In the writing of The Mixing of the Seed I learned a great deal about myself, particularly the tendency I have to judge others when I spot the mistakes they have made. With Christianity, this is a very easy thing to do because we have, at the fingertips of our mind, the Law. I realized that whilst I am ready to judge by the Law, I am not so eager to live by the same Law. This is a problem.
Since I started this blog almost exactly two years ago, I have used my time to deconstruct much of what we believe and practice under the banner of the church. I used the pages of the Bible to point out the mistakes of others; giving little thought to the consequences in the process.
I may well have been right in my observations of the beliefs and practices of the church, when held up to the light of what God had already said, but it was never given to me to do so. It was a job to which I appointed myself. God didn’t call me to do it.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged; and the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?
“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?
“Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” [Matthew 7:1-5 NKJV]
I don’t know about you, but I find these words of our Lord to be painfully convicting. They mean that the measure which I have used against the church for her shortcomings in the light of the Law; that very same measure, will be used against me. And not just the church. I extended my self-appointed remit of judgement to just about everyone I know. Without mercy, in many cases. What a hypocrite I have become.
When considering these things before God, I realized that it was actually learned behaviour. I had learned to do this since choosing to follow Yeshua. I had no need for it before my conversion. In fact, before I believed, I was happy to live and let live. When I started to deconstruct my learned behaviour, I could see that I had learned from those around me, as well as from circumstances. I should point out that the circumstances of my life were (and are) entirely of my own making.
I cannot lay the blame at anyone. I knew exactly what Yeshua said on the matter, but somehow, I convinced myself that I was exempt from the commandments of God. Somehow, I felt that because I understand something of the Law, it gave me the right to use that Law to judge others. That mindset is like thinking that just because I know how to throw a stick for a dog, that I can use that same stick to beat the dog with.
What I trying to unravel from the weave that is the behaviour of my life is just how subtle the judgement of others is. It is there like an unseen thread holding the weave together. Where it came from or what sustains it is actually unimportant. All that is important is that I stop doing it. And so, I try. I will reverse-engineer this toxin from my life, for it will surely kill me, just as much as murder or adultery would.
The purpose of writing this post is that I wish to reveal this in myself so that others might not fall into the same trap as me. The judgement of others is so subtle that I actually thought I was doing God’s work when I was pulling apart the arguments and practices of the church. That’s exactly why Yeshua describes anyone who does this as a hypocrite. I once read the above passage from Matthew to mean that providing I took the plank out of my eye first, I was fully at liberty to go about removing the specks in the eyes of my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is easy to read it that way. The trouble is, the very moment that I believe myself to be in a position to remove the specks in the eyes of others, is the very moment I move to judge others.
The church today is full of apologists, all defending the faith and the gospel from false teaching and outside influences. But, is it possible to maintain such an arm of the church without those apologists (of whom I counted myself of their number) falling prey to the same level of judgement as described above? I’m not sure that it is any longer. I am more inclined to believe that the notion itself that it is acceptable to judge others as long as you are defending the faith is, in fact, a device of Satan. And one designed to create and promote division. A divided house cannot stand, after all.
Part of the problem with there being what appears to be an acceptable side to judging our brothers and sisters within the church is the attitude that we can interpret the writings of the likes of Paul and use what is said to hold others to account. I watched a video series online recently in which a very prominent American preacher openly criticized pedlars of false doctrine. He clearly saw nothing wrong with this worldly ‘naming and shaming‘ approach. It got me thinking about how it got to be like that. How on earth did he (or anyone else for that matter) get to the place where such open judgement is acceptable? Of course, he was right in what he was saying about these other preachers and teachers, but he can’t possibly be right to judge others. Neither can I or anyone else…except for one.
When the time comes, and not before, Yeshua will sit upon the throne of judgement and the books will be opened and He alone will judge. What gives me, or anyone else for that matter, the right to expedite that process is beyond me.
I think, at the root of the issue, is the Law. It is the Law which makes us see the error in others. Now, in a way, that approach wouldn’t be quite so bad if things were very clear cut, just as they were in times of the Exodus, for example. Everything then was very clear cut. The Law was the law and if you broke it, judgement was both swift and decisive. However, since then, every time God has spoken to His people through His prophets, kings, and priests, there has been a tendency, on the part of man, to over-analyse what He has said and develop different interpretations of what He might have actually meant. This tendency didn’t stop with the teachers and scribes of the Law either. It continued right through until today. With the foundation of the church came the intellectualisation of everything those early apostles wrote and said. There is very little of what the apostles said and wrote that hasn’t been pulled apart and put back together, often losing the original contextual meaning in the process. We even do it with the words of Yeshua.
The church rejects strict observance of the Law of Moses, but still uses that very same Law to judge its own members. I am guilty of doing the very same thing, and not just with my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, but with everyone. I watch the news and judge politicians and terrorists alike. I judge my family, my friends, even my wife, all based upon a Law that the church says is the Old Covenant, and the writings of the New Testament apostles, as though what is written in their correspondence is the new Law.
