Looking Out for Number 1 – the Other Person


We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. (Romans 15:1-4) 

St Paul frequently advocates for Christians that they humble themselves and treat others as deserving more than they themselves deserve.  Rather than “looking out for number one” (my self), we are to consider others as deserving more and trying to make sure they get it ahead of ourselves.


Christ taught us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). [Christ makes life simple – we don’t need to know all 613 laws of the Torah, and we don’t even need to recite all Ten Commandments for they all can be summed up in two commandments – love God and love neighbor, do this and you will have eternal life. In fact, we don’t need to know all the ethical rules that have been written, for the two rules Christ promulgates are enough for every situation.] Even if we imagine we can somehow be a Christian and look out for ‘number one’ (my self), we have to acknowledge that Christ said that as important as the command to love God is, the command to love neighbor as self is equally important.  That means if I think my main concern is me, Christ says, “OK, now love everyone around you as much as you love yourself.”  Self-centeredness and selfishness have little place in Christ’s Kingdom. If I think I am important, I should treat those around me as important as if they were me. Treat others as you wished they treated you.  “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).


Many saints through the centuries have reminded us of the importance of loving others, including St Simeon the New Theologian: 

St Simeon stresses that Christians should look upon all people with the same love as they would Christ himself. They should be ready to give even their life for them. They should not regard anyone as evil, but see all people as good. Even when they perceive that some brother is being tempted by the devil and troubled by passions, they should hate the passion and not the brother who is assailed by them.   (Anestis Keselopoulos, MAN AND THE ENVIRONMENT, p 112) 


If we see Christ in all others, we will treat them as we would treat Christ if He were in our presence. 

How Do I Learn to Be Humble? 


For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.  (Romans 12: 3)

St Isaac the Syrian offers two comments on humility.  In the first comment he points out humility in and of itself, even without any other good deeds, is spiritually beneficial for bringing us into God’s forgiveness:

Humility, even without works, gains forgiveness for many offenses; but without her, works are of no profit to us, and rather prepare for us great evils. Therefore, through humility, as I said, find forgiveness for your iniquitous deeds. What salt is for any food, humility is for every virtue, and she can mightily obliterate many sins.  (THE ASCETICAL HOMILIES OF SAINT ISAAC THE SYRIAN, pp 338)


In his second comment, Isaac lists things that help us acquire humility in our hearts and minds:

Again he was asked, ‘How can a man acquire humility?’ And he said: ‘By unceasing remembrance of transgressions; by anticipation of oncoming death; by inexpensive clothing; by always preferring the last place; by always running to do the tasks that are the most insignificant and disdainful; by not being disobedient; by unceasing silence; by dislike of gatherings; by desiring to be unknown and of no account; by never possessing anything at all through self-will; by shunning conversation with numerous persons; by abhorrence of material gain; and after these things, by raising the mind above the reproach and accusation of every man and above zealotry; by not being a man whose hand is against everyone and against whom is everyone’s hand, but rather one who remains alone, occupied with his own affairs; by having no concern for anyone in the world save himself. But in brief: exile, poverty, and a solitary life give birth to humility and cleanse the heart.’   (THE ASCETICAL HOMILIES OF SAINT ISAAC THE SYRIAN, pp 345)


Love of Knowledge 


Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)

St Paul’s comments that ‘knowledge puffs up’ is not an anti-intellectual comment.  Rather, he is placing ‘knowledge’ on a scale of values with love being the highest virtue.  He is advocating that when Christians speak to each other (or debate with each other), they remember that all they do and say should be governed by love (1 Corinthians 16:14).  “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).  One can know all Christian dogmas, know all the rubrics of the Church, know theology as a trained scholar, know how to practice asceticism perfectly, but if one doesn’t have Christ’s love for others, all that knowledge will amount to nothing.  Christians aren’t just to win arguments through knowledge, they are to win hearts through love. Without love, as St Paul says, a person of knowledge will just become overbearing and arrogant.


Saying all this, however, there is a point at which knowledge, even when perfectly true, may not commend us to God.  There is a great amount of scientific and intellectual knowledge that is true, but doesn’t help us know God or how to live a godly, loving life. This knowledge may tell us everything about the empirical world, and yet tell us nothing about the spiritual life. Some church fathers thought this “worldly” knowledge is what the Genesis story of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is about. It is a worldly knowledge that is not connected to the love of God, which is what Adam and Eve learned. Knowledge not connected to God’s love is dangerous, even deadly.


Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, commenting on the ideas of St Isaac of Syria, writes:

“’Worldly knowledge” is the first of the three degrees of knowledge described by Isaac. It is knowledge conducive to the progress of human civilization, science, and the arts. It is anthropocentric and atheistic knowledge. In its midst stands the arrogance of the human person who sees himself as a ruler of the universe:

‘When knowledge cleaves to the love of the body, it gathers up the following provisions: wealth, vainglory, honor, adornment, physical rest, special means of guarding the body’s nature against adversities, assiduity in rational wisdom such as is suitable for the governance of the world and spews out the novelties of inventions, the arts, sciences, doctrines, and all things which crown the body in this world.


Among the properties of this knowledge belong those that are opposed to faith.  . . . This is called shallow knowledge, for it is naked of all concern for God. And because it is dominated by the body, it introduces into the mind an irrational impotence, and its concern is totally for this world.  . . .  It takes no account of God’s providential governance, but, on the contrary, attributes every good thing in him to a man’s diligence and his methods.  . . .  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree that uproots love, is implanted in this very knowledge.  . . .  In this knowledge are produced and are found presumption and pride, for it attributes every good thing to itself, and does not refer it to God.’ (St Isaac)” (THE SPIRITUAL WORLD OF ISAAC THE SYRIAN, p 260)


There is a worldly knowledge which makes science, innovation, technology and industry possible. It is a knowledge based in truth.  Its limit is it is not based in The Truth, Jesus Christ.  It is all important to life and has the potential for great good. But it is only part of the knowledge we need to live in the world.  For believers, there is also the need for love and knowing God, as well as love for the neighbor. “And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

Pleasing God 


But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away. But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord – how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:29-33) 

33651870416_b6aa94eee9_wAt times, St Paul is very clear that he hopes the end of the world is near, and so his recommendations for how Christians should live is based on his belief that the world as we know it will end soon. Of course, 2000 years later, we know his beliefs were mistaken, and we have to take a much longer view of history and be prepared to live the Christian life even if Christ’s return is not imminent. Nevertheless, we are to live in this world with an awareness that it indeed will end when Christ returns. That should help us to realize the temporariness of all things and not to make any thing or event of ultimate value, for all the things we know will pass away. 

24878356506_e63d42795a_wSt Paul’s warnings against marriage are based on his idea that the end of the world is near. He wanted Christians to focus on the coming of the Lord, and he feared that if they involved themselves in the normal things of the world –like marriage—they would easily forget about God and just keep doing the same things that even non-believers do in the world: busy themselves with home and family and lose awareness of Christ. He expresses this in his words that the unmarried person can focus on the Lord but the married person must concern themselves with pleasing their spouse which will pull them away from being focused on Christ alone. His thoughts are very related to Christ’s own words in Luke 16:13: “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. On the other hand, we can think about the admonition to the newly married wife at the end of the Holy Matrimony service: “… rejoice in your husband, fulfilling the commandments of God: for so is it well-pleasing unto God.

His words about being too concerned with pleasing one’s spouse, probably reflect his thoughts about being too eager to be a people pleaser in general. If we are driven by what people think about us, then we will forget our responsibility to please the Lord and will be tossed around by the waves of trying to be popular. This idea is also expressed by St Gregory the Great who wrote: 

For he is the enemy of the Redeemer, who through the good works that he performs desires to be loved by members of the church rather than by him.   (THE BOOK OF PASTORAL RULE, p 74) 


If we always are doing things so that people will like us, we may forsake doing the hard things that God requires of us. The goal is not to be liked by everyone, but to do the good, beautiful and holy thing so that God’s light shines through us. 

Torah, Adiaphora and Orthodoxy 


Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. (1 Corinthians 7:18-19) 

St Paul sees a number of commands in the law as being matters of spiritual indifference (what Lutherans call adiaphora, pious customs not necessary for salvation) for those who have faith in Christ. Paul counts the Jewish practice of circumcision as just such a practice not necessary for salvation. I will admit that I find Paul’s comment pretty amazing in that he says circumcision is nothing, but keeping God’s commandment is what matters. And yet, God did command circumcision in Leviticus 12:3. And the Orthodox do acknowledge it as a command of God in the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord on January 1 in which not only Jesus’s parents, but Christ Himself is portrayed as being obedient to God’s Law. Yet, it like many Jewish practices from the Torah got consigned to no longer being mandatory for Christians in terms of salvation as determined by the Apostles (see Acts 15).  


