I think Christians have gotten away from the reproof for fear it is judgment. Don’t get me wrong, judging is something I get particularly worked up about. It’s what drove my husband away from the organized church because people loudly made judgments about who was really a Christian based upon how frequently they came through the church doors in any given month or whether they ascribed to their theories on drinking or movies or the topic du jour. The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms not to judge: Matthew 7, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
We once heard a pastor’s sermon called, “Yank the Plank” about exactly that – we shouldn’t be plucking a splinter out of our neighbor’s eye when we have a plank sticking out of our own. And those who drive folks away from Christ because of judgments they pass down from their soapbox, well, the Bible has no shortage of words about that: Matthew 18, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!”
But simultaneously, and I do not believe that this is at all contradictory, the Bible calls us to hold our fellow brothers and sisters accountable. Jesus, in that same passage in Matthew 18, goes on to say, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over…Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
I have a confession to make – I go to Weight Watchers. I have been a member on and off since 2005. My parents have a weight problem, so I am very mindful when I put on 10 or 20 pounds in a given year. It absolutely has to come off or I’ll never get it off and then I won’t be able to keep up with my very young and very active children. But one of the things that makes Weight Watchers work for me is accountability. Knowing that every Thursday there will be someone there to watch me stand on a scale and she will write down the numbers in a book and tell me whether I gained or lost a pound keeps me tremendously incentivized. I really don’t want to look someone in the face when they say, “uh-oh, you’ve gained 2 pounds.” Now they don’t do that in judgment. But they know that if I am there trying to be healthy, then they are there to remind me I’m headed in the wrong direction. And if I keep headed down that direction, I will never achieve my goal. Having that person tell me, “hey, wrong direction,” or “congratulations, right direction,” helps me stay on the path to a healthy weight.
I believe strongly that our Christian friends are there to do the same thing. The Bible is full of passages supporting this accountability principle. First, if you are a believer and do not have a good friend who is a strong believer, FIND ONE. I can not tell you how critical that is to your success on the path Christ has set before us. This has nothing to do with being in 10 bible studies or being in church every time it’s open – that’s judgment. This has to do with you needing an accountability partner (sorry if that’s an overused church-y term). Second, if you are a believer and see a fellow Christian headed down a path that is filled with Biblical warning signs, SPEAK UP. Do not do it in judgment, do it in love. But let them know someone saw them put that pound on this week, and catch them before they’re 20 pounds down the path. Third, if you are a Christian, then give a close friend or friends whose Godly wisdom you trust the permission to SOUND THE ALARM. Because of this whole concern over “judgment,” some people worry they will lose a friendship if they give you counsel to back up and go the other way. I was reminded of this once again recently when I not only needed the freedom to say, “watch out!,” but I needed someone to tell me, “you’ve put on a couple of pounds!”
Always keep in mind though that we must speak from love and from a leading of the Spirit and out of no other motivation: Philippians 2, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
God calls us to be His audible voice here on Earth. Be willing to speak when called, or to listen when spoken to, depending on the season in your life. No doubt, we will be on each end of the spectrum at some point in our journey.
Proverbs 27 – As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
II Timothy 4 and 2 (respectively) – Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth…
James 5 – Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Galatians 6 – Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.