Cru @ SRU : Ask Anything Night (Part 3)

64079-ask-me-anythingMy apologies for the delays in responding. My preaching weeks become scattered. Back to the joyful grind! (It’s probably healthy at this point to remind folks that I’m not on staff with Cru, so these positions are not meant to reflect the organization! I’m just a pastor guy asked to participate – if you have a beef… it’s with me!)

 

Have you struggled or do you struggle to sit still and listen for God? If you can hear God during quiet time how does that happen for you and what can I do? 

There are a couple things going on in this question. I’ll take them in order. I have always struggled to find the mythical “quiet time” that some folks describe. That does not mean I do not have meaningful time with God – it simply means that my meaningful time works in ways that fit my life and personality. For example, one of my favorite things to do is to walk with my Bible. I’m always the first awake in my family. In the seasons when the sun is up early, I’ll grab my devotional passages for the morning and walk the streets/sidewalks of town with my Bible. I find that walking is helpful for me to carry on conversation with the Word. I love to ride my bike in the summer. I try to take a verse or passage with me to consider while I pedal. In the months where I can’t walk, I miss it. Walking inside is not as fruitful. But still I’ll spend time at the dining room table (my “office”) or elsewhere with the Word. Walking is my preference, though.

I believe the calling on each individual is to meet with the Lord in a way and at a time that is fruitful. If I were to wake up early and then close my eyes to seek the mythical & magical quiet time, I would be asleep in two seconds. Likewise at night… or any other time. Life can be exhausting. But I’ve found a way that I am able to dial in (so to speak) and enjoy the Lord’s presence through his Word. If I were to offer advice in this matter, it would sound like this:

  1. Give the Lord your most fruitful mental hour. If your mind and heart are strongest in the morning, then devote time in the morning.  If it is evening, then evening. There is no prescribed time.
  2. Include the Word. The only way to know 100% that you’re hearing the voice of God is to hear his revealed Word in the Scripture. We so often take for granted the fact that the Word is living and active. It cuts. It heals. It is true and abiding. Whatever you do, do it with the Word… written, digital, memorized. Do it all.
  3. Explore until you find fruit. Some people can withdraw and be in a literal prayer closet. Some have places that allow for focus. Some walk 😉 Some talk aloud. Some journal. Some draw. There are lots of ways to interact with the Word that speak from your heart as a reflection on what God has revealed to be true. Pursue. Pursue. Pursue. Don’t be discouraged if something isn’t “working.” It just means you’ve found another way that, in this season of life, is not fruitful for you. But there is a way. I guarantee it.
  4. I am often discouraged by hearing how others do it “differently” (which my heart unfortunately believes is “better”). This is a poison on our devotional life. I’ve spent years whittling away the methods at which I fail. But in that I’ve had great times and seasons, and I’ve found things that encourage my soul. Listen to others (including me) for ideas and encouragement, but don’t believe my answers are better… they’re better for me.

 

What does Philippians 4:13 mean to you? 

Philippians 4:13 is unfortunately mishandled by the body. It does not mean if you put your mind to Jesus you can do whatever you want, which is most often how people understand it. We live in a sound clip culture that wants one sentence (preferably with 140 characters or less) to fix our lives. This approach does not work with Scripture. Bible verses do not exist in a vacuum. They require context.

The context of Philippians 4:13 is so beautiful and relevant that it is doubly tragic to see it abused. I encourage folks to read the whole letter! That’s the way it was written. It has a flow. But even the few verses surrounding 4:13 serve to debunk the way it is mistreated:

… for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret
of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 

Incorrect understanding: I can do anything if I put my mind to it (and keep Jesus in my pocket)
Correct understanding: Life will have highs and lows, but I can endure with Jesus.

Philippians 4:13 is a verse about contentment, the satisfaction that Jesus provides a satisfaction that extends beyond circumstance. Whether in joy or suffering, Jesus is enough. And because Jesus is enough, he provides the strength to abound with humility and to suffer with dignity.

 

What is your view on gay marriage? Also, what do you think of people who are Christian but support gay marriage? Do you think it’s a bad thing? 

My view on marriage begins with God, because God created marriage.
My view on marriage comes from the Bible – the WHOLE Bible – because it is the Word of God.

