Posts Tagged judgment
Each of us, like the Jewish people of old, can point to idolatry in our lives. We have made idols of our bodies. We have made idols of money and possessions. We have made idols of family, friends, time and entertainment. We have even turned our own religion into an idol. All of us have those things to which we turn for fulfillment or validation that exist outside of God and His will for us.
And because of our idolatry, like Israel, we are surrounded by Babylon. The Babylonian king was a tool used by God to punish His people and break them from their idolatry. And, like Nebuchadnezzar, the pressures of this life are used by God to bring an end to our idolatry.
Maybe we have idolized a lifestyle we cannot afford, and God is using financial crisis to turn our heart back to Him. Perhaps we’ve made an idol of food or substances , and God is using health problems to call us away from our dependence and back to a place of health. A failed relationship, a lost job, or any number of things could be that Nebuchadnezzar besieging our lives, putting pressure on us to give that area over to God.
I understand this is not always the case. I’m not saying all sickness or financial trouble is a result of sin in our lives. Jesus made that clear in Luke 13. Sometimes things happen for reasons we do not understand, and we cannot walk in a constant state of guilt, like we have brought all our own problems on ourselves.
But what if it is?
What if it is our fault? What if God is using our own private Nebuchadnezzar to bring us back to where we need to be? Isn’t it worth exploring? If so, we would be wise to listen to Jeremiah’s advice to the people of Judah,
Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him. For I have set My face against this city for adversity and not for good,” says the LORD. “It shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.”
God has laid out that same choice to you and I as well. If you stay entrenched in your idolatry and worldliness, you will die. Failed marriages, broken lives, lost opportunities, and addictions are but a few examples of the death that comes from refusing to let go of our idols. Our churches and families are littered with the destruction that comes from Christian people refusing to lay down their idols.
But if you humble yourself and accept the destruction of your false gods, you will live. Accept His correction and repent of our idolatry, and watch as His healing power begins to transform our lives. I’m not saying we are guaranteed all our problems will disappear when we submit to God (in fact, they most likely will not.) But I am saying the path to spiritual and emotional healing begins with giving in to God’s call to forsake ourselves and follow Him completely.
Like Israel, it might take 70 years of captivity.
It might be humiliating and uncomfortable to confess our idolatry. It will be scary to let go of the gods to which we have clung so tightly in false security. To lay down our arms and stop fighting God will take incredible faith and trust in a loving Father who ultimately is using crisis to prove His love for us. Think about that for a minute. God ultimately allowed Israel to be destroyed because He loved His people enough to not allow them to continue in their wayward state. Are we willing to trust that same love in our lives as well?
In the end, do we have a choice?
In Luke 13 Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. He noticed a woman in the room who was bent over and could not straighten herself up, an ailment from which she had suffered for eighteen years. Jesus immediately had compassion on this precious woman, laid hands on her and said, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” In an instant, her crippled and broken body became whole.
A great miracle, right?
But instead of rejoicing, the ruler of the synagogue became indignant, because Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath. He said to the crowd that had gathered, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.” His words reeked with cold-hearted judgment. Can’t you just feel his condescension and arrogance? This leader of the synagogue cared more about the technicalities of his legalistic system than he did about a woman who had suffered for eighteen years.
This is but one confrontation of many Jesus had with the Pharisees regarding healing the sick on the Sabbath. And to me, this is the essence of what it means to be a Pharisee. The leader looked right past a woman who had spent almost two decades in pain, blinded by his need to be right.
Just like the Pharisee that day, the church has allowed our need to uphold the law to leave us indifferent to the needs of people. How often have we focused on the sin, instead of the person? How often have we been so concerned with our own sense of right and wrong that we have ignored the suffering of an individual? How often have we also been blinded by our need to be right and our need to win?
The Pharisee saw a Sabbath, Jesus saw a precious woman who needed to be released from her pain. The Pharisee saw a law that was broken, Jesus saw a woman who was broken. The Pharisee saw the letter of the law, Jesus saw its heart.
It’s a matter of focus
All too often we focus on the sin and forget the person behind it. We condemn the abominable act and ignore the person who has struggled with feelings they cannot just ignore. We are indignant against the addiction and look past the suffering of a precious soul locked in a prison he cannot escape. We judge the behavior of the poor, never stopping to examine the dehumanizing effects of poverty.
