Judgment vs Accountability

I recently had a discussion with someone at our church who was unhappy with me because I didn’t feel they were following a biblical approach to a problem they were having with another person. It’s a difficult situation, but I pointed out to my friend that the Bible doesn’t give us a pass just because the other person is really difficult even to the point of being untruthful and slanderous.

It was my friend’s response that I want to talk about today. “You’re judging me,” it what she said. I replied, “Yes, I am because you’re not doing what scripture calls you to do as a Christian.”

Somehow or another as Christians we’ve fallen into this big trap of thinking we can’t hold each other accountable – and yes, judge each other’s actions against biblical standards – because of Jesus’ command not to judge one another. It’s important that we sparse what Jesus is talking about when it comes to “judging” versus the necessity of Christians to hold each other accountable to God’s word.

I completely agree with Jesus that judging is a bad thing but let’s define judging for what it is. Judging is looking at another person’s actions in such a way that you are pronouncing guilt upon them as if you are in the position of judge, jury and executioner. Jesus, of course, was against this as He points out in Matthew 7:1 (Judge not lest ye be judged); the story about the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11… “Those without sin throw the first rock”); and Matthew 7:5 (Take the plank out of your own eye before removing the sawdust from your brother’s eye).

Jesus’ point in all of this was to show the hypocrisy of those who thought they could judge others when in fact they were as guilty as those they attacked. There is only one judge and that is God and we are not God! Our job is not to determine someone’s guilt and punish them.

Our job is, however, to hold fellow Christians accountable to scripture.

I’ve shared this verse before but it is the basis for which we in the church have the right to speak into each other’s lives. Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:9-12 says this:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[a] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?

Paul clearly is stating that we don’t judge outsiders but as for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ we do indeed judge them – or more appropriately, hold them accountable to the teachings of Christ.

Here are just some of the scripture verses addressing this that may help clarify church accountability:

Galatians 6:1-2 ESV

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

James 5:16 ESV

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Matthew 18:15-17 ESV

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence 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, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

James 5:19-20 ESV

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Ephesians 4:25 ESV

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Colossians 3:16 ESV

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Hebrews 3:12-13 ESV

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Hebrews 13:17-18 ESV

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Luke 17:3 ESV

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,

Over and over and over again we are told that we must not just hold those in the church accountable but also must be willing to be held accountable ourselves! Scripture says that the wise person accepts correction gladly because it is helpful to them.

As I explained to my friend, my goal in correcting her was because I care for her and want her to do things the way Jesus wants them done even though it is extremely hard in this case. I wasn’t declaring her guilty; I was showing her what scripture demands of us as Christians and asking her to reconsider her approach to her problem.

And that is the difference between judging someone and holding them accountable. The motive is not to punish someone the motive is actually to restore them to God’s will for their life.

Correction is one of the most difficult things to accept whether at work, at home or in church. All of us respond in defensiveness – it’s natural. But once we get over that we need to thank God for the people He has put into our lives to correct us when they do it with the motive of restoring us gently as scripture prescribes.

Brothers and Sisters, never be afraid to correct a fellow believer – you actually are doing them a favor. Do it gently with humility in love. And never be offended when someone corrects you because they are doing you the favor even if you don’t see it.

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