Judge Not

Jesus warned us not to judge others. His specific warning was that if we judge others we will be judged.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37

Despite this instruction I find many Christians who think nothing of passing judgement on others. Criticism, fault finding, and condemning seem to be a natural part of culture in many places. It is seen as right that one should point out the faults of others.

This is most notable in the political arena. If those in government have a plan or proposal those in opposition seem duty bound to condemn it. If those in opposition have a plan or criticism those in government seem duty bound to attack and condemn it.

In our polarised culture we have our political divide, with left and right wing ideas, but they are further split among themselves. In science and philosophy we have people taking sides and denigrating others who disagree with them.

The same is true in ethics and morality and many other areas as well.

Thus it is easy for us to learn to be critical and not only judge others but condemn them.

Another dimension of this is spite, where we want to see something negative happen to those who oppose us or who we oppose. People can be terribly unkind in their attitude toward those who offend them or who they see as opposing them and their values.

Jesus’ instruction about not judging and not condemning is part of the bigger picture of blessing those who we would naturally oppose, such as enemies and those who curse us. God is not spiteful and is willing to bless those who hate Him. Jesus calls us to be like our Heavenly Father, and to bless everyone, including those who are our enemies and who hate us.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27,28

“Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend without expecting anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:35,36

God allows sunlight and rain to be as generously given to lands where He is hated. God is not spiteful. God calls everyone to repentance, even those we might feel don’t deserve forgiveness.

What gets in the way for us is our tendency to judge others and condemn them. This is what Christ calls us to abandon.

Yes people hate us. Yes people try to do us harm. Yes there are terrible people who do terrible things and who are a threat to us. However, how we respond in our heart toward them is important. If we respond with bitter unforgiveness, spite and condemnation then we are like the wicked.

If we respond with love and seek to bless those who hate us we respond like God.

A key reason for us to respond as God does is given by Jesus further along in his talk about loving our enemies.

“Give, and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. The measure you use will be used on you.” Luke 6:38

You determine how you are to be treated. If you forgive you will be forgiven. If you judge you will be judged. If you condemn you will be condemned. The measure you use is the one that will be used on you.

Jesus applied this same idea in a practical situation when a woman caught in adultery was brought to Him. Jesus did not oppose stoning the woman, since that was what Moses set in Jewish law. But Jesus added the dimension of our personal stake in the matter when He said those who were sinless should be first to execute the judgement.

“So when they continued asking him, Jesus lifted up himself, and said to them, He that is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.” John 8:7

Jesus challenged them to recognise that if you judge you will be judged. If you choose to kill and condemn those who do wrong then what are you setting up for yourself? Are you perfect? Can you survive being judged and condemned?

Missionary Heidi Baker shares how God challenged her about judging. On one of those occasions when God was challenging her heart over her attitudes she felt God call her on how she judged others. She realised she judged wealthy Christians for not putting their money into needs such as she had with her missionary work. God challenged her that because she was judging them God had to judge her and the judgement was that she would be cut off from the resources of these wealthy Christians.

Her testimony shows how she was judged, cut off from the very thing she wanted, and cut off from those she judged.

Taking that as one way God fulfils His word “you will be judged” it may well be that you are cut off from benefits you would receive from those you judge.

Do you judge your parents, or your children, then find you are cut off from them? Do you find that the things you really want from them are elusive, and only harden your judgement of them? This could be the ‘judge and you will be judged’ cycle at work in your life.

Do you judge other Christians and other churches? Do you judge your government and various government officials?

Do you judge your family and friends? Do you judge your spouse?

Do you judge others in your church or even your pastor or church leaders? Do you judge God?

I challenge you to stop and take stock of what is happening in your heart. You may be the victim of your own sin of judging. Christ warned you, but because of our critical culture you may have allowed yourself to live as the heathen do and not realised the seriousness of Christ’s words.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37

Addendum: Take note of the distinction between ‘judging’ and ‘discerning’. We are not to judge, but that does not mean we do not perceive things about people. We are not to ignore people’s faults and pretend they aren’t there, but we are to respond to them without bringing judgement upon them ourselves. My daughter Sophia came up with a lovely way to separate the ideas of discerning from judging by seeing our role as that of the ‘jury’, not the ‘judge’. The jury is meant to truthfully and accurately determine whether someone is at fault, but the jury does not do the sentencing or perform any penalty.

