.

The purpose of this kind of church discipline was to restore the disobedient to complete fellowship. Paul was sure these lazy brothers were still in the faith; they had not lost it in any way. Therefore, as much as hard work was an obligation, so was restoration to fellowship.

b. Distinct pattern, Matt. 18:15—17

The idea of corporate discipline of believers didn’t originate with Paul. Jesus, the founder of the Church, gave us the pattern to follow:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

Up to this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had spent considerable time teaching on the dangers of causing someone to stumble; of sinning against another. With verse 15, Jesus flips the coin over so as to deal with the possibility of a brother sinning against you. What do you do if “your brother,” or a fellow church member, does something to offend you? Tell them about it, face to face. Jesus’ teaching comes right out of the Old Testament:

Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. (Leviticus 19:17)

The danger in keeping the offense inside, whatever you think it may be, is that it will fester and grow and cause you to sin; instead of being the offended, you will turn into the offender! So, it’s better to go in private and talk to the person who offended you. Privacy is the key; if the offense is kept only between the two involved, then the rest of the church won’t be prone to take sides and get involved.

If the brother refuses to listen, then other people need to get involved, namely, a couple of witnesses who will take note of the proceedings. If the brother still refuses to listen and apologize, and the problem remains unresolved, then the offending brother needs to be shunned; treated like a tax collector. Most scholars think Jesus has in mind excommunication.

Church discipline is an important, though highly scorned, Biblical doctrine. In the past, it was surely abused by pastors and elders more interested in building their own little kingdoms than in expanding God’s Kingdom. There is no excuse for taking advantage of a Biblical doctrine for one’s own gains.

Perhaps one of the reasons why the Church of Jesus Christ gets lost in the tall grasses of false teaching is that church discipline is ignored for the sake of political correctness or to avoid one or two members of the church. Church leadership, when it strays from the first principles of Biblical doctrine, will always shoot themselves in the foot no matter how noble their intentions may be.

There is a reason why the Bible says the things it does. God, not man, knows what’s best for His Church. Let’s pay attention.

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