St Paul saw many acts commanded by the Torah as not being helpful for an individual’s salvation. These personal, pious deeds (sometimes referred to as being atomic – the act of one person as versus communal activities) were viewed by the Apostle as a hindrance to salvation as they draw us away from faith and make salvation something we earn by following all the minutiae of the law. Orthodox scholar Christos Yannaras comments: 

Until the end of his life, Paul continued to fight against the persistent view that insisted on laying claim to atomic salvation through observation of the law and obedience to commandments. He attempted to prove that even in the Jewish tradition the law was not a means of salvation but a means of instruction, a practical way for the Jew to demonstrate his will and desire to belong to the people chosen by God – the people chosen to be an image of the relationship of God with the whole of humanity. Even for Paul, the Jews still had a historical relationship with God, not a natural religion. They had a covenant (an agreement/contract) with him that was founded on Abraham’s faith/trust in God and was confirmed by the recording of rules/requirements governing the Jews’ practical fidelity to the covenant by Moses on Mount Sinai. (AGAINST RELIGION, p 132) 


Yannaras points out that salvation is not something that happens to an individual because of their asceticism or personal piety.  Rather, salvation occurs as we become part of the faithful people of God.  Christians tended to read the Old Testament as upholding the faith of individuals within the community of faith as the means of salvation, rather than their personal obedience to Torah bringing about their individual salvation.

Christians point out frequently that Abraham’s selection by God took place before the Torah was given and so faith preceded keeping the law as the way to please God. So too God’s promise to Abraham preceded any command to circumcise. Abraham becomes in Paul’s writings an example of a person of faith. Biblical scholar Richard Hays points out that even more than an example to each believer, Abraham’s faith and faithfulness is a sign of the Messiah as we are saved by the faith of Christ. 


Abraham’s faith/obedience (which has vicarious soteriological consequences for those who know him as father) ought to be understood not primarily as a paradigm for the faith of Christian believers but first of all as a prefiguration of the faith of Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 3:22), whose faith/obedience now has vicarious soteriological consequences for those who know him as Lord. Broadly speaking, then, the relevance of Paul’s appeal to the story of Abraham would lie in the fact that he finds there a precedent within Scripture for the idea that the faithfulness of a single divinely chosen protagonist can bring gods blessings upon ‘many’ whose destiny is figured forth in that protagonist’s action. In this respect Abraham serves for Paul not just as an exemplar of Christian believing but also as a typological foreshadowing of Christ, the ‘one man’ (Romans 5:19) through whose obedience ‘the many were constituted righteous.’   (THE CONVERSION OF THE IMAGINATION, pp 85-88)  

Our salvation comes through Christ’s faithfulness as God’s Son, remaining obedient to the Father even through death. 


Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11) 

Conjugal Rights, Prayer and Abstention 


Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. (1 Corinthians 6:2-6) 


St Paul’s attitude toward conjugal rights in marriage parallels much of what he says about any social issue between Christians in community. Namely, love and concern for the other is always to be the guiding factor. One should not use ‘piety’ to control or punish or deny one’s spouse. Biblical scholar David Instone-Brewer comments on how St Paul’s comments about the relationship between prayer and marital sex differs from other Jewish rabbis of his day: 

Paul’s permission for couples to abstain from conjugal activity in order to make time for prayer (1 Corinthians 7: 3-5) suggests that he shared the same assumption that conjugal activity can interfere with prayer. However, there is a contrast in attitude, in that the rabbis are concerned that conjugal love should not interrupt prayer for too long, while Paul is concerned that prayer should not be used to interrupt conjugal love for too long.   (David Instone-Brewer, TRADITIONS OF THE RABBIS FROM THE ERA OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, p 49)  


Instone-Brewer’s comment is interesting because it perhaps shows St Paul understood quite well the power of the sexual drive and didn’t want piety to become weaponized in Christian marriage. St Paul whose comments are sometimes interpreted as being anti-marriage (and whose comments really did influence the rise of monastic celibacy), perhaps at times had more compassion for husbands and wives and their sexual needs than he is given credit for. 


His comment reminded me of a bit of humorous wisdom I’ve mentioned before in a post:  

Igor and Ivan were doing landscape work around the church.  Igor sits down to take a break and lights up a cigarette. Igor wistfully says to Ivan, “Do you think it is alright to smoke when praying?” 
Ivan replies, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask the priest?”
So, Igor goes into the church office, finds the priest and asks, “Father, is it ok to smoke a cigarette while I pray?”
The priest outraged, replies, “Igor, how could you ask such an impious question!  Of course not!  That would be offensive to God; It is a sin to smoke a cigarette while you are praying. Why would you even ask such a question!?!”


