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This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

1 Corinthians 4:1-6 ESV


You’ve heard me say this before, but our society is a society of tolerance. And by tolerance, I mean that most people, in an effort to get along, want to validate every worldview. If you’re atheist, that’s good for you. If you’re Muslim, that’s good for you. If you’re something else, that’s good for you.

Tolerance, the way the word is used today, is far more than putting up with something you don’t agree with. Tolerance, today, requires that you affirm or validate someone’s views.

That’s a problem because people who promote tolerance become quickly intolerant of anyone who rejects their views on tolerance. And Christianity does that. As Christians, we affirm Jesus’s words:

     I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV)

You just can’t get around the idea that Jesus is the only way to eternity with the Father. If you’re a Christian and you believe the Bible, then Jesus is the only way to know God. Jesus is the only way.

Interestingly, the mantra for tolerance actually comes from the Bible, something Jesus said. Jesus said,

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

When you take this passage all by itself, it almost seems like Jesus is saying we can’t judge the behaviors, the beliefs, or the eternal destiny of anyone.

It almost seems like Bible verses contradict each other; Jesus says in one place that we shouldn’t judge and in other places that there is only one way.

The problem is that we take passages like Matthew 7:1 completely out of their context—that is, we read it without reading the verses around it to understand Jesus’s whole idea.

When the Bible’s authors speak of judgment, they aren’t always addressing the same group of people. Sometimes, they are talking about judging people in the church. Other times they are talking about judging people in the world.

And then, there are two ways that we judge people. Sometimes we judge people’s hearts or motives. And other times we judge people’s actions.

And that’s where we will start today’s message, with…

Judging the Heart and the Action

I want you to notice the difference between a judgment of the heart and a judgment of actions.

In our text Paul writes,

     But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment… (1 Corinthians 4:3–5, ESV)

Here, Paul says he doesn’t care about being judged by the church or any human institution. He says, he doesn’t even judge himself. Although he does not believe there is any reason for judgment, he is aware that he is not qualified to judge himself or other people.

And that’s kind of weird because Paul repeatedly judges the churches on when they sin. Let’s look at a few passages.

     Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Ephesians 4:31, ESV)

     Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. (Romans 13:13, ESV)

     Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20–21, ESV)

Those are pretty judgy, but how’s this for judgment?

     Now the works of the flesh are evident:  immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19–21, ESV)

Here’s what you have to realize about Paul. He’s not afraid to call people out when they sin. At times he calls out individuals, even by name, for the actions that they do. Identifying issues of sin is not what Paul is talking about when he says he can’t judge someone.

So, what could Paul possibly mean?

Well, let’s read the whole context. Look at the rest of 1 Corinthians 4:5,

     Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5, ESV)

Here in the context, you can see clearly that Paul leaves a certain kind of judgment for Jesus to deal with when he returns for the church. He calls it, ‘the purposes of the heart.’ We might just say, your motives.

So, there is a clear difference between judging the motives of the heart versus the actions of an individual.

Consider this.

I have the most random memories sometimes. I remember my uncle feeding lasagna to my hamster and it died. I now know that didn’t happen, so I’m not sure if this did either, but I’ll tell the story.

When we were kids, I remember going to the store with my mom and older sister. My sister had picked up a tube of chapstick to ask my mom to buy it and then forgot about it. So she carried it out of the store.

We were in the car when she realized she had it and she was mortified. She was embarrassed because she’s not a thief. She would never have taken it on purpose. Her heart was right, even though the action was wrong.

And then the opposite seems obvious. Often you want to do something wrong—your heart is wrong—but you don’t act on it. You see, the actions and the heart don’t always coincide so they need separate judgments.

That’s one contrast, but let’s also talk about the other contrast,

Judging the World and the Church

Again, we’re going to see a distinction. There’s a difference in how we are to judge people within the church and outside of the church.

Let’s start with the world at large. Paul writes,

     Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? (1 Corinthians 6:2, ESV)

In this passage, Paul is absolutely saying that the church will stand as judge over the world. But, notice the word tense. The church does not stand as judge over the world right now. It’s a future judgment.

