Saturday, November 06, 2010

C, Pentecost 24 Proper 27 - 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 13b-17 "Standing Firm In Christ"

Over the next three weeks we will hear much about “end times” when Christ will return and the things hidden at the moment will be revealed for what they are – both things holy and evil! And in this context we hear much about “making judgments” and “judgment day”. Then as we move into Advent and Christmas our focus moves from the second coming and judgment day to Christ’s first coming in the wake of humanity’s habitual sin since Adam and Eve, and God’s subsequent judgement that we need a Saviour.

We humans feel very uncomfortable when speaking and dwelling on the subject of judgment, especially in this age of so-called “equality” or “political correctness”. Putting judgment on the table is countercultural, because it deals with absolutes in reality and truth, in a time where it’s proclaimed that there are no such absolutes. But judgment ultimately deals with death and its cause, and it’s this uncontrollable reality and finality that makes us very uneasy.

So therefore, a modern mantra is this: “We must not judge! Do not judge!” But in fact these very words are a judgment in themselves by individuals, who, in reality, live in fear of judgment – the reality of judgment and death, judgment day, condemnation over our righteous acts as justification, and ultimately the unmovable holiness of God the Father Almighty, our eternal judge. “Do not judge!” is not just a modern mantra; it’s a modern-day deception, misinterpretation, and mistaken belief!

Rightly or wrongly the reality is: judgment is here with us to stay. Although some might argue that the bible says, “Do not judge”. In fact, Jesus says these very words in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. However, if we isolate these three words from their proper context in Scripture, we end up condemning God’s word and placing him under judgment.

In Luke the complete text says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37-38)

And in parallel, Matthew’s Gospel reads, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

But Jesus also says, “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:59) Then in John 7:24 he says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” And again in John 8: 15-16 he says, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.

Paul seems just as contradictory when he speaks on judgment. In Romans he says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.”(Rom 12:3) And then, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (Rom 14:13)

And in his letters to the Corinthians he says, “The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment” (1 Cor 2:15) “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?” (1 Cor 6:2) “I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say” (1 Cor 10:15) “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to them, and they cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor 2:14) And to the Thessalonians he says, “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thes 5:21)

John calls us to test or judge things too, saying in 1 John 4:1, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” In fact the Scriptures connect making judgments and discernments with wisdom and purity. The teacher in Proverbs says, “My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight.” (Prov 3:21) And again, “Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks judgment.” (Prov 10:13)

And Paul says to the Philippians, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

So should we judge or shouldn’t we judge? Well it all depends on our motives and the means we use as the motives of our judgments and discernments! As Jesus himself said, Judge and you will be judged, the measure used will be used against you too! And in Romans Paul says, “When you …pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” (Romans 2:3) So when we judge we must ultimately stand under the same judgment before God too!

This is no surprise; in fact, Jesus leads the way as our example, although the only reason he does is so he might pour out mercy upon us! He made judgments over us sinners, and as a result he mercifully stood condemned under the very same judgments. As Almighty God the Son, he could have lorded eternal judgment and condemnation over us, but instead he received our full measure of wrath on himself, and we are receiving the Son of God’s full measure of mercy unto eternity.

We receive this mercy only when we allow the Holy Spirit to give us faith, so we believe Christ and receive him in the way he prescribes in his word. And that is to hear his word of the Gospel, to repent, to hear and receive the forgiveness of sins for life and salvation. And in these things we continue to receive the Holy Spirit, and therefore faith, so we might go on enduring in Christ, despite the three things that are always ready to deceive us. The first and main one being: our own deceptively sinful nature; the second: the many deceptions out there in the world; and finally: the focused attacks of the evil one, the devil!

So when judgment is motivated by these things we end up enforcing and exalting our own authority, self-justification, and self-glorification, we lord judgment over others, and do the opposite of Christ. When judgement is made with these sinister motives we seek God-status suppressing others and proclaiming ourselves. When we are deceived into doing this we move against God, and become anti, or against Christ!

Perhaps this is why Jesus says, “Do not judge!” But then in the next breath he also says, “Forgive”, which in contradiction needs mercy centred judgment to see the sin, which requires repentance and forgiveness in the first place!

We hear in James 2:13, “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” So our motive for judgment must always be grounded in mercy, for ourselves and others. We judge others as we too are judged by God so that together we might live as equals, judged as sinners, but mercifully sentenced to eternal life because of Christ’s death on the cross.

And further to this, a discerning and wise person will always test everything with the measure and means of Scripture. This goes without saying for spiritual people who place themselves under the judgment of God in the face of their mortality, and are enduring and living in the comforting arms of Christ without hindering the Holy Spirit who always guides us to Christ through his word. For the word of God is the only source of truth over-against the questionable motives of humanity’s standards, which are governed by the sinful nature played out in our confused thoughts, fickle feelings, and deceptive deeds!

After all Hebrews 4:12 tells it how it is, “…the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

So in these days of uncertainty God calls us to stand firm. We are neither to sit on our laurels thinking “she’ll be right”. Nor are we to move from where we’re called to take our stand! If we do we will surly move away from the means of merciful judgment and make judgment with human standards, compromised by our sinful nature, the world and men of lawlessness, or Satan himself. When we don’t stand firm in Christ and his word, we oppose God the Father, we become anti towards Christ, and participate in the lawlessness against his Spirit of holiness. Yes! All of us have the ability to be antichrists - men and women of lawlessness!

Therefore Paul’s message to the Thessalonians is also God’s message to us…

3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day (the day of Christ’s return) will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

13b But …from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.


16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 13b-17)