What right do Christians have criticizing non-believers? I ran across a verse the other day that smacked me upside the face. It was in 1 Corinthians 5, and it may answer the question.

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”

That verse (v. 12) is written by Paul the Apostle on the heels of a confrontation about sexual immorality in the midst of the Corinthian church. A dude was shacked up and sleeping with his dad’s wife (eww!), and Paul’s judgment of the man is harsh. “Hand this man over to Satan…so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” The hope of Paul, I suppose, is that the man will come to terms with his sin and repent. But until then, the church should have nothing to do with him.

Paul reminds the Corinthians — Christians residing in a sex-crazed city with temples devoted to sensual worship acts in adoration of goddesses — that they should “not associate with sexually immoral people.” But, anticipating the implications of this (namely, that they couldn’t talk to 80% of their city or evangelize those lost in this sinful idolatry) he clarifies what he is saying.

“Not at all meaning [that they should avoid] the people of this world who are immoral…in that case you would have to leave this world,” he says in verse 10 before continuing in verse 11:

“But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral…do not even eat with such people.” Then Paul continues with that verse that smacked me upside the head.

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”

Paul’s point is clear: avoid the sexually immoral who claim to be believers. Don’t even eat with them.



It got me to thinking about how quick the church is to judge the sexual habits (or any behavior) of the non-Christian public. Not only are we as believers quick to make judgments, but we often go so far as to completely disassociate. We take Paul’s advice to “not have anything to do with those people,” but we’ve got the wrong set of people.

I have heard — and said — my fair share of judgement, critique, and hostility toward non-believers. We lament the state of our culture and play the victim, or we angrily argue against certain behaviors that we don’t accept as Scriptural. I’m not saying we should accept those lifestyles or choices we believe are harming our society, nor am I suggesting that we should actively support them. I’m just saying that we spend a fair amount of time casting judgment over “those people.”

But our judgmental glare is aimed at the wrong “those people.”

We spend a lot of time thinking and acting judgmentally toward the immoral outside the church. But like the Corinthians, we don’t seem to take such a strong stand against the immorality inside. When was the last time someone got kicked out of your church for ongoing sin they refused to repent of?

To be sure, I don’t think Paul is making the case here that we shouldn’t speak out about sin — I just think he is reminding the Corinthians that it is their primary role to call out sin among them and let God deal with the unbeliever. Listen to verse 13 one last time, “God will judge those outside,” Paul says. Maybe instead of going crazy over every unbeliever’s sin we should take care of our own dirty laundry as the people of God.

How would the church in America be different if we took Paul’s advice and reserved judgement for the community of faith and reserved massive amounts of empathy and grace for the community at large? So often we reverse the two.  By holding the unbeliever at arm’s length and embracing the unrepentant believer among us, we hurt both groups. We damage the church (exactly what Paul is warning against) and disillusion the non-believing public.

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”

It’s a good question.

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