Archive for the ‘Doctrine & Theology’ Category

To judge, or not to judge …

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

How many times have you heard someone gasp, “Oh! But, we’re not supposed to judge people!”

And, they point to Matthew 7:1 to justify their statement.

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Matthew 7:1-4

This is a favorite passage of worldly Christians who want to pretend that their sin is their sin and doesn’t effect anyone else.

Let’s take a look at the Scripture today to see what God is really saying in the Bible about judging.

The first thing we need to acknowledge is that the Bible is full of admonitions to judge.

  • beware evildoers” … How do we know who the evil doers are? We must judge people to determine if they are evil doers.
  • beware false teachers” … Who are the false teachers? That’s left up to our judgment.
  • but judge righteous judgment” … Here’s an outright commandment to judge.

And on, and on. You can hardly read a chapter of the Bible without coming across something that requires us to exercise judgment concerning ourselves, our fellow Christians, or the world.

In fact, Paul told the church at Corinth to kick out one of their members from the fellowship because of his lifestyle of sin. If we are not to fellowship with sinful Christians, then we must have to judge people to determine if we should fellowship with them or not.

One thing is obvious. If we accept Matthew 7:1 as it is commonly taught today, then the Bible is self-contradictory.

Now, all the time I hear people saying that the Bible is full of contradictions. I’ve been studying it for some 20 years and haven’t found one of those supposed contradictions yet. So, on this subject of “judging”, either we have discovered one of those illusive Bible contradictions, or our understanding of the Scripture is erroneous.

It helps to read one more verse in Matthew 7:1.

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Matthew 7:5

Based on verse 5, we learn that we are expected to “judge” our brothers and sisters. We are expected to help and support each other (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12), to help each other deal with and get beyond sin. But, we must first attend to ourselves. We can’t do a good job at helping others with their sin (and we shouldn’t even try) if our own lives are filled with sin.

That would make Matthew 7:1-5 itself contradictory.

I will proceed on the assumption that Jesus Christ did not contradict himself.

The fact is that these verses are not self-contradictory. The problem is not with the Bible text, but with shallow Bible study.

Pull your Strong’s Concordance off the shelf. If you look up the word “judge” as it appears in Matthew 7:1 you’ll find that the greek behind that word is “kreeno”, meaning to judge, condemn, damn, etc. To get a better idea of its meaning, look at John 3:17:

For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
John 3:17

Look up that word “condemn” in your Strong’s, and you’ll find that it’s the exact same “kreeno” that is used in Matthew 7:1. And that’s the kind of judging God does not want us to do. He does not want us to condemn or damn our brothers and sisters, or even the unsaved. That’s not what Christ came for, and that’s not what he wants of us, either.

If we condemn another person, then we are much like the unjust servant who, being released from an overwhelming debt by his master, straightway had another servant locked up in prison for a $50 debt.

We’re all on a level playing field here. We are all condemned by our own actions and all deserve hell. We are going to Heaven based on someone else’s merit, not our own. Who are we to condemn one another?

God does not want us to judge in terms of being “judgmental”, but He does want us to exercise “good judgment.”

Parents, if a fellow pulled up in a black van with no license plates, had a beer in one hand and a joint of marijuana in the other, and said, “Hey, can your little girl come out and play?” — what would you say?

If we accept the common interpretation of Matthew 7:1, we’d be morally-bound to send our little girl off with this person. After all, who are we to judge them?

But, sending your little girl off with this person would be sin. It would be an example of very poor judgment indeed.

God asks us to judge well, to exercise “righteous judgment.” He doesn’t want us to be judgmental or condemning. Don’t think yourself to be somehow inherently better than that fellow in the van. In fact, you and he are very much alike and you yourself might be behind the wheel of that van had it not been for the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. Remember, it’s the Holy Spirit’s work – His accomplishment – not yours. You have nothing to boast about or to be proud of. Instead, rejoice and share your Savior with everyone you can.

We should examine our pastors and Bible teachers to determine if they are worthwhile to support and listen to.

We should examine the lives of brothers and sisters in Christ to determine what kind of relationship we should have with them. Are they immature and need you to help mentor them? Are they strong and growing Christians who can be your brother and supporter? Are they so exceptionally surrendered to God that it would behoove you to seek to be their student, to learn as much as possible from them, to let them be your mentor?

We should examine the lives of our children’s friends, and their friend’s parents, to determine if we want our children to be influenced by them.

We are to judge, judge, judge. To not judge is sin. But our judging needs to have the connotation of exercising good judgment, not of being judgmental. Being judgmental goes hand in hand with pride and vanity, and God hates those things.

Let’s go out now and do some righteous judging. Let’s begin with ourselves, so that we can become better vessels, better servants, more useful to God and to our brethren.

Works vs. Fruit

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Following up on yesterday’s entry about living an authentic Spirit-filled life, and how others are naturally affected by our being consumed by the Spirit, today I’m talking about those famous verses in Galatians chapter six.

First, we have the works of the flesh:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21

 Note that these are works.  These are things we choose to do when we walk after the flesh.  They are the things the flesh wants to do, but we don’t have to do them.  We choose to do them because they feel good to us at the time, and by so choosing we condemn ourselves to hell.