Igor goes back to Ivan and tells him how angry the priest got and what the priest told him.
Ivan says, “I’m not surprised. You asked the wrong question. Let me try. Come with me.”
And so Ivan goes into the priest’s office and asks, “Father, if I’m smoking a cigarette, is it ok to say a prayer?”
The priest looked with fondness on the thoughtfulness of Ivan and replied, “Of course! It is always the right time to pray – whatever you are doing, it is never the wrong time to say a prayer.”


The Morality of Our Neighbors 


I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner – not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? (1 Corinthians 5:9-12) 


St Paul is clear that it isn’t the job of Christians to judge those outside the faith in terms of their morality, for they will answer to God like all of us. However, he argues that we must be more discerning within the Church about the behavior of all members in order to maintain the holiness of the Body of Christ. His words are important today as well, as sometimes Christians act as if they are the moral police of the world and have a right to condemn all sinners by Christian standards and even to impose Christian morality on non-believers. St Paul advocates that Christians should pay more attention to themselves and not worry so much about the morality of those outside the faith. Additionally, the Orthodox spiritual tradition emphasizes each person should pay attention to their own faults and not be constantly judging others (thus the Lord’s parable about seeing the log and the splinter (Matthew 7: 3-5). St Paul notes everyone will face God’s judgment, but how God judges each of us will be based upon what we knew about God’s commands. {Also note that while we often focus on sexual morality, in his comments, St Paul says not to associate with those who get drunk or those who are greedy. He doesn’t treat sexual sins as worse than other sins. We are more tolerant of some sins than others, as all cultures have been.} 


There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:9-16) 


It has to be noted that even when it comes to judging those in the Church, one still has to be guided by compassion, mercy, love and forgiveness. So, we read in the desert fathers: 

Three elders, one of whom had a bad reputation, once visited Abba Achilles. One of the elders said to him: “Abba, make me one net,’ but he said: ‘I will not make [you one].’ The other said to him: “Of your charity [make one] so we can have a souvenir of you at the monastery,’ but he said: ‘I haven’t time.’ The other, the one with the bad reputation said to him: ‘Make me a net so I can have [something] from your hands, abba,’ and in answer he said without hesitation: ‘I will make one for you.’ The [other] two elders said to him in private: ‘How is it that when we asked you, you were unwilling to make [a net] for us yet you said to this one: “I will make [one] for you?”’ The elder said to them: ‘I said to you: ‘I will not make [one],’ and you are not dismayed, [thinking] I hadn’t the time. But if I do not make one for this [brother], he will say: ‘The elder refused to make me [one] because he had heard of my sin,’ and straight away we cut the connection. But I raised up his soul to prevent somebody like him from drowning in sorrow.’   (GIVE ME A WORD, p 64) 


So too St Paul recommended even when disciplining a sinner, to keep that person’s salvation in the forefront of one’s comments which is what St Paul tries to do with the Corinthian man that Paul had ordered the community to discipline: 

… so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. … For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:7-9) 

Sts Boris and Gleb 


On July 24 the Church commemorates Sts Boris and Gleb, two of the sons of St Vladimir, who were murdered by their own brother. It is said of the two Passion-bearers, that they are… 

“Children of Saint Vladimir … after their father’s death they were murdered by emissaries of their elder brother Svyatopolk. Although they could easily have offered resistance, they refused to take up arms in self-defense, preferring to avoid bloodshed. As St Gleb says in the ancient Life of the two saints, ‘It is better that I alone should die rather than such a multitude of souls’; in Mahatma Gandhi’s words, ‘If blood be shed, let it be our blood.’ Although they were victims in political struggle, not martyrs for the faith—and although, according to the Life, they met death with fear, bitterly lamenting their tragic fate – the Russian church proclaimed them as saints only five years after their death, giving them the special title ‘Passion-bearers’. They were the first Russian Saints to be canonized.” 


[Although many lives of the saints contain apocryphal legends which tend to eliminate ‘faults’ in the lives of the saints, interestingly the Life of SS Boris and Gleb notes that they very humanly “met death with fear, bitterly lamenting their tragic fate.” They did not relish their own deaths. To me it makes them far more real and even imitable as saints. Perhaps a hard pill to swallow for American Christians who love their guns and to stand their ground, these two Christians followed Christ in choosing to be killed rather than killing anyone else, though they were trained as soldiers to fight and justice would have been on their side. If they had used their weapons to kill, they would not have been recognized as saints of God.] 

