Brethren, We are Not Superheroes

CC BY-NC-SA, Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL)

CC BY-NC-SA, Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL)

Picture this: a well-written movie with a strong plot, a hearty dose of conflict, a beloved protagonist, and a cruel villain; at the end of this movie and climax of all suspense, the good guy dies horribly and the villain escapes.

No, you said? The bad guy isn’t supposed to win, right? Instead, he’s supposed to get what’s coming to him. Unexpected endings often make or break a movie in our minds because although evil might reinvent and resurrect itself, good should always win the day. The bad guy must be whacked.

“I Am Not Like You”

We possess a moral urgency to see truth prevail and justice done to all wrongdoing, and it comes alive in us most days just from watching the evening news. That inner urge derives from the image of God in us. It is our inbred ethic and the assumption of God’s moral law alluded to in Romans 1.

God has granted authority to government to prosecute wrongdoing, and Paul refers to government and its officials as the servants of God for good (Rom. 13:1-8). To individuals, however, and believers specifically, Jesus and the New Testament draw clear lines between owning an urgency for truth and justice and personal retribution on others—evildoers, sinners, and neighbors alike. Focus closely on this insightful intro to Luke 13:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (vs. 1-5).

Jesus Makes His Case

Jesus raises four points. First, bad things that happen to people don’t imply their sinfulness or wrongdoing in any way. We have to be careful of this karmic notion and that we are not wishing evil upon others or rejoicing because “they got what was coming to them.”

Jesus lets us see that God is not hell-bent on retribution, like us. In fact, Psalm 103:10 explains, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve.” But humans are indeed vengeful; we are morally fallen and ethically confused.

Second, we should guard ourselves from the sin we assume in others and remain humble before God. Whether we are sinners or believers, sin’s effects are equally devastating. This was Jesus once again turning the tables to deliver an irrefutable point.

The third and fourth points come by implication. So, third, God is good to all, yet bad things happen to good people. A noted preacher spoke in one of my college chapel services not long after 9/11 and said, “The people who went to work that day didn’t hear God.” I sat there stunned by what I was hearing; my mind seized for the many points to be rebutted. In his mind people, especially Christians, could escape trouble if they were properly “tuned in” to God.

Instead, Jesus speaks of the Father and says, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). We’re better off realizing that we are all held in the grace of God rather than to keep passing the buck of sin. Misfortune, however, isn’t reserved for the evil; it strikes the godly, too.

Finally, vengeance belongs to God (Rom. 12:19). There is a Day approaching when God’s full anger and justice on evil will be realized. I’m always gripped by how God pleads throughout scripture to those in danger of his judgment (Israel, Judah, sinners). He is not unlike David Banner warning, “You won’t like me when I’m angry.” And like the beast into which Banner’s anger metastasizes, God’s wrath is also an intolerable force, yet Hell must be endured eternally.

Stay in Love

Jesus’s point to us is the message of Jude 21—“Keep yourselves in the love of God.” This is God’s ultimate moral requirement for his people. We are not to be superheroes; Christianity is no Justice League. We bear no authority to mete out God’s judgments, nor should we be caught up in getting back at others or secretly wishing for their demise. The parable of the wheat and tares (Matt. 13) testifies to the recklessness that can only result from overstepping our authority.

Do not take this out of context. It doesn’t mean that self-defense and defending our families and property is wrong. It doesn’t imply that all war or capital punishment is wrong, or any other valid ethical argument we could insert here. It just means do not take liberty with justice or go overboard about your rights. Paul’s teaching about taking fellow believers to court, in 1 Cor. 6, is insightful and very relevant to this discussion.

Also, drawing from the subject of Jesus’s conversation, we must let go of useless queries about why 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the great tsunamis, and other disasters occurred. We do not live in a theocratic society like Israel was where the prophets spoke and predicted the counsel of God with singularity. We are too fractured a society and Church to accept this, even debating whether prophecy of that nature still exists.

What matters more is understanding that there is a real difference between desiring truth and justice, instituting and enforcing it, and vindicating ourselves, retaliatory behavior, and even defending God. Haven’t we learned as much from the Spanish Inquisition and Crusades? Retribution will always lure evil motives out of human hearts.