Look how Jesus said judging the world,

     If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:47–48, ESV)

There’s a parenthetical implication here. Jesus is saying that in his first coming, he did not come to judge the world. His first coming was to save the world. In his second coming, judgment occurs. That’s why we call it judgment day.

So then, people want to say, see…  

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

We should never judge anyone. In many ways, the world is right to claim that, but look at the rest of the passage. Jesus says,

     “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7:1–3, ESV)

I want to point out two elements of this passage that will help us interpret it.

First, notice Jesus warns against judging your brother. If this passage were about judging the world, then he might have said neighbor—you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye. But, he doesn’t. This is a warning for how we deal with each other as Christians. This is a passage about judgments within the church.

Second, notice that Jesus’s point is not that judgment should not occur. Rather, he says that you should not judge the deeds of your brother unless you have already acknowledged your own sin and ideally repented of it. It’s a warning against hypocrisy.

Jesus wants the person who judges to be humble and exposed. The more exposed and humble before Christ you are, the more you acknowledge your sinfulness, the more you are qualified to judge sin in the church.

That’s counterintuitive, though. You might think that the most righteous people in the church are the most qualified to judge. But they aren’t.  This is why the Apostle Paul considered himself ‘the worst of sinners.’ He loathed his sinfulness.

I’m not saying that judging is the job of the worst of sinners. It’s an understanding thing. I’m saying that you are not qualified to judge unless you acknowledge and hate your sin so much that you feel as though you are the worst of sinners.

You have to understand why.

Why do the unrighteous judge?

Jesus illustrates this principle well in the story of the rich young ruler. A man comes to Jesus and he tells Jesus, I’ve kept all the laws of Moses from my youth. This guy does everything right. He’s super churchy. And not only that, but he doesn’t have one of those testimonies of great deliverance from addictions and all that. Instead, his testimony is, ‘All the laws I have kept from my youth.’

He was the good kid and now he’s a really good man and he knows it.

So, he comes to Jesus and asks, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus responds,

     You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. (Mark 10:21, ESV)

Do you see what his problem was?

The problem is not that he was wealthy. His problem is he thought he was worthy.

He looked at his own life and saw how righteous he was compared to everyone else and figured he must be close to eternal life. He elevated himself to a place he ought not be.

So, Jesus responds, give it all up, make yourself low, and lift others up. Become poor and make others rich so that you see how low in spirit you really are.

This story isn’t a condemnation of wealth. It’s a condemnation of pride and self-worth.

Listen, if you let this rich young ruler with this great log of pride in his eye be the judge, he will condemn, not just the world, but God’s people with them.

That’s exactly what the Jews did, and they killed Jesus.

Jesus said,

     I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (John 12:47, ESV)

Jesus is about life, not death; salvation not condemnation.

We must say with Paul,

     Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15, ESV)

Until you consider yourself the foremost of sinners, you are not fit to judge the church or anyone else.

But, if, from a position of spiritual poverty, understanding the depth of your depravity, you have set your eyes on Christ and the grace offered through Christ’s sacrifice, and you come before the throne of God and say with Paul, ‘I am the worst of sinners,’ then you are ready to judge with the full grace of the cross of Christ.

So, with that said, there are four situations we judge in. The remainder of the message will be about…

Discerning Situations

… so that we will know how we are to judge.

We’re going to look at four different types of judgments mentioned in the Bible: Judging the deeds of people in the church, the hearts of people in the church, the deeds of people in the world, and the hearts of those in the world.

Let’s start with,

The Deeds of the Church

We are looking at judging a person who claims to be a Christian, part of Christ’s church. But, we aren’t talking about judging a person’s heart or a person’s salvation. Here’s what Paul writes in chapter 5 of 1 Corinthians:

     It is actually reported that there is…immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans…And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:1–5, ESV)

There’s a couple things happening here. Notice the judgment is about the immoral behavior. Paul says explicitly that his judgment against the behavior is for the purpose that the man’s spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord.