“Boris and Gleb could not be fitted into any of the traditional classes of Christian saints known to the Byzantine Church. Their sacrifice might appear unreasonable, even foolish, but it reveals such an integral acceptance of Christianity, such a determination to reject violence, such a deep penetration into the redeeming mystery of innocent suffering, that these two princes have rightly become the first saints of Russia, the very incarnation of its peculiar interpretation of Christianity. To become a ‘Passion-bearer’, to be an innocent victim, slain for Christ’s sake, to refuse the use of violence even in the face of death, these were the implications of Christianity which produced the deepest impression upon the newly converted Russians.” (Nicholas Zernov, THE TIME OF THE SPIRIT, pp 214) 


[They were not murdered because they were Christians but because they were St Vladimir’s sons and thus a threat to their power-hungry brother. However, because they were Christians, they chose to follow Christ and not shed blood but instead to suffer themselves. Some might accuse them of complete folly for in choosing to die instead of choosing to kill, did they not let evil triumph? Yet, what they chose so inspired an entire people, that they were declared saints only 5 years after their deaths. Some feel their ‘passion-bearing’ became the hallmark of Christianity in Russia. While that may have been true, recent events of the Russian Patriarch and Synod of Bishops blessing the invasion of Ukraine and the murders of countless people seems to indicate it is the spirit of the evil Svyatopolk which possesses the Russian Orthodox Church leadership today.] 

A Touching Lesson


And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour.  (Matthew 9:20-22) 


Must we see Jesus? More than that: we must touch Him. “Which we have seen with our eyes, and our hands have handled, of the word of life…,” writes the apostle John (1 John 1:1). The woman afflicted with an issue of blood declared that if only she could touch Jesus’ garments, she would be healed. She touched timorously, from behind, Jesus’ tunic; and she was cured of her illness. I ask that no day pass without my being able to touch at least the fringe of Jesus’ garment without a power going out from the Savior which will be unto me a pledge of salvation.  We must touch Jesus in secret conversation with Him, in contact with the human members of the Body of Christ which is the Church, in the mystery of Lord’s Last Supper. We must not suppose that we have touched Jesus because we have drawn near to Him. But there are privileged moments when a kind of ineffable shudder, a sort of irresistible evidence (which, if authentic, cast us into the depths of humility) make us cry out: “I have touched Jesus,” or better, “Jesus has just touched me.”  Lord, I am not worthy to lift my eyes towards You. Be merciful to me, a sinner.”  (A Monk of the Eastern Church, Jesus: a Dialogue with the Savior, pp 18-19)


Judging Others 


“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:37-38)
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5)

Many moral issues brought up in the New Testament require wisdom more than a knowledge of law to help a person know what to do. We are to be discerning people and know right from wrong, and yet the Scriptures contain warnings against judging others. These warnings were particularly relevant in the mall monastic communities which tried to use only the Gospel commands to govern their behavior. St Theodoros the Great commenting on judgmentalism says:

Similarly, do not revile your brother for his faults, lest you lapse from kindness and love. For the person who does not show kindness and love toward his brother ‘does not know God, for God is love’ (1 John 4:8)… (THE PHILOKALIA Vol 2, p 31)

While being overly critical of others is not healthy for any individual or community, still wisdom says there is a time and place for everything including evaluating the deeds of others. There is a proper time and place to correct someone who is wrong in their behavior. However, this too is to be done only in love in Christian communities. Criticism is meant to help, heal, correct or improve a person, not to tear them down. Christian scholar Roberta Bondi comments:

Somehow, in most of our churches, we are not prepared to take enough risks with each other. We are afraid of offending, afraid of sounding judgmental, and we are afraid of judgmentalism with good reason (the Abbas and Ammas were convinced that nothing drives another person away from God and other people faster than being on the receiving end of any kind of self-righteous criticism). … The ancient monastics were convinced that having to struggle with the passions is part of everyone’s human condition, so that we all can expect to have problems of one sort or another. We will experience them or at least be seriously tempted by them as long as we live, and we need our friends to help us by being real with us. (TO LOVE AS GOD LOVES, p 82-83)

Those who love us, will take a risk to point out when we need correction. Love requires of us to care enough to confront someone when it is needed for that person’s salvation or for the health of the community. If we criticize only to beat others down, we are not acting in love. We offer criticisms to help build up others (to edify them) and to help build up community.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)