Friday, September 26, 2003

Sawdust & Two-by-Fours

This is part 3 of series of essays on what Jesus says about judging others. To start from the beginning, click here.

Seeing the Wooden Beam in Our Eyes

Jesus continued his discourse on judging by saying,

"Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." (Matthew 7:3-5)

What does it mean to have a wooden beam in the eye? That is what I want to discourse on next.

We tend to put those we judge beyond hope and, at the same time, elevate ourselves. This creates a blindness to our own faults and need for change. Perhaps, more importantly, it keeps us from doing the hard and caring work of helping a brother or sister do better. Although Jesus speaks of the beam, and so will I, He also speaks of people who have specks in their eyes. Think back to the days of Jesus where the best mirrors, for those who could afford them, were polished metal--not the aluminized coated glass we have today. When you had a speck in your eye, you needed someone to help you get it out.

Seeing clearly to help others get specks out of their eyes is the goal. Removing the fatal beam in our own eyes is the means.

An event in Jesus' life illustrates this principle well.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth. “Follow me,” he said to him. And he got up and followed him. As Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13)

Since Jesus was among sinners, the Pharisees quizzed Jesus' followers about His actions (Jesus was closer to them physically than they cared to get). Their actions and body language show that they believed such people to be beyond hope. Jesus, though, was just the opposite and was there to provide healing from sin and sickness. The Pharisees viewed the situation  with beamed eyes. Jesus with eyes of mercy and compassion.

The beam symbolism has several meanings. The first is hyperbolic. By this I mean that Jesus used hyperbole to compare our concern for small failures in others while ignoring our large failures. The second treats the wooden beam as a weapon. Often when we judge, we judge unfairly and it may be likened to hitting them over the head with a two-by-four. The third is that the beam would take up so much space in the eye, that it renders us blind. Consequently, we need to:

  • Have a fair assessment of ourselves.
  • Have hearts of genuine kindness and mercy.
  • Learn to see clearly.

So how do we see this beam we should pluck out of our eye? The first step is to see how quickly we move to judge others. Consider the following verse:

Love must be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9) 

When you read this verse, did you think of abhorring evil in others or in yourself. If you answered, "In myself."--and you were honest--then you are counted among the few. Pay attention here. In the context of love being without hypocrisy, do you think that Paul meant abhorring evil in others or abhorring evil in ourselves? Surely we are not to think that Paul meant that we should only love others when they are good! That goes against the entire section in this part of Romans and Jesus' teaching about loving our enemies.

As I pointed out previously, there is the trap set at the end of  Romans 1 that is sprung in the first verses in Romans 2. So it behooves us to examine our lives and see who, what, when, where, and how we judge others. It behooves us to shift the focus, as we read scripture, from how it applies to others we know to how it applies to ourselves. It behooves us to begin to understand what mercy is.

Mercy can come in small forms. I realized this one day when some friends and I went to have breakfast in a restaurant. The service was awful. The waitress was late coming to our table. She lost our orders. We could never capture her attention. Our coffee cups had rare and frequently lukewarm refills. It was so bad, that I began to systematically reduce the tip that I was going to give. About the time it dropped to zero, an internal voice suggested that withholding the tip was justice and giving a generous tip was mercy. It was at that small moment that the verses about 'showing mercy to be shown mercy' and 'not judging so that I would not be judged' hit home. I put down a 20% tip and have tipped generously ever since--NOT as a means to be shown mercy, but as a reminder of the concepts. When I judged this waitress, I undoubtedly had a wooden beam in my eye. She may have been a single mom with a child that had a fitful night. Then I thought of the times that I had given poor service to my employer for lesser reasons.

There is much here on which to meditate. I find that I am once more reflecting on several current situations.

Monday: Removing the Beam

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Thursday, September 25, 2003

Sawdust & Two-by-Fours

This is part 2 of series of essays on what Jesus says about judging others. To start from the beginning, click here.

Why Judging Others is a Bad Idea

Jesus said,

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. (Matthew 7:1-2)

Besides the fact that He has commanded that we do not judge others, there are good reasons to obey.

