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Showing posts with label Discernment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Discernment. Show all posts

Monday, June 17, 2024

Warning! Do Not Judge! | A Sermon on James 4:11-12

Today, we continue our series on the book of James.  Last week, we learned about choosing God's way over our own selfish desires.  Today, we'll look at James 4:11-12 and talk about the power of our words.  James says a lot in this short passage about how we speak to and about others.  Let's see what we can learn. 

James 4:11-12
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

Don’t Slander One Another (James 4:11)
James starts out by telling us not to slander one another.  Slander means speaking falsely or maliciously about someone, damaging their reputation.  When we talk badly about others, we hurt them and ourselves.  We are all part of God's family, and He calls us to love and support one another, not tear each other down.

Let me give you an illustration.  If you are on a baseball team, it's important for everyone on the team to support each other and work together to win.  But if someone is spreading rumors about their team mates, it creates division and distrust in the team and makes it much harder to work together and succeed.  Well, as Christians, who is on our team?  Everyone in our church is on our team.  We aren't competing against eachother, but against the powers of darkness among us.  So we should not slander and spread rumors because it creates distrust and makes it harder to work together and succeed in bringing God's Kingdom on earth.  

And if you think about it, there are other people on our team even outside our congregation.  Everyone in a Bible believing church is also trying to make disciples of Jesus and bring God's Kingdom on earth.  So, we are not competing against other churches in our community.  We all have the same goal.  If they succeed, we succeed.  If we succeed, they succeed.  So let us not bring division in God's universal church or spread rumors and slander.  Let us root for each other and pray for each other to all succeed.

And if we have a broader definition of success, we could include our whole community and our country as being on our team.  Don't we want our community and country to succeed?  Then let us not tear each other down, but build ach other up as much as it is in our power to do so.

What are some ways Christians may be guilty of slander?
Gossip – Sharing unverified or private information about someone else's personal life.  Talking behind their back about their mistakes or failures.

Spreading Rumors – Passing along information that may not be true or is exaggerated, which can harm someone's reputation.  Speculating about someone's actions or intentions without knowing the full story.

Criticizing Leadership – Speaking negatively about church leaders or decisions they make without understanding the full context or offering constructive feedback.  Undermining authority by questioning leaders' integrity or abilities.

Judging Appearances or Behavior – Making negative comments about someone's clothing, appearance, or lifestyle choices.  Criticizing how others raise their children, manage their finances, or conduct their marriages.

Undermining People’s Faith – Questioning the sincerity of someone's faith or relationship with God based on their actions or struggles.  Making disparaging remarks about someone's participation or lack thereof in church activities.

Complaining About Others – Expressing frustration about the behavior or habits of fellow church members in a way that is unkind or unfair.  Creating division by speaking negatively about different groups or cliques within the church.

James says, "Don't Slander!"

Judging Others (James 4:11-12)
James goes on to talk about judging others.  He says when we judge others, we put ourselves above God's law.  "The law" is the moral and ethical teachings given by God, particularly the command to love one another.  Remember, Jesus said the greatest commandment (law) is to love the Lord your God.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). 

 James 2:8 mentions this "royal law" found in Scripture: "Love your neighbor as yourself."  When we speak against or judge others, we are not acting in accordance with this law of love.  Rather, we act as though we are above than the law.  In essence, we are saying God's law of love does not apply to us, or that we know better than God.  We put ourselves in a position to judge the holy law of God itself, which is both presumptuous and wrong.

Judging vs. Discerning
Now, whenever I talk about not being judgmental, I need to remind us of the difference between judging and discerning (or between being judgmental and making good judgments). 

There’s a difference.  For example:  We are currently searching for a new children’s minister for our church.  We are taking applications and trying to choose the best candidate.  How can we hire the right person unless we interview and “judge” the candidates? 

The kind of judgment James speaks against is a condemning, self-righteous attitude that looks down on others and assumes a position of moral superiority.  This leads to thinking or speaking negatively about others, spreading rumors, and causes division.

This is not the same as discernment, which provides constructive guidance with love and humility.  When we interview people we exercise discernment and wisdom.  This includes evaluating a person's character, qualifications, and behavior.  But the goal is to find the right person for the job, not to tear anyone down.

But what is someone is not acting right?  What if their behavior is clearly wrong?  What then?

If we have someone in our church whose behavior is unacceptable, we go to them in love to hold them accountable to build them up and help them be more like Christ.  Jesus even gave instructions for addressing sin among believers in Matthew 18:15-7.  He taught us to:

  • Go to the person privately and gently and respectfully point out their fault.
  • If the person doesn't listen, take one or two others with you to help mediate and confirm the issue.
  • If the person still refuses to listen, bring the matter before the church. The goal is always restoration and reconciliation (not proving you are right by tearing someone else down).
So there is a clear difference between being judgmental and making good judgments.

