Judge Not? (4)
For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4.17
A holy nation
Peter had earlier written that the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ is called to be a holy nation (1 Pet. 2.9), and it was their being a holy nation that would make them a special people unto the Lord.
There are three senses in which the Church is a holy nation. First, the Church is holy because the Holy Spirit dwells in the Church and in every believer in Jesus Christ (cf. Eph. 2.19-22; 1 Cor. 2.19). The Holy Spirit, working with the Word of God, brings the glory of God into the Church, grows the church into Christ-likeness, and causes the life of Christ to flow out from the Church in righteousness, peace, and joy (2 Cor. 3.12-18; Jn. 7.37-39; Rom. 14.17, 18).
Second, believers are a holy people because their churches are being built on the foundation of God’s Holy Word and according to the cornerstone which is our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 2.19, 20). No church can expect to refract the holiness of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ which strays from the teaching of God’s Word at any point, whether in its aims or means of ministry, or which fails to take growing in unity and maturity in Christ as its primary objective (Eph. 4.11-16). If we are conducting our worship, making disciples, or pursuing our mission in any way other than what the Scriptures teach, then we are compromising our calling to be a holy people.
Finally, the Church is a holy nation to the extent that members of the Body of Christ pursue holiness in the fear of God and hold one another accountable for holiness (cf. 2 Cor. 7.1; Gal. 6.1). It is in this sense that judging and judgment must begin with the house of God. Believers have a responsibility to help one another grow in the Lord Jesus Christ, and this includes exercising judgment not only on our own lives, but on the lives of those with whom we have been brought together as a local community of believers.
Judgment begins with the house of God when believers exercise loving and righteous judgment with one another for the sake of holiness.
The example of Paul
As difficult as it can be to judge others with righteous judgment, it can be even more difficult being on the receiving end of such judging. Peter should know.
Following his deliverance from Herod’s prison in Acts 12, Peter apparently made his way to Antioch – probably the “another place” mentioned in Acts 12.17 – where Paul had come to join Barnabas and others in ministering to the new church there (Acts 11.25, 26).
Everything was going well in Antioch, where Gentiles were coming to faith and being incorporated into the church as part of the holy nation and special people God was calling together. Peter would have been just fine with that, since, after all, the Lord had used him to open the door of the Kingdom to Gentiles (Acts 10), and he had approved Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles (Galatians 2).
But when a contingent of Judaizing theologians arrived in Antioch, Peter, not wanting to be excluded from their company, distanced himself from the Gentile believers and associated only with those who, because they were circumcised, were regarded by the Judaizers as the true believers.
For which duplicity, Paul jumped his case publicly (Gal. 2.11-21). Peter, and Barnabas right along with him, had caved-in to people-pleasing. He should have stood firm on the Word of God, knowing that the Holy Spirit was building the holy people of Antioch into one Body, precisely as Peter had been shown in Acts 9 and 10. But Peter did not stand firm on the Word; he sidled up to the erudite and articulate theologians from Judea, compromised holiness in himself and the church, and thus invited the judgment of his faithful colleague, Paul.
Paul exercised against Peter the first line of church discipline that Jesus described in Matthew 18.15-18. Jesus had said that we must confront our brethren when we know them to be in sin, so that we might gain them back for holiness (v. 15). If they resist our challenge, then we must bring another believer, who also has observed the compromising behavior of our fellow church member, and together we must call him to repentance (v. 16). If that doesn’t work, then we must take our brother before the elders – the judges – of our congregation, and bring formal charges against him (v. 17 – here “the church” indicates its elders). And if a brother or sister who is formally convicted of sin refuses to hear even the judges of the local community, then that member is to be put out of the Body of Christ until such time as repentance is achieved.
Paul put this practice to work in 1 Corinthians 5 by calling on the church to excommunicate a brother who was clearly practicing sin. But by 2 Corinthians 2, that brother had repented, and thus he was to be restored to the fellowship of believers.
Local churches are called to be holy communities unto the Lord, and it is the duty of every member of the local church to pursue holiness – in themselves and their congregation – in the fear of God. It is in this sense that judgment must begin in the household of faith, where in our own lives and the life of our community as a whole, we are working together to remove any planks of sin that might impede our ability to judge the world according to our calling in the Lord.
1. What structures or protocols exist in your church to facilitate the kind of judging and judgment explained in this article?
2. Would you say that growing as a “holy nation” is a primary goal of your church? Explain.
3. If we fail to pursue holiness in the fear of God – in ourselves and our churches – will we be able to fulfill our charge to judge the world? Explain.
Next steps – Preparation: Find out how your church practices church discipline, and make sure you are ready to fulfill your responsibility in this important discipline for bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
T. M. Moore
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This week’s study is part 2 of 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 2, Judge Not?
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.And when you order, we’ll send you a free copy of Bricks and Rungs: Poems on Calling.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.