God created marriage in Genesis 2. Adam, though enjoying the full fellowship of God, was lonely. God exists eternally in relationship as three Persons – Father, Son, and Spirit. Because we are created in his image, it stands to reason that we, too, would desire relationship with others. In the garden, before the fall, God provided for Adam more than just a mate. He provided woman as a friend and companion who filled a very specific void, who would serve alongside him to fulfill the commission of Genesis 1. Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. Have dominion. God created humanity to bring him glory by extending this commission. This has not changed. This is true today.

Marriage was not created to give us the warm fuzzies and make us feel good about who we believe ourselves to be. It was created to glorify God by living in line with his commission. Obviously sin screwed everything up. We still seek to fill the earth and to exercise dominion, but not to glorify God. This is the heart condition of all humanity. As such, it makes sense that we would distort what God has revealed to be true about everything, which would include marriage and sexuality. As such, any perversion of God’s intended design for humanity, marriage, and sexuality would stand as sin. This is ONE reason why sexual sin is so extensively dealt with in the Bible.

The other reason, just as important, is the gospel. From the beginning, God has used language depicting himself as a husband and his people as a bride. Most often, his people have played the role of the harlot – idolatrous and unfaithful, giving ourselves to any alternative that tickles our fancy. The ultimate expression of this marriage metaphor is the gospel. Jesus died to save his bride, the church. Paul says in Ephesians 5 that marriage is a picture of the gospel – a faithful husband dying to himself to present his bride pure to God… a bride loving her husband above herself. God, in his sovereign omniscience, gave us marriage to prepare us for what would be necessary in Christ – a plan which was laid forth before the foundation of the world. There is more at stake in the marriage question than a human relationship… it is the picture of the divine-human relationship that is compromised.

All that being said, I do not see homosexual marriage as honoring to our God, who created us for his purposes (not our own – that’s where the whole sin problem came from), and who created marriage as an active and widespread demonstration of the kind of love he has extended in Jesus Christ. The heart of sinful humanity is to do what we want, not what God wants. Every human faces this struggle. I face this struggle. The struggle will manifest differently in different people. As such, I believe in compassion. I cannot endorse the marriage, but that does not mean I cannot love the individual.

To answer that part of your question, I believe love is key, but love involves truth. The church is a hospital for sinners, and so I do not believe in casting down any one person for any one particular sin. But there must also be an understanding that certain sins have a far reaching impact. This means we stand on delicate ground. May God have compassion and help us! May he be glorified by the love that is indicative of his sacrifice for us! May we humbly approach him!

One final consideration (because this is a looooong dialogue these days) is with regard to identity, because the argument is very often made that sexual preference is a matter of identity – that it runs at the core of who we are. Human sexuality, by nature, involves another human. In fact, it requires another human. Sexuality involves the identification of an object of desire… but there has to be an object to desire, or it’s not human (we’re not asexual?!?). As such, I think sexuality is disqualified from providing true identity. True identity is in our souls. Regardless of the label, if we place our identity on something that is not intrinsic, we’re actually abdicating identity in favor of letting something outside of self define us.

The biblical assumption is that the image of God is intrinsic, stamped on our souls. That is how we were made. Obviously, folks can make the argument that God is outside of self, and so it’s the same thing. But I would also argue that if there is a transcendent God capable of speaking the universe into existence, then he is best qualified to tell us what we’re made of and why. (I know that sounds harsh, but I am brought low by this truth with regularity!)

The good news of the gospel is that, in Jesus, there is hope. The good news of the gospel that we cannot – in our sinful flesh – understand is that surrender to Jesus will involve surrender of those things which we have heretofore believed to be defining qualities. That last line might have sounded like bad news, but I assure you it’s not. Surrender to Jesus is to rightly acknowledge and agree with God that our basest desires are eternally flawed (and I’m not just referring to sexuality here. EVERY desire is broken and in need of new life). No matter who you are, what you do, or what you believe prior to meeting Jesus,  you must necessarily give it ALL to him and let him tell you what is right and true. The Christian life is a long sequence of finding out that he has better things for us… but most of those better things involve laying down sinful things that we are convinced will provide us happiness. That is the lie of the garden, the poison on God’s commission. There are numerous qualities that I would have used to define myself prior to meeting Christ. I am never happy to find that they are sinful. But I am ever grateful that he has shown me a better way.

There is hope.
And in our hope, there should be love.

 

How do I overcome judging myself and others? I know it is not my place to think negative thoughts about others and I do my best not to act on those judgments, but is there anything I can do to overcome judging as if I was God? 