Humility is Key (James 4:12)
Remember, there is only one true Judge.  Our role is to love and serve one another with humility.  Humility is the key.  It reminds us we have our own faults and need God's grace too.  When we speak with humility, we build others up instead of tearing them down. 

How we speak to and about one another is important.  We are called not to slander or judge,
but to speak with love and humility. By doing this, we honor God and build a stronger, more united community.

It’s Our Job to Build a Better Future
It breaks my heart to see so much division and slander being thrown around in society.  The ignorance, disrespect, and vitriol that characterizes our public discourse is troubling.  It is ungodly, unholy, and unhealthy.  What kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren?

If it concerns you too, then I invite you to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.  Christians are called to be different than the world.  We are called to be salt and light—to be a positive influence on our broken world.  And we can, because we have the power of God’s Holy Spirit living inside us.

The way we make a difference is to live differently, to speak differently.  We are called to be holy as God is holy, to love as God loves, to act with humility and to treat people with dignity and respect.  The way to change the world is not to gripe about it, but to be the change we want to see.

Baptism of Joshua Kirk Ikerd
In just a moment, we are going to baptize baby Joshua, the son of Kelsey and Chad Ikerd.  Whenever we baptize our children, we promise to do all in our power to support their life of faith.  It occurs to me today this includes doing all we can to make the world they inherit a better one.  One of the chief ways we can do that right now is to act with humility and to treat people with dignity so the world becomes a more positive and loving place to live.  Will you do that?

Monday, January 22, 2024

Pigs and Pearls - Jesus' Colorful Warning

We’ve been working our way through Jesus Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7. His sermon is a precious treasure filled with wisdom and truth.  So far, we’ve covered 16 topics.  Each one is like a precious pearl in a beautiful necklace.  I encourage you to go back and study them.  Treasure these teachings for their priceless wisdom.  Incorporate them into your heart and live their principles in everything you do.

Today, we will look at one single verse; three short sentences from Matthew 7:6.

Matthew 7:6
“Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.

Pigs are Unclean
Jesus says not to throw your pearls to pigs.  For Jews in the 1st century, pigs represented ungodliness.  Their idea was rooted in thousands of years of religious and cultural practices outlined in the Hebrew Bible. Leviticus forbids Jews from eating.  Pigs were a symbol of impurity.  I love bacon, ham, and pork chops.  But for the Jews in Jesus’ day, the thought of eating these was as revolting as eating a dog or a horse might be for us today.

In 167 BC, the King of Syria captured Jerusalem.  And as a way to assault Jewish culture, they desecrated the Temple by sacrificing a pig to Zeus on the sacred altar.  This was a sacrilege that horrified Jews and was remembered right down to the time of Christ.  It was still at the forefront of everyone’s mind when Jesus said, “Don’t throw your pearls to pigs!”

Pigs represent those who may disrespect, reject, or abuse sacred truths.  And the pearls in Jesus’ metaphor represent the sacred truths of God’s Kingdom.

Pearls are Precious
Pearls were highly valued treasures in ancient times, just as today.  These rare, naturally formed jewels were traded all around the ancient world and symbolize purity, beauty, and wealth.  Whether or not you love bacon, it’s easy to understand the literal meaning of Jesus’ warning: “Don’t to throw your pearls to pigs!”

But what are the pearls in your life?  What are those things that are precious and sacred to you?  Things that you want to be protected, preserved, handled with great care, and honored?  The first thing that comes to my mind is my wife and children.  They are precious to me.  I don’t want any harm to come to them—especially from callous, careless behavior or people who would disrespect or reject them.  I know you feel the same way about people you love.  You wouldn’t want anyone to mistreat them.

But Jesus has some specific things in mind when He says, “Don’t throw your pearls to pigs!”  He’s talking about His teachings.  These are the most precious pearls of all.  These pearls are priceless because they have the ability to transform your whole life.  Not only can they transform your life, but they have the potential to transform your family too.  They can set you free from sin.  They can fill you with joy and an abundant life.  They can help you live in harmony with God and people.  They offer you eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven!  They are absolutely precious and sacred!  And Jesus says, “Don’t throw your pearls to pigs!”

Who (or What) are the Pigs?
Well then, we need to know who the pigs are.
Pigs represent those who may disrespect, reject, or abuse our sacred truths.  But who are they?
This is something that takes wisdom and discernment. 