Leave None Behind

CC BY-NC-ND, U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos, Flickr

CC BY-NC-ND, U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos, Flickr

We are a church culture that ranks sins. A few get to tell glowing testimonies of how they were freed from their flaws while others know not to breathe a word about their past misdeeds—at least not the whole story—for fear of being scorned by some or investigated about the extent of their freedom.

This is shameful. It demonstrates that some of us have not understood the nature of sin, that we all stand under the same curse and that the mite of sin is as great as the vilest and most flagrant. We have also not understood the holy nature of God, his seamlessly pure moral character, or the extravagant grace that rescues us all from equal depravity.

Keep the Main Thing…

I like the way Paul addresses the fact—and how do we miss the point?

“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

So profound! Paul highlights issues that were specific to Corinthian society and his hearers; so we gain a telling picture of Corinth. What I love here is that one’s particular “sin background” is non-essential; instead, believers now stand redeemed by the work of Christ—and that’s all that matters, not the once-but-delivered ailment.

If we’re not careful, we will make a big deal about sin and lose love for sinners and fellow believers who wrestle with internal conflicts. We would do well to remember the words of Hebrews 12:15: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God.” Make sure, the writer explains, that no one—sinner or saint—lacks of the Lord’s great kindness.

Assessing Our Approach

Therefore, our churches must be spiritual communities where harbored sin in people’s lives breaks our hearts and where we have mastered a quick prayerful, loving, and restorative response, in the same way a body heals itself.

Compassion is the key. It characterized Jesus’s approach with others. And Paul, in Galatians 6:1, reminds us to compassionately restore those in indiscretion mindful that not only are we too susceptible to sin, but also to their kind of sin.

Sin will (and should) always be an affront to God’s holy nature in us, yet we must stop being surprised and shocked by the personal matters family, friends, and peers share with us. We are all human and err. Amazement only makes one feel bad about divulging their troubles; it also makes them question if God really cares about them.

Sin ain’t pretty. Yours wasn’t. So we dare not offend the Lord by being insensitive to others and impede ministry before it starts.

This isn’t just about sinners bearing all, if you’re still missing the point. Christians trip up and get bound, too. The context for Galatians 6 is the believing community; so Paul continues, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (v. 2, NKJV).

So our churches must be havens where certainly the godly can unpack their burdens and receive guidance and healing prayer. We should think this normal, but it isn’t hardly the case. It is sad that some Christians are scornful, judgmental, untrustworthy, and unloving toward their own—how can the lost ever be saved!

A New Culture

I’m concerned we err because we take our cues from the non-Christian culture around us, not the word of God. But the kingdom of God is our culture, a new and shockingly transformative one, and its implications are monumental. No, we don’t think and act the way the world does; our actions and responses will indeed be revolutionary and countercultural and make non-Christians wonder about our dissimilarity.

And our difference should be most evident in our relationships, the one aspect Jesus seems to deem the very purpose of our lives (cf. Mark 12:28-34). Thus, we take none for granted, neither those with the most need for an assurance of grace nor those who already possess it but need strengthening.

We will best love others and be most real with ourselves when we stop cherry-picking sin and esteem the marvelous grace that rescues us all.

More on this topic: The Need for Transparency

Caring Enough to Correct

CC BY-NC, FreddieBrown, Foter

CC BY-NC, FreddieBrown, Foter

In college I started a Friday night event on my wing called Midnight Monopoly. It was a leisure outlet for those of us who didn’t work or have other entertainment to make fete of an otherwise boring evening. It was always a fun time.

One night roommates joined the game; as we played, one made an innocent joke about the other. It was not received well, however, and the other guy spitefully and openly countered with the sharpest, crudest remark he could muster. Everyone quickly overlooked the comment, but I sat there appalled. I was the wing chaplain and decided to let it pass and confront the guy once the game ended.

In my room with him, I addressed the comment—how ugly and unchristian it was and expressed to his own roommate and spiritual brother. How could he say such a thing? I explained that he needed to apologize and simply repent. I wasn’t trying to be a dad, but it sure felt like it. The comment had offended and angered me.

Well he didn’t like it. He left abruptly and said nothing to me for two weeks—that is until a knock at my door one evening. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” He explained that he had thought very much about what I had said to him and felt convicted. He acknowledged his wrong and thanked me for having the courage to challenge him. He also stated that he had apologized to his roommate.

The Profitability of Correction

Proverbs 27:5-6 says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Challenging others is never easy, even when done lovingly. Some people let offenses and bad behavior go unchallenged rather than making folk accountable for them. But this is wrong and unloving.

