Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Was Jesus really calling some people "dogs" and "pigs?" Matthew 7:6

The general principle of this verse is pretty easy to get- don't waste something valuable on something that is not worthwhile.

That truth can be applied in a number of different situations. Don't waste your purity on someone who is not your spouse; don't waste your time and resources on foolish pursuits, etc.

But it's the context and the situation in which Jesus applies it that gives me trouble. He's just been talking about not judging people (Mt. 7:1-2), and then taking the beam out of our own eye so we can help removed the speck from someone else's (Mt. 7:3-5), and then goes straight into this verse about giving holy stuff to dogs and pearls to pigs. I don't know how else to read this verse in the context without it including making some sort of judgment about people and what we offer them.

The reason I have trouble with this verse is because I feel like I know for sure what Jesus could not have been teaching here based on his other teachings and his work. He could not have been saying that there are some people who are unworthy of being preached to. We are all unworthy of the gospel and Jesus made a point of reaching those who society shunned as "the worst." He could not have been saying that we are to be very selective about who we preach to based on who we think will respond and who will not. Otherwise, how could the kingdom of heaven be compared to the farmer sowing seed, some of which fell on the road, some on the rocky soil, some among the thorns, and some on the good soil?

Knowing Jesus most certainly was not giving us an out to pick and choose who we want to share the life-giving message with, how did he want us to apply this truth in the context of Matthew 7?

I consulted at least 3 or 4 commentaries and two co-workers (would have been 3 but one was at a funeral) trying to figure out how to apply this passage. Most people view Jesus' comments as a general truth that there are just some people who are not ready to receive the gospel. With that interpretation, the "holy" and the "pearls" are both the gospel message. The problem with that, in my mind, is that the "pigs" and "dogs" then become people that we must make a judgment call about whether or not they are ready to receive the gospel. None of us can see into someone's heart the way Jesus did so why would he ask us to do that? Not to mention the fact that Jesus still proclaimed truth to those that he already knew would reject him!

Another option I found makes much more sense to me in light of the context on Matthew 7 and in light of Jesus' other teachings and way of dealing with people. Since Jesus had just talked about the beam and the speck in someone's eye, what if the "holy" and the "pearls" he refers to in verse 7 refers not to the gospel message itself, but to a more specific message of reproof, rebuke, and correction? If that is the way Jesus intended it, then Paul gave a great commentary on it in 1 Corinthians 5 when he wrote to the church in Corinth about the brother who was sleeping with his step-mother.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
Notice that Paul draws a very clear distinction not in the way we love people or try to share the life-saving gospel with them. He draws a distinction in the way we deal with sin in the lives of those who are inside the church already and should have already been saved from sin versus how we deal with sin in those who are outside the church still living in sin. He goes on...
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
1 Corinthians 5:9-13

Here's the point:

I don't believe Jesus is referring to any group of people as "dogs" or "pigs" unworthy of the gospel. I believe he is using an illustration that everyone will understand to state the general truth that some people simply are not ready to hear some things. It makes no sense to offer some truths to people who are not ready to receive them, just as it makes no sense to offer holy things in the dog bowl or pearls in the pig slop. In the context of verses 3-5, I believe the holy things and the pearls Jesus is referring to are the words of rebuke and correction that would help remove a "speck from someone's eye." Why would anyone in the world welcome me pointing out their faults and sins before I have first pointed out the love of God and the life that He offers?

I read a Christian fiction novel a long time ago in which a Christian woman is very offended and shocked at an inappropriate advance by a man. Her son-also a Christian- shields her and diffuses the situation, and then asks, "why are we surprised when sinners sin?"

That line has stuck with me. Why are we often more outraged over the things we see in the news about the ways people are treating each other than we are about the things we see in the pews about the ways Christians treat each other? Why are we willing to wage political wars about homosexual marriage but willing to overlook the heterosexual lust and lasciviousness that invades our Christian homes through the media we use? Why do we mobilize and come together about abortion but overlook brothers and sisters in Christ murdering each other with their words? 

Don't get me wrong...sin is sin. It kills and destroys and separates people from the God who loves them perfectly, sacrificially, and eternally. But perhaps Jesus would have us point out that God to the world and work to convert them to His love before we work to point out their sin and convert their actions. Just think about the anger and resentment that is often pointed at Christianity about the issues that get national attention. Could it be that we sometimes try to confront people with sin before we have confronted them with God and therefore they have "trampled [our well-meaning efforts at righteousness] underfoot and have turned to tear us to pieces?"

May we never downplay the devastating effects of sin. But may we heed Jesus' teaching here and be filled with God's wisdom to know when and how to confront sin in a way that focuses on winning souls and not just changing behaviors.

