lovelyishe asked a question:
Some find it hard to explain their answers to these questions for other Christians so I would like to know how you would answer: What’s the difference between ”not overlooking sin” and being judgmental? If there are words in the bible that refer to people as adulterers, liars, fornicators or fool etc why can’t Christians call people those names/make reference to them by those names while talking to someone else if it were ACTUALLY TRUE about them?
Hey there dear friend, I’ve wondered about this too, and I think it’s important to offer some context between accountability and mean-spirited judging.
1) The written word doesn’t necessarily show the tone of what’s being said. My guess is that the tone was deep grief and compassion. In Philippians 3:18, Apostle Paul says he writes these things “with tears.” In 2 Corinthians 10, he says, “I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters.” Many of Paul’s listeners felt a contrast between his speaking (meek and even unpolished) with his writing (forceful and straightforward), and I think it’s because Paul was so gentle in person as he said some hard things, while his letters without context appeared to be pushy.
The Old Testament might appear really rough, but again, the people saying and writing these things were deeply compassionate. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. David is pretty much weeping every other page. Nehemiah wept for his city as he stood up to traitors. There is an easy-to-miss mix of both boldness and humility throughout the Bible.
2) Because of the Bible’s English translation, it loses the subtle flavors of the original languages. You’ve seen this before: When my Asian parents ask me to do something, they can only translate their request with the most basic, stripped down words they know. Instead of, “I’d like to invite you over to my place,” they might say, “You go okay?” So of course, it sounds rough. It’s highly likely that the original languages had these cushion words which bring eloquence and courtesy, which we cannot see because of the English language’s limitations (and believe me, English is extremely limited, compared to the hundreds of complicated layers in Eastern languages).
3) We often confuse boldness with ranting or judging. Most postmodern people are predisposed to hear confidence as arrogance. They’re not the same. There are instances of ranting in the Bible, but we’re told they’re wrong. The book of Nahum, which is essentially one long middle finger to the Ninevites, is one of the few books where we’re taught what not to do.
4) The Bible has unique authority. We tend to resist it. Each of us have a friend we’re more likely to hear than someone else, because they can say things in just the right way that accessibly invites us into a conversation. We each have friends who can also say hard truths, that if someone else says them, we wouldn’t listen. So if your parents say something, we don’t hear it, but if that friend says the same exact truth, we hear it.
But really, isn’t that a choice? We confer authority to those we wish to hear, based on how we want to hear it. The thing is, I believe the Bible has a unique authority on its own to say very difficult things that we don’t want to hear and in a way that we don’t want to hear, either. We naturally resist it because 1) the truth hurts, and 2) it’s not told in the exact way I want it to say it. Yet if I assume the Bible is divine authority, it shouldn’t matter how it’s said, just like it shouldn’t matter whether my parents or my friend are saying the truth in different ways. The truth is the truth. I can trust it or not. If I get hung up on how it’s said, of course that’s my choice, but if the Bible actually has divine authorship, I’d do well to hear it out despite my bias.
5) We need to hold back. The Bible doesn’t need to do that. The other thing is, Jesus and the other biblical authors had the authority to call people out. They didn’t have to hold back (though they sometimes did anyway). That was their right. For us, we must earn that right. If I call my congregation a bunch of adulterers, liars, and thieves, I better have already built my trust and credibility with them. The Bible authors and Jesus himself have credibility already: God proved that by sending His Son out of love for us. When a preacher calls me a sinner, I’m wondering what their motive is. When God calls me a sinner, I don’t have to wonder: I only need to see the cross and resurrection to get that God is saying all He does out of pure love. Again, people are free to believe whatever they want about the Bible. But if the Christian does accept the Bible is true, then 1) they must not assume they have the same truth-telling authority that the Bible does, and 2) they must assume the Bible is telling the truth out of love, not out of fear or shame.
6) What’s your motive? And who are you to tell the truth? These are the questions we must ask ourselves. When I hold someone accountable, what’s my motive, really? And who am I to tell the truth to this person? Am I trustworthy enough? Am I saying it out of love? Have I earned the right? And for those who have been called out: Can you consider that they love you? Can you consider that even when they didn’t say it the way you wanted to hear, that that’s impossible? Even if 98% of it was not true, can you still hear the 2% that’s true and work from there?