It is also a false conception to think we can become successful or mature individuals, even good Christians, if we fail to submit to correction. Accountability safeguards character by cultivating wholesome traits and challenging negative ones. Correction, a form of accountability, is essential to personal growth and also God’s plan for us. Being non-teachable and prideful, however, causes us to miss valuable lessons and costs us in the end.

Hosea graphically expresses the need for correction and repentance: “Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us” (6:1-2, NASB). Here is the idea of purposely wounding, perhaps to set a fracture or to clean away infection.

And sometimes we don’t see that our lives have defect or fester with some sin, so seeking accountability is a positive and proactive move to ensure integrity and godliness. Moreover, godly reproof is a grace and sign of God’s ownership. We should welcome it and not resist it, lest we accept the charge of Hebrews 12:8—“you are not legitimate children at all.”

The wing mate I confronted serves the Lord today around the globe sharing the love of Jesus with orphans and the distressed. I consider what I did a small but necessary part of preparing him for the ministry he performs today.

What might we be leaving untended in the lives of others God is burdening us to correct? And are you asking the Lord to reveal the places in your life in need of correction? Just own enough humility whether you’re correcting or being corrected. It helps to remember Jesus’s words that we bear abundant fruit when we are pruned (John 15:2).

Glorious Grace (and the Mad Defender)

CC BY-NC, DJOXFUTURA, Flickr

CC BY-NC, DJOXFUTURA, Flickr

I often browse the comments to online stories I’ve read. Others’ perspectives offer me a fuller picture of the topic and help me solidify what I feel about it. But I must confess that reading Comments sections is now against my better judgment.

People are mean and crude and vile. I mean, Whoa! I find myself reeling at folk who allow their deepest and worst reservations to boil out when it is entirely unnecessary (is it ever necessary?) and uncalled for.

But sadder is when I read Christian material, including on Facebook, and find comments of the same tone. No, they’re not lewd or evil, but biting and unloving.

What I discover about Christian people in these comment sections is the almost irresistible need to call people out—for a different thought or belief pattern; for doctrinal stance; for needed correction on a matter. And the arrogance! I’m convinced that Pharisees yet live.

I’m not sitting here donned in the cape and spandex shorts that I wear (ahem) when I’m online crusading against ungraciousness. But sometimes I really do feel like a caped crusader when I use my night vision goggles to pierce the darkness of smug remarks or my brass knuckles to beat the sense into—gosh, I apologize! I get a little carried away.

Jesus, Full of Grace and Truth

John describes Jesus this way: “and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14, NASB). The splendor and renown of Jesus lay in his plenitude of grace and truth.

The people I encounter online always seem a little one-sided. They get the truth part; they know the Bible, its doctrines, the ins and outs of church, all necessary parts of the whole. But the missing element always seems to be graciousness—the kindness. It’s the problem of graceless Christians that Phil Yancey so lucidly describes in his What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Why is this so hard for some of us?

When I daydream about life on the scene with Jesus, I sometimes envy the disciples who got to watch Jesus model how human life should be lived. I’m sure the time wasn’t as meaningful to them in the moment as when they had the chance to look back on the three years spent with him. Still, they experienced a pinnacle moment in human history that I wish I could have now with Jesus, knowing what I do about his requirements for me.

I say that because I truly strive to live for God. I am blessed to have a stronger knowledge of theology and spirituality than many people around me. That’s no banner I wave but, in my opinion, just part of my devotion. And that is my point; I hope you don’t miss it. If I should say that I have truth, by which I live and that serves the kingdom, its ultimate purpose is fulfilled only when it humbly seats me before the God I love so that he can transform me, fellowship with me, and be glorified in me.

We forget that we still have to love people, and it is part of our worship to God.

So many people act like God’s bodyguards…um, that ain’t necessary. I think he gets along fine. Oh, let me fend off some of you: I understand the need for apologetics; I don’t forget that our God of love is a God who loves justice; so forth and so on. I GET IT. (Putting my boomerang down.)

But what would help our credibility as Christians in today’s society is getting Jesus’s words out of our heads and into our hearts: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Christ-followers devouring one another is not an advertisement for Christianity; instead, it’s a warning to stay away.