As I said earlier, I struggled with the application of this verse and would love to hear more discussion on it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"In your eye, man!" Matthew 7:3-5

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

Matthew 7:3-5

 Last week we focused on the command of Jesus not to judge in verses 1 and 2. If you were not convinced that the command not to judge had nothing to do with not working to correct and reprove sin when we see it, then these verses should make it inescapably clear. We are not called to judge someone's soul based on their action, but Jesus states it very plainly that there are some things in our eyes that need to be cleaned out and we have a responsibility to help each other do that...we just need to be sure we get the cleaning steps in order.

I shared two stories from my childhood a few weeks ago on a Sunday night to illustrate this verse. 

I remember going with my family to buy an interior door. I am in the middle of 4 other siblings and we are all 1.5 years apart. Needless to say, there were things that went on in the back of the van anytime we went anywhere. On this trip, the door was propped up between me and my sister. I was picking on her doing something...I have no idea what. All I remember is that I was looking through the empty doorknob hole at her. Her answer to my picking was to blow through the hole into my eye. Let's just say we made a stop by my dad's clinic to clean all of the sawdust out of my eye. And let's be very clear...IT HURT!

I also remember going on several medical mission trips with my dad to Nicaragua. One of the trips he took me on was to a town called Rancheria. It was without a doubt, the dirtiest place I have ever been to. I have very clear memories of having to fan each bite of food as I brought it to my mouth so I wouldn't swallow one of the swarming flies. An even more vivid memory than that, however, was the sight of a little boy- maybe 2 or 3- who had some sort of infection in his eye. There was obvious drainage and pus in his eye and he looked miserable. But that wasn't what stood out. What stood out were all of the gnats and flies that were walking around on his eye in the drainage. He never blinked; he never swatted them away; and he never acted like he even noticed they were there.

I tell you these stories to point to one truth. Jesus' comparison of the "speck" or splinter to a beam or mote in our eyes seems a little absurd, but I believe he does that for a reason. Here is what I think we need to take away from it:
  1. First and foremost, we are not being called to ignore sin. Sawdust in the eye hurts! You know exactly how uncomfortable it is when you get something stuck in your eye. We may think we are being kind and compassionate by overlooking someone's sin, but the truth is that their sin is hurting them. Unfortunately, so many of us have walked around with nastiness in our eyes for so long, that, like the little Nicaraguan boy, we don't even notice the irritant anymore. 
  2.  Second, some of us reading this verse, need to realize that the people ignoring the "biggest" sins in their own lives are often not the adulterers, drunkards, drug addicts, or homosexuals; they are the self-righteous "church folk" who feel comfortable condemning others for sin while ignoring their own pride and hypocrisies. Just think about this for a minute. Try to find one place in the New Testament where Jesus really blasted an out and out "sinner." Look for a prostitute or thief or murderer that Jesus spoke harshly to. You won't find it. What you will find is that when Jesus' tone changes to sternness and rebuke, he is talking to the religious people who had been shunning and shaming the "sinners" all along. If you have grown up in the church as I have, that should serve as a serious call to pay attention and do a thorough check in the mirror to see if there have been any lingering planks or beams of smugness, arrogance, pride, and comparison oriented self-righteousness. 
I think Paul reiterates Jesus' words very well:
"Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load."
Galatians 6:1-5

May we see sin as God sees it. May we be honest with our own sin so we can be free to be honest with others. The whole world is walking around with drainage and pus and flies and splinters in their eyes because of the damaging effects of the sin disease. May we never fail to bring them salve and cleansing and help because we who are disciples of the Great Physician cannot see clearly ourselves. May we view our own sins as beams and others as specks so that we can magnify God's grace that heals both. And may the world see only the love of God in our eyes when we confront sin instead of the hypocrisy, hyper-critical spirit, and self-righteousness that too often dominates the world's view of the church.

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Don't judge me!"- Matthew 7:1-2

original photo by Flickr user Robin Hutton
Oh, the abuse that Matthew 7:1 has taken. I would venture to say that it may be one of the most often quoted...and misapplied verses in the Bible. It typically happens when someone is feeling guilty or feels like they are being made to feel guilty for something they have done. In that situation, it doesn't take long before someone says, "Don't judge me!" Occasionally, they will know the second half of the line and throw it in as well, "lest you too be judged!"

Before we dig into the verse...let me ask a couple of questions so we can start on the same page.

Is murder wrong?
Is stealing wrong?
Is abuse- physical, sexual, or emotional- wrong?
Is hypocrisy wrong?
Is genocide wrong?

I would venture to say that there are not very many people in the  world who will have a difficult time answering those questions. There are some issues of right and wrong that cut across all cultures, time periods, and social settings. People internally know that some things are just wrong. Even those who would deny the truth of those standards of absolute right and wrong will be very quick to demand retribution when they or their family is wronged in one of those ways. So let's just cut to the chase and make the statement that there are at least some things that are categorically wrong. By doing so, we have just ruled out that making judgments about the rightness or wrongness of an action is not what Jesus is forbidding.