As I’ve prayed about it this week, I’ve been hearing this:  the pigs are not people.  The Jews of Jesus’ day believed the pigs were the Gentiles—people who weren’t Jews, who weren’t  circumcised, who didn’t follow the Laws of the Hebrew Bible.  The Romans were pigs!  But that’s not what Jesus believed.  He believed God loved all people—both Jews & Gentiles.

On the other hand, the Romans thought the Jews were pigs.  They were weak, untrustworthy, backwards, uneducated, uncivilized, and ungrateful.  The Romans saw the Jews as a people who would not get with the program and come into the modern, global order the Romans were trying to establish.  To the Romans, the Jews were pigs!  But that’s not what Jesus believed.  Jesus believed God loved all people—both Jews & Gentiles.  And all people bear God’s image—an image that is a pearl in an of itself.  People are not the pigs.  People are precious.

You may know some people who seem more like pigs than people to you.  Maybe they look different and act different.  Maybe you don't understand the things they do.  Maybe their attitudes or behavior it makes you really angry.  Maybe they even seem more like animals or even monsters.  Surely they are pigs, right?  People are not pigs.  People are precious.

But sometime people are overcome with evil, selfish desires that push us down into the mud.  The real pig is the Sin that makes people reject God and seek their own sinful, selfish ambitions.  All people bear the image of God.  All people are of sacred worth.  But not all people are ready to receive the precious pearls of Christ’s Truth because the “pigs” of evil are still running rampant in their hearts.

This is a hard Truth for us to accept because we want to stand in judgement of some people.  We want to say, “There are just some people who are pigs.  They are irredeemably bad.”  But then we remember Jesus words just one verse before in Matthew 7:5 that says, “Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

It is not for us to judge whether a person is good or bad.  Only God can judge.  Yet, we do need to be careful.  We don’t want to throw our pearls to pigs.  It's not about labeling people but discerning attitudes and receptivity to spiritual teachings.

Prudence and Patience
Be prudent and patient.  You wouldn’t let a dog wear your great grandmother’s pearl necklace (or a 2-year-old for that matter).  They couldn’t appreciate the preciousness of those pearls and they wouldn’t respect and care for them properly.  It’s not that your dog (or your child) is bad; they’re just not capable or ready for the responsibility.  It wouldn’t be appropriate at this time.

The same may be true when it comes to the precious pearls of Jesus’ truth.  Someone may not be ready for it.  You can’t just go throwing your pearls at them willy-nilly.  The pigs may trample them in the mud and even turn to attack you!

Remember, Jesus’ first step was to call people to repentance.  “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near!”
Until people repent and turn to Jesus, they’re not be ready for the precious pearls He offers.  Jesus offers forgiveness to everyone, but first they must repent.

Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance when discerning interactions with others.  Ask for wisdom and insight to understand their spiritual needs and the readiness of individuals.  God will show you if and when it is time to share your pearls with someone.  Until then, be patient and be careful. 

While you wait, you can lead by example.  You must!  Demonstrate Christ’s teachings through your actions. Let your life be a testimony to the transformative power of the gospel.  Sometimes, actions speak louder than words and can influence others positively.  And pray for people the whole time.  Pray that God will prepare them to be ready when the time is right.  Pray that you will be ready to speak when the time is right.

Don’t be discouraged if someone doesn’t respond right away.  Keep praying!  Some may initially appear unreceptive or even reject Christ outright, but this could change over time.  Remember, Jesus is the one who changes people’s heart—not you!  His ministry was marked by patience and persistent love for all people.  And Jesus calls us to be patient and persistent too as we seek to make disciples who follow Christ. 

Following Jesus means treasuring His teachings—really knowing what He wants of us and cooperating with the Holy Spirit to live it out.  These Sacred Truths are precious, and we should treat them with honor and respect.  Jesus calls us to share His love and truth with all people, because God loves everyone and He made everyone in His image.  But we need His wisdom about how and when to show our pearls to others.  We can’t just cast our pearls all around carelessly.  We must be patient and pray for God’s guidance to know when and how to share the sacred Truth of the Gospel with people.

So I challenge you to evaluate how you are taking care of your precious pearls.  Are you honoring the sacred and avoid the mud of worldly sin?  Are you walking closely with the Lord, so you will know how to share His Gospel with people?  Repent of your sin and live for Jesus.  For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Closing Prayer
Lord, grant us wisdom and discernment, and a deeper understanding of Jesus' teachings.  Guide us in living out these precious principles so our actions reflect the transformative power of the Gospel. Amen.