Paul does not say that this man is not a true believer because of his actions. Paul does not judge the heart, but he excommunicates him, kicks him out of the church, because his immorality is unacceptable among God’s people.

We absolutely, as Christians, must judge behaviors within the church. I want to be clear about this, though. We judge by the clear moral perspectives of scripture. We don’t judge actions according to our preferences and personal perspectives.

I had the funniest encounter years ago. I was a youth pastor at the time and I was playing drums for the youth group worship team. It was winter and cold inside so I was wearing a beany.

After youth group that night, one of the boys in the youth group confronted me to tell me how inappropriate and irreverent it was for me to wear a hat while leading the youth group in worship.  

And you may agree with this young man.

I’m thankful for that encounter, though, because it gave me an opportunity to show this young man the difference between cultural morality and biblical morality. You see, he was raised in a church culture that taught that men don’t wear hats in church. But, there’s nothing biblical about that tradition, so no judgment is actually warranted.

I know that I have cultural preferences that are not biblical preferences, so I don’t judge according to those preferences. But, when we are talking about clear issues of immorality, like the Corinthians were dealing with, we have to make judgments on those things, again, judging the action and not the heart.

Why not the heart?

Well, let’s move that way and talk about judging,

The Hearts of the Church

Let’s recall the last statement in that last passage. Paul wrote,

     you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:5, ESV)

Notice Paul’s pattern. He doesn’t judge the salvation of the Christian who commits, even a heinous sin. This is kind of interesting, because Jesus said this:

     By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:8, ESV)

People often take this to mean that we are right to judge the genuineness of someone’s faith by their actions. In other words, we can judge their hearts.

But, look closely. That’s not exactly what he said. Jesus did not say that our good deeds or our fruits are necessary for salvation. Rather, Jesus is exhorting those who are already believers, already have the right heart, are already saved, already have genuine faith, to produce fruit, to produce good deeds.

This is not a license to judge another person’s heart. This is an exhortation to live in accordance with your beliefs.

So, that’s the difficult thing. We are learning to follow Christ in life, but we still live in the flesh and are still influenced by our old habits and the world around us. If we are in Christ, we ought to seek to live righteously, but for Paul, it’s important to maintain that a person may do things that are horrible and sinful and still be a true believer, still be a Christian.

So, Paul says,

     It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. (1 Corinthians 4:4–5, ESV)

We don’t have the ability to reveal the motives of the heart; that’s something Jesus will do when the end comes.

So, we are to judge the deeds of believers in the church, but not their hearts.

But, what about in the world? Let’s look at judging,

The Deeds of the World

You probably know John 3:16, but let’s look at more of that passage. In verses 20 and 21 Jesus says,

     For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:20–21, ESV)

Notice Jesus’s presupposition. He assumes that wicked people know they are wicked. He assumes that sinful people know they are sinners.

Does that sound familiar?

It sounds a lot like Romans 1,

     For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18–21, ESV)

Paul says that all people know they are sinners under the wrath of God, by nature, and that because of our sin, our tendency is to retreat into the darkness so that our shame is not known to all.

That’s why we don’t want to go to church when we’ve had a hard week. We don’t want the shame that comes from bringing our mess out in public.

We hide our sin, deny our sin, make excuses for our sin, because we are fearful that our shame might be shown by the light.

There’s a trend right now that comes out of the south and the midwest of preachers who yell and condemn people from the pulpit in their sermons. They completely belittle, dehumanize, and condemn entire people groups.

Last week a friend of mine who I hadn’t talked to in a couple months sent me a text with a video from a preacher in Texas. And he was all excited about the video. He thought it was the greatest sermon he’d ever heard.

The video was painful to watch, but I sat through the whole thing. The preacher yelled and pounded the pulpit as he claimed that homosexuals and Hollywood were responsible for the moral decline of the US.

If you missed it last week, the moral decline of the US is actually our fault—the church. We gave up our influence. You can catch up on the website to hear that.

