So often people gravitate toward an extreme, very often because they are repulsed by the opposite extreme. Many people today have gravitated to an extreme. Understand that they do not believe they are going to an extreme, rather they are trying to do what they think is right. The extremes I am talking about today is that of extreme tolerance and the opposite extreme, judgmentalism.
The greatest virtue the Millennials believe in today is that of tolerance. The greatest good a person can do is to be accepting of all lifestyles, all actions, and all beliefs. A good person will extend freedom and liberty in the name of equality to everyone without any hint of disapproval. Allowing homosexuals to marry, men to use the women’s restroom, applauding sex-changes, these are all ways they show their tolerance. They see value in these lifestyles even if they do not believe in or practice the same things. They do not disapprove because of their postmodern belief that contradictory idea can simultaneously be true.
The question is, Can tolerance be taken too far? Like with anything, yes. While tolerance can be taken too far and made into an extreme, tolerance itself may be a virtue and glorify God. In Ephesians 4 Paul implores the Christians to walk worthily, he says,
[Eph 4:2 NASB] “…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love…” (ESV, “bearing with one another in love”)
Tolerance in the name of the Lord is a virtue. When a brother or sister or even an unbeliever insults you, the godly thing to do is tolerance without resentment with love and forgiveness. However, the tolerance being preached by the world today is not tolerance for insults done to you, rather it is tolerance for anything practiced by someone else—it is an extreme version of tolerance.
We look to the Church in Corinth and we see that they were practicing an extreme tolerance. They were trying to be accepting of all lifestyles, actions, and beliefs in the name of Christ.
[1Co 5:1 ESV] It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.
There was a man in the Corinthian Church who was in a relationship with his step-mother. Paul implies in verse 6 the Corinthians were even boasting about it; they were not just being tolerant, they were patting themselves on the back for being so tolerant. Perhaps they were proud of themselves for even accepting such a sinner into their midst. This is beyond tolerance, this is the extreme of tolerance.
Paul tells them, [1Co 5:2 ESV] 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
Can tolerance be taken too far? Yes. Paul tells them their reaction is the very opposite of what they were supposed to be doing. Instead of being so proud of their tolerance, they should have mourned over their brother’s actions and cast him away.
In their tolerance they overlooked two things: the sin and the sinner’s soul.
1) They overlooked the sin; Paul says, he may not be there but he has already determined that what this man is doing is wrong. The Corinthian Church has forgotten how horrible sin is and how sin permeates and propagates. If they accept sin into their fellowship, then sin will multiply and corrupt everyone.
In a world so saturated in sin, how easy it is to forget the abomination of sin! Sin is like leaven, Paul reminds them, that permeates the lump of dough. If you do not remove the leaven, the entire lump is infested by the leaven. Yet in the Passover feast where the Passover lamb was sacrificed, the leaven was to be taken out of the lump. If Christ is our Passover lamb who was sacrificed, then we ought to remove the leaven. Paul says all this to say our lives, our fellowship, and our Church need to remain unleavened—without sin.
[1Co 5:8 ESV] Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
2) The overlooked the state of his soul; the Church was so lost in focusing on themselves, patting their own backs, that they forgot that this brother has a soul that is in danger. In fact it is one of the purposes of the Church to assist each other toward eternal life and at times that means rebuking sin (v. 12).
[1Co 5:4-5 ESV] 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 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.
Why does this brother need his spirit saved unless his spirit is not currently saved? This brother has laid down his cross, taken up the practice of sin, and lost his soul. This would be a different problem if the man was an unbeliever who needed the Gospel and did not understand repentance to life. But this man was a brother who believed he was one of the Church, who believed he was right with God. This brother’s soul was lost, yet the Church allowed this brother to continue believing he stood in the grace of God. The Church had a responsibility to let this man know that those who are in God’s grace repent of sin and those who do not repent of sin are not in God’s grace.
Tolerance can very much be a virtue, but we cannot overlook sin or the state of a sinner’s soul. Paul even says himself that we are not to avoid every sinner, rather we are not to allow sin within our fellowship—we cannot tolerate our brother living a life of sin and losing his soul to Satan. This kind of tolerance is abhorrent to God.
On the other hand, because the world has been preaching this extreme brand of tolerance, many Christians have gravitated to the opposite extreme. In reaction to the preaching of tolerance, they moved from mild intolerance to the extreme, judgmentalism.
