December 28, 2015

True or false condemnation

Jeremiah 52:1–34, Romans 14:13–15:7, Proverbs 29:1–27

The Christmas carols speak of peace on earth and good will among men, yet that is rare. The earth hasn’t known much peace. Even good will can be a scarce commodity.

Good will did not exist between the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, and God’s prophet, Jeremiah. Jeremiah continued to warn the king, but this king would not listen. The result was just as Solomon wrote: “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.” (Proverbs 29:1)

God broke Zedekiah by sending the Babylonian army to besiege Jerusalem. After two horrid years with no access to food, the fighting men of Judah created an escape plan out of the city and fled with the king. But the Babylonians captured him brought him to their king.

There Zedekiah was sentenced: “The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and also slaughtered all the officials of Judah at Riblah. He put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him in chains, and the king of Babylon took him to Babylon, and put him in prison till the day of his death.” (Jeremiah 52:7–11)

God’s judgment is harsh, yet disobedience is never a light matter. Besides, sin is a harsh taskmaster, not looking out for our good like God wanted for Zedekiah.

Human judgment can be harsh too. Sometimes I deserve it, but I am confounded when on the receiving side of human judgment without being guilty. If another person says something that felt like a judgmental shot, I am usually silent and without any defense.

Today’s NT reading is about the problem of Christians judging others who are not guilty of sin in their own minds, only in the minds of someone else. It begins: “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 14:13)

In this example, the issue was about eating something offered to idols. Some had no problem with that, but others did. Paul writes to the latter saying, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:17–19)

God is concerned that His people live in peace and build up one another. Some of us can be more concerned to point out the shortcomings of others, even shortcomings that exist only in our own minds and are not actual.  

Paul also spoke to those who ate food offered to idols and felt no guilt: “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:22–23)

In other words, if I am doing something that others criticize or call sin, I need to be certain that my actions happen because I am trusting God and that I am not ignorant of what God regarding those actions..

God says we are to please others for their good and to build them up because Christ was not into pleasing Himself. I’m to be like Jesus. Besides that, slander, accusations and insults all fell on Him, so when that happens to me, I can take comfort in that He knows exactly how I feel. (Romans 15:2–3)

This passage says that God does not want me to be “a cause for stumbling or a temptation” for people who genuinely struggle with things that I feel free to do, yet they are not to accuse me of sin when they would be guilty if they did the same thing.

For example, a man had an obsession with baseball to the point that his family suffered because his time and money went toward this obsession. After he became a Christian, he was strongly convinced that baseball was a sin for him and cut off all involvement. One day, two Christian friends invited him to a game. He was horrified. For them, watching baseball was a freedom, but for him it was a sin.

While people usually agree about many things, or can agree to disagree, kindness and understanding are more important than who is right. If another person disagrees with the way I do things, the Bible tells me to be mindful of where they are coming from, accepting and understanding their perspective.

I also need to remember that “Christ also has accepted (me).” (Romans 15:7). I have been reconciled to God through faith. Therefore, I should never let any accusations of a person with weaker faith trip me up and make me feel condemned. 

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