Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Bible Doesn’t Say That: "Don’t Judge"

Kim and I were living in Atlanta several years ago during the Super Bowl. Atlanta happened to be in the Super Bowl that year. Needless to say, it was an exciting time in that city. People were selling t-shirts on the corners of streets. All of the closet fans came out in full force! Most churches had a dilemma back then on Super Bowl Sunday. How do we do Sunday evening services? Only the preacher and three other people will be in attendance. We had a Time of Fellowship at the church building all day long. But I remember watching the game that led up to the Super Bowl. The Atlanta Falcons were playing the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game. By some miracle, the Falcons won, from the basement to the Super Bowl! The city couldn’t control its excitement. The players couldn’t control their excitement. One player, in particular, Eugene Robinson, was extremely enthusiastic.

He had played a great game. And the cameras were following him everywhere. And he did a lot of interviews that day. And with each interview, he expressed the same thing:
I want to thank God!
I wouldn’t be here if not for my faith in Jesus!
I want to thank the Spirit for giving me the ability to play this game so well!
And Christians everywhere immediately fell in love with Mr. Robinson. How great! A star athlete promoting God right there on national TV! But those same Christians wished Eugene Robinson had just kept quiet about a week later.

The weekend before the Super Bowl, that same Eugene Robinson, the one who was talking so openly about his faith in Jesus, was arrested outside an Atlanta strip club for picking up a prostitute. He had the Spirit language down, but his actions were a different story. I remember going to church that next week. As you might expect, a few of us were talking about the Super Bowl and about Eugene Robinson. Someone pointed out the obvious disconnect between what Robinson said and what he did. And another one in our group said: “But we have to remember what the Bible says, don’t judge!”

Well, what do you think, church? Does the Bible say that? Over the last several weeks, I’ve pointed out several common sayings that we attribute to the Bible, sayings that are not actually in there. But this one is different. The statement, the phrase, the command, “Do not judge,” it’s in there!
Judge not, so you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. (Matthew 7:1–2 CEB)
That’s what Jesus says in Matthew 7:1–2. In Luke 6:
Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37 CEB)
James 4 says:
There is only one lawgiver and judge, and He is able to save and destroy. But you who judge your neighbor, who are you? (James 4:12 CEB)
The fact is: the Bible is filled with passages that tell us not to judge. And there is often some pretty harsh punishment promised to those who do spend their lives judging others. But, I wonder, church, if there is a time to judge. Yes, the Bible says it, but I wonder sometimes if it really says what we think it says about judging.

Let’s face it: We live in a “live and let live” kind of society. I think this sentiment is etched into our American DNA. We love freedom, we love liberty, we love the right to choose. We don’t want anyone to tell us what to do and we certainly don’t have the right to correct anyone else. So, if you take a group of folks like us and hand us a bunch of texts like the ones we just read, “Don’t judge…” Well, you don’t have to tell us twice. But brothers and sisters, it may not be that simple.

Take, for example, Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The Galatian church was struggling in mighty ways. This was one of the first multi-ethnic churches. There were life-long, children of the covenant Jews and there were Gentiles who had only recently heard about Abraham, Moses, and David. They were doing church together. And those Christians who had known God far longer were making it extremely difficult for the new folks. In fact, they told them: “You have to get circumcised before you become a Christian.” In other words: “Before you become a Christian, you have to obey the Law, the Jewish Law, that is. You have to become a Jew before you become a Christian.” Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians to say, “No, no you don’t!” The Law doesn’t save you. Only Jesus saves you. Period! But just saying that doesn’t make the tension go away.

Imagine a possible scenario. Suppose you are the mother of a recently dead son. He entered the church very early on, in fact, he brought you to Jesus. He was baptized into the faith, and he recently died. Now how you would feel that next Sunday when your Jewish sister walks up to you and says, “Pity about your boy. I wish he would have been circumcised before he died. But don’t worry, there’s still hope for your other sons.”

This was the heated, difficult tension that existed in Galatia. So, I’m sure Paul’s words did not immediately bring peace! And Paul knew that. So, just before he ended his letter, he gave them some parting words.
Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. (Galatians 6:1a CEB)
Did not you notice, church, what Paul told these Galatians to do? Judge each other! If you see one of your brothers and sisters in the wrong, correct them. Do it gently! But don’t leave their immaturity, do not leave their sin unchecked. You know, there is a time for judging. That might not be popular to say in our world. But there is an appropriate time to look someone in the face and say, “You are wrong.” If you don’t want to call it judging, give it another name! We sometimes do that as Christians, don’t we? When I was growing up, we couldn’t go to dances, but we could engage in choreography! So, let’s say it this way, let’s not judge each other. But let’s give each other license to engage in Christian confrontation. Is that better? Let’s define judging as the belief that you are perfect and everyone else is messed up. There is no place for that in our world. And there is certainly no place for that in the church. But let’s define “Christian confrontation” as gently correcting a brother or sister out of love. And there is certainly a place for that. In fact, we need more of that! And let me tell you why.

