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The Perspective of Our Own Faults

October 25th, 2018

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Romans 14:10-13 ESV)

I am preparing to preach on Matthew 7:1-6 this Sunday and was struck by how easily and mercilessly we judge one another. It seems to be an impossibility to do these two things at once: to humbly evaluate the status of our own souls and to remain critical and judgmental toward another.

We tend to be more gracious with ourselves and less tolerant toward others. We should reverse this trend. Jesus, in the Matthew 7:1-6 section, gives us two reasons why we should not judge and reprove others: (1) we will receive the same judgment from them and (2) we will dismiss our own weaknesses as insignificant. We will make a great deal out of a trifle in another’s life and a trifle out of a serious flaw in our own.

Much better to focus on our own weaknesses and to be gracious and kind toward others. Christ taught us, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7). And the passage from Romans 14 above echoes the same thought – that by forgiving others, and by humbly receiving the witness of the Lord in our own hearts and lives, we stave off both the criticisms from others and the judgment of God.

Those who are critical toward others will receive the same from the hands of others. Those who are arrogant and unforgiving, and quick to judge and to reprove, will receive the same treatment themselves. And those who are tolerant, self-rebuking, and forgiving, will also be dealt with in a more gracious and tolerant fashion.

I like the way the old Puritan scholar Matthew Henry put it in his commentary on the gospel of Matthew:

A just reproof to the censorious, who quarrel with their brother for small faults, while they allow themselves in great ones; who are quick-sighted to spy a mote in his eye, but are not sensible of a beam in their own; nay, and will be very officious to pull out the mote out of his eye, when they are as unfit to do it as if they were themselves quite blind. Note … There are degrees in sin: some sins are comparatively but as motes, others as beams; some as a gnat, others as a camel: not that there is any sin little, for there is no little God to sin against.

I love his phraseology, that all sin is against God and “there is no little God to sin against,” so all sin is serious. The slightest can lead eventually to the greatest. So the proper attitude of our souls is to constantly dwell in the reality of His grace, and then to share His grace with others. To know our own soul’s weaknesses, and to focus on those.

By the way, the teachings of Christ on this subject also command us “do not give what is holy to dogs” (Matt. 7:6), so Christ did not teach that we cannot maintain some standard of righteousness and holiness, that we cannot differentiate between truth and falsehood. We can and we must, or this very command not to judge becomes irrelevant. So in our patience, graciousness, kindness, tolerance, and humility, we cannot dispense with truth, nor fail to recognize righteousness and unrighteousness.

This creates a challenge in our lives, but the Spirit is able to navigate these passageways if we will listen to Him. He will show us how to hold dearly and deeply to the truth of God, to know right from wrong, but to patiently, graciously, and humbly deal with one another.

Daily Devotions

Christ’s Gifts

October 24th, 2018

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph. 4:11-13

Have you seen yourself as a gift of God?

Here God says that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers were gifts, given to the church to build her up. He continues to call people to serve Him, pastors are called by the Spirit and affirmed by the church to this day, as are missionaries and evangelists. (Whether apostles and prophets still are is a matter of some debate – a topic for another time.) I am one of those random people who has been called and enabled by God to serve Him as a gift to the church of Jesus Christ, to every believer and to every group of believers.

But let us remember that God has only one class of Christian – believer and child of God.  So what applies to the pastor – that he is a gift to a church – also applies to every Christian in some form or another – that we are given to one another to strengthen and encourage one another. This principle is proved in many places in scripture, but perhaps the clearest is the Great Commission: “Teaching them to obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19).

Certainly there is the possibility of misuse, neglect, and even abuse in such an arrangement. But still the principle stands: that we are given to one another for the upbuilding of each other’s faith. Have you become God’s gift to someone else? You may be given the gift of encouragement, or of helping others, or of being merciful. Or perhaps of leadership or administration, or of healings – but none of these gifts is given for people to merely gain attention for themselves. They are gifts to be used for others.

And, the amazing thing, is that as we use them to help others, we find joy and meaning in life. As we let Christ receive the glory and the credit, as we take a backseat as though we are nothing at all (and truly without Christ we are nothing), then there is the holy “rightness” that seems to settle over our souls.

Scholars take this passage in different ways – and Paul’s quotation from Psalm 68 has led to many discussions – but I believe Albert Barnes has the best and most logical interpretation, that as Psalm 68 describes the glory of God inhabiting the Tabernacle and Temple, so Ephesians 4 describes the glory of Christ inhabiting the church, His temple here on this earth. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Cor. 3:16).

The church of Jesus Christ is a holy creation of God. God sees it in light of what it shall become in eternity, and we should also see one another in that light – not in light of our failures, which are many, but as captives of Christ, freed from the dominion of sin and brought into His glorious and eternal kingdom of grace and life.

Daily Devotions