Sometimes I’m reading the Bible and have to pause because something I’ve read doesn’t make sense. Therefore, when something I’ve read doesn’t make sense, I have to look into it and find out why. The first and best step to understanding why something we read in the Bible doesn’t make sense is to know it’s not the Bible. We will never encounter any Scripture that contradicts itself, regardless of who said it and when it was said. Thus, any failure to understand lies with us.

This is good news that the misunderstanding is on us. When we read a book by humans, we know there can be mistakes. However, the Bible is the inspired word of God given to humans by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, there can be no contradictions. I think this fact makes it easier to sort through any confusion.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul makes this statement about judgment.

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

1 Corinthians 4:5 (NIV)

However, in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul makes this statement about the man sleeping with his father’s wife.

For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this.

1 Corinthians 5:3 (NIV)

If that wasn’t “bad” enough, 1 Corinthians 5 ends with these two statements.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (NIV)

But wait, the confusion doesn’t end there. Look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6!

Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?

1 Corinthians 6:2 (NIV)

So, we go from 1 Corinthians 4:5, where Paul tells us to “judge nothing before the appointed time,” to Paul passing judgment on the man in the incestual relationship (1 Corinthians 5:3) and telling us we’re to judge those inside the church (1 Corinthians 5:12). In contrast, God judges those outside, ending with telling us we’ll be judging the world (1 Corinthians 6:2). Oh, and angels too (1 Corinthians 6:3)!

If there’s ever been a knot that needed untying, this one qualifies, so let’s get to it, remembering that the Bible cannot contradict itself, and even Paul’s letters were inspired by the Holy Spirit, who cannot lie or contradict himself.

The issue in all of these verses is context. Isn’t it always? So, let’s examine the context starting with 1 Corinthians 4:5.

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God (emphasis added).

1 Corinthians 4:3-5 (NIV)

The judgment Paul is referring to in these passages deals with motives. Even when Paul says he has a clear conscience, he’s stating that he doesn’t see anything wrong with his motives or his degree of faithfulness, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something wrong. Thus, we aren’t to judge people’s motives. However, God knows and will reveal and pass judgment on Judgment Day.

Judging someone’s motives is very different than the judgment Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 5:3.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this (emphasis added)?

1 Corinthians 5:1-2 (NIV)

The report about this relationship wasn’t that the man was thinking about sleeping with his father’s wife (stepmother). No, the man was factually sleeping with his father’s wife. The issue isn’t up for debate. Such behavior is wrong and needs to be judged and acted upon.

So, we’ve cleared 1 Corinthians 4:5 and 1 Corinthians 5:3; what about 1 Corinthians 6?

In this chapter, Paul talks about lawsuits between Christians. There were lawsuits between Christians, and instead of handling them amongst themselves, the cases were brought before non-Christians in Roman courts. When Paul says we’ll be judging the world and angels, he might be referring to what Jesus said in Matthew and Revelation.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Matthew 19:28 (NIV)

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

Revelation 20:4 (NIV)

Both of these verses refer to the time after the Second Coming. Therefore, they don’t contradict Paul’s statements about judgment. However, Paul does say that God will judge, and then we will judge. I take this to mean that God is the ultimate judge, and any authority we have to judge is delegated by him as the overseer. In addition, the world might be judged by our actions, as seen here.

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.

Matthew 12:41 (NIV)

As we’ve seen, there’s no contradiction between Paul’s views on judgment. A closer study of the context of these verses is all we need to gain a clearer understanding of what Paul was talking about.

Do you know God? God knows you, and he loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, and he wants you to know him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, freed from death, and live eternally with him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart and receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.