When some of us hear this message, our minds immediately jump to the same question. I know my brother or sister is caught in that sin, but who am I to judge them? We shy away from confrontation. Maybe this has to do with our American identity. We want people to be free to make their own decisions. And we don’t feel we have the right to tell anyone else what they can or cannot do with their lives. Well, if you wondering who you are to judge, let me tell you! Turn over to I Corinthians 2. Paul here is writing to a group of smug, self-righteous Christians. They are waiting for Paul to come in and correct their weaker brothers and sisters. They just can’t wait for Paul to put those other people in their place. Instead, Paul puts the burden back in their laps! He said, “You claim to be people of the Spirit…” Well, then, quit talking and start acting like it.
The Spirit searches everything, including the depths of God. 11 Who knows a person’s depths except their own spirit that lives in them? In the same way, no one has known the depths of God except God’s Spirit. We haven’t received the world’s spirit but God’s Spirit so that we can know the things given to us by God. These are the things we are talking about—not with words taught by human wisdom but with words taught by the Spirit—we are interpreting spiritual things to spiritual people. But people who are unspiritual don’t accept the things from God’s Spirit. They are foolishness to them and can’t be understood, because they can only be comprehended in a spiritual way. Spiritual people comprehend everything, but they themselves aren’t understood by anyone. Who has known the mind of the Lord, who will advise him? But we have the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2:10b–16 CEB)
Who are we to judge our brothers and sisters? We are the body of Christ with the mind of Christ! We talk a lot about love here at Glenwood. We love each other. Yes, we sometimes disagree with each other as families will do. But we love each other. If we do—if we do love each other—then when we see each other mess up, we will gently confront each other. That’s what families that love each other do.

This message sounds really good, just like something you’d hear a preacher say in a church building. But it is so much harder to actually put it into practice. And I believe it’s hard because we wait too late, once the conflict reaches epic proportions. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to catch these things early? What if we could keep each other from ever stepping off the deep end in the first place? I think the key is having some kind of accountability. Maybe we need a Christian buddy.

Stu Weber wrote an interesting article in Focus on the Family magazine several years ago. The war in Vietnam was building to its peak. One stop for young army officers was the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning. The sergeant said many wouldn't make the grade. It was just too tough. He was right. Of 287 in the formation that day, only 110 finished the nine weeks. Some of those recruits say they can still hear that raspy voice cutting through the morning humidity like a serrated blade. "We are here to save your lives," he preached. "We're going to see to it that you overcome all your natural fears, especially of heights and water. We're going to show you just how much incredible stress the human mind and body can endure. And when we're finished with you, you will be the U.S. Army's best.” Then, before he dismissed the formation, the hardened Ranger sergeant announced their first assignment. They readied themselves for something really tough; running 10 miles in full battle gear or rappelling down a sheer cliff. But the order came as a huge surprise. He told them to find a buddy. Some of those tough army recruits would have preferred the cliff. “This is step one," he growled.
You need to find yourself a Ranger buddy.
You will stick together.
You will never leave each other.
You will encourage each other.
And if necessary, you will carry each other.
This was the Army's way of saying difficult assignments require a friend. Together is better. And sometimes, we forget that simple truth. Jesus knew it. He sent His apostles out two by two. Because they couldn’t do it alone. Paul knew it. He tells the Christians to carry one another’s burdens. He knew that going through this battle alone was nearly impossible.

Let me encourage you to do something. Find a buddy! Find someone (one person) in whom you can confide. Sometimes it’s best if that person is not your spouse. But if you are a man, your buddy needs to be another man. If you are a woman, your buddy needs to be another woman. Sometimes your spouse is too close to the situation to give you a proper perspective. Choose someone you can trust. Choose someone you respect. Meet regularly or call one another regularly. Hold each other accountable. You need to build such a relationship that when they tell you, “You’ve messed up,” you can take it. And you need to feel comfortable enough to confront them too! We, as a church, have failed to encourage the importance of mentoring, or prayer partners, or accountability partners. I hope that you plan to find a buddy. And when that buddy system does not keep us from going off the cliff—and there are times when it will not—in those moments, I pray God would give us the courage we need to engage in healthy, Spirit-led, gentle Christian confrontation.

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