Judging and Judgment (1)
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? 1 Corinthians 6.1-3
Wait a second
Christians can often be cowed into silence by unbelievers who claim you can’t trust the Bible because it’s full of contradictions.
Just take today’s passage, for instance. Here is Paul telling us that believers will judge the world and all things “that pertain to this life.” But that appears to be exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught in Matthew 7.1, one verse of the Bible you can be sure every unbeliever has memorized: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
We can’t have it both ways, our unbelieving friends insist. Either Paul is right, that we should judge everything and everyone, or Jesus is right that we shouldn’t judge anyone ever. If Paul is right, that negates Jesus, and makes Him at least fallible in His teaching. If Jesus is correct, then Paul is wrong, and if he’s wrong here, he can be wrong about much else as well.
Believers can sometimes become befuddled by this objection, and similar claims concerning “contradictions” in the Bible, because they don’t have the full picture of what the Bible teaches about this and many other subjects. And this is a problem, not just because we end up looking bad and can’t defend our faith, but because we may be failing in some very important areas of the life of faith, and thus missing the full and abundant life Jesus came to give us.
One area in which it is clear many Christians are dropping the ball is in exercising judgment. Judging and judgment are foundational to ethical living, regardless of your ethical framework. As we shall see in subsequent installments, both Jesus and Paul are correct about the matter of judging others. But we’re going to need more light from throughout the Scriptures before we can understand what judging the world means, what it requires, and why we need to be more intentional and consistent in so doing.
Believers cannot avoid judging the world. As Calvin noted in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 6.2, “[believers] will judge the world, as indeed they begin already to do, because their piety, faith, fear of the Lord, good conscience, and integrity of life, will make unbelievers altogether inexcusable, as it is said of Noah, that by his faith he condemned all the men of his age” (Heb. 11.7).
Believers pronounce a kind of judgment on the world simply by refusing to affirm the world’s values or to walk in the world’s ways (Prov. 28.4). We recognize the truth of Scripture which says that God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are of a higher order than ours (Is. 55.8, 9). To the extent we walk in God’s ways and think with the mind of Christ, we may expect to be out of sync with the world and therefore to be exercising a kind of judgment over it.
Since judging the world “comes with the turf” of being a Christian, we will be better equipped for this work if we understand the Biblical teaching about the role of judging and judgment within the household of faith. We will have no problem reconciling the teaching of Jesus with that of Paul if we understand both of them in the greater light of the whole counsel of God.
Ready to judge?
But judging the world is not simply something we do by virtue of our identity as followers of Christ. Life requires judgment. Life is a continuous series of decisions, choices, reactions, and courses of action. In each of these we must exercise judgment – not just we as Christians, but all people. Sometimes the rush of things coming at us can be like the scene of Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory, trying to bag those chocolates coming at them on the conveyor belt, and becoming overwhelmed because they lacked the basic skills for the job.
Many Christians lack the basic skills for exercising judgment, yet the demands for choosing, deciding, and judging keep coming at them all day long. If we’re not equipped to judge as Jesus and Paul teach us to judge, we’ll end up simply going with the flow of the world. In which case, our faith will become overwhelmed, and we will fail in our calling as followers of Christ.
In this four-part study, To Judge the World, we’ll look carefully at the Biblical teaching about judging, judges, and making judgments that line up with the teaching of Jesus, Paul, and the rest of Scripture. We need to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us to everyone who asks (1 Pet. 3.15). But they’re not likely to ask if they don’t see in our lives something that stands out from the way the rest of the world thinks and lives. And if we are to stand out – as light, salt, and leaven – we will need to learn how to be effective choosers, decision-makers, and judges.
Unbelievers will always find things in Scripture which they consider to be objectionable or contradictory. And they may even consider our own lifestyles objectionable, as Calvin and many other commentators on our text indicate. But we must do our best to make sure our choices are consistently Biblical, our way of life lines up with Scripture on every point, and that we can explain our views about “things that pertain to this life” in ways that reflect the mind and judgment of Christ.
Then, though we be despised by the world, we will have exercised proper judgment over it, and will stand squarely in the path of discipleship, walking faithfully with the Lord (Ezek. 2.1-8).
1. What is your understanding of the Christian’s responsibility with respect to judging others? What about judging things like culture, morals, and social protocols (manners)?
2. What are some of the “things that pertain to this life” concerning which we must make judgments every day? On what basis do people make such judgments?
3. What is ethics? Do Christian ethics differ from worldly ethics? In what ways? How do we know that?
Next steps – Preparation: Today, keep track of every time you need to make a choice of some sort. Jot these down as you come to them. At the end of the day, review your choices in prayer. How confident are you that you judged as Jesus would judge in each of these choices?
T. M. Moore
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This week’s study is part 1of a 4-part series, To Judge the World. Each part consists of seven lessons and is available as a free PDF download at the end of the study. In the tag for part 7, we’ll give you a link to download part 1, Judging and Judgment. Why not line up some friends to study through all three parts of this series?
An excellent companion to this series is our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics. Here you’ll discover the basis on which Christians learn to judge with righteous judgment. You can order a copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.