We may accurately discern a person’s anger, pride, greed, immorality, or the like, but we are not to take the role of judge against that person.

When we take an attitude of condemnation, spite, vengeance, intolerance, resentment or bitterness, or the like, against one who is out of order we have broken Christ’s instruction that we Judge Not.

Has God Said?

Words are often much more significant than we think. At a casual glance words are nothing more than a means of communication, such as giving instructions, working along with others, or sharing our deeper thoughts and feelings.

The Bible tells us, however, that words are lawful tools that bring power into situations. Words not only express our thoughts and our will, they have power to hold us or release us. The Bible tells us that life and death are controlled by our words.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue (controlled by words), And those who love it (the proper use of words) will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21

The Bible also shows that God establishes things by His word. Creation was a product of God speaking with His own divine authority.

“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” Genesis 1:3

The Bible also tells us that all things are held together by Christ’s words.

“upholding all things by the word of His power” Hebrews 1:3

Because words have this added, primary dimension we do well to take note of it and to establish our faith and our faithful actions on the right words, such as God’s Word and a faithful testimony from our own mouth.

Take note that the very first temptation of mankind involved Satan questioning God’s Word. The serpent came to Eve and asked about the forbidden fruit, asking “has God said?”

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God made. And he said to the woman, Has God said, You are not to eat of every tree of the garden?” Genesis 3:1

The Devil’s temptation began by questioning God’s words. Why did the Devil use that approach? I suggest it is because of the supreme importance of words. The devil wanted Eve to break God’s command.

Christians are often bombarded with challenges to God’s Word. Some people scoff at what the Bible says, suggesting for example that miracles cannot possibly be true, or that evolution proves the Bible account of creation false.

Another attack on God’s Word is to question interpretations, including whether the original language has been faithfully translated into our language but also whether the text has been faithfully passed over time. Doubts are raised about whether various books were written by the person thought to be the author, and so on. While some may not have noticed this, there is and has been sustained attack on the reliability of the Bible.

That is consistent with the Devil’s original challenge to Eve, “Has God said?”

“Is the Bible really God’s Word? If so, then why do people claim there are mistakes in it? Does God make mistakes?”

“What if the Bible is just a collection of notable writings over time, but only the work of man?”

“Surely you don’t believe there really was a global flood, or divine creation, or heaven and hell, do you?”

Separate to the Devil’s desire to denigrate God’s Word, the other lesson from the temptation of Eve is how poorly she handled what God had clearly and simply instructed.

Note that when Eve replied to the Devil she changed what God had said.

“The woman answered the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But about the fruit of the tree in the centre of the garden, God said, You must not eat of it, or touch it, or you will die.” Genesis 3:2,3

God had never given a warning about ‘touching’ the forbidden fruit. God’s instruction was simpler than Eve said.

“You may freely eat from every tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day you eat of it you will surely die.” Genesis 2:17

Eve added to God’s word on the matter of the forbidden fruit. Maybe she thought stopping herself from even touching it would keep her safe. She was not faithful to God’s Word, but added her own thoughts to it. Did that protect her? No. She ate the forbidden fruit.

The Devil went on to say God was lying and God’s word was not a faithful word. Eve believed that, and the rest is history.

It is worth noting that the Apostle Paul specifically described his team as faithful to the word of God.

“We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully” 2Corinthians 4:2

I encourage you to be careful in your handling of God’s Word. God’s Word is powerful and God’s truth will set you free. Love God’s Word, read and study it, memorise it, sing it and speak it, and as you do, honour God’s Word for what it is, not mishandling it.

And I urge you to take a stand, speaking your own words of affirmation of God’s Words, such as declaring …

“I believe the Bible to be the infallible, inspired Word of God, faithful and powerful in every detail, as the sword of the Holy Spirit and the words of life to my soul. I reject every doubt raised against it and every voice that mocks or undermines it. I choose to love it and live by it, making it my daily food and the reinforcement to my natural life and my eternal spiritual existence in God’s presence as God’s child.”

Beware the Rituals

In the past two days I had two conversations about ritual, once for and one against.

Ritual refers to those things we do out of habit, ritually, without even having to think about their true significance. We all have a bunch of rituals we revert to in situations, to save us having to think or engage with the situation more seriously.