Are we so blinded by our need to condemn sin that we forget who we are condemning? We are condemning people. It’s easy to pass judgment on a group. We can dismissively write people off when they are part of the faceless “them.” But what about individual people with hearts and feelings? We have fought political battles and drawn lines in the sand. We have created a culture of “us” against “them.” We have polarized ourselves into groups and separated ourselves from the ones who need His mercy the most.
Jesus didn’t see groups, He saw people. He didn’t condemn “adulterers,” instead He showed mercy to a woman who had been caught in the act. He didn’t dismiss “Sabbath violators,” he simply healed a woman who had suffered for eighteen years. He didn’t ignore a thief on the cross, but even in death had compassion on a repentant soul.
We are called to love
I think many feel to simply love another without judgment somehow makes them guilty of approving of the person’s sin. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact is, they are sinning against God, not us. And He is more than able to hold them accountable for their actions. When they stand before their maker, they will have no excuse. Besides, Jesus was accused of being easy on sin as well.
We seem to feel the need to confront evil. So did Jesus. He confronted the evil of arrogant, hypocritical condemnation and judgment. He confronted the Pharisees and the evil of their adherence to law at the expense of mercy. He regularly confronted those who placed their own need to be right ahead of the needs of others to be healed.
Jesus called us, by His words and actions, to love the sinner and have compassion on the outcast. There were no qualifications. There were no conditions. Mercy trumps judgment. Grace overcomes condemnation. Jesus heals, no matter what the law says.
The Pharisee sees sinners in need of judgment. Jesus sees sinners in need of redemption.
What do we see?
I got a question from someone who read one of my recent posts called “I’m going AWOL.” I thought his question was a good one, it made me think a little and pray a lot about my answer. And I think it’s an important enough issue to answer his question publicly and give all the readers of this blog a chance to be in on the conversation. (By the way, he actually agrees with me, so I’m not “calling him out” publicly or anything.)
Here’s his question:
In the epistle to the Ephesians is written: “and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of the darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Ephesians 5:11 KJV) That “reprove them” could mean that we as God’s children are entitled and exhorted to confront the ungodly in his/her unrighteousness?
I gave him my short answer on the blog post, but here is the more complete answer. As always, I’d love to hear from anyone on your thoughts as well.
The first thing that strikes me about this scripture in Ephesians is that it refers to the “unfruitful works of darkness,” not the “unfruitful workers of darkness.” The focus is on the sinful acts, not those who commit them. It seems to me, our focus these days is more on the sinners around us than the grace of God that has freed us from the bondage to sin. This idea of “taking a stand for God” has consumed us, and has only served to erect a wall between God and those who need Him most.
It’s me that has to change
The next thing about this scripture is that word “fellowship.” My study shows it would probably be better translated as “participate in.” This is an encouragement to believers not to participate in the works of darkness that are practiced by those in the world around them. “Don’t live like them, don’t behave like them. You have been redeemed by Christ, everything should have changed. Desires, focus, passions should be directed toward Christ and not pleasing yourself.”
This is not a fight
Then there’s that word “reprove.” Again, I think a better translation would be “expose.” I don’t think this is an invitation to do what we’ve done many times. It’s not permission for us to fight and picket and protest those with whom we disagree. It’s not an encouragement for us to point our bony fingers of judgment at others. Rather, I think it is a challenge for us to live our lives in such a way that, by contrast, the works of darkness around us will be exposed for the evil they are. By doing so, we earn the right to speak into the lives of others. When we live lives ruled by love, not judgment, those around us become much more receptive to what we have to say.
The bottom line
Look, I know we are called to “come out from among them and do not touch the unclean thing.” But that command has nothing to do with “them”, it has everything to do with me. I do not have to shake my fist at the world. I just stop acting like them. I don’t have to point out the sin in those around me, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.
The weapons of our warfare are not of this earth. Our enemy is not of this earth. Our battle is not with the sinners, the gays, the atheists or anyone else. We belong to the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s a Kingdom that has no end. And it’s a Kingdom that aims to change me first. It’s a Kingdom that requires me to lay down my life, my dreams, and my hopes before its King. It requires me to start with my own planks, not their splinters.
The path of love is a slower, more deliberate pace. It’s a journey, not a sprint. It’s a lifestyle, not a marketing ploy. It takes commitment, patience, and…well…love.
If it is a battle, and we’re going to fight against the sin around us, I think love and mercy are much more effective weapons anyway.
Maybe that’s why Jesus used them.