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10. Love Is Not Censorious (1 Cor. 13:5e)

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Earlier during Scripture reading we cited two passages (Rom. 4:1-8; Matt. 7:1-5) that must be kept in mind as we take up the last phrase in 1 Corinthians 13:5. (We should review the flow of thought by reading verses 1-5 by which we come to the final phrase love does not impute sin.) Briefly put, on one hand, what we have is the marvelous fact that God does not impute evil to those who trust in the risen Christ (per Romans). On the other hand, we have the forceful warning that the way we impute evil to other people is the way God will judge us (per Matthew).

So, keeping these passages in the back of our minds, I want to speak today on Love is not censorious or perhaps better, Judging others with love (i.e., judging righteous/loving judgment). My outline is based on the following questions: a) what is the unloving spirit cited? b) How does this unloving spirit manifest itself? c) What are some causes? d) How is it contrary to Christian love?

1A. What is the unloving spirit cited?

The language of the text is brief and straightforward. It simply states that it [love] does not impute evil (1 Cor. 13:5d). This is variously translated: love thinks no evil (KJV), love is not resentful (ESV), and it keeps no record of wrongs (NIV). Some things involved here are: anger regarding evil, objection to it, marking down the wrongs, thinking about them, and condemning the wrong doer.

If you take this too far you will end up with a very passive and wimpy love that hears no evil, sees no evil, and speaks or addresses no evil. Thus to understand Christian love properly from the negative here (what love is not) we need a context to shape things and help us narrow down and limit the field of reference.

1B. Context (needed for understanding/defining)

In this connection, there are at least three things that furnish a context that we need in order to define the unloving spirit forbidden in this passage. From this negation, we can advance further in a positive understanding of Christian (i.e. Christ-like) love.

1) First, we know that there is a proper imputing of evil that regularly takes place by duly appointed judges in our civil courts. These judges are supposed to acquit the innocent and condemn the guilty assigning punishment appropriate to his offense (Deut. 25:1-2). And we are told in Proverbs that both the one who justifies the wicked and the one who condemns the righteous are an abomination to the Lord (17:15). Here we have wrongdoing that is identified, thought about, imputed, condemned, and even punished. It is proper to impute evil, for a frail human being to so judge another frail human being. As a matter of fact, we run the risk of displeasing God if this judgment of evil is not carefully thought about and appropriately punished.

2) This also applies in the second place to those who judge others in the process of church discipline. The NT gives us what is implicitly a court system in which witnesses voice their complaints, sinful conduct is judged, thought about, reckoned, and even punished where there is no repentance. This is difficult and serious. Per Matthew 18 and by a thoughtful process, a professing believer may ultimately be excommunicated from the church as an unbeliever. That means that love in the church is obligated at times to forcefully impute evil. It is to be done very carefully and prayerfully but it must be done. These things are contextual for understanding 1 Corinthians 13 and the description there of love that does not impute evil (and as we will see 1 Corinthians 13 is contextual for understanding judicial action).

3) In the third place, there is an imputing of evil that may take place on the personal level. In other words, it is not sufficient to say that 1 Corinthians 13:5d negates personal judgment but allows judicial action. Just think about it, proper judicial process in the church begins on a personal level where your brother sins against you and you go and tell him his fault (Matt. 18:15). Per Matthew 18:16, other personal witnesses will bring evidence of the wrongdoing; they are not simply witnesses of your going to the brother, they testify to identifiable, identified, and imputed evil.

This is just a matter of common sense. As Edwards puts it, Christian charity is not a thing founded on the ruins of reason. And therefore we are not forbidden to judge all persons when there is plain and clear evidence that they are justly chargeable with evil because their sins are plain testimony against them and sufficient to condemn them as wicked men in full sight of the world (Charity, 211). He states that it would be plainly against reason to judge well of all (Ibid.). Christians are not obliged to divest themselves of reason (Ibid.).

Thus, the fact of the judging of evil that may go on in civil courts, in church discipline, and on a personal/common sense level is the context of our text in its claim that Christian love does not judge others. There is a proper imputing of evil that is contextual for our passage.