Consider what you say when someone greets you. What is your standard reply? If people ask you how you are do you stop and give them an accurate analysis of your condition or just say something like, “Fine, thanks”?

One day I caught myself answering that question with “Fine, thanks” before stopping to consider that I felt unwell and would rather have been home in bed. It struck me that my automatic response in that instance was untruthful. I decided to choose an automatic response that would not be untrue, and I settled on answering, “I’m alive”. That gets me many questions and interesting responses, but I at least know I didn’t inadvertently lie. As long as I can say it, that statement is probably true.

Sadly we may have many automatic, ritualistic responses in our closer connections that keep us from the more meaningful connection we should be building. Parents can learn to give glib responses to children who keep interrupting them or wanting attention. Parents can fake attention, just to get some peace and quiet. That can lead to a life-long ritual of giving glib responses when the relationship deserves more real connection than that.

The problem of rituals goes beyond our human interaction to our relationship with God. We can set out to worship God and honour Him, but end up just going through the motions.

On the positive side of rituals, a friend pointed out how much he appreciated understanding the symbolism used on some forms of worship. He found that knowledge enriching and aiding his worship.

On the negative side of rituals, a friend regretted that he often went through the motions at church but failed to really connect with God, being distracted with his own thoughts and interests.

Jesus challenged the religious leaders of His day about their empty rituals, including their enlarged demonstration of piety, such as long prayers, or oversized worship items (phylacteries) prescribed by God to Moses.

“All their works are done to impress men: they have oversized phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments” Matthew 23:5

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore you will receive the greater damnation.” Matthew 23:14

Jesus warned us not to get caught up in long prayers, hoping our extended ritual will get us a better hearing from God.

“When you pray, don’t use vain repetitions, like the heathen do: for they think that they

will be heard for their long praying.” Matthew 6:7

Many Christians respond to a prompting to connect with God better, such as by more prayer, more Bible reading, attending church services or prayer meetings and the like. That’s great, but for many, over time, their actions become mere ritual. They are not engaging with the process but simply doing it ritualistically.

Now, as a disclaimer, allow me to say that it is better to do spiritual disciplines out of habit than not to do them at all. So I commend developing good habits of church attendance, prayer, Bible study, gaining spiritual input, and so on.

However I also commend that you regularly audit what you are doing and your level of engagement in your spiritual practices.

You may even find it necessary to modify what you are doing, to rekindle your engagement. For example, if you only pray on your own, and it has become a hollow activity, then join in prayer times with others. If you can’t get anything out of going to church then get along to some other Christian fellowship, such as another church, or a home-group, Christian conference, or the like.

If you find Bible reading is an empty thing for you then get an audio recording of someone reading the Bible and play that as part of your daily routine, to get a fresh voice inputting God’s Word into your life.

Rituals, including even symbolic things, can enhance our worship, but every aspect of our spiritual program can drift into mere routine and empty words. Don’t let that happen to you. Stop and take stock of how well you engage with God, Christians, the Bible, prayer, worship services, witnessing, Christian fellowship, etc. If you are a little stale then give yourself a jolt to rekindle or even kick-start your spiritual engagement.

Humbling Yourself

God promises to bring blessing on a land when His people humble themselves.

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2Chronicles 7:14

The Bible also explains that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.

“Though He scoffs at the scoffers, Yet He gives grace to the afflicted.” Proverbs 3:34

“Though the Lord is on high, He attends to the lowly; but the proud He knows from afar.” Psalm 138:6

The Apostle James tells us that humility causes God to pour more of His grace on us.

“God gives more grace. That’s why it says, God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

We also have a direct command to humble ourselves.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so he will exalt you in due time” 1Peter 5:6

Humility is not something we are born with, such as a meek and mild personality, but a deliberate frame of mind and course of life that we choose one moment at a time. Humility is a command so it has to be an act of the will, not a general quality of our personality.

As we practice humility, it appears to be our natural personality, since it is our way of life. However, don’t ignore your call to humility by assuming you are just not built that way. If you are one of those bombastic, gruff, arrogant or assertive types, or anything like that, realise you are equally called to humility as everyone else. God’s attitude toward your heart is on the same terms as His connection with everyone else.

So, what does it mean to be humble? If God’s people are to humble themselves and pray, what would that look like?

Firstly they would not be arrogantly relying on what seems right to themselves. They would be attentive to God and what concerns God, not what suits them. They would put aside the distractions and obsessions of their life and wait on God.