Strangely, the answer is simple. But the outworking is lifelong and humbling. The gospel is the key. The good news of the life, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus is not a get out of hell free card. It is not a ticket to be punched, a doctrine we adopt in a moment and then tuck in our back pocket. It is a truth into which we immerse ourselves, letting it shape us – heart, soul, and actions.

Why do I start there?

Because we are in desperate need to be reminded of the sin from which we’ve been rescued. We are in continual need of being reminded of his sacrifice. We live at the foot of the cross because his blood is an ever-present reminder of the vileness of our own hearts, and his willing compassion to die for us anyway. As we dwell on this truth, we find ourselves able to believe two truths:

  1. Jesus loves me.
  2. Jesus loves them.

As we come to understand that we’ve been loved, we are able to see ourselves through the eyes of God – flawed, yes. But loved. Oh, we are so loved! While we were enemies, God died for us! If you are in Christ, you are an adopted son or daughter of God, given by Christ the right to call him Abba! Father! Daddy! God draws so near, not because you’re perfect, but because he is good. The revelation of his goodness will change you. Get in the habit of preaching the gospel to yourself – in good days and in bad. In the good days, the gospel will humble you. In the bad days, the gospel will pick you up. The truth never changes, so live there.

As we come to understand the vast love of God, we are able to see others through his eyes as well – flawed, yes. But loved. They are so loved! Whether his enemies or his children, the sacrifice of Christ stands as hope for them, the hope of adoption stands for them! Just imagine what it would be like to call them brother or sister! Not because we chose them, but because God’s love is bigger than our choices. I might suggest you get in the habit of praying for the people you are prone to judge. Asking the Lord to smile upon them despite their flaws will change you.

The gospel will also, in time (and in relationship!) impart to you the kind of love that enables you to be honest with another person about a matter of the soul. In other words, it is possible to judge rightly without condemnation, with an eye towards restoration (Galatians 6!). While there may be times to address matters of sin in a broad forum (like an “Ask Anything Night”, or in expositionally preaching the Word of God), I believe the  intention of biblical community is that sin would be addressed in relationship with other people, where healthy fellowship allows for compassionate conversation, prayer, and accountability. My final suggestion would be to seek community, kindred souls tethered to the gospel of Jesus Christ, who can help you live an honest and humbly surrendered life!

 

 

I’m still letting these churn. If you have questions, or would like to pursue additional conversation (in person… I’ve never seen a fruitful extended online conversation), contact me!

Cru @ SRU : Ask Anything Night (Part 2)

64079-ask-me-anythingCan you lose your salvation?

If you want to start a spirited discussion among a group of Christians, ask this question, step back, and watch. Unfortunately, there is no consensus view on the security of salvation. If you were to go on a proof-texting mission through the Scriptures, you would find a variety of verses that could help you lean in either direction. The question hinges on the nature of the grace given by God, and the relationship of grace to the atoning work of Christ. This is a much larger discussion in the realm of theology.

Personally, I do not believe genuine redemption can be lost. I do not believe God rescinds the gift of his grace, which I believe is effectual in accomplishing its purposes. For those who appear to exhibit genuine faith for a season, only to fall away (which I have seen quite often…), I would contend that while their outward show of faith may have seemed authentic, that it was rooted in the flesh (emotions and intellect without biblical repentance and faith) rather than in the life-giving grace of God. As John said, they were never in Christ. I find the doctrine of forever grace to be comforting in my darkest hours, in seasons of doubt or of pain.

If you go chasing this particular subject, do so gently in relationship to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Know the potential for division, and be willing to walk side-by-side with a Christian who sees this position through a different lens. Study the Scriptures, not just the words of men. And most of all, remember that the pursuit of the intellectual can become an obsession that fails to reach your heart… experience has taught me that this is more likely to produce arrogance than humility. Love must be the foundation of your pursuit.

 

Why do bad things happen to good people? How can God allow that? 

This one was covered well at the event. We start with definitions. In terms of sin and brokenness, there are no good people – in terms of righteousness. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The consequence of sin is the curse brought by God upon his creation in Genesis 3. The outworking of the curse is going to feel devastating at times and in many ways. Because this question is often first a cry for justice, we must at least consider the fact that a cursed existence is still an opportunity in this life to pursue reconciliation with God. The wages of sin is death, which means a lifetime of opportunity is an act of mercy on God’s part, from which we will have no excuse. God is indeed just, as the current condition was foretold as Adam stood in the garden representing the human race.

