Casting Stones: Reflections on Judgement
I’ve talked to a number of Christians lately who are disappointed and disillusioned with the lack of love shown between brothers and sisters who’ve let minor issues become reasons for division. Judgement, addressed many times in Scripture, isn’t a new temptation. Over the years, believers have divided over styles of worship, dress code specifics, the issue of alcohol and preferences in education, just to name a few. We need to recognize we all have areas preferences and even strongly held convictions. These aren’t wrong. In fact, they steer our daily choices. However, these are also areas where we find ourselves most prone to judgement of others. We need to ask the Lord to scan our hearts honestly to reveal traces of judgement that may have crept in unknowingly so we can confess it to Him and start anew.
Sin Struggles. Jesus himself said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned (Luke 6:37a).” It seems cut and dry. We’re not to judge! In the story of the woman caught in adultery Jesus advises the accusers to cast their stones if any one of them is without sin. One by one, the crowd that had just been severely judging (to the point of death!) dropped their stones and walked away (John 8:1-11). And yet, not judging does not mean that we can’t name sin for what it is. In this same story, Jesus turns to the adulterous woman and tells her, “From now on, sin no more.” As believers, when we see compromise in each other’s lives, we are called to gently restore one another (Gal. 6:1). However, before ever moving towards correction of another believer, we must take into account the many times we are warned about our need for a humble spirit. That’s why Jesus says, “You hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5). We have a limited view, seeing only outward appearances. We’re not able to weigh the motives and inner workings of another heart, and we are to have absolutely nothing to do with judging those outside of the church (John 8:15-16; I Cor. 5:12-13). Ultimately, there is only one Judge to whom we must all give an account for our life (John 8:50).
Theology Tangles. Over and over we’re admonished to watch out for false teaching, to keep careful watch over our doctrine, to examine teaching against the accuracy of the Scriptures, and to test the spirts to see whether they are from God or false prophets (I Timothy 4:16, Acts 20:28; I John 4:1; Acts 17:11; Matthew 7:15). There is obviously a strong emphasis on handling God’s Word with care and guarding against interpretational error. And yet, it is arguably impossible for any human to be utterly correct in all matters of theology and doctrine. We need to hold our viewpoints with a spirit of humility, not self-righteousness. Jesus himself said, “Whoever is not against me, is for me” (Mark 9:40). Paul, writing to the Philippians argued shockingly that he wasn’t going to get worked up about the fact that some people may have been preaching Christ from skewed motived; he would choose to rejoice in the most important thing: that Christ was being proclaimed (Phil. 1:15-18). Sometimes we lose sight of the main point: Jesus and the power of the Gospel! We get side-lined by bickering over minor issues. How much time and energy are being wasted on these controversies that could be applied to Kingdom purposes?
“Grey Areas” and Conviction. While Scripture spells out many moral absolutes which we must live out with certainty, we need to make room for the fact that some areas are less clear. We need to give each other a greater girth of grace when it comes to deciding how God’s Word will inform our daily choices, understanding that we may come to different conclusions that are equally well-intentioned. We need to believe the best about those whose convictions vary from our own. How we treat those with whom we disagree is of utmost importance! Romans 14 is a great guide for what it means to walk in a way that leads to the pursuit of “peace and mutual edification” when it comes to matters of personal conviction.
Call to Unity. Before Jesus went to the cross he prayed for us—believers yet to come. The repetitive theme of his prayer was that we would be one—just as Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:11, 18, 21). The reason? Our witness to the world. Jesus tells us to do one simple (and yet profoundly challenging) thing “so that the world may know…” That one thing is NOT “build cool church buildings” or “go on mission trips” or “study more Scripture.” The one thing he commands is: “become perfectly one” (John 17:23). I have come to the realization that I personally am most tempted to judge when I feel judged by others. I need a heart change in this! When I am tempted to judge I need to turn the other cheek as Jesus did, absorb the hurt for the sake of the cross and in the power of His Spirit and ask for a fresh filling of love in my heart. Sometimes that means daily prayer because, quite truthfully, as sinners we hurt each other all of the time. But unity and love are nonnegotiable for His followers. And so I drop my stones.