September 28, 2014

Don't Judge Me! - Sep 28, 2014

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Our society is made up of many, many people. Within our society individuals hold differing opinions about a vast array of topics and ideas. But one idea that society seems to agree upon is that we shouldn’t judge people.

“Don’t judge me,” has become a catchphrase that gets thrown around quite a bit in our day and age. But sometimes it’s hard to determine exactly what a person means.

It helps to have a little context to determine exactly what a person is saying about not being judged. For example, an anonymous writer once wrote…

“Don’t judge me by my past, I don’t live there anymore.”

I think we can all agree that judging a person because of things they’ve said or done in the past is a mistake. People make mistakes. And people change. None of us would like to be defined by the stupid things we’ve said, or the foolish things we’ve done.

Jesus himself warned his disciples about judging people with this sort of shallow and unforgiving judgment. He said,

“…Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2 NIV).
But sometimes when our society says we shouldn’t judge people, they really mean is that it’s wrong to tell someone that what they’re doing is bad. Who are YOU to tell ME that I’m a bad person? Stop judging me by YOUR morals.

This way of thinking would be correct if we were just imposing our own personal standards on the actions of others. But when we apply GOD’S standards on the actions of others, the whole conversation changes.

We DON’T have the right to insist that other people do things our way, or use the words WE deem appropriate. But God does. God is the Creator of all things: galaxies and planets; earth, sea, and sky; plants, animals, and every human being. As the Creator of all things, God has EVERY right to tell us how to live our lives.
In America we cherish our freedom. For the most part, we can do and say whatever we want. If we want to be self centered and rude, we can do that. If we want to say whatever comes to mind, regardless of what damage our mouths may cause, we can. If we want to live lives dedicated to doing whatever feels good at the moment, we can. And for the most part, our government says we have to let others do the same.

But that doesn’t make it right in God’s eyes. And just because WE CAN, doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences in the end. The sinner who stands before God on the day of Final Judgment and screams, “Who are YOU to judge ME?!”, will find that God’s judgment is final and all the human opinion in the world doesn’t change what is truly right and good.
As followers of the true God, you and I are obligated to use our voices to tell the world what is right and wrong. God commands us to do this because he loves the human race, and wants us all to see how messed up and sinful we really are. He wants us to see how sinful we are so that we can see how gracious He was when he sent His Son to take our sins away through his suffering and death.

Don’t let society cloud your mind when it comes to “judging others.” When we say what God says, we’re not haters. We’re not judging people unfairly. When we really speak the truth in love, we’re doing what our Creator and Savior has called us to do.
As Christians we know that when Jesus suffered on the cross he was suffering God’s judgment for each and every sin ever committed by human hands. We know that through faith in Jesus we get credit for his sinless life. We know that each and every time we bring our sins to God, his response is the same. He says, “Be at peace, in Christ your sin is forgiven.”

But if we begin to see our sins as “okay” and stop bringing them to Christ for forgiveness, then our sins will remain on us, and our faith will die.

This is exactly what God doesn’t want to happen to his people. And so in our Bible reading for today, Jesus teaches us how to respond to sins committed by our fellow Christians.

May the Holy Spirit bless our hearts and minds through our Savior’s teaching. Amen.

Matthew 18:15-20 (NASB)

15       “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.
16       “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.
17       “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
18       “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
19       “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.
20       “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
To begin with, it’s good to remember that Jesus spoke these words to his followers. This was how Jesus wanted his people to respond to sins among them. The American idea of living your own way and letting everyone else live theirs doesn’t apply in God’s family. It is our responsibility to hold each other accountable, for the safety of our own souls, and the safety of those around us.

Jesus says that when I see one of his sheep starting to wander, I need to do something about it.

First of all, I’m to go and confront that person privately. I know most of us aren’t fans of confrontation, but there’s really no other word for it. Even when we use the most carefully chosen words, in the most compassionate tone, if we’re saying “Hey, what you’re doing here is SIN” we’re confronting a person. There’s just no way around it.

But Jesus says this confrontation doesn’t have to be public. Not at the start. In fact, it shouldn’t be public at the start. It should be one concerned Christian to another.