One struggle of a cursed existence is to watch nice people, kind people, loved ones, go through trials – all the while enduring trials of our own. Romans 8 describes all of creation as groaning, waiting for the fullness of final redemption upon the return of Christ. This is the result of sin. We, too, groan and wait.

But Romans 5 also now describes Jesus as the new Adam, the new head of humanity – received by those who come to know him by grace through faith. All of humanity stands in one of two postures – in Adam or in Christ. Those who are in Adam bear the weight of the curse now, and await the final judgment as a result. Those who are in Christ have had their portion of the curse laid upon Jesus – when he died, the final judgment was reverse because Christ bore it in fullness on the tree. In the meantime, we live a life marked by suffering – not as a form of ultimate judgment, but rather as a life of identification with our Savior who suffered. The pains of this life are the last pains we will endure. There is hope in such a statement, there is peace and even joy amidst trial in such a reality!

Bad things will happen to all people in this life. Sin guarantees as much. Death will be the ultimate bad thing. But for the Christian, there is a hope that changes everything here and now.

 

How can I know for sure that God exists? 

If you’re aiming for the extreme form of this question, in what way will God empirically and emphatically prove his existence to me so that I could not possibly hold any other belief than to worship his excellence? The answer is, he will not until the return of Christ. At that point, however, according to the Scriptures, eternity will be finalized. In this life, our response to God will always involve an element of faith, an element of stepping outside ourselves in order to trust something that is not in reach of our five senses (or even the rare sixth sense… ;)… )

If you dig into the study of apologetics, you can see the arguments for the existence of God. The ontological argument is the argument of being – the idea of God exists, which in and of itself is an argument for his existence. The teleological argument – the order of the universe suggests a source of order. The cosmological argument – every effect must have an adequate cause… the world is real, therefore the cause must be real. The moral argument suggests that objective morality requires a source… subjective morality leaves too many open doors. Obviously there are lengthy arguments into these ideas, and there are other ideas.

Ravi Zacharias describes how God meets us at the intersection of logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and experiential relevance… it’s a great clip if you’re looking for a brain exercise!

In moments of doubt, it’s easy to fall into questioning the existence of God. But the Scriptures are clear that nature reveals his divine power and attributes (Rom. 1). Vern Poythress has done some wonderful work in his book Redeeming Science to expound on this thought. However, as I’ve said already, there will necessarily be an element of trust that is born of the Spirit, not the senses – no matter how good the intellectual argument. Christianity is a matter of faith, not an academic framework – though the pursuit of the study of God is indeed fruitful at every turn!

 

If God hates wickedness, why do a lot of wicked people have really good things happen to them? 

The psalmists asked this question so very often! Were you to spend time in the psalms, you would find a kindred heart asking this question again and again! Yet again and again, the psalmist is drawn to lift his eyes from the mirror to the glory of God, to focus on him rather than obsessing over temporary earthly circumstances.

As we discussed at the Cru event, though, you can also consider the definitions of the terms. We assume that what is happening to “the wicked” is good, because in our covetous idolatry, we want the earthly blessing without an eye to the eternal consequences. We associate health, wealth, and earthly prosperity with the greatest blessings because in our sinful hearts we long to be comfy. But the call of Christ is simple, take up your cross and follow me. The phrase is not exactly cozy. Jesus suffered perfectly and completely, and the call to discipleship is akin to a call to suffer. As I was reading this afternoon – we want the blessings of the garden of Eden (peace, provision, presence of God) without first walking through the garden of Gethsemane (where Jesus sweat blood and endured the anguish of his soul). While in this sin-stained world, we must persevere. The true blessings are not of this world. We are to give thanks in every circumstance, to consider it pure joy when we face trials. Most often, the Bible brings warnings when things are going “well,” because it is in wellness that we are most prone to forget God.

God has promised to provide daily for his children. You won’t often see daily bread on an episode of MTV Cribs, though, and our sinful hearts just aren’t satisfied with that!

 

Unrelated, but related… 

I read a great quote from C.S. Lewis today, found in his essay titled God in the Dock: 

“The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He (man) is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the bench and God in the dock.”

This is convicting, indeed!

