How Not to Correct a Fellow Christian

Audio Transcript

There are right ways to correct other believers, and there are wrong ways to correct other believers. So, what’s the difference? Romans 14:13 says, “Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” Here’s John Piper explaining the meaning of this point from a 2005 sermon.

I take judgment — “Why do you pass judgment on your brother?” (Romans 14:10) — to mean two things.

Spirit of Brotherhood

First, don’t be critical of your fellow believer without manifesting strong affections of brotherly love. You can see how I’m saying it because I’m leaving room for all the texts that say to correct one another, admonish one another, rebuke one another. You’ve got to pass judgment if you’re going to obey the Bible.

But this text has got to mean something when it says, “Don’t judge,” and the first thing I’m picking up is from the word brother. See the highlight on “your brother”: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother?” In other words, be careful here that when you undertake to do some correcting, some admonishing, some rebuking, let brotherhood be all over it — not a spirit of condemnation.

We created a word for this bad thing: judgmental. Where did that word come from? Why was that created in English? This verse. That’s why — or something like this verse. Everybody knows there’s a right time to correct someone and tell them they’re doing something a little stupid. And there’s a way to do it and a wrong time to do it that puffs you up.

“If you want to invest some emotional energy in conflict, deal with yourself 99 percent of the time.”

Get the log out first; then you will see clearly how to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:1–5). Logs in eyes make for poor eye surgeons. You club people to death with the logs hanging out of your eyes. Can you get this picture? Someone says, “Excuse me, there’s a speck in your eye,” and as they looked for that speck, they proceed to bash the other person with the log in their own eye. Probably they were smiling as Jesus used this, and then they just collapsed with self-condemnation.

So, the first meaning, I believe, of not passing judgment on your brother is this: don’t be critical of your fellow believer without manifest affirmation of brotherly affection. If you don’t have it, you’ve got a problem — a big problem.

Here’s the second meaning I think it has. I think it means, in addition, don’t treat them as unbelievers. Don’t pass final judgment on them. Don’t say to a brother, because of some meat thing or vegetable thing or day thing or wine thing, “You can’t be a Christian. You’re not a Christian.”

Humility and Gentleness

Now, here’s what I think despise means — “Why do you despise your brother?” (Romans 14:10). I take it to mean: don’t treat your brother scornfully without brotherly affection. You roll your eyes, and you cluck your tongue, and you turn your head, and everything about your body language is despising and scornful and belittling and disdainful, and there’s nothing brotherly about it.

And so, I think the word brother in Romans 14:10, repeated those two times, is meant to awaken affection that mellows and softens and sweetens any correcting that we need to do of each other.

The command is clear: don’t judge; don’t despise your fellow believers by treating them as unbelievers or being critical of them without brotherly affection. In other words, when judgment is needed, do it the way Paul said to do it in Galatians 6:1–2. And do it the way Jesus said to do it in Matthew 7:5. Let me read those again.

Here’s Paul’s way of interpreting Jesus’s command: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression” — so, there’s reason to correct here. “You who are spiritual” — and you might think spiritual will puff you up. That’s not spiritual to be puffed up. Watch the effect of it: “You who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). In other words, watch out for the log in your own eye.

And here are Jesus’s words: “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” (Matthew 7:5). If you want to invest some emotional energy in conflict, deal with yourself 99 percent of the time. You can save a marriage that way.

We All Will Be Judged

Let’s go to the argument. The argument is in the second half of verse 10, down through verse 12. And I’ll read it with you. I’m starting at the beginning.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
     and every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

“Every single person will individually stand before the Creator of the universe and give an account.”

He says two times we’ll be judged: “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (verse 10), and then he says it again in verse 12: “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” And in between those two statements comes the basis of them in the Old Testament from Isaiah 45:23: “For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’” He’s picking up on the every here.

What’s he stressing in these three verses? I think he’s stressing the words every, each, and all.

  • Verse 10: “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” No exceptions.
  • Verse 11: “Every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”
  • Verse 12: “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

So, you’ve got the word each, you’ve got the word every, and you’ve got the word all. That’s the stress in these three statements. It means that every single person in the sound of my voice will individually stand before the Creator of the universe and give an account of your life. Think about that a lot. Think about it when you go to bed at night, and think about it when you get up in the morning.

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