Grace-Filled Religion

I’ll wrap this up by painting a picture of what graciousness looks like. You add your own illustration. Let’s begin this way: Being graceful is…

  • Living honestly toward God, oneself, and others.
  • Acting on the behalf of others without expecting anything in return.
  • Sincerely praying for people.
  • Guarding your tongue regarding others and matters.
  • Living toward people with service to God in mind.
  • Thinking well of others and offering them the benefit of doubt.
  • Truly loving people regardless of who or what they are.
  • Allowing the Word of God to alter our behavior.
  • Bearing the courage to tackle our prejudices and reservations head-on.
  • Knowledge of how to live decently toward others.
  • Refusing to be jaded and negative.
  • The choice to be good to people when they don’t deserve it.
  • Preferring others and genuinely caring for their wellbeing.
  • Doing to others as you would have them do to you.
  • Cultivating the fruit of the Spirit.

How well do you show grace to others?

My Neighbor the Roommate

CC BY-NC, a&nota, Flickr

CC BY-NC, a&nota, Flickr

I arrived on campus a week early for leadership training and to help move in new students soon to arrive. On the day freshmen flooded the campus, I noticed a tall, gangly black guy, very peculiar because he was albino and had chiseled facial features. He dressed like an older gentleman and appeared to have stepped right out of the 70s. I wondered who might get him as a roommate.

It was a real surprise seeing him moved into my room later that day. His name was James, and he was an interesting fellow. James was a quiet and pensive person and slightly shy. Staunchly conservative, he often ranted about the way things should be when issues raised his ire.

But James also had a lighter side. He was funny to watch when something excited him because he was prone to giddiness, and he sounded like Squidward from SpongeBob SquarePants when he laughed. He loved pizza and was a movie buff. Bond was his man.

On campus, James hung out with a bunch the very replica of Fat Albert’s misfit friends of which he was the leader. He stuck out anywhere he went, more for his beanpole look and adornment in his favorite burgundy or green suit and Gatsby cap—yes, on campus. I would often chuckle watching him go to and fro.

But James had an issue. Perhaps I should say that I too had the issue since it was the second time I had to experience this type of thing at college. James had bad body odor. I suspected that it may have resulted from some type of problem in his body. My first roommate two years prior had awful odor, but he was merely unhygienic. I confronted him and the problem ceased. This was something I wasn’t sure could go away.

The odor was bad—putrid bad. I would walk in the room and detect a strong mothball scent and then the smell of decay. So when he was out of the room, I would sniff around and investigate. His clothes were my red flag that this was a personal issue because James wasn’t an unclean person.

I sat in class one winter day wearing my favorite sweater and suddenly smelled James’s scent reeking from me! I knew then that I had no other option but to confront him. Soon others on the floor took notice, and these guys weren’t the most considerate ones to handle a situation like this. I had to watch out for my own pride, too. I was the floor chaplain. Peers and other student leaders came to my room for different reasons. I didn’t want them to think I stank.

I built my nerve and decided to talk with James. It was easier to do with this roommate, but, as always, I first prayed for the right opportunity. I knew without doubt that this was an issue in his life; it was obvious to everyone else, but he never acknowledged it. I remember meeting his parents those first few days and observed how closely they kept tabs on him and all the more now with him alone halfway across the country. There was much he wasn’t saying, and I knew I had to cover him.

This is when the situation became less about James and more a search for trustworthiness and authentic care in me. I became empathetic and made myself feel the snickers and stares he drew, to feel what it’s like to be the misfit and last man chosen on the team every time. The one forced to walk alone; forced to love libraries and bookstores (because books don’t judge); forced to share yourself in fragments as you’ve had to teach and reteach yourself who to trust in what might as well be a jungle of suspects, Christian or not.

No one else was thinking this way and I knew it. Not even the group he hung out with on the floor was reaching out to him. I had to do it, not because I was Chaplain or older than everyone else. I knew that people could be cruel and cruel motives have devastating consequences. Sometimes neglect alone does it.

People don’t handle the truth about themselves well. We all have deep-seated issues and flaws that others may know or that we know about others. But we don’t glibly use that information because it’s sensitive and highly charged. People shut down when they are psychologically denuded and made to lose face. They get scared and fidgety and depressed. They fly off the deep end and kill people. James’s B.O. became a much smaller matter after I considered the stakes.