Judge One Another (part 3)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 ESV)

Follow me on a little thinking journey. Two little letters changed the way I viewed Jesus’ words (Matthew 7:1-5) about judging one another. Two letters. “So…” It’s amazing how often the little transition words in the Bible change the way you view things. They shift emphasis and bring up questions.

“So…”

With this one little word, Jesus is introducing the golden rule as a summary of what was said before. It’s like saying… important-stuff, convicting-stuff, life-changing-stuff, therefore the golden rule. Gotta be honest, I had to think about this for a while. From an interpretive standpoint, there are a couple of ways to look at this.

1) The golden rule could be an entirely new point in the Sermon, entirely disconnected from the previous thoughts. After all, Jesus preached according to the passage breaks in the Bible, no? (My Bible has a bold heading The Golden Rule right before that verse… Jesus was just following the outline, right?!?)

2) The golden rule could be a summary of the entire Sermon on the Mount. In other words, as Jesus dealt with the heart issues behind anger, lust, revenge, etc. He might have been saying, “Hey, you could sum it up like this…”

3) The golden rule could also be a summary of the instructions immediately preceding. Now the verses right before (Matthew 7:7-11) are also familiar. They deal with asking, seeking, and knocking – not exactly “human interaction” kinds of verses, so this wouldn’t make sense with the golden rule… UNLESS the asking, seeking, and knocking is also somehow tied to the verses right before (Matthew 7:1-6), which is our passage on judging one another. Did you follow that?

For the record, I’ve come to choose #3. Quickly stated, here’s why. That little “so” makes me think it’s not a new point. Furthermore, The Sermon teaching deals with the sinful heart behind sinful actions. Why, then, would Jesus sum up the Sermon by telling us just to act nicely? Jesus is in the business of heart change, inside-out kind of stuff, so this makes no sense as a summary for the WHOLE sermon. It’s pretty easy to put on a happy face and treat someone nicely, all the while loathing them in your deceitful heart. The golden rule, golden as it may be, doesn’t fit as a sweeping heart-change statement. The golden action has to be tied to something else. I think it’s tied to our passage on judging.

I mentioned a few posts back that, at times, I dislike the section breaks common to most Bibles. Particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, they make it look like Jesus gave 22 different nuggets, each with catchy bold-faced headings, instead of ONE sermon. These breaks have the tendency to lead readers to see passages as disconnected. In this case, I think the passages are connected. I think the teaching on judging, along with the asking, seeking, knocking, and golden rule-ing are related.

mirrorOn a big picture level, I think Jesus was saying something like this… “Hey (funny how it always starts with hey in my head), I’ve just dropped a whole B-52 of truth bombs on your noggin. I’ve forever altered the way you look at your interactions with God and man. I’ve redefined the way you look at sin (no joke… read Matthew 5-6). I’ve revealed a standard so shockingly impossible that I know what you’re doing… Instead of thinking about your own problems, you’re thinking about the guy or gal sitting next to you. You’re deflecting instead of reflecting. Stop it. I mean, you wouldn’t want them doing that to you, eh?!?”

We all do this. We hear sermons or read passages that should be convicting our hearts. We should be enjoying a moment with our indwelling Savior. Instead, we are overrun with thoughts that sound something like this…

“I wish (haughtily insert name here) were around to hear this… then they’d see.”

Jesus knows how we operate… and Jesus happens to be a great preacher. So He goes ahead and addresses the issue mid-sermon. That’s why I love His preaching. He reminds me where my heart is supposed to be when I’m sinfully focused elsewhere. The more I look at the golden rule, I don’t see it as a call to treat others with outward pleasantry. That would be quite mundane, lacking the supernatural. Any wicked servant can do that. I see it as a call to treat others well in our hearts. In order to do that, we need to stop deflecting and start reflecting. We need the transformational power of the gospel.

So (little transition word) thinking more about our judgment passage (Matthew 7:1-5), while I do believe there is a call for Christians to judge one another, I also believe that there is a time, a place, and an attitude for such interaction – and this wasn’t it. Jesus was laying out heavenly, Kingdom-come-crashing-to-earth standards. He was preaching truth… and the people were drifting. He was inviting them to sit as His feet, to be convicted and changed by the truth of His flawless Word… and they were more interested in casting stones.

Sure, that might’ve been true in AD27, but obviously that never happens today.

