So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:16-17, NLT)
In the above verses Paul offered a basic challenge about how we should view others. Part of this, of course, is in the direct context of how the Corinthians should view his critics. But there is a broader application that we can find that is relevant for today’s American church culture.
In short, Paul declared that we should stop evaluating others from a human point of view. This secularized “evaluation” can quickly become the proverbial race to the bottom which categorizes people into good people and bad, winners and losers, friends and foes, and insiders and outsiders. These evaluations are often based on our own preferences and biases rather than spiritual lenses. These lines are usually drawn around particular litmus tests, or to spiritualize the phrase, “tests of fellowship.” As an example, he shared that this form of evaluation was the basis upon which he personally rejected Christ and persecuted the early church. In his estimation, neither passed his personal standards.
As a side bar, when Christians view those who are far from God as “bad people” two concerns are immediately raised. First, our human experience informs us that there are a lot of non-believers who are just as (if not more) generous, moral, and ethical as their believing counterparts. Second, Scripture clearly states that we are no person’s judge and jury. God has not delegated that task to his children as if it were a household chore that we have been routinely assigned.
Having said that, Paul is not addressing believers judging non-believers in this text. He’s describing how believers treat one another in the context of Christian community. In light of his experience with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 9), he introduced a new form of evaluation centered on being “in Christ,” a phrase that he used 76 times in his writings. Those who are “in Christ,” should be viewed as “works in progress.” This ongoing work of progress that Christ has begun in our lives will last as long as we live mortal lives on Earth. We will not fully arrive in this life, but will reach our ultimate potential in fulness in the life to come. (cf. Philippians 1:6) As I reflect on this, I realize that I’m far more critical of those who claim to be religious than those who do not.
My friend Ken has been helpful to me at this point. He taught me a concept, and like most concepts, it is easier said than lived. But I believe it is valid: “People are more broken than bad.” I find that this concept helps me dial down my tendency to judge others, especially those who bear a testimony of faith and have been marked by the waters of baptism, who have done hurtful things to me and others. I just have to be patient with God’s work in my life and the lives of others. Remember, it took God a relatively short period of time to get Israel out of Egypt. It took Him 40 years to get Egypt out of Israel.