December 16, 2010

To Live is Christ — expressing outrage at sin

To be like Christ first means that He lives in me and I have His life. It also means that I know what He is like. Otherwise I might be surprised at the ideas and emotions He gives me. If I’m not aware of what Christ is capable of, I could choose to disobey Him.

A few years ago at a girl’s (under 16) soccer game, a man cheering for the opposite team sat on our side of the field near the bleachers. A few little girls were playing with their dolls about ten feet from him. This man was cursing and using foul language in every statement he uttered. The soccer families were appalled. One of them said, “Someone ought to do something.”

Christ in me said, You do it. Out loud, I said, “I will” and to my own astonishment, stood up, climbed down the bleachers, went over to the man, and gave him a sound rebuke. He argued at first and made a mocking gesture as I walked away, but he was silent for the remainder of the game.

Had I not read of Jesus cleansing the temple, I would never think Jesus, meek and mild, would have been behind this move, but I also know myself. I would never have done that without Him.

Those who study the Bible and read passages like the one that follows, wonder about the place of righteous indignation? Is it real? Or do we use that as an excuse to disobey this biblical command?

Judge not, that you be not judged. (Matthew 7:1)
Unfortunately, most who know this part of the Bible stop at the end of this verse, usually wagging their finger. They have heard someone call sin as they see it and the only thing they can think of is, “We are not supposed to judge others.” This is true, but there is more to this passage.
For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:2–5)
This command to not judge means that I am not supposed to point my finger at someone else who has the same problem that I have. I’m not to criticize a lazy person when I am lazy. I am not to accuse someone of being thoughtless when I am thoughtless. It isn’t wrong to call sin what it is, but it is wrong to announcing the sin of others as if I am better than they are and without that same sin. It is judging to condemn and put them down.

The idea of judging sin to condemn is not like Jesus. He judges sin so that it can be confessed and corrected. He judges sin for the purpose of forgiveness and redemption. Huge difference. When read carefully, this commandment is more about seeing and fixing problems than it is about keeping my mouth shut when I see someone sinning.

However, there is more to this passage. What about guys in lawn chairs at soccer games who have filthy mouths and no interest at all in being righteous? Am I supposed to judge them? Am I supposed to ignore them? If I do speak up, am I then supposed to try to take the “speck out of their eye”?

First, these verses talk about “a brother” and in biblical terms, that usually means another Christian. Since Christians very rarely, if ever, use language like that, and since I am one of those, this passage does not apply. It isn’t about fixing my life first before I address the problem in the man with the mouth. He obviously had no desire to be righteous.

The next verse is likely more appropriate. It might even be the reason Jesus didn’t give me anything to say to him about the spiritual implications of his speech. I appealed to his example around small children, the fact that team supporters were required to sit on their team’s side of the field, and that if he wanted to encourage his team, his word choices were not doing it. Anything more would have been a waste of my words because Jesus also said, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:6)

Strong words. I cannot label anyone a dog or a pig, but in this case, this man labeled himself. In my forty years of being a Christian, this is the only time that I was aware of being indignant without personal reasons. From this, I learned two things. One is that Jesus is fully capable of expressing His attitude toward the sin of others through His people. I’m far too cowardly to have done what I did by myself.

The other is that righteous indignation is probably a rare thing. This could be true because most of us don’t know what to do with it, or perhaps we simply mislabel it because we don’t recognize it. Sadly, judging others when I should keep my mouth shut and deal with my own stuff is far more common.

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