1. What do we know? We do not see things as the Lord sees them. Samuel was a prophet. The Lord sent him to the house of Jesse to anoint a new king of Israel. Jesse brought his oldest son before Samuel:

When they arrived, Samuel noticed Eliab and said, “Surely, here before the Lord stands his chosen king!” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t be impressed by his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:6-7)

Look at the confidence that Samuel had that he saw Eliab correctly. "Surely, here before the Lord stands his chosen king!" The world conditions us to connect physical and athletic beauty with moral beauty. The books we read and the movies all present heroes and heroines as attractive people. God sees truly and we do not. Therefore, odds are that we will judge wrong.

2. We are not that innocent. Here is a list of bad and wicked behavior that appears at the end of Romans 1.

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32)

That's enough to get your blood boiling. No wonder Paul begins by talking about the "wrath of God revealed from heaven against all ungodliness." It is just at this point, when you are thinking such thoughts, that Paul pulls a fast one:

Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. For on whatever grounds you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things. And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed! (Romans 2:1-5)

Have you not often seen a friend criticizing another friend and thinking, "But you're the same way?" Have you ever in your life met anyone who concluded--correctly--such an observation about himself? Every time that we judge another person, we are in danger of condemning ourselves by that same standard. I say it's not worth it.

3. It is not our job. No one hired us to judge the earth. When we do, we assume a larger task than we might, at first, realize. Note these words of James:

Do not speak against one another, brothers and sisters. He who speaks against a fellow believer or judges a fellow believer speaks against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but its judge. But there is only one who is lawgiver and judge—the one who is able to save and destroy. On the other hand, who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)

James' logic is as interesting as it is sobering. If you speak against or judge a fellow believer, you speak against and judge the Law. I had to give much thought to what James means by this. I have concluded that if I judge someone, I am saying that such and such a commandment of the Law applies to the situation. In saying that, I have judged the applicability of the Law and have, therefore, judged the Law. When I judge the Law incorrectly, I have implicitly spoken against the Law by reason of bad application. Judgment is the prerogative of the One who gave the Law.

4. It is not what the Father typically does. We are much quicker to judge and demand payment that our Father in heaven. Luke records these words of Jesus:

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)

Paul told us that it is God's kindness that leads to repentance. Jesus here tells us that we should love our enemies, be kind to ungrateful and evil people, and show mercy. This is the way of the Father and should be our way too. Judging often works the opposite.

5. It is not safe. Unless you believe you can stand before the Judge and receive a commendation for good service during your life here, judging others is just not a good thing to do.

“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, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.” (Luke 6:37-38)

For judgment is merciless for the one who has shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

There is a simple formula here. I judge = My judgment. I condemn = My condemnation. I forgive = My forgiveness. Judging others leads to danger.

6. Some books are better left closed. If I show mercy and avoid judging and condemning others, is it possible that in some future day, some books about me could remain closed?

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened—the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. ... This is the second death—the lake of fire. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:12, 15)

I would prefer the books of my life, containing good and bad, be left closed. My name is in the Book of Life. Let that be the book opened on my behalf.

7. Mercy is better. Much more good comes from mercy than judgment. Look at these verses:

Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

Above all keep your love for one another fervent, because love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

For judgment is merciless for the one who has shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

How many more marriages have been saved by a husband showing mercy over his wife's failings or the wife showing mercy to her husband's failings. What times have peace have come from laying aside the demands of justice and showing mercy instead. Mercy is the kindness of God. Mercy covers up and hides sin. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

As you can see, the case for mercy over judgment has broad support in the New Testament. Therefore, we must train our hearts to extend mercy to a greater degree.

Friday: A Qualification.

<>< Test Everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Constitutional Balance of Power is Broken

Fox News is reporting that a Federal Court has overturned the National do-not-call list saying that the FTC has overstepped its bounds. Where in the name of democracy can we go from here? I am not against the free speech rights of telemarketers, I am against being forced by the government to hear them, if even just long enough to understand the call's intent and hang-up..