So, I pointed my friend to one simple passage to gain some perspective. I’m just going to give you one verse, because we will deal with the whole passage in a couple months. Paul writes,

     If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1, ESV)

Listen, if you want other people to hear the truth and believe the message of Jesus Christ, then you have to do that in love. No one repents of sin because someone publically shamed them and drug their sin out in front of everyone. No one repents because you yelled seemingly true things from a spirit of bitterness and anger.

Truth always comes with grace, mercy, and compassion.

Look what the author of Hebrews says about Jesus,

     For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15–16, ESV)

Jesus sympathizes with our human weakness and temptation to sin. But, more so, notice he says we are able to draw near to the throne of grace confidently! We aren’t drug before the throne to be shamed; Jesus is so compassionate, so full of grace and mercy, that we are able to confidently approach the throne of God.

How much more, then, should we, as Christ’s church, approach the world in a spirit of love, filled with grace, mercy, and compassion?

So, as we approach the final situation of judgment addressed by the Bible, you might be thinking, “If we don’t tell people about their sin, then how do they come to Christ?”

So, let’s go there. We’ll finish by talking about,

Judging the Heart of the World

To recap real quick, we’ve said we don’t judge the hearts of people in the church, but we do judge their actions. Outside the church, in the world, we don’t judge the actions of people, but notice, we do judge their hearts.

And you’re like, What? I can’t know what’s in a persons heart? You said Paul couldn’t judge his own heart? How can I judge someone else’s heart?

Well, if you believe the Bible, then you actually can know what is in the heart of a person who doesn’t know Jesus. You don’t need any special gifting and you don’t have to have any special intuition. You don’t need to take a Psychology class or anything like that. You just need to know what the Bible says.

I think Jeremiah said it the clearest. He said,

     The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV)

You see, he agrees with Paul. He says, you can’t understand your own heart. But, there’s one thing we know about the heart. It will deceive you. It’s a sick, twisted, and cursed heart that wants to lead you into immorality.

The natural desires and inclinations of a person will always lead them into ruin.

And the heart is many other things—that’s what makes it so hard to understand. But, above all things, the heart is desperately sick.

So, we have a judgment that always proves true. Everyone sins, everyone is broken, everyone has error, everyone has been unfaithful, everyone fails.

If you don’t believe me, then start asking people.

Hey, do you ever do things that you think are wrong? My pastor says everyone believes they’ve done things that are wrong. Do you believe that?

Just about everyone will admit they have. In fact, you don’t really need to worry about judging unbelievers’ hearts, because they’ll usually admit it if you ask them. They’ll just disagree about particular issues of sin and that’s OK, because if they come to know Jesus and believe the Bible, the Holy Spirit will reveal it to them.

So, let’s go back to our John 3 passage, because Jesus gets at something really helpful for us in this discussion about judgment. He says,

     But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:21, ESV)

Remember, we don’t judge someone’s deeds, because that would drag their shame out into the light and they won’t believe, because we’ve shamed them.

But, here Jesus says there is a way to bring them into the light.

Do you see what it is?

Jesus says they must do what is true. In other words, we teach people to do what accords with faith in Jesus. We teach people to love God and to love people. We teach people to be merciful, gentle, caring, humble.

That’s actually how Jesus told us to make disciples—to teach them to obey all that he has commanded, (Matthew 28:19-20.)

Instead of telling people their behaviors are bad, we tell them that God’s ways are good.

When we judge people for their sin, we shame them. But, when we tell people God’s ways are good and they follow them, then they come into the light. That’s the way it’s designed.

You can’t miss this. People don’t want to come into the light because they know their wickedness will bring shame upon them. But, look what actually happens.

     But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:21, ESV)

When they come into the light this way, they find out that the good things they do are actually God’s working through them. When they come into the light this way, they find that everything truly good is found in Christ alone. Everything worth living for is established under the dominion of Christ. Everything they ever needed and everything they never knew they wanted are promised to the children of God.