Monday, 1 September 2008

Judgement - God's Way

The scriptures make it clear that all men will one day face judgement, Matt 10.15,12.36; 2Cor 5.10. God will ultimately have the last word. In the mean time, any judgement we make is a functional judgement, not a final judgement. By understanding the criteria that God uses when judging people we can come closer to the practice of being able to, ‘judge righteous judgement’, John 7.24. God’s judgement is always, ‘according to truth’, Rom 2.2 and we need to aim to judge in the same way.

No doubt someone will want to point out Matt 7.1, ‘Judge not lest you be judged’ and warn me that judging is not meant to be part of Christian’s way of life. But the context of Jesus’ words make it clear that He was addressing the Pharisaic practice of pointing out small faults in others while missing the glaring vices in our own lives – hence the metaphor of the beam – a plank of wood and the speck. In fact Jesus goes on to say that we are free to help remove specks if we have first dealt with our own faults. He further exhorts us not to cast our pearls before swine – which implies making some kind of judgement as to who the swine are!

The most common Greek word used for judge is krino. Most of the time the context helps us understand the intension of the writer’s use of this word. Sometimes however they used other prepositions to strengthen the point they wanted to make. Katakrino meant to condemn, Rom 2.1, 14.23, whereas diakrino meant to discriminate or discern, 1Cor 6.5. These distinctions in the ways we can judge are helpful. Whilst we are not here to condemn people, we are meant to be discerning and this is a form of judging – the best form. I’ll return to this issue later. For now let’s look at four key things that God takes into account when He judges a person. They form the basis of His judgement, now and in the future.

1. God’s judgement is always according to the light or understanding that we have. Luke 12.47-48 "The servant who knows what his master wants and ignores it, or insolently does whatever he pleases, will be thoroughly thrashed. But if he does a poor job through ignorance, he'll get off with a slap on the hand.” (Message Version). Whilst ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking the law, it is taken into account when judgement is given. We don’t hold children accountable in the same way we do adults. Often they behave in ways that demonstrate their ignorance. We use this as an opportunity to teach rather than to punish.

On a family shopping day with our three year old daughter we discovered that she had taken a key ring from a shop we had been browsing in. She had no concept that we needed to pay for it. To her it was an attractive trinket that she innocently took. (We duly returned to the shop and gave it back!). Jesus spoke of the Queen of the South (the Queen of Sheba) as rising up on the day of judgement and condemning a later generation. They had had the very presence of the Son of God and had not repented, when, with far less light, she had acknowledged the God of Israel, having seen the greatness of Solomon’s Kingdom.

In Gen 20 Abraham lied to King Abimelech, saying that Sarah was his sister (a half truth as they shared the same father). The King took Sarah intending for her to become his wife. But God appeared to him and the dialogue is instructive. Gen 20.5-6 “Did he not say to me she is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘he is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.” And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me: therefore I did not let you touch her.”

God actually kept back Abimelech from sinning because he knew that he acted innocently. Thus God holds us accountable for what we know, not what we don’t know.

2. God’s judgement is also according to the office or responsibility we hold. James 3.1 says, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgement”. The point is that those in positions of responsibility are often in greater positions of influence. For good or for ill leaders impact the lives of others. When they stray it has a bigger impact. Moses experienced this when he was instructed to speak to the rock but instead he struck it twice rebuking the people in the process. He did not obey God’s command and in fact misrepresented the Lord to the people. God wanted to be gracious but Moses was angry – and it cost him entrance into the Promised Land, Num 20.11-13.

This is reflected in the Old Testament Levitical laws. The sin offering outlined in Leviticus chapter 4 prescribes the offering needed when different people sin. For the whole congregation a bull is required, Lev 4.13-14, similarly for a Priest, Lev 4.3-4. Thus the Priest had to offer the same animal as the entire congregation – because in his role he influences all of them. But when a ruler sins, he must offer a male goat – an animal of less value than a bull, Lev 4.22-23. His influence is not as great as that if the priest. Finally if one of the ‘common people’ sin they must offer a female goat – an animal of even less value the others, Lev 4.27-28. This is also the reason why Paul exhorts us to pray for those in authority, 1Tim 2.1-4. They need grace and empowerment to make the right decisions in life that affect others.