Our president can veto a bill and in short order, congress can override that veto. No need to wait until the administration changes hands. Congress can fail to pass a president's bill and the president can work with congress on a compromise bill that it will pass. The president and the congress are never more than 6 years at the most from a popular backlash that will punish them for skirting our wishes.

But the courts. One word, "unconsititional," uttered by a panel of less than a dozen people, can overturn majority legislation and thwart majority will. Our judicial system has ceased being a democratic institution.

Where is the balance of power against the courts? Let me suggest some avenues.

  • Congress, for the sake of its own power to enact legislation in this country, should begin impeaching activist judges. The purpose of impeachment is not to remove a judge for criminal conduct--a jail can do that! Impeachment is congressional balance of power against judges who no longer abide by the laws it passes. In this way, we the people can be the arbiters of what is in the constitution.
  • Along similar lines the president could ask congress to initiate impeachment proceedings. Or, as in times past, the president can deliberately refuse to carry out the dictates of the court. This goes back to a feistier time, but we may now need such times again.

The fear of judges is behind the current stalemate in the Senate over judge appointments. For congress to be this worried over judicial interence is the sign that it must act to restore its own power.

Nothing is simple, and there will be screams on all sides of such a debate if we were fortunate enough for one to emerge. I propose that anytime that a judge overturns a majority vote that is appointment come up for immediate review in the house of representatives. They can debate and ask questions about whether this is a one-off or a pattern in this judge.

I agree that it should be harder for a judge to lose his or her job than it is for the president or congressman. It should not be so impossible that they become the de facto rulers and kings in this country.

Sawdust & Two-by-Fours

This is a series of essays based on a teaching that I did at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, TX on Sunday, September 21, 2003.

A Woman with an STD

John Wimber tells of a time when during ministry prayer at the Anaheim Vineyard, a young woman approached and asked him to pray for the healing of a sexually transmitted disease that she had contracted. John prayer for her and God healed her. The woman was not married and she was not a believer. A few months later, the same woman again asked John to pray for the healing of another STD that she had contracted. God healed her this second time. A few months later, John Wimber saw the same woman approaching him again. He said to himself, "Enough is enough. Not again."

Was John Wimber right to feel the way he did when this woman came a third time for healing? Why or why not? 

Try this one. What should your church do if a non-Christian unmarried cohabitating couple begin to attend services?

The Church is facing these and much harder issues today. At least the Church should be facing these issues. The purpose of these series if essays is to explore Jesus teaching on judgment and draw application. Here is the passage:

  1. Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. 
  2. Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 
  3. Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7:1-6, The Net Bible)

The numbering of the points is not part of the translation, but it is useful to see that Jesus addresses three related topics in this brief section. I net these sections down as follows:

A General Rule -- Do not judge another person. For this I will explore similar passages in the New Testament and show the strength of this command as a rule for daily living. Although there may be some application to government, Jesus intent is interpersonal. Governments have responsibilities that individuals do not have.

A Qualification -- We need to help our brothers and sisters see clearly. One reason for the general rule is to create in us a heart that is able to come along side others and help them see and overcome obstacles to Christian discipleship.

An Exception -- We need to protect what is valuable. We need to recognize and judge those things that cause harm to the body of Christ. In other words, we have to know who are people and who are dogs and pigs.

As you might guess, over the next few days, I will be taking these topics up in order. You can get a tape of my teaching by contacting Community Bible Chapel and requesting it.. There will be neither charge nor donation request to do so.

Thursday: The General Rule

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Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Job 21: Job Responds to Zophar

Job 21 concludes the second cycle of speeches. As Zophar upped the ante by accusing Job of specific acts of wickedness, Job now upped the ante with the corollary to  his main argument.

This post is part of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning. At the end of each post you will find a link to the next.


Zophar had accused Job of specific acts of wickedness such as oppressing the poor and seizing homes. It was, therefore, to be expected that Job suffered as he had. That was the fate of the wicked.