2B. Definition (formulated in this context)

All the above was needed to aid us in formulating a precise definition of the unloving spirit being described in 1 Corinthians 13. Once that is done, then a positive nuance of Christian love will become evident.

So again, what is the unloving judging that is forbidden here? The way the question is framed sends us in a specific direction. There is such a thing as an unloving judging that implies making judgments about other people in a loving way. Edwards gets us right in the middle of what is going on here when he calls unloving judging by the single word censoriousness.

To be censorious is to be marked by censure and to be critical. In these notions of criticism and censure you can detect the ideas of thinking about the wrongs of others, marking them down, imputing the evil, raising objection, condemning, and seeking punishment. It is done in a pointedly unloving way that is crusty, harsh, unforgiving, malicious, resentful, and negative. Hence the variety of things indicated in the translations: thinking evil, being resentful, and recording wrongs. The failures, inconsistencies, and sins of others are thought about in the wrong way, improperly and unfairly.

2A. How does this unloving spirit manifest itself?

Censoriousness manifests itself in a number of ways.

1) First, it infers to the heart.

I am trying to think of why we do this. Why do we tend to make judgments about the internal state of the heart of those who are professing Christians? The best I can come up with at the moment is that we do this because of some animosity that is so deep that we reach as far as we can and go as deep as we can in our judgment of someone. Another reason may be an over confidence in our own spirituality whereby we take a harsh posture toward those whose conduct is inconsistent and inferior to our conduct (or so it may seem).

But we are on shaky ground when we try to reason from what we see externally to an assessment of what is going on internally. It is wrong to infer from what we see to the conclusion that so and so is not a Christian. It is a manifestation of censoriousness that is probably due to spiritual pride and immaturity (of course, the judicial process of church discipline is a different matter).

However, this kind of judgment is something that only God can render because the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). He discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart and no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13).

Thus, we should judge righteous judgment or righteously by comparing conduct with Scripture. Conduct that is inconsistent with Scripture is wrong and we ought to identify it as evil. But it is a totally different matter when we try to infer from what we see to the state of the heart.

2) Second, we are censorious when we infer evil without sufficient evidence.

That is, even what we see in outward action is insufficient grounds for the conclusions we draw. We too easily forget that our experience is limited. But we nonetheless try to reach firm conclusions. It is foolish to stab in the dark in this way.

3) Third, censoriousness occurs when we infer evil based on bias.

That is, the evidence or basis from which we draw our conclusions is exaggerated. The evidence of good that we see is overlooked and suppressed. The evidence of evil is thus given more weight in our assessment than ought to be the case.

4) Fourth, we are censorious when we infer evil with pleasure and delight. It is an unloving spirit that is at work in us when we have the attitude expressed in the statement, Now I have you by the juggler; you have finally put your head in the noose. There is a devious and vindictive quality here. It is a perverted hope that is glad to see moral failure and that wishes for severe punishment. The censorious person will try to help bring about this punishment by speaking about the evil so that others will know the gospel truth about so and so. But this is not gospel but gossip and slander (cf. the Westminster Larger Catechism, Qs 143-145).

At least these four things help us identify the sin of harsh judgment of others, of censoriousness, and of an unloving critical spirit. It is as if we are simply out looking for the evil. We dwell on it even without sufficient evidence. We exaggerate what appears to be evil and we downplay things that suggest something good about that person. Sadly, we find pleasure in the discovery of evil and talking about it. And perhaps worst of all, we tend to infer to the heart and to condemn professing Christians as unregenerate.

3A. What are some causes?

I have already begun to answer this question by the references made earlier to spiritual pride and immaturity.

We can cite some other causes as well. Just think of how both pride and envy are at work when instead of rejoicing with someone in their prosperity (whether material or spiritual prosperity) we go looking for inconsistencies in hopes of being able to put them in their place in the eyes of others. This is destructive criticism. We thus seek to exalt ourselves. The grid of our own envy and pride drives the way we assess actions, what we give attention to, and what we emphasize. When we are angry we impute evil as a way of bringing harm. Perhaps we are striking back because we have been deeply hurt. We do not have our own way, we can't say, I did it my way. But we want to do things the way we want to do them and other people get in our way, hinder our goals, and slow down or prevent our success. Other people are simply in our way. Because of them we fall short of our expectations.