Is there a time, place, and way to judge that pleases God? Absolutely. 1 Corinthians 5 is an example of that; we are to judge sin—we are to determine whether something is right or wrong.
There is a difference between being judgmental and judging. Judging is simply taking the facts and coming to a conclusion. Paul said he judged the man sleeping with his step-mother—Paul heard the fact of this man’s sin and he made the conclusion that this man is doing something wrong. Being judgmental on the other hand is being overly critical of someone’s faults while not being critical to your own faults at all.
It was not wrong to say the man in Corinth was sinning and was losing his soul to Satan. It would have been wrong to consider or imply in any way that the man was lesser to you, that because of his sins, you were more important to God or he was less important. It would have been wrong to condemn this man for his sexual sins while you have been unashamedly having an affair for the past two years.
Judgmentalism comes in when you begin to overlook your own faults, especially the faults you are condemning others for having. The word for judge, krinō, is not an evil or good term. At times it can be used in the sense of condemning and at other times it can simply mean coming to a conclusion. It will depend upon how the word is used and the context.
[Mat 7:1-5 ESV] 1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 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? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
There is what is called psychological projection, where someone is subconsciously trying to deny they have a fault and end up seeing this fault in others. Like when someone who lies often but refuses to admit it, accuses others of beings liars. Sometimes we find ourselves guilty of spiritual projection, condemning someone for a sin that we are trying to hide ourselves or being overly critical of someone when you are hiding a sin in your life. You end up rebuking others to shift the blame that deserves to be on you.
When you condemn someone for doing something that you yourself do, you are a hypocrite with a beam in your eye. When you look down on someone for their sins and lift yourself up, you are self-righteous and judgmental. Truth is, we must not judge anyone of sin unless we are first judging ourselves.
Notice in Matthew 7:1-5, that the man with the log was right to help his brother’s speck when the log was removed. It is a brotherly duty to help our fellow Christians with their sins. The problem, what caused this brother to be a hypocrite, was the (same) sin was so much prevalent in his life. The man with the log needed more help than the one he was trying to help. The picture Jesus is conjuring in our mind is one of a man who is obviously in no position to help! Yet without the log in his eye, he was right to try to help his brother.
It was not wrong to judge the actions of the man in Corinth: he was sinning. I was not wrong to judge the state of the man’s soul: he was refusing to repent and thus was lost to Satan. However, it would have been wrong to judge this man guilty, if a Corinthians never looked at his/her own faults, it would have been wrong to look down upon this man and to think him/herself better. If would have been wrong for the Corinthians to think to themselves, “Well, I would never do that because I am a faithful Christian,” “I guess he doesn’t take his faith seriously like me,” “He must not be dedicated to God like us.” To such things Paul would say,
[1Co 5:2 NIV] You are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning …?
What is the proper reaction to seeing your brother in unrepentant sin? The Corinthians were wrong to be proud of their extreme tolerance. To be judgmental, viewing this man’s sin as a reflection on his value would have been wrong too. The proper reaction to such a sight would be to mourn. We ought to be so invested in our brothers’ and sisters’ spiritual well-being that unrepentant sin would bring us to mourn!
It was wrong of the Corinthians to be tolerant to an extreme; but it is also wrong to do the opposite extreme and be judgmental, lifting yourself up and denying your own faults. Both extremes are wrong. Like with most cases the answer lies between two extremes.
Aristotle said, “Moral behavior is the mean between two extremes – at one end is excess, at the other deficiency. Find a moderate position between those two extremes, and you will be acting morally.” The moderate position between the extreme-tolerance the Corinthians showed and the judgmentalism of hypocrites is righteous judgment. One wonderful example of righteous judgment is John 8:1-11. There Jesus demonstrated the golden-mean of righteous judgment.
Jesus is in the middle of teaching at the temple when the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus.
[Jhn 8:4-5 ESV] 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
Every single piece of this event indicates it is a trap. They made sure to bring the woman in a public and crowded place. They are trying to force Jesus into a position where he must choose a side; either Jesus will say she must be stoned and the sinners would feel he no longer sympathized with them or Jesus must deny the Law of Moses and be condemned by the Pharisees. Plus, the woman was caught in adultery, but where was the man she was committing adultery with? Plus, history tells us by the time of Jesus, the Jews did not practice stoning for adultery. God’s word even tells us straightforwardly that this was a test so they could accuse him.
But Jesus is calm in the face of the trap. He writes in the sand. Perhaps he is thinking of his answer, perhaps he is writing their sins for them to read, perhaps he is waiting out the trap. They press Jesus for an answer.
