Every day, someone is going to do something that irks or frustrates us. Some may have higher thresholds of “irkedness”, but let’s face it. People do things we deem wrong. We could get into the debate of absolute truth and morality, but no one can really live as an absolute relativist (now there’s a nice oxymoron). Someone backs into your car and drives away without stopping. “That’s wrong!!” We know in our hearts there is right and wrong. But once that is established, what do we do with it?
Suppose someone has said or done something wrong, and suppose it is in the church context. Suppose someone has spread gossip about you, without validating any of the rumors. What are your options? There would seem to two.
- “Don’t judge.” Matthew 7:1 seems to be the world’s favorite verse to use against Christians. There we have it, end of the story. Right? But should we really just remain silent? First of all, John 7:24 says “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment”. Uh oh. A contradiction. Now the world really has us on the hook. Or is it? Matt 7:1 isn’t literally saying not to judge in any circumstance, as we can and should make right/wrong decisions throughout our lives. But it is saying that we should not judge in the sense of condemning someone else. When we do such a thing, we judge our brother and the Law, we are effectively putting ourselves above the Law and even the Lawgiver, God. We see that we are in effect called to make judgments.
That being the case, it leads to a second option.
- Fight fire with fire! Let them have it! Just think of the picture. When have you ever seen a bigger fire put out a smaller fire? Yet we are tempted to do this in the church. It’s somewhat amusing to survey and find how many of us claim to have the gift of discernment. I guess we all feel like we have so and so “figured out.” Unfortunately, it too often leads to the next step of thinking that our discernment needs to be voiced by ripping into another Christian for the sinful wrong that we think we’ve discerned. Hmm…the gift of discernment has more likely become the gift of carnage.
Are we stuck between these two options? No, let’s not fall into the logical fallacy of bifurcation here.
A better option to consider is that given in Leviticus 19:18 “ You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” This represents a clear picture of the application of putting off (the wrong) and putting on (the good). Jesus applies that further in the 2nd of His commandments.
Finally, let’s consider fleshing this out a bit further. Suppose you notice a sin by a believer in the church (1 Cor 5:12) that really needs to be addressed.
- First, consider Matt 7:5, which tells us to “first take the log”. It doesn’t even say to look for one. It assumes there is one.
- After having done so, we can approach the brother or sister in a priestly manner, essentially saying that “there, by the grace of God I go”, humbly realizing our own fallibility. We are now a beggar simply telling another beggar where to find a piece of bread.
- Finally, we speak the truth IN LOVE. Our desire is not to take the other person down through vengeance, but to build them up!