Waiting on God is a significant issue in the Bible.

“Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” Psalm 27:14

“But they that wait on the Lord will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings as eagles; they will run, and not be weary; and they will walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Humility is reflected by the place we give to God in our world. If He is important then we will always find time for Him and to wait on Him for instructions and provision.

When God called His people to humble themselves and pray we see that they were to find time for God, including for prayer. Instead of being buried in business or in the machinations of their day they had to put themselves under God, giving God priority.

What evidence is there in your day that God has priority? Where would someone see you relying on God? Would they see you humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, or getting about your own business your way, as it suits you.

I encourage you to humble yourself. If won’t do it you may find God doing it for you.

If God were to pull the rug out from under you (so to speak) you might find time to pray and wait on God. What would happen to all those important things that eat up your time if you were too sick to get out of bed? If you were imprisoned, locked in by a storm, without transport, invaded by demanding relatives, suddenly cash strapped, rushed to hospital or under house arrest, then all those other things you want to do would have to be abandoned.

So, why can’t they be abandoned now, so you can wait on God? Why can’t you find time to humble yourself and sit at the Lord’s feet, waiting on Him to direct your steps and bless your day?

If you are really under duress then call out to God to deliver you so you can wait on Him, not so you can get about your own interests.

However you do it, please take note that you are called by God Almighty to ‘Humble Yourself’.

Be Still

God instructs us to be still and take knowledge of Who He is as God.

“Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

Have you observed how once you are worked up you stop noticing things? In an argument people stop hearing each other and press on to make their point. When we are agitated or distracted by our concerns we are truly ‘distracted’ from paying attention to things that are important to know.

If you have ever experienced a fear attack you know we can be so overwhelmed with fearful prospects that they seem completely insurmountable. Later, once we have settled and look at things in the clear light of day, the problems seem much more manageable.

From time to time when my wife and I are trying to sort through a complicated or emotional subject we will decide to put the issue aside and pick it back up after we have had a good night’s sleep.

People who are forced to be inactive for long periods of time often find that their thoughts are finally able to get to things they have not thought about deeply before. Things can be considered with greater attention when there are no other things demanding our attention.

These reflections might lead to questions about whether multi-tasking and being distracted by modern devices is really as helpful as people think, but I’m not heading there.

What God asks us to do is to ‘switch off’ and quell the many distractions and voices in our head that stop us taking knowledge of the most important thing there is to know – that God is God and all that God is stands above every other consideration.

Other verses talk about us standing still, being disengaged from all the plans and schemes we might employ, so we can let God do what He wants to do.

“Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today.” Exodus 14:13

“You will not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you” 2Chronicles 20:17

We are also told that we have spiritual weapons which have the power to take thoughts captive. It is important to arrest thoughts that would otherwise distract us.

“The weapons of our warfare are not human, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” 2Corinthians 10:4,5

God tells us to know that He is God, but there are competitive thoughts that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. Part of us capturing the revelation of Who God is and the significance of God being God is that we still our thoughts and agitations, taking time to give attention to God, and what God is doing in and through us.

If you world is so maddeningly busy that you can’t stop and give time for God then you are in an unhappy place. God instructs you to ‘be still’, specifically so you can ‘know that I am God’.

Stillness is a discipline. All those things you think are so important that you just have to do them or think about them are competing with God in your life. They cannot be so important when they displace God. Nothing is worthy of more attention and focus in your life than God, Himself.

Faith is the first step.

When a bunch of things press on you and you are distracted by them it is because you have decided they have value or importance. You allow them to capture your thoughts and emotions and dictate your actions, because you think there is either something to lose if you don’t or gain if you do.

That means you have allowed those things to replace God in your life, since He is the most wonderful source of good things and most wonderful protection against bad things.

You have allowed those things, such as your need for approval, your need for security, your desire for personal gain, elevation of your relationships or comforts, or the like to be more important than letting God be God in your life.

It is time to realise that God is real and His will and His blessings are more important in your life than the things that distract you. That’s faith in action: trusting God to take care of things that you would otherwise feel compelled to worry about or attend to.

However you come at it, remember that God has spoken with the effect of a command in your life, that you become ‘still’ and come to full recognition of the amazing reality that God is God. Be Still and Know that God is God!!!