Of course, the Law still has a purpose – it provides immediate judgement for those with hard hearts, and it will not vanish until heaven and earth pass from view. But the purpose it has is manifest within the hearts of individuals, and not as a stick to beat others with. If only we could grasp its true purpose from the very outset – good advice from a loving God. It was man who made it legalistic. There is nothing in the nature of God that reveals Him to be legalistic. In fact, the opposite is the only conclusion that we can reach.
To be like children is what Yeshua said we should be in all things. Like children who approach a loving Father, seeking advice or help, or just to show our gratitude. He will always respond when we come to Him as His children. And He will always respond in the same way that we would expect the best loving Father of all to do. It is that relationship which we must cultivate as individuals. It doesn’t matter what your pastor says you should do. It only matters that you do what Yeshua says you should do, and that is to be like a child before God; to see Him as Father – full of love for us, overflowing with wisdom and compassion, desperate to help us on our journeys. There is nothing in the Law that can be used to judge each other if we follow Yeshua’s approach. Nothing can trump the love the Father has for His children. Nothing at all.
The conclusion I have reached (so far) in this most recent of lessons, is one that I have been aware of for some time. If I judge others, how can I expect God to answer my prayers? Almost immediately after the passage above, Yeshua teaches about asking, seeking, and knocking. He reveals that God knows how to give good gifts. But, we tend to take these verses out of their context, and we fail to see the connection between sorting out our hypocrisy and receiving good things from God.
God is just. In fact, He is the very definition of what being just is. No one, not one person alive today, is just like He is. We, I, fail to understand what it means to ask a just God for something. He weighs our requests in His scales to determine whether there is any reasons why answering our prayers would make Him unjust. Imagine that my prayer was for justice between myself and another. Imagine I had been treated unfairly and I asked God to intervene. Would He be right (and just) to answer my prayer if there was some hypocrisy in my life, such as me treating someone else unfairly? Most people would be quick to spot that as unfair or unjust. They would be right too.
God places our prayer requests between His scales. On the right hand side of the scale He places the things I get right; the things that are in my favour. On the left hand side He places the things that our enemy Satan, the accuser of the saints, has found me to be lacking in – according to God’s Law (yes, Satan uses God’s Law against us – it’s so easy, we break it all of the time). If the right hand scale has more in it than the left, God will answer my prayer – providing it is in keeping with His will. If the left hand side weighs heavier than the right, God cannot answer my prayer, even if it is for a just cause, because it would make Him unjust to do so.
Satan stands before God, day and night, accusing the saints (see Revelation 12:10 & Zechariah 3). With me, I am sure, it is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. All the un-repented sin from years of criticizing and judging others will simply weigh down that left hand scale, making it impossible for God to answer my prayer. Unanswered prayer leads to disillusionment, and ultimately, to rebellion. This is what Satan wants for every single one of God’s children. Trust me, I know, first hand.
So, what’s the answer?
Well, for me, the obvious one is repentance. To work through, with the help of the Holy Spirit, my own sanctification, by asking Him to show me any hardness in my heart towards others. It’s there. I know it is, even if I think I have repented. My test is this: If I have had a problem with someone in the past and judged them for their words or actions, I might well think it’s all dealt with. But, if they suddenly enter my thoughts out of the blue and I recall their actions and words and relive my anger, then it still needs dealing with. Every single occasion when something of this nature occurs, I have to remember that Satan is using it against me, before God. In fact, he is using every single breach of the Law that I either haven’t yet repented of or that I think I have repented of but still secretly hold a grudge. So secret that I don’t even realize it until my train of thought starts digging up the past.
Yeshua said that we should become like little children. I remember how when my daughter was when she was younger, when she would realize that she had done something wrong or over stepped the mark, she would be desperate to say sorry. She wouldn’t settle until we were reconciled, even though I wasn’t mad at her. That’s how I need to be with God.
The Law is the measure which reveals the sin in us. If we reject its purpose, then we fail to see that much of what we do and say and think is actually sin. Yeshua’s words in what we call the Sermon on the Mount, show us just how subtle these matters are. In our hearts is where sin starts.
I have purposed to follow Yeshua. That means, when it comes to forgiving others their shortcomings, I should keep no record of their wrongs. This applies as much to the church as a whole as it does to anyone who has upset me.
Paul said a couple of things that have, over the years, helped remind me of the nature of Yeshua. The first is in his letter to the church at Ephesus:
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” [Ephesians 4:1-3 NKJV]
The second comes in his letter to the wayward flock at Corinth, where he explains that love is the highest virtue to which we are commanded by Yeshua Himself to practice. When it comes to how love should be practiced in our relationships with everyone else, he says this:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” [1st Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV]
Need I say anymore?