I remember one Monday a few years ago when I received an email from a young lady I really respect in our church. She apologized that she had not taken the opportunity before to tell me how much she appreciated the gifts I bring to our community. She went further with her apology by saying that this particular email was not for the sake of telling me how much she appreciates me, but for the sake of confronting me with careless words that I chose to use one Sunday.
As I think back about that email and the subsequent conversation that resulted from it, I believe it provides profound clarity to an issue so many Christians seem so utterly confused about and divided on- ought we judge others? And then if the Christian ought to judge another then who exactly ought to be judged? And by what standard ought the Christian judge another?
I believe it is safe to say, without making a detailed and comprehensive argument, that anyone who does not ascribe to the way, life, and teachings of Jesus Christ ought not be judged by a standard to which they do not hold to be true in his/her life. Even IF I believe that way to be the most liberating and life-giving, I am in no position to judge a non-follower of Christ by that standard.
We have Christians who bark and complain and judge the lifestyles and actions of people who do not follow Christ. All I would say to my fellow Christians is that these people don’t follow Christ… so quit judging them based on a standard by which they do not even profess to live.
The Apostle Paul echoes this sentiment when he writes to the Corinthian church, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked person from among you.”
What we discover is that those who follow and base their lives upon the liberating and life-giving way of Jesus ought not judge those outside of the church but instead ought to judge those within church.
This is incredibly insightful because it answers very succinctly our question of who ought to be judged- those within the church, or those who have given their lives to follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. By simple deduction, if we are not to judge those outside the church by a standard to which they do not ascribe, then the Christian ought to judge those within the church by the standard they profess to ascribe- the way, life, and teachings of Jesus.
Since this is the standard or basis by which we ought to judge followers of Christ within our churches, then how ought it be done on a practical, everyday basis?
There is no question that we are incredibly soft and thin-skinned when it comes to allowing others within the church to judge us. I am guilty as charged myself. But I believe each one of us must be willing to take the first steps toward making this a regular part of our lives- for our own sake and for the sake of our churches, the Body of Christ.
So, it begins with you and it begins with me.
Who are the people who love you and who you trust to surround you in order to speak truth into your life on a daily basis? Who are the people you trust to ask you the tough questions in order to keep you above reproach? Who are you actively seeking and inviting to hold you accountable to the way of Christ and His Cross and His Kingdom? These questions are essential.
How ought we respond to such things as Kingdom people?
Do we get wildly offended that a person would have the nerve to say such things?
Do we get ticked that the person only wants to write us when we do something wrong and not when we do something good or right?
Do we respond in anger, resentment, and hostility toward this person and then try to avoid her in the future?
Do we justify our words, actions, and behavior and then think of the things we could say to retaliate?
The Kingdom answer to all of these questions is an obvious NO.
There is no question that bearing the weight of the cross in our daily lives is a painful undertaking… but it is the cross of self-denial that Christ himself has called us to undertake if we are to follow his way. For the way of the cross means a death to the old person, but it also is the beginning of resurrection into the new person.
By the cross, we recognize our sinfulness and the way we fail not just God, but our brothers and sisters in Christ. We recognize that we are no better than the other sinners in our midst and we join each of them under the foot of the cross, confessing our sins, and asking for God’s forgiveness and for the forgiveness of those we have sinned against.
God uses each of us in Christian community to speak the truth in love to each other. This is one of the ways that God works and moves to refine us into Christ. I am a sinner and far from perfect. I need those who are in community with me telling me when they see the “old man” creeping up and showing his ugly face. You see, I ought to hate the “old man” so much that I seek out my trusted brothers and sisters, who love me, to tell me when they see him creeping back to life in my thoughts, actions, or attitudes. The same holds true in their lives as well. We lovingly and gracefully bear the weight of the cross with each other. But it is a cross we all must bear.
In Christian community, we must all remove the prideful chips that we put on our shoulders. When my Christian brothers or sisters tell me that they see the “old man” in me, it is because they love me and are trying to help me. It isn’t because they are trying to hurt, wound, or offend me. We miss their intentions too many times because of our pride and arrogance.
The way of the Kingdom is recognizing our lowly position below everyone else and then welcoming the loving rebuke of our brothers and sisters.
In my instance, even though the “old man” wanted to creep back to life and fight and justify and self-preserve and retaliate against my dear friend who loved me enough to tell me that the words I used did not sounds like the Jesus I follow… I humbled myself, prayed for the Spirit to teach me the ways of Christ, and then took this low and humble road of Christ and His Kingdom in my response.
I called my friend and told her how much I appreciated her care for me as a brother in Christ. I confessed to her (and then later to the church) my sinfulness, and asked for forgiveness from God, her, and my church family.
Praise God that there are Christian brothers and sisters in my community who love me enough to extend grace, mercy, forgiveness, and the very love of God when I fall short without giving up on me. The more fully hidden in Christ we are, the easier it is for Him to extend His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love through us in Christian community.
Life in Christian community is far, far from perfect, but it is the place where we display the Kingdom of God for the world to see. It is the place where we make a commitment to stand beside one another, even when it is tough. It is the place where we learn how to be a Christ-centered community, especially when we fail each other. And, it is the place where we give praise to God for the way He works in spite of us.
God, our communities are in desperate need of selfless souls who love each other and seek out the Truth in love and who can hear Truth in love without egos and attitudes. Please forgive us for our arrogance, pride, and love of our sin and waywardness. Give us hearts that welcome the truth told to us in love. Begin with me. Amen.