I trusted God for the right moment and it presented itself. I told James about the odor and asked him if he had an issue in his body. (Too private?) I offered some possible solutions to our problem. He mostly nodded. Then, I told him what my real concern was: him not being hurt. He opened up to me and explained that he had always been picked on for how he looked and said he knew about the odor.

In the end, it was meaningful to him that I had been honest, and he was appreciative for how I handled the situation. He controlled the problem better, too. He became very loyal to me his chaplain and roommate. The lesson has profoundly shaped my character.

What the Bible Says About Judging Others

It was election season and I worked with a Christian woman who was also a staunch Democrat. We often enjoyed spirited conversation on politics and the presidential candidates. One day I decided to explore her ideas on a hot-button topic, same-sex marriage, one her camp supports. “It’s not for me,” she said, “but I can’t judge them. I can’t judge what they do because I don’t have a heaven or hell to put them in.”

I was disappointed with her response, tinged with relativist notions and biblically questionable. She finished: “The Bible says, ‘Judge not that ye be not judged.’”

Who Gets to Judge?

I think society and many Christians get what it means to judge wrong. My friend cited God giving us free will to do as we please. This was meant to suggest that we all possess the right to act on our own terms and that, in the end, judgment belongs to God. Who are we to speak out against another’s action when God has given that person the freedom to do it?

So I countered: Is the preacher wrongly passing judgment every Sunday when he cries out against sin and evil? Is the parent being unduly judgmental when he or she cracks down on a teen’s misbehavior? Her response was that her opinion doesn’t matter. Whatever she could say would indeed be to wrongly judge another; however, if she added that it was wrong because God said so, then it held weight and was a worthy judgment.

Semantics? Confusion about to judge? A cop-out? Or nonsense? I can accept that being a follower of Christ may give me little room for personal opinion, but how could this bar me from judging, or forming opinions about others and issues? If anything, it should mean that I am more resolute in my beliefs.

Judging: A Natural Thing

I argued that each day I act, reason, and make decisions based on my convictions, amongst people and apart from them. But I don’t necessarily have to add that God approves or disapproves the what-why-and-how of my actions or any other’s. It also brought me to a major point in our discussion: Everyone judges.

Judging others is a very natural thing we humans do. Even animals judge. Humans are highly rational creatures and, with complex minds, live each day assessing things, ideas, and other people. Further, we make decisions based on those assessments, which are informed by many factors, including spiritual and moral beliefs. We naturally judge (or analyze), need to judge (or scrutinize) for survival, and will judge (or inspect) daily.

The Best Way We Judge

The scriptures do not refute this. The New Testament speaks about judging in several places; however, the inclination is never about whether we judge, but how we judge.

We get it wrong for a simple reason: We don’t know what the Bible says. So let’s start where my interlocutor did, in Matthew 7:1 and Jesus preaching his Sermon on the Mount. The verse does say, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”—but what does this mean?

Jesus is advising against harsh, condemnatory, and unjust moral assessments about another person. The next five verses do more to explain. Verse 2 warns that cruel judgments have a way of finding their way back to us, not from God but our fellow man. It is in verses 3-6, however, that the first verse is best clarified.

In a humorous stroke Jesus questions the people about looking into the eyes of their brethren and pointing out “specks,” or personal flaws but doing so with 2×4 beams sticking out of their heads! His illustration suggests that a person is unable to properly assess another’s flaw because he himself is not seeing clearly to do so being blinded by his own greater flaw.

NC-ND, Laura Taylor Flickr

NC-ND, Laura Taylor Flickr

The point is that one of the best ways we judge is by taking careful inventory of ourselves before we chance to rule on others. Thus, making private, weighty character assessments about people, whether we wish to call it Christian or not, is a moral matter and should never be done hastily, with cruelty, or in an unforgiving manner.

The Moral Guard Within

Paul adds a notable thought in 1 Cor. 2:15 where he says, “But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one” (NKJV). Paul had been contrasting natural wisdom and spiritual wisdom, indicating that the two are incompatible and that the natural, or carnal, man is incapable of attaining Spirit-derived concepts.

Then (v. 15), he says that a person born of God is capable of analyzing all things because he does it by the Spirit and according to God’s moral self-disclosure, although this person himself is not easily understood by others.

It is a startling equivalence to Jesus’s own words to Nicodemus in John 3:6, 8 where he says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit;” then, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (NKJV).