Every person who goes to hell goes there by their own choice.  They have chosen to do the works of the flesh.  We can’t complain to God that He is “sending” people to hell.  People choose that path all by themselves.  God, in His infinite mercy, provides a way to stay out of hell.

Notice also in Galatians five that we see some fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 

Galatians 5:22-23 

 Fruit is a natural outgrowth of something, because of its nature.  Apples are a natural outgrowth of apple trees.  Apple trees produce apples, because that is simply their nature.

 The fruit spoken of here is not our fruit.  Remember, “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”  Our nature is to produce rotten fruit.  But the nature of the Spirit, and thus the nature of the Spirit-filled-life, is to produce good fruit.

We don’t have to work at the fruit.  He does all the work.  If we provide Him with a vessel, He will fill it and the natural outflow of that filled life will be these fruit of the Spirit mentioned here.

I have heard some preachers preach that we should strive to emulate the fruit of the Spirit.  They say we should try to have love and peace, then we should work hard to be patient, etc.  I think that this is not completely accurate.  If we have to work at it, if we have to do it ourselves, then it’s not the fruit of the Spirit but just another lousy human work.  More filthy rags.

If we are indeed Spirit-filled, then these things will naturally flow from our life.  They are His works, not ours.

If we are not seeing these fruit in our life, then our respone should not be to fake them (plastic fruit looks nice but it tastes terrible), but to surrender more to Him so that more of Him will shine through us.

Our Christian life boils down to this: we make the choices, while He does the work.  We can choose Him, a choice which leads to surrender and self-denial, and then He will fill us with His Spirit and His fruit will be born in our life.  Or, we can choose self, which leads to the self-gratifying works of the flesh.


Spreading flames

Monday, July 7th, 2008

 Everywhere around us we see symbols, types, and illustrations of spiritual truths. It seems that the greatest truths are reflected in myriad ways in nature itself.

My wife sometimes tells me that I think too much. But, when I see something that abstracts a complex concept or illustrates a profound spiritual truth, I just can’t help but marvel over it and point it out.

On Saturday we drove up to the church to pick up some Sunday School materials. Since it was a beautiful day, I drove the long way home, going down Middle Road from Kingfield and over the dirt roads in New Portland, looking at the beautiful old farmhouses that dot those roads.

I meant to cross the Carrabassett River at the Wire Bridge in New Portland, but when we got to the bridge it was closed for repairs, so I turned around and crossed a little further south and headed toward West New Portland. But, when we got to the village, there was a fire truck blocking the road and traffic was re-routed around the village.

We wondered what was going on (being nosy, small-town Mainers), so after church today I swung down to West New Portland to see what all of the excitement was about. It was amazing to see one house completely gutted by fire. To the left was another house that was partially burned. You could see where the fire jumped from the first house to this one. And, out back there was a barn with a scorched, charred front.

The fire had originated in one house, but because of the intensity of the heat, it spread to a neighboring home and almost spread to the barn, too.

What an apt picture of the true working of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life. When we’ve got the real thing, we don’t have to force it on people. We don’t have to come up with clever programs to promote it. It will naturally spread to our neighbors, because that’s simply what it does by nature.

Now, when you’ve got the artificial stuff, when you are trying to manufacture a move by the Holy Spirit, then you’ve got to work to “spread” your “spirit” to other people. Then, you need to tickle dead ears and entertain cold hearts to get folks into the “spirit.”

When you’ve got the “real thing,” the people around you will naturally catch it. They can’t help but be influenced (scorched) by the Spirit that is working in you, and it’s the most natural thing in the world for them to catch it themselves. You don’t need to entertain them. You don’t need to ply them with guilt. You don’t need to use crowd psychology to manipulate them. The “fire” itself does all the work.

He always does all the work. If we find ourselves working too hard to manufacture the outward signs of the moving of the Spirit, then we need to take a time-out for self-examination to see if we’ve got the real thing.

He did all the work for our Salvation, right? We can try to save ourselves, to be good enough to earn a place in Heaven, but it’s not going to work.

So it is with day-to-day life. The power to live a Spirit-filled, God-honoring, obedient life does not come from our own will, our own strength, or our own self-discipline. The power always comes from God. We are incapable of living a life pleasing to Him within our own power.

Why did the 24 elders in Revelation chapter four cast their crowns at Jesus’ feet? Because they knew that they did not earn the crowns. We may be given crowns and rewards for what “we” do while here on earth, but in the end we should cast them all at Jesus feet because everything we ever do that matters in any way for eternity – every good work, every accomplishment, every gain – will be done through His power, not ours.

What a great life! He does all the work, then He turns around and rewards us for letting Him use us to do the work. God is so good!

Let’s don’t force the Spirit on others (as if we could). Let’s don’t be artificial. Let’s don’t manufacture the symptoms of the power of the Holy Spirit in the absence of His real power. Instead, let’s prepare our vessel for His use then pray and serve until He sends upon us His real, authentic power. When we have the real thing in our life, when we are being consumed by the Spirit, the people around us will catch it.

Like fire, the most natural thing for the Spirit to do is to spread.