All I am saying is that there are many causes of censoriousness and they are themselves bad fruit of a tree that has the taproot of selfishness, alleged self-sufficiency, and asserted autonomy (thus whenever we detect censoriousness in ourselves we should look for much more).

4A. How is it contrary to Christian love?

1) Edwards directs us to a number of ways that the critical-censorious spirit is contrary to Christian love (Charity, 213-214).

One is an application of the golden rule. We are to love others, as we love ourselves. Is it not the case that we are reluctant to judge evil of ourselves? Therefore, the way of love is to be reluctant to judge evil of others. The negative person that is hypercritical of others is an unloving person. You have to say to yourself something to this effect: for me to dwell on the evil actions of others and to publish these actions, to publicize them is unloving. I do not want my actions to be thought about and talked about in this way. It is wrong for me to do this; it is contrary to Christ-like, Christian love. Thus what you want others to do for you, you do for them. You want others to be kind, patient, forgiving, and respectful of you. So, the conclusion is obvious: Go and do likewise for them.

It is contrary to Christ, Christianity, love, and the golden rule to be judgmental, critical, negative, and thus censorious. It means that you go around in public in dirty clothes rather than being clothed with Christ (cf. Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27, otherwise we go around in dirty clothes).

2) Furthermore, it is contrary to the good behavior to which you pledged yourself in Christian baptism (1 Pet. 3:16, 21). It is contrary to Christian love because it is contrary to Christ and to what is fitting of those who are under discipleship to Christ. As a matter of fact, disciples show themselves to be disciples by their love for one another that is not only loving as we love ourselves but it is also loving as Christ loved us (Jn. 13:34-35, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.)


1) First, Christian love calls for balance in all judicial processes.

Personal love applies to duly appointed judges because they are persons. They must impute evil without censoriousness. For Christians who engage in judgment on others as judges in the church, personal Christian love applies. It is a protection from injustice in the imputation of human sin, guilt, and punishment or sanction. Accordingly, this promotes justice! Those who judge righteously and not censoriously will be grieved at sin, they will seek the truth, and they will do their best to check their biases with great patience, deliberation, and fairness.

2) Second, this description of love (1 Cor. 13:5d) is a call to self-examination (recall that we get prescription from description here).

The censorious person is good at others-examination. The remnants of the sin of human autonomy abide in the hearts of Christians. This means that we must alert to this fact. And one way to do so is to tweak this identification and imputation of evil. That is, we need to mark it down, identify, and impute evil to ourselves admitting the tendency we have to be inordinately critical of others. We need to catch ourselves in the act. Do you dwell on the evil of others? Do you keep a record of the wrongs? Do you have delight rather than grief when you see, or think you see, the sins and faults of some particular person?

It is a serious warning that Jesus gives about how we judge: with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you again (Matt. 7:2). So, judge not lest you be judged (7:1).

3) Third, it is a call to Christ. It shows that we need a good dose of gospel medicine for this ailment. What we need most is Christ. We need humble submission to Him. Consider the judgment that was pronounced against Him. He bore the punishment of sin in the place of undeserving sinners. Give yourself away to Him, to be His. Cast yourself at His feet to do whatever He commands you. That's where you truly begin to deal with this sin.

4) Fourth and on the positive side, this is a call to judge others with patient love, with loving-kindness, with humility, with respect, and with consideration being willing to yield. Censoriousness and love are mutually exclusive. It calls us back to all the graces of the Christian walk; it calls us back to charity and all its fruits. This is a call to Christian, Christ-like love in all its fullness (this is not a low view of sin but a high view of love that is not divorced from reason).

Accordingly, we must remember that our sins and evil deeds have not been imputed to us. Instead, remarkably, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us by the loving-kindness of God through faith (Rom. 4:1-8; 3:21-22). First Corinthians 13 describes love that imitates the love of God in Christ. Therefore, if you have been forgiven by the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and if you thus have committed yourself to live under the authority of the triune God, then your commitment must be to charitable judgment of the actions of others. You ought to feel the reasonableness of this duty flooding your soul. You have been judged by amazing and forgiving love. Now go and do likewise in honor to your risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Related Topics: Love

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