The importance of both Jesus’s and Paul’s words is not merely the contrast between spiritual and earthly knowledge. They also draw attention to the moral front that God has placed in the earth in his people and, by common grace, in the hearts of all who endeavor to do right.

It is why the world doesn’t fly apart in chaos and evil. It is why we have public defenders, police, judges, prosecutors, and policy advocates—to bolster truth and justice and eliminate wrongdoing. Paul calls these people the “ministers” of God (Rom. 13:4, NKJV).

NC-ND, amy-wong.com Flickr

NC-ND, amy-wong.com Flickr

Further, to claim that judgment solely belongs to God, as my friend did, would be to risk forsaking what God has to say (or has said) explicitly about a matter. Christians should always be taking their cues from the Spirit of God, just as Jesus did (cf. John 5:30), for such is what permits us to preach in pulpits and move beyond there to protest in the public square and pound the pavement against social evils.

How We Judge Others

Now, how do we judge? There are a few biblical insights to learn here that are difficult to deal with independently because they operate together in scripture. So I will list them all and then present them in biblical scenario.

Christians are to judge: 1) lovingly, 2) considering the state of the other person, 3) restoratively, and 4) with pure motives.

There are a few places in the New Testament where we find these lessons. In both Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 8, the apostle Paul discusses issues Christians were having concerning certain foods and meat. In Romans, the issue concerned converts that were hesitant about foods their personal faith outlawed; in Corinthians, the concern was whether Christians should purchase and eat meat that had been used in idol worship. What Paul has to say regarding each scenario is very interesting and worthy of study.

For here, however, the scenarios serve to backdrop a Christian civil duty, and it is Paul’s response that needs a thorough examination.

Paul’s position is best summed up in Rom. 14:21: “It is better not to eat meat nor drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” What is more important to see, however, is how Paul deals with the fact that many people had begun to make judgments about others based on their decisions to participate or not in certain foods.

SA, Marc Smith Flickr

SA, Marc Smith, Flickr

For instance, in 1 Cor. 8:1, he begins by quoting the people, then turning their argument back on them. I will paraphrase here since most translations don’t showcase what’s happening: “Now concerning things offered to idols: You say, ‘We have full knowledge that idols are nothing’—and you’re right. But it is not knowledge that matters here. What we know often gives us a big head and leads us astray! It is love, however, that builds folk up, and love is what matters regarding your weaker brother.”

It merges into the point the apostle makes in Romans 14 that any judging we do of others must be done fully considerate of a person’s state of need. People act based on their maturity level. Those who are more advanced should not be critical of those that are immature or whose faith they know little about (and vice versa, but Paul places more responsibility on the stronger brother.)

Paul makes the case that we are not to judge our brethren unfairly because we all belong to the Lord, and we are not to judge all others unfairly because, ultimately, all judgment does indeed belong to God and we are stewards of his righteousness and not lords of our own opinion.

Judging and Restoring

Moreover, to act with love and consideration means that judging others will be restorative. It will give light whereby a person may see their shortcomings or wrong. (One cannot repent from sin he cannot see.)

Galatians 6:1 is the hallmark scripture here: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you may also be tempted.” It is the exact message of Matthew 7:1, John 3:6, 8, and 1 Cor. 2:15 with the extra note that we have the same capacity to harbor the very sin we may wish to condemn in others.

The Sin of Moral Disrespect

CC, Sudhamshu Hebbar, Flickr

CC, Sudhamshu Hebbar, Flickr

Finally, our judging others must be done with pure motives. In Colossians 2, Paul warns Christians to avoid those that would seek to deceive them through philosophies and a reversion to works religion. These people, taking advantage of the apostle’s absence, hassled the fledgling church with the many requirements of the Law of Moses, plus added their own stipulations as a means of controlling the people.

A sound study of this chapter produces a real distinction between God’s law, which was good, and human legalism. The legalistic injunctions these people used to sway the church represent not only impure motive, but also a lack of moral respect.

False and censorious judgment is a moral trespass and the kind of disrespect often highlighted in the Prophets as drawing the indignation of God. What we cannot miss in scripture is that God is a God of love, but he is also a God who loves justice. He desires justice in the earth because he is righteous and cares about civil order and fairness.

It is difficult to believe that a Christian stranded of conviction and confused about his or her role in stemming the tide of darkness brings God much glory. That person will collapse beneath the weight of a small inquisition.