The readers are always good to push me to deal more thoroughly with issues through their comments. The following thoughts were originally posted by me in response to these excellent questions by Tina Sergent Seward —
Jay, how should we define the word “judge”? I sometimes wonder if, when people use the word “judge”, they are really saying, “Don’t call me out on my sinful behavior.” (Not saying you are doing that.) I think we should call sin, sin–but at the same time, I don’t want to look down my nose at people, because I definitely sin as well.
You’ve put your finger on several challenges that arise in interpreting Paul’s words. Let’s get the context in front of us —
(1Co 5:6-13 ESV) Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler– not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
Paul’s insider/outsider distinction should be obvious enough. But who is an “evil person” and what does “judge” mean?
Well, we all sin, and so we’re all “sinners.” But I think Price correctly puts his finger on the distinction in his comment. The Law of Moses distinguished between intentional and unintentional sin. The text here doesn’t say “sinner” but “evil person” — and the NET Bible translator notes helpfully point out,
An allusion to Deu 17:7; Deu 19:19; Deu 22:21, Deu 22:24; Deu 24:7; cf. 1Co 5:2.
It’s a phrase repeated throughout Deu as the sentence to be passed against someone who has been tried and found guilty of certain sins: idolatry, a false prophet, a son who will not honor the voice of his parents, a betrothed woman and the man with whom she commits adultery against her fiance, someone who refuses to honor the verdict of the priests in a disputed matter, someone who testifies in court falsely out of malice (intentionally), someone who sells a fellow Israelite into slavery.
Now, the language Paul uses is used in these passages. What do they have in common? They are all sins committed with a “high hand” (Num 15:30). These are sins committed by someone well aware that his conduct is sinful and who chooses to commit the sin anyway. Contrary to decades of bad teaching in the Churches of Christ, ignorance of the Law actually is an excuse. In fact, the sacrificial system for obtaining forgiveness was only available for those sins not committed intentionally.
(Num 15:28-31 ESV) 28 “And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. 29 You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. 30 But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.”
And so, “evil person” doesn’t refer to someone who, in good conscience, worships contrary to your conscience. Nor does it refer to someone who sins unaware of the law he is violating. It’s for those in rebellion (Heb 10:26 ff).
When Paul requires us to disfellowship “the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters,” he is referring to those who violated core teachings of the local congregation (not that God’s law varies, but what we teach clearly enough to know that our members a understand a given sin to be wrong will vary). What moral commands we teach and emphasize to our churches will vary, but it should be clear to all that swindling others is a sin — making the sin almost automatically high handed. Although, there are cultures where those who steal by being clever are admired. A convert from such a culture would not be high handed unless and until taught better.
[From a comment by John F:
In Asian (Taiwanese in my experience) this cleverness is more clearly seen as dishonoring your family if you do NOT take advantage of a situation. Example, someone foolishly leave the key in their motorcycle; doing so opens the item to theft and dishonors your family. If I see the key, and how you have dishonored your family, I am free (expected) to take advantage for the benefit of MY family.]
On the other hand, as to a questionable matter, such as IM, mailing someone a tract does not make them “taught better” because they very well may, in all good conscience, disagree. It’s about having a heart that obeys what it knows and understands to obey.
Even so, David was forgiven for his high handed sin against Uriah and Bathsheba — despite the fact that no sacrifice was available for such a sin. Rather, we see a new approach to forgiveness of sin in —
(Psa 51:16-17 ESV) 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
The point of purging someone from the church by disfellowship is to produce a broken and contrite heart — which will allow that person to be restored. Hence, we are not to disfellowship those who already have a broken and contrite heart. It’s not about retribution but about shaping a member’s heart to be more like the heart of Jesus.
[Further from a comment by John F:
The primary purpose of disfellowship is restoration of the transgressor.
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. NASU
What too often is missing is “you who are spiritual” and a “spirit o gentleness.”
There is a UNIVERSE of difference in going to someone and telling them they are in spiritual danger — one person may sound like they like the idea of you going to hell, , and another sound like it will break their heart to see you lost. Which approach is likely to be more spiritually effective? (I think I know.)]
So that’s what I take Paul to be trying to accomplish here.
(I’ll not go into detail here, but where a member is working to harm the members, such as by stealing from the gullible or seducing the young, he is to be removed to protect the flock. Jesus’ command regarding a wolf in sheep’s clothing applies, and is a very different case.)
Treatment of a judged brother or sister
You actually asked about the meaning of “judge,” but the Greek word covers a range of meanings and so context matters more than usual. Again, we’re instructed by Paul reference back to Deu when he says,
(1Co 5:12-13 ESV) 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
“Purge the evil person from among you” refers to the verdict of an actual trial. We don’t disfellowship except on the testimony of two or three witnesses, and the person accused must be allowed to present his or her side. In fact, the church has a duty to investigate the case carefully — as the passages referenced in the previous comment teach.
(Deu 17:2-7 ESV) “If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, in transgressing his covenant, 3 and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, 4 and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. 6 On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. 7 The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
We can’t ostracize someone based on rumor or innuendo. A Christian brother or sister is entitled to a fair hearing.
Treatment of outsiders
On the other hand, although we are required to impose church discipline on our members in appropriate cases, we are not allowed to disassociate ourselves from the sinners outside the church. Paul forbids it!
(1Co 5:9-10 ESV) I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
(1Co 5:12-13a ESV) 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside.
Paul’s language is clearly intended to communicate that we are NOT to judge outsiders. God will do this. Our job is to be the church Christ died for. It’s not to judge those outside the church.
“Judge” is krino in each use in 1 Cor 5. It has over a half-dozen possible meanings.
In v. 12, Paul uses “judge” to refer to Christians judging non-outsiders and as judging insiders (Christians). In the second case, clearly he is speaking of a judgment as determining whether a Christian has sinned with a high hand, intentionally, so that his salvation is in jeopardy (Heb 10:26 ff) and so he should be disfellowshipped in hopes of responding with a broken and contrite heart (repentance). We cannot judge whether a fellow Christian has fallen away, because that’s ultimately a question of the heart beyond our wisdom, but we can judge whether the Christian has sinned intentionally and rebelliously. We can judge whether the Christian is in jeopardy of falling away.
But such judgment as to outsiders is pointless. If a non-Christian engages in adultery or fornication, he has sinned, and perhaps with a high hand and perhaps not. But it doesn’t matter. He is lost. Our job is to convert him to Jesus — to seek and to save — and to teach him a better way of living and to ask him to join the rest of the church in so doing. But until he’s committed to follow Jesus, he’s not following Jesus, whether or not he sleeps around.
We’ve not been called to create a society that lives like Jesus without believing in Jesus. We’ve been called to invite the lost to believe in Jesus and to therefore follow Jesus. The Alabama legislature and Congress can pass a million laws against fornication or adultery, and no one will be saved. No one at all. In fact, we’ll have only forced people to follow God’s will on penalty of jail — proving that fear of jail can sometimes be as effective as fear of God — except that only fear of God saves.
Rather, Paul urges us to freely associate with the sinful world that surrounds us. Don’t withdraw. Don’t judge. Don’t follow their example. Teach Jesus. And by teaching Jesus, see people change by choice, not by fear of jail.
This is true whether we are speaking of homosexual conduct or heterosexual conduct. We are banned from judging those outside the church. BANNED.
So we should be busy getting our own lives cleaned up and preaching Jesus. God will handle the rest.
And Christianity will become far more attractive to the lost when we get out of the business of judging outsiders and get busy doing what we’re actually called to do.