Job former speeches had developed the notion that the innocent, in fact do suffer. In this conclusion to the second section, Job presented the other side of this coin. The wicked sometimes prosper:

Then Job answered: “Listen carefully to my words; let this be the consolation you offer me. Bear with me and I will speak, and after I have spoken you may mock. 

Is my complaint against a man? If so, why should I not be impatient? Look at me and be appalled; put your hands over your mouths. For, when I think about this, I am terrified and my body feels a shudder. 

Why do the wicked go on living, grow old, even increase in power? Their children are firmly established in their presence, their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe and without fear; and no rod of punishment from God is upon them. Their bulls breed without fail; their cows calve and do not miscarry. They allow their children to run like a flock; their little ones dance about. They sing to the accompaniment of tambourine and harp, and make merry to the sound of the flute. They live out their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace. 

So they say to God, ‘Turn away from us! We do not want to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain if we were to pray to him?’ 

But their prosperity is not their own doing. The counsel of the wicked is far from me! (Job 21:1-16) 

I have indented the above quotation to highlight the fact that what terrified Job and made his body shudder was that sometimes "the wicked go on living, grow old, even increase in power"

What Job said is true. Job did not understand it and honestly neither do we. One of David's worship leaders, Asaph, faced the same dilemma, which he recorded in Psalm 73:

But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my feet almost slid out from under me. For I envied those who are proud, as I observed the prosperity of the wicked. For they suffer no pain; their bodies are strong and well-fed. They are immune to the trouble common to men; they do not suffer as other men do. Arrogance is their necklace, and violence their clothing. Their prosperity causes them to do wrong; their thoughts are sinful. They mock and say evil things; they proudly threaten violence. They speak as if they rule in heaven, and lay claim to the earth. Therefore they have more than enough food to eat, and even suck up the water of the sea. They say, “How does God know what we do? Is the sovereign one aware of what goes on?” Take a good look! This is what the wicked are like, those who always have it so easy and get richer and richer. (Psalm 73:2-12)

Job's point should have hit home with his friends. Sometimes the innocent suffer. Sometimes the wicked prosper. His friends never connected the dots, but persisted in condemning him, but not before Job asked them directly to consider this matter:

“How often is the lamp of the wicked extinguished? How often does their misfortune come upon them? How often does God apportion pain to them in his anger? How often are they like straw before the wind, and like chaff swept away by a whirlwind? 

You may say, ‘God stores up a man’s punishment for his children!’ 

Instead let him repay the man himself so that he may know it! Let his own eyes see his destruction; let him drink of the anger of the Almighty. For what is his interest in his home after his death, when the number of his months has been broken off? 

Can anyone teach God knowledge, since he judges those that are on high? (Job 21:17-22)

Do Job's words make you squirm? They should!

“One man dies in his full vigor, completely secure and prosperous, his body well nourished, and the marrow of his bones moist. And another man dies in bitterness of soul, never having tasted anything good. Together they lie down in the dust, and worms cover over them both. (Job 21:23-26)

With those words, Job asked whether life has any meaning at all? What answer do you have for Job? It would be so much easier if Job's friends were right. Job's wickedness brought trouble his way, but he repents, and the Lord restores. Neat and clean. Simple, easy to understand, easy to communicate theology. The Lord's creation and His sovereign plan just do not allow for this simple formula. 

Job concluded with this challenge to his friends:

“Yes, I know what you are thinking, the schemes by which you would wrong me. For you say, ‘Where now is the nobleman’s house, and where are the tents in which the wicked lived?’ 

Have you never questioned those who travel the roads? Do you not recognize their accounts— that the evil man is spared from the day of his misfortune, that he is delivered from the day of misfortune? No one denounces his conduct to his face; no one repays him for what he has done. And when he is carried to the tombs, and watch is kept over the funeral mound, The clods of the torrent valley are sweet to him; behind him everybody follows in procession, and before him goes a countless throng. 

So how can you console me with your futile words? Nothing is left of your answers but deception!” (Job 21:27-34)

Surely Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar would see the point now!