3. God also judges in the light of the gifting, capacity and ability that we have. Matt 25.14-29 is the parable of the talents. Each one had a different capacity but all were expected to ‘trade’ and make money for their master. The issue will be to what degree did we fulfil our calling and ministries or to what degree did we fall short. If God has given me the capacity to lead 100 people to Christ and I only lead 50, then I have not fulfilled my potential. However, if another person leads only 10 people to Christ and that was all they were appointed to do then even though it appears they have achieved less than me in fact they have achieved more. This is why Paul encourages us to ‘judge nothing before the time’, 1Cor 4.5.

4. Finally God takes into account the motivation of the heart. The right motivation gives value to our actions. Paul says it is possible to give our bodies to be burned and yet it profits us nothing if we have not love, 1Cor 13.3 Altruistic acts have no real value if they are motivated by selfish reasons. Four options remain open to us.

We can do the right thing for the wrong reason, the wrong thing for the right reason; the wrong thing for the wrong reason and the right thing for the right reason. Let’s look at some Biblical examples. The Pharisees are a classic example of a group of religious leaders who did the right thing but with the intension of gaining the praise of men. One boasted, “Thank you that I am not like this man, I fast twice a week and pay tithes on all I possess...”, No criticism is made of his practice, only the pride of his heart. If we do not allow God to deal with our hearts then pride can set in. We can appear clean on the outside yet be ‘full of dead men’s bones’. The other man is only conscious of his failings. He knows his actions have offended a holy God and he calls out for mercy – from the heart. This man goes away justified.

There are also those who did the wrong thing for the right reason. Tamar in the book of Genesis is an example of this. She dressed up as a prostitute and slept with her father in law, Judah. He has no money to pay her at the time and so she kept his staff as a pledge that he would return to pay her. This he duly did only to find she was no longer in the village he was passing through. He was oblivious to her identity and when her pregnancy showed Judah wanted to stone her. He must have appeared very red-faced when she produced his staff as the identity of the father of her child. Clearly this act involved deception, intrigue and fornication – all wrong. But her basic motivation was to honour the Levirate marriage principal that Judah had chosen to ignore. He used his authority to delay the marriage of his youngest son to Tamar and so fulfil this biblical mandate. His final comment on the situation was, ‘she has been more righteous than me’. And she appears in the genealogy of Jesus!

Rahab is another example of this. She lied to protect the spies. Her motivation was right even though the action was not. The basic trouble with all this motivation stuff is that, unlike actions, you can’t see them. They lie hidden in the heart. This is why we need to be very careful not to impute an evil motive to people’s actions. In doing so we may become judges of men’s hearts. This is reserved for God alone. David’s older brother Eliab accused him of coming to view the fight as an act of pride, neglecting his duty to care for the sheep. In truth David was being obedient to his father’s wish. He was truly jealous for the glory of God and was prepared to do what no other Israelite would – fight! 1Sam 17.28.

There are a number of occasions in scripture where the condition of the heart was discerned. We have the example of Jesus in Mark 2.5-12. He “perceived in His spirit” what the Scribes were thinking and was able to challenge the thought of their heart. Peter was able to discern the duplicity of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5.1-11 and challenged Simon the sorcerer to repent, discerning that his heart was, “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity”, Acts 8.23. This should make us cautious. It is easy to be impressed with people who focus on outward appearance when the scriptures call us to work on the hidden man of the heart. This is where God looks, 1Sam16.7. Cleary God is interested in what motivates a person. For all David’s failings his basic motivation was to please God and bring Him glory.

There are of course many examples of those who do the wrong thing for the wrong reason. Early on in Genesis we find Cain who is jealous of Able and kills him. Behaviour is always easier to change and character is easier to build once we get our motivation right.

The ideal of course is to do the right thing for the right reason. This is a lifelong process. But if we start on the inside and work outward we are better positioned to achieve this goal. Value will be added to all we do and we will receive a full reward when we finally stand before the great King.