1 Corinthians 3:1–17
Do you remember from last week how many trees God placed in the middle of the Garden of Eden? He put two trees there. Adam and Eve were told not to touch one of them and not to eat the fruit of that tree.
It doesn’t matter whether you think these are real trees or metaphorical trees, the point is that God gave the man a choice between two trees and then told him absolutely which one to choose. Don’t choose the knowledge of good and evil, God told them.
Until that time there was no knowledge of good and evil. All of God’s creation was good. There was only good. He wanted them to choose life. He wants us to choose life.
What was the first thing Eve said after she ate the fruit? Genesis 3:6 – ‘She took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.’
Her reaction was knowledge that she was naked and then shame. She made the judgement that being naked was bad. That was her idea and Adam’s idea. God never said it was bad to be naked or that it was good to be clothed.
When Eve chose knowledge of good and evil, judgement came into the world. We all of us do it all of the time. We judge others. We must not. God said don’t. The only opinion you are allowed to have about another person is that God thinks they were worth dying for. God says choose the tree of life. Love them.
How many times do you value a person based on appearance? How often do you ascribe to a person a lower status because you don’t like the size of their nose, the shape of their eyes, the colour of their hair, the brand of their phone, the way they talk, the lack of their education. How many times a day do we all do this without thinking, without voicing our thoughts. How often do you look at a beggar and think you are better than them. Or a person collecting cardboard.
Some people do it to themselves and think they are inferior because of the way they look, and spend millions on cosmetic surgery. Does God want you to have cosmetic surgery? Does he agree that your nose is not good and needs a doctor to make it better, the nose he made for you. Or does God say that he died for a nose just like yours. He loves you so much he died for you, so how dare you say you are not worth dying for.
How dare you say that you know better than God. How dare you say he is wrong, you are right, and you know better than him what is good. When you do that you are still eating from the wrong tree. You are still eating from the tree of knowledge. You should just love all people without any condition, without any judgement of value, despite everything.
Just love without ever getting anything back, even if they never say thank you. Even if they never value you. Even if they insult you, and steal your money and try to kill you.
We are followers of Jesus. We walk the way of Jesus. We do what we see Jesus do.
And what did Jesus do? Did he judge people? No, he got angry with the people who judged people. He got angry at the Pharisees. But Jesus sat down with all of the bad people and loved them. Jesus loved the people who hit him, whipped him and nailed him to a cross. Jesus loved the prostitutes and adulterers and tax collectors.
The only thing you are allowed to think when you look at another person is how much God loves that person. Do not judge. You don’t have the ability to judge correctly because you don’t know anything about them. You don’t even know enough to judge yourself correctly.
Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 4:4 – ‘My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.’
All the day you are deciding what is good and what is not good, or evil. But your decisions are rubbish and wrong and they divide and distance you from your fellow humans. And some of you are so judgemental that you are happy to be distanced from your brothers and sisters. But God says that is wrong. It is destructive.
Listen to the instruction of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 – ‘If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.’
As I was researching this topic of judgemental people I came across an article in a psychology magazine that illustrates it quite well. Let me quote what it said.
“A judgmental person is precisely the kind to go beyond discerning differences in people’s abilities to making inferences about their overall worthiness. To a judgmental person, a bad singer is inferior not just on the dimension of singing, but is inferior on the more fundamental dimension of being human as well.”
You may want to object at this point that I am being judgemental in stating things so boldly and absolutely, and that is pretty much the standard postmodern view. But it is not the Bible’s view. There is one kind of judgement that we absolutely have to do.
Although the Greek word is the same – kino – it helps if in English we use another word. That word is ‘discern’. We need to distinguish between things. We do it all the time with food, discerning what food is good for us and what would poison us.
For example, Jesus says in John 7:24 – ‘Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.’
And we have an example in 1 Corinthians 5 of a man sleeping with his ‘stepmother’. Paul tells the Corinthians to remove this man from their fellowship. He then says, ‘It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you”.’
So there are times when we do have to judge the actions of fellow believers. Not outsiders. We have no say in the lives of outsiders, according to Paul.
But what we need to see is the differences between being judgemental about other people, for after all we are the worst of sinners, and discerning whether actions or behaviours are helpful or a hindrance.
In a fellowship we take the time to get to know each other, we make the effort to understand each other, we grow to trust each other, we practise loving each other without condition. On the basis of one-way love, we are able to discern those things in a person’s life that might be unhelpful, and with their permission point them out gently.
Our absolute task is to eat from the tree of life. We are always to love people and not to judge them. But on occasion, in the right circumstances, we need to discern regarding things, not people. Most of our discerning is actually blundering around like a bull in a china shop, and it is extremely damaging. We do this only when we have loved enough to see as God sees, and when we have permission.
Please turn away from the knowledge of good and evil, and turn toward life.
Embrace love. Live with the life of Jesus filling you and shining from you. Be a blessing to everyone you meet today. And tomorrow. And next year.
Bless you. Let’s live in love.