Once, the most popular and well-known verse in scripture was John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” It was a message of love and hope, the gospel in a verse. Studies have shown that today, the most popular and well-known verse in scripture is instead Matt. 7:1, “Judge not or you too will be judged.” It is a message of warning and says nothing of the gospel. This change perfectly captures the change in our society and its view of the church and our message.
Taken alone, as it far too often is, this passage essentially says “mind your own business”. From “judging not” to specks and planks, when this is all you read of the Sermon on the Mount, let alone of Jesus’ full message captured in 4 gospels, you get a terribly telescoped view of Christianity. Society reads this and says, “Everything we do is fine, and if you tell us it’s not then you’re breaking Jesus’ rule of not judging.” I’ve heard this in varying degrees for my entire 22 years of ministry, and too often from within the church itself. But this is not the whole of Jesus’ message to us.
Living in community, we are called to love one another, and that love requires that we hold each other accountable for our behavior. However, this only works if we are willing to submit ourselves to the care and council of the community. If we are not, then their corrections will go unheeded and present themselves as “judging”. This is the difficulty of the church in today’s individualistic culture. We listen to corrective and decide whether we want to to do it. If not, we claim them to be “too judgy” and leave. Without submission to one another out of respect for Jesus Christ, there can be no mutual correcting. And so our society, in which submission is unknown, can only see loving correction as “judging”.
We are called as the church to a better way, to be the community that loves enough to correct, and enough to submit to correction.