Maybe you’re planning to gather with the church this weekend. Maybe you’ll feel that draw to spend time at the Lord’s feet. Maybe you’ll hear a good sermon. If you’re into picturesque meetings, maybe it’ll be on a mount. Prayerfully seek Jesus and ask that your mind would be sober and focused on Him. Humble yourself before His teaching and know that He has a Word for you just as much as He does the guy or gal sitting two rows in front of you. Don’t miss such a precious moment by staining it with pride. Let the Redeemer pick you up, the mess that you are, and call you beloved.

I realize I didn’t jump into those asking, seeking, and knocking verses… I guess that means I’m not finished with this subject just yet.

Judge One Another (part 2)

Bible Passage - Matthew 7“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pics, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:1-6 ESV)

First verse – love it. Second verse – love it. Third verse – see? Fourth verse – I told you! You should see it by now. Take your judgment elsewhere… Jesus said so. Folks can probably recite with some accuracy those first four verses. Let’s be real, they come in handy sometimes when we just don’t want to face the truth. What happens when we realize there is a verse five? Uh oh. Same sermon. Same context. Less palatable.

“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5 ESV)

According to Jesus, the problem isn’t that we judge one another. The problem, as is the case throughout the Sermon on the Mount, is the sinful human heart behind the judgment. Our hypocrisy blinds us from making right judgments. How can sinners judge sinners? A wonderfully valid question, mind you.

But in nearly the same breath as He raised the caution flag regarding hypocrisy, He encourages judgment as a good thing, provided the whole “log in your own eye” issue is addressed.

OK, maybe so, but who is Jesus talking about here?

Great question. (obviously… I asked it!) Context matters. Is this a blanket statement for all of humanity? (I started the thoughts that will follow last week in a post here.)

NERD ALERT: Commentaries are fun. Bible dictionaries are fun. Without such literary aids, how else would I know that there are no fewer than six… SIX… interpretations of the sermon on the mount. If you don’t care what they are – skip the list. If you dig a good dig, read my admittedly biased bullets with an adventurous spirit.*

  • Interim Ethic – Jesus was introducing a crazy tough ethic for the immediate days (AD30-ish, a long, long, long, time ago) to impact the globe because the Kingdom was knocking. The end was ultra-near. But since the Kingdom has not yet consummated a couple thousand years later, this interpretation doesn’t hold much weight.
  • Classic Liberalism – Jesus was providing an unfolded roadmap to a better, more progressive society.
  • Lutheran Orthodoxy – Through the Sermon, Jesus was describing an impossibly high ethic designed to show us the hopelessness of achieving on our own the righteousness God demands. The Sermon then becomes a broad gospel invitation to trust the sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness. While our inadequacy is pretty obvious in other parts of the Bible, the challenge here is that this interpretation has little direct Scriptural support.
  • Existential – The Sermon aims to orient lives to a heavenly perspective. There is no literal, coming Kingdom, but there is a heavenly ideal. Make a better future, people!
  • DispensationalIn this system of thought, there are distinguished periods of law and grace. As such, historically, God has dealt with people differently during each. Extreme dispensationalism would say salvation has come via different means to people at different times. The key to this view of the Bible is based on knowing how God is dealing with people at that moment. The Sermon, then, was an offer of a millennial kingdom to the Jews. This potentially narrow view could then render the Sermon irrelevant in the “church age” (today) because the Jews then rejected the Kingdom – though it is still reserved for the future millennial kingdom. I get confused just talking about dispensationalism.
  • Straightforward – Jesus was preaching to people following Him who were living in a sinful world waiting for the King to come fully and finally establish His Kingdom. The Sermon is a heavenly, Christlike standard that followers of Jesus should strive after, even if we will never get there until He comes back. You could also toss in a handful of inaugurated eschatology here to say that Jesus brought a taste of this standard – along with the power to even try – via the Holy Spirit as the Kingdom crashed to earth with Him. Personally, it may be worth noting, I like this one.

Wake up! Back to the passage. Two chapters prior, Jesus “went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:” (Matthew 5:1-2 ESV)

Jesus taught them.

Who is them? (such a grammatically horrific question)

I hang on to that straightforward view. Jesus was teaching His disciples, those who were following Him. There were crowds around, undoubtedly containing folks who though He was crazy. But His target audience? Followers. Disciples. Christians. Super important in applying this Matthew 7 text, as well as the rest of the Sermon.

So who does the judging? Christians.

