A Cross-Shaped Life: Judging the Judges

06 Mar A Cross-Shaped Life: Judging the Judges

A Cross-Shaped Life:  Judging the Judges
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
March 7, 2021
Michelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church

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What is the first thing that comes to mind when I say the word “judging”?  That word has come to have such negative connotations that sometimes we forget that judging and judgments are a regular and normal, even necessary part of our lives.

One immediate example that comes to mind is sports.  From a referee blowing a call in the Super Bowl that cannot be reviewed by instant replay, to iffy balls and strikes in the baseball umpire’s strike zone, to gymnastics controversies in which judges have long been accused of favoritism, judging comes with the territory on the court, the field, the ice, and the mat.

The entertainment industry is also dominated by judging.  Last weekend the Golden Globe trophies were handed out and those will soon be followed by the Grammy’s, the Emmy’s and of course, the Academy Awards, with the winners of each of these determined by people make judgments about the various nominees.  You could also think of American Idol.  So You Think You Can Dance? America’s Got Talent.  Last Comic Standing. America’s Next Top Model.  It’s become formulaic.  Competitive TV shows put any group of people with any skills you can imagine in front of a group of judges, blending entertainment with evaluation to feed the American fascination with winners and losers.


Education is built around making judgments as teachers grade their students’ tests, projects, and papers.  And that carries over in the workplace as those annual performance reviews roll around and often determine whether we get a raise or not, and if so, how much.

With all this judgment surrounding us, isn’t it great that there’s no judging in the church?  Right?!  What a relief that no one is dissecting the sermon. “Hey, I thought the preacher hit a home run today, didn’t you, Dear?”  “Nah, I didn’t get much out of that one; I thought she was off her game.” 

The truth is that we are continually evaluated by others, be they people above us in the corporate hierarchy or neighbors in the community.  We’re judged in terms of our achievements, our competence, our personality, our looks, our social status, our children’s accomplishments, our bank accounts.  And we are also doing a lot of judging, often based on the same sorts of criteria.

In today’s text, Paul finds himself the object of other people’s judgment, but in an unexpected twist, Paul turns the tables and judges the judges.

To do this text justice, to grasp how it speaks to us and what it says about living a cross-shaped life, we need to start by clearing up the misconception that “Christians shouldn’t judge.”  The Greek word used in this passage is krinw and it has three general meanings: to evaluate, to decide, and to condemn.  The first two, to evaluate and decide, are encouraged in believers; the third meaning, to condemn, is forbidden.

The trouble for us arises because krinw is almost always translated as the verb “to judge” regardless of whether it is used in the positive sense or the negative one, so we have to use context to help us see what is meant in a particular passage.  Speaking to the Corinthian church, Paul says these are some examples of when Christians may, or should, krinw:

• Discerning spiritual truths (2:15)
• Evaluating ungodly behavior of other believers, not unbelievers (5:12)
• Deciding between two options (7:37)
• Evaluating the truth of teachings (10:15)
• Judging our own sin and motives (11:31)

So it’s too simplistic to say, “Don’t be judgmental.”  There are clearly times when God expects us to use the intellect, wisdom, and discernment that we’ve been given make certain kinds of judgments.  That is one aspect of having a mature faith verses an immature faith as we talked about a couple of weeks ago.

But Paul also puts some things off-limits.  Here in chapter 4, he is appropriately judging inappropriate judgers.  And most of all, Paul is elevating the role of the Divine Judge above any and all human judges.

Human judgment
When Paul prohibits the judgment that all Christians should avoid, that of condemnation, he is echoing Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

In the gospel account, Jesus conjures a brilliantly ridiculous image of a person walking around with an 8-foot two-by-four sticking out of an eye socket, almost decapitating his neighbors as he turns in their direction to suggest that they remove the speck of sawdust from their eye.

Neither Jesus nor Paul is condemning judgment per se.  They are denouncing condemnation because that is something only God can do.  Humans are unable to know the heart, the motive, and the intentions of others.  That is knowledge only God has, and without it, we are not in a position to condemn someone else.  

Practically speaking, how do we avoid judging others in inappropriate ways?  You know you’re condemning others when you elevate yourself above them.

“That was really stupid!”  And you don’t ever do something stupid?
“All they want to do is stir up trouble.”  And you don’t?

“She is the laziest person in the family.”  And you are without reproach?

Paul says we shouldn’t say these things about others or even harbor these kinds of attitudes.  But what about when we hear these kinds of things said about ourselves?  In that case, Paul suggests we shrug it off, and let God be our judge.  Instead of defending or retaliating, we might:

Confess our need for good evaluation.
Examine ourselves honestly for any truths we need to hear or see.
Choose not to believe unfair condemnation.
Remind ourselves of who the real Judge is.

Divine judgment
“Only God can judge me” is a popular tattoo, often translated into Hebrew or some other native language.  Athletes, convicts, and religious people all wear it.

Are the inked disciples right?  According to Paul, they are.  He claims that all stewards should be found trustworthy.  And even though he is innocent in his own evaluation, he isn’t yet acquitted.  God judges and sees the true purposes of the human heart.

Paul is speaking of his own ministry, but the idea holds true for all of us.  All Christians are stewards.  We are stewards of God’s creation, of our time, our relationships, the money God gives us, of our gifts and talents.  Without exaggeration, we are stewards of the whole of who we are and of all God has given us.  The haunting reality is that God does not see just our outward actions.  God knows us inside and out and knows what we do and don’t do with all that has been entrusted to us.  Our actions, our thoughts, our intentions, our heart.  God knows it all.

So what are the implications?  For starters, we need to take Paul’s example. Shun the condemnation of others and cling to the commendation of God (v. 5).  Os Guinness calls this responding to the Audience of One.  That’s his phrase for practicing a spiritual discipline by which we define ourselves by God’s perfect opinion of us.  Not others’ opinions.  Not even our own opinion which contains the negativity we’ve heard and internalized throughout our lives.  God’s opinion of us is that we are loved, cherished, and valued.  We are worthy of being known and noticed by the God of the universe.  We are important to the work of creation and redemption that God continues to do.  We are God’s beloved.  That is God’s opinion of us, and it needs to form and shape everything we understand about ourselves which in turn shapes how we live with one another.

Second, Paul’s letter invites us to “live clean” in joyful response to God’s grace at work in us.  God’s judgment of us is always merciful and loving, meant to steer us toward a better and more satisfying way to live.  It helps us be our best selves, freeing us from our egos that crave approval from others.  That God judges us is a good thing, a beneficial thing, a work that, if we cooperate with it, can refine us, bring from us more gold and less chafe, and enable us to live a more beautiful and loving cross-shaped life.

Coming to the Table of Christ this morning is the perfect opportunity to consider, under the bright light of God’s all-knowing judgment, what needs to change in us?  The Internet history on our smart phone?  The credit-card bill?  That attitude about the neighbor?  The secret addiction?  The road rage?  Our careless treatment of the planet?  Our self-loathing?  

Men and women, let us, with courage and faith, not miss God’s invitation to take a hard look in some hard areas and do the hard work that moves us toward being trustworthy stewards of the lives God has given us.  What is God showing you this morning about your judgements of self and others that is keeping you from living a cross-shaped life?

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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