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. – Romans 14:10-12 ESV
Don’t despise. Don’t judge. To judge is to assume that you know what is right and wrong – for everybody. To despise is to treat with contempt those who, by your estimation, are “weaker” in their faith. Notice that, in both cases, Paul warns against treating your brothers in Christ this way. When you do, you are playing God. You are taking on a role that does not belong to you. Jesus warned His disciples, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 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?” (Matthew 7:1-3 ESV). In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37 NLT). It is presumptuous and dangerous for us to assume the role of God in the life of another believer. The day is coming when I will give an account for my own actions, but God will not ask me to give an account for my brother or sister in Christ. Paul reminded the believers in Corinth, “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body” (2 Corinthians 5:10 NLT). God will be our judge. He will determine whether what we have done was right or wrong. He will decide the quality of the works we have done since coming to know Christ. This will all take place at the Bema Seat of Christ. This judgment has nothing to do with our salvation, but with the rewards we will receive in heaven. Paul talks about this very event in his letter to the believer in Corinth: “Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NLT).
But it is interesting to not that, on another occasion, Paul wrote the following words to the same church: “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’” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13 NLT). Here Paul is telling believers to judge one another. But notice the difference. This has to do with sin in the life of the believer. It is not about grey areas or personal preferences. It has nothing to do with someone’s opinion. If the Word of God condemns their action as sin, then we are to deal with it accordingly. In this case, Paul was addressing an issue in the church in Corinth that had become intolerable. He painted a clear picture of the problem. “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2 NLT). Rather than condemn this man’s actions as unacceptable, they were approving of it by gladly tolerating it in their midst. In fact, they were evidently bragging about their progressive tolerance. So Paul let them have it. “Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old ‘yeast’ by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7 NLT). Earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul had written, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good” (Romans 12:9 NLT). It is not loving to tolerate and to overlook sin in the life of a brother or sister in Christ. And it does not make you more “spiritual” to refuse to judge someone in the body of Christ who is blatantly and consistently sinning. Paul gave us clear directions for dealing with sin in our midst. “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1 NLT). James says virtually the same thing. “My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins” (James 5:19-20 NLT).
Remember, the context of Romans 14 is judging and despising one another based on personal opinion, not the Word of God. It is to determine what is right and wrong based on your own standard, rather than God’s. It is similar to what the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day had done. They had developed their own set of rules and regulations that had little or nothing to do with the Word of God. And they judged others based on their ability to live up to their self-appointed standards. That was not their job. God had not appointed them the arbiters of truth. He had not assigned them the role of determining right and wrong. God has made it clear what sin is. And we have no business judging sin among the lost. But we do have a responsibility to judge and deal with sin in the body of Christ because it can be infectious and deadly. But even in judging the sin among ourselves, we are always to do it with love, desiring to see our brother or sister restored in their relationship with God.
We play God when we condemn what God has condoned and approve of what God has forbidden. The prophet Isaiah warned those who did such things. “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever” (Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT). Solomon wrote, “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—both are detestable to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15 NLT). We must constantly control our desire to judge and despise others based on nothing more than our own opinions. But we must also be careful to refrain from playing God by ignoring His Word and tolerating what He has clearly forbidden.