Who are the recipients of Christian judging? Their brothers and sisters (a.k.a. “other Christians”).

This is church business.

Does that mean Christians can’t offer judgment (a human determination between options, the evidence and support for which has been gathered via the human senses) to non-Christians? Well that’s sticky, because any fruitful discussion of the gospel will inevitably involve pointing out the reality of sin. I’m going to come back to this in a later post.

For now, let’s stick to the first point – Christians are instructed to judge Christians.

BUT… there’s always a but.

* Check out the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for elaboration on the six interpretations above. 

Judge One Another (part 1)

Bible Passage - Matthew 7“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pics, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:1-6 ESV) 

There are texts in the Scripture that are dangerously familiar. What I mean is, there are verses and passages that we know so well that we actually have no clue what they say. Matthew 7:1-5a falls right into this category. I see a lot of emphasis these days placed upon these verses from Christians & non-Christians alike. The emphasis makes sense, really, given the individualistic nature of our culture.

You live your life, I’ll live mine.

To each his own.

Who are you to judge me?

In so many ways, we want to be left alone. But at the same time, our hearts hunger for real relationship with other humans. And the trouble with other humans is that we think. We process. We judge. Judgment, at its core, is simply to engage the senses and make a determination.

He is tall.

Her voice is loud.

Statements of fact which, when left alone, are mostly harmless. The trouble with humans is that we keep thinking. We don’t stop at fact. We add something of our own, adjectives, to give the situation a little flavor while making our opinion known. Obviously this can go a couple different ways.

His height is impressive.

Her voice is obnoxious. 

We’re no longer observing. We are placing value on the situation. We are approving, or maybe condemning. Maybe we’re trying to sway other humans. Maybe we’re poets whose deepest desire is to evoke visceral reactions. Maybe we’re jerks. Maybe that’s just how we roll.

Where we find real trouble, though, is when we come to morality. At it’s core, the Sermon on the Mount is about the sinful state of the human heart. We’re sinful sinners, every one of us. When we begin to judge morality, we begin walking on shaky ground in our individualistic culture. Relativism runs wild these days. What’s right for me might not be right for you… right?

I start many of my sermons with a simple statement. I operate under the assumption that Genesis 1:1 is true. That is to say, I believe the one true God created the heavens and the earth. I believe He then communicated that truth to men along with about 66 books of related material. IF that statement is true, then the Bible necessarily holds tremendous sway. If there is one creator God, then He is necessarily the only One qualified and capable to establish the rules and judge the outcomes. His words matter. If you disagree with this statement, obviously we won’t see eye to eye. If you disagree and you are wrong, the eternal consequences are significant.

Morality itself has long been one of the avenues to proving the reality of God. I’m not going there today. But it is safe to say that morality bears weight in the human heart. That’s why a judgment in the neighborhood of morality is so delicate. We’re not just talking about impressive or obnoxious. We’re talking about right and wrong. Those can be fightin’ words.

The interesting consideration here is that, in God’s economy, right and wrong are not simply adjectives in the sense that they are human opinions. They are God’s opinions. If God is, then God is the only one entitled to an opinion with regards to morality. And that makes His opinions quite objective in nature. In other words, to call something right or wrong according to the Word of God is not akin to calling something obnoxious according to personal preferences, even though the reaction may be far more visceral in nature.

This is a big deal because we cannot avoid the human tendency to judge. As long as our senses are functional and our brain is electrically tuned, we will be making choices. If you find someone who says they never cast judgment, they’ve either had significant portions of their brain unplugged or they are straight-up liars.

We have views of right and wrong, an inclination to think about them, and a sinful tendency to share them without discernment.


The question at hand, then, is simple. Was Jesus telling us to back off? Could you sum up Matthew 7:1-5a by saying “to each his own?” More often than not, I hear believers and non-believers alike sum up these verses in so many words. Non-believers are not entirely interested in Biblical morality. Christians are weary of unloving condemnation. It’s easier to retreat, right?

Shortly after these verses on judgment comes the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). How we treat the idea of judgment will weigh heavily on how we treat others. And it’s all balled up in how we’d like to be treated.

(Spoiler for the next installment: I believe Jesus instructs His followers to judge other followers in matters of morality. I also believe that His instructions are centered on a call to Spirit-led self-examination and anti-stupidity. Read the passage again, paying close attention to 7:5b. I’ll keep building that case next time.)