And in so many cases, this is all that it will take. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd, right? It just takes one of us to be God’s voice.
But sometimes sin has taken a deeper hold. Sometimes sin has muffled the ears of the sheep, and it takes a small chorus of voices to make God’s voice heard.

Jesus says that if the first effort fails, I should take one or two other people and try again.

In a court of law you can call a single witness to the stand, and that will mean SOMETHING to the jury. But if you call multiple witnesses to the stand and they all say the SAME THING, that carries more weight.

Maybe you’ve experienced this in your own life. The voice of one person can easily be dismissed, but when a number of people who you know care about you are saying the same thing, that sinks in a little deeper.

And in many cases, this is all that it takes. A small chorus echoing the words of our God and Savior reminds the wandering Christian what his Savior’s voice sounds like.
But sometimes it takes the whole choir.

Jesus says that if a Christian refuses to hear some of the congregation, the whole congregation needs to get involved.

Remember, this isn’t about ganging up on a person to publicly humiliate them. Jesus is talking about tearing a person away from the grip of sin and hell and restoring them to peace and forgiveness in the family of God. This is the unified voice of a person’s fellowship telling them, “Hey, watch out! You’re heading down a soul killing path! Turn around!”

Sadly, when it gets to this point it’s often too late. A person mired in a sinful way of life sees hands reached out to help as the hands of enemies, and not the hands of friends. All sorts of things get in the way of repentance at this point. Pride and embarrassment serve to drive a person deeper into the hole they’ve fallen into. And that’s why as a congregation we need to proceed with the utmost care to make sure people can see that Christ’s love is the driving force behind what we’re doing.

Even at this point, the Holy Spirit has the power to change hearts. The power to scoop up a sinner from the brink of unbelief and place them safely back in the arms of our Savior.

And this is what Jesus had in mind when he laid out this template for his disciples to follow. Jesus once told a parable about sheep. He said,

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:4-7 ESV).
But sadly, despite our efforts, sheep still slip away.

It’s at this point that the fellowship is forced to change how they think. If a sinner remains hardened against God’s correction, Jesus says that the fellowship is no longer to receive that person as a follower of Christ.

In verse 18  Jesus says,

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18 NASB).

In other words, when a congregation says that an individual is now excluded from the fellowship, and severed from Christ’s salvation, it’s not the congregation that is shutting the door to heaven. Rather, God has already done that as a result of the sinner’s refusal to be corrected and restored by faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

On the other hand, when a sinner repents, it is not the congregation that is opening the door of heaven. Rather, God has already done that by moving the sinner to repent of their sin and trust in Christ for forgiveness. The congregation is merely announcing what has already taken place.
Now, if as a congregation we take our Savior’s words to heart, and take action to safeguard each other from the faith destroying effects of sin—we’re gonna get called “haters.” We’re gonna get labeled as people who judge others.

But what would you want your fellow Christians to do if YOU were the sinner? If YOU were being lulled to sleep by Satan’s lies? What would you want your fellow Christians to do if YOU were the wandering sheep edging closer and closer to that lurking, black shape on the edge of the forest?

You’d want them to call you back! You’d want them to do everything they could to pull you back to safety! So dear Christians, for goodness sake, do to others what you would want them to do for you! Speak up in love! Don’t let indecision and fear cause you to drag your feet until it’s too late.

Reach out! Be God’s hands. Be God’s voice. Speak the law. Speak the Gospel. And let the Savior who has made his home in your heart shepherd his lambs!
When sheep wander, it’s our responsibility to go after them and try to bring them back safely to foot of Christ’s cross. May Christ Jesus help us to fulfill this responsibility out of love for our fellow sheep. And may Jesus help us to do it the way our Savior directs.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, your words aren’t hard to understand. But they can be hard for us to follow. Our spirits are willing, but our flesh is weak. Empower us with your love, and by your Holy Spirit so that we hold our fellow Christians dear. Empower us with your forgiveness, that we might also forgive them, and reach out to restore them to repentance and faith. And when we stumble, and are in need of correction Lord, help us to hear your voice clearly. Lead us to turn away from sin, and back to you in faith. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.

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