[Jhn 8:7 ESV] 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
This is an allusion to Deuteronomy, which says the witness of a crime was to be the first person to cast a stone in a stoning. But in place of witness, Jesus says, “him who is without sin.”
Everyone was focused on this woman’s sin. She was thrown in the middle of the crowd, her sin was announced to everyone, her reputation ruined, and her fate soon to be sealed. Jesus takes the Pharisees, the scribes, and everyone present and places them in the woman’s place.
It is easy to throw a stone when everyone else is, but who would be willing to throw that first stone? Who would be willing to seal the fate of this woman? Who would be willing to sentence this woman to death? Who would be willing to look this woman in the eyes, pick up a stone, and throw it into her face? If you are innocent, then kill this guilty woman. If you are sinless, then kill the sinner.
They all understood the point. This woman sinned, but who hasn’t? This woman deserved death, but what if it was you who deserved death? This is more than just throwing stones—this is about condemning someone for their sins. Before we ever judge someone’s actions as wrong, we must first reflect on our own sins and place ourselves in their place.
[Jhn 8:10-11 ESV] 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
My favorite science fiction novel, Speaker For The Dead by Orson Scott Card, has a Catholic Cardinal tell of two rabbis in parallel situations. After researching it and finding nothing, I am convinced these are simply fictional. But regardless, they present what other rabbis might have done in the position Jesus was in.
“A great rabbi stands teaching in the marketplace. It happens that a husband finds proof that morning of his wife’s adultery, and a mob carries her to the marketplace to stone her to death. (There is a familiar version of this story, but a friend of mine, a Speaker for the Dead, has told me of two other rabbis that faced the same situation. Those are the ones I’m going to tell you.)
The rabbi walks forward and stands beside the woman. Out of respect for him the mob forbears, and waits with the stones heavy in their hands, ‘Is there anyone here,’ he says to them, ‘who has not desired another man’s wife, another woman’s husband?’
They murmur and say, ‘We all know the desire. But, Rabbi, none of us has acted on it.’
The rabbi says, ‘Then kneel down and give thanks that God made you strong.’ He takes the woman by the hand and leads her out of the market. Just before he lets her go, he whispers to her, ‘Tell the lord magistrate who saved his mistress. Then he’ll know I am his loyal servant.’ So the woman lives, because the community is too corrupt to protect itself from disorder.
Another rabbi, another city, He goes to her and stops the mob, as in the other story, and says, ‘Which of you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone.’ The people are abashed, and they forget their unity of purpose in the memory of their own individual sins. Someday, they think, I may be like this woman, and I’ll hope for forgiveness and another chance. I should treat her the way I wish to be treated.
As they open their hands and let the stones fall to the ground, the rabbi picks up one of the fallen stones, lifts it high over the woman’s head, and throws it straight down with all his might. It crushes her skull and dashes her brains onto the cobblestones.
‘Nor am I without sin,’ he says to the people. ‘But if we allow only perfect people to enforce the law, the law will soon be dead, and our city with it.’ So the woman died because her community was too rigid to endure her deviance.
The famous version of this story is noteworthy because it is so startlingly rare in our experience. Most communities lurch between decay and rigor mortis, and when they veer too far, they die. Only one rabbi dared to expect of us such a perfect balance that we could preserve the law and still forgive the deviation. So, of course, we killed him.” [Emphasis mine]
Only Jesus can do it so wisely. He was not on the extreme of over-tolerance because he recognized the sin and the punishment of sin. He was not on the extreme of judgmentalism because he caused everyone to reflect on their own sins. He found the golden-mean. The golden-mean of righteous judgment, where sin is condemned but the sinner still holds value. Where the sin has consequences, but where the sin can be forgiven.
It is so easy to gravitate toward extremes, the extreme of tolerance to be accepting of all lifestyles even sin or the extreme of judgmentalism to be over-critical of all who sin. But let us not be on these extremes. Let us find that golden mean and judge righteously.
Let us not be over-tolerant, to the point that we accept sin. Let us not be judgmental, to the point that we reject the person.
Let us be like Jesus who asserted the error of sin but was also willing to forgive. Let us be like Paul who told the Corinthians that the brother cannot live in sin and still be a brother, but if he repents and returns can be saved.
I think the key here in finding that golden-mean—the key to judging righteously is two-fold: Understand the abomination of sin and understand the value of a sinner.