Once we have established that, we don't need to argue about the "gray" areas of morals that people get into so many arguments about. That is a different discussion about where we turn for the standards of right and wrong. In this discussion and in this passage, the question we want to ask is not "which things are we allowed to pass judgements on and which are we not?" The question we must ask is, "what type of judgement at all is Jesus forbidding." And we have already established that He is most certainly not forbidding the judgments of individual actions as right or wrong. Jesus made very explicit judgment statements about actions of people. See Matthew 23 for several examples. "But," someone might say, "that was Jesus. He had the ability to see people's hearts." That's correct. However, Jesus also commanded us to evaluate fruit as either good or bad only verses later in the same chapter he told us not to judge (Matthew 7:15-20). His apostles also passed judgments about the wrongness of different actions. You can see an example of Paul rebuking Peter for being hypocritical and cowardly in Galatians 2.

So what, then, is Jesus forbidding the judgment of?

James Coffman's commentary on Matthew has an excellent explanation of what the word for judge really means in this passage. 
"The word 'judge' in this place is translated from a Greek word, krino, also found in such passages are John 12:48, Acts 17:31, and 2 Timothy 4:1, indicating that the type of judging forbidden in this place is that of presuming to determine salvation, or the lack of it, in others. Not even Christ did this while on earth. 'I came not to judge the world but to save the world' (John 12:47)."
 The Tyndale commentary has this:
"This passage, however, is concerned with the fault-finding, condemnatory attitude which is too often combined with a blindness to one's own failings."
So how does this play out in real life?

Well, for starters, it does not mean that what we do doesn't matter. That idea would contradict everything Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. It also doesn't mean that we don't point out wrong when we see it and ignore things that, according to scripture, kill people's souls. (See Matthew 18:15-17; and Acts 8:14-24 for just a few examples.) In fact, we have a duty to call sin, "sin" just as a doctor has a duty to call disease, "disease." If we fail to do it for fear of offending the person who is sick with sin, then we are just as negligent and infinitely more so than a doctor who neglects to inform their patient of a treatable tumor!


I would also say based on the meaning of judging that we have already discussed, that while we have a duty to guide people to the truth, at absolutely NO point at all do we have the duty...much less the say who is and who is not eligible for heaven. We state the truth that we know from scripture- that the only way to the Father is through the Son (John 14:6), that we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8), that in response to recognition of our sinfulness and Jesus' act of redemption as the Son of God we are called to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38), among other doctrines that are clear and easy to understand- and then we leave room for God to judge as He sees fit. It is not my place to say what God will or will not do on judgment day based on whatever hypothetical situation someone brings up. That is a foolish argument to have with someone. It is my place to proclaim from the rooftops that sin is a killer of souls, but God in Christ is a Savior of souls. It is not my place to figure out which groups have enough correct doctrine to get into heaven because they are doing it right. It is my place to study and be as obedient as I can possibly be to what I find in scripture and to help others study and obey the truth as well.

I realize that some might take offense at this article...from either side of the argument. On one side, some might accuse me of still being judgmental because I proclaim that Jesus is the only way and I point to how He and his apostles instructed to get into the Way. On the other hand, some might accuse me of being too liberal and failing to stand for the truth because I am teaching that we do not have the right to proclaim who is and who is not counted among the saved.

I pray that you will hear what I am saying. I'm saying that Jesus calls us to righteousness. He calls us to preach righteousness. He calls us to repentance. He calls us to preach repentance. He calls us to grace. He calls us to preach grace. But He doesn't call us to judge. That is God's job. It makes no difference what I say about the destiny of someone else's soul. God will judge. So why should I say anything at all? Wouldn't I spend my time better by preaching Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2) and then leave room for God to open someone's heart to respond to the gospel (Acts 16:14), and for the Holy Spirit to convict someone of sin, and righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11)?

And as if the fact that God is the judge and I am not is not reason enough to make me think twice about pronouncing condemnation upon someone's soul as opposed to pronouncing the way to life and letting them choose, Jesus follows the command not to judge with a pretty good reason to obey.

"For in the same way you judge, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

I will never, to the best of my ability, shirk from preaching and teaching the truth that I find in the scriptures. I will never, to the best of my ability, dismiss as insignificant what God has already called sin. But I will tell you this. The one thing I most certainly do NOT need to hear God say on judgment is that He would be more than willing to forgive me this sin or that based on the grace and sacrifice of Jesus, but unfortunately He is going to use my standards of judgment instead, and those are stricter than His.

How silly to think that Jesus needed to remind us-- horribly imperfect, consistently inconsistent, selfish, and constantly caving to temptation us-- to not use stricter judgment on our brothers and sisters than the Almighty Creator and Judge of the living and the dead uses.

And yet as we think about the lines that have been drawn, the articles that have been written, and the relationships that have been necessary.

May we seek to "speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent." May we rightly judge actions based on God's standards found in scripture. And may we leave the judgment of someone's heart and soul to the only One capable of doing that job justice.