We are just half way through Job and we are in trouble. What answers and hope lie ahead? Will the third cycle offer relief? Before continuing with Job, I will be taking the next several days to explore Jesus' teaching on judgment as record by Matthew 7:1-6. Given the state of affairs between Job and his friends, this diversion will be timely. The book of Job is among other things a polemic against the kind of judgment that Jesus condemns. Perhaps Jesus' instruction will help us to not fall into the same trap.

Wednesday: Eliphaz Accuses Job

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Monday, September 22, 2003

Job 20: Zophar's Second Speech    

Zophar's view of the world seems to have been what people told him was true. In this next brief speech we hear him for the second and last time. In neither of his speeches does he communicate anything original. 

This post is part of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning. At the end of each post you will find a link to the next.


It takes mental energy and imagination to enter into the pain of another person. In this second speech, Zophar looked at a man in great physical, mental, and spiritual pain and said,

Then Zophar the Naamathite answered: “This is why my troubled thoughts bring me back —because of my feelings within me. When I hear a reproof that dishonors me, then my understanding prompts me to answer. (Job 20:1-3, The Net Bible)

Poor Zophar. Job's words had "dishonored" him and he had "troubled thoughts." He spoke of one hurt feeling after another, and then claimed that he would continue speaking from his "understanding." Not likely. What reproof from Job could possibly have dishonored Zophar? Job had asserted his innocence, asked for kindness, and complained to and about God.

After his own complaint, Zophar spoke of the wrath that would surely come Job's way:

Surely you know that it has been from old, ever since mankind was placed on the earth, that the elation of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but for a moment. Even though his stature reaches to the heavens and his head touches the clouds, he will perish forever, like his own excrement; those who used to see him will say, ‘Where is he?’ Like a dream he flies away, never again to be found, and like a vision of the night he is put to flight. People who had seen him will not see him again, and the place where he was will recognize him no longer. His sons must recompense the poor; his own hands must return his wealth. His bones were full of his youthful vigor, but it will lie down with him in the dust. 

If evil is sweet in his mouth and he hides it under his tongue, if he retains it for himself and does not let it go, and holds it fast in his mouth, his food is turned sour in his stomach; it becomes the venom of serpents within him. The wealth that he consumed he vomits up, God will make him throw it out of his belly. He sucks the poison of serpents; the fangs of a viper kill him. He will not look on the streams, the rivers, which are the torrents of honey and butter. He gives back the ill-gotten gain without assimilating it; he will not enjoy the wealth from his exchange. 

For he has oppressed the poor and abandoned them; he has seized a house which he did not build. For he knows no satisfaction in his appetite; he does not let anything he desires escape. Nothing is left for him to devour; that is why his prosperity does not last. In the fullness of his sufficiency, distress overtakes him. the full force of misery will come upon him. While he is filling his belly, God sends his burning anger against him, and rains down his blows upon him. 

If he flees from an iron weapon, then an arrow from a bronze bow pierces him. When he pulls it out and it comes out of his back, the gleaming point out of his liver, terrors come over him. Total darkness waits to receive his treasures; a fire which has not been kindled will consume him and devour what is left in his tent. The heavens reveal his iniquity; the earth rises up against him. A flood will carry off his house, rushing waters on the day of God’s wrath. Such is the lot God allots the wicked, and the heritage of his appointment from God.” (Job 20:4-29)

So Job's future was to go the way of his own excrement. Since he had spoken evil, he would be in agony as one bitten by a poisonous snake.

Zophar accused Job of specific wrongdoing, which Eliphaz would amplify in his next speech. Job, according to Zophar, had oppressed and abandoned the poor. he had seized property that did not belong to him, and stopped only when he had taken it all.

All that was left for Job were the fires of hell to come.

The problem with a full-fledge quarrel is that our anger makes is say things that we will regret for a long time afterwards. At the moment Zophar's hurt feelings prompted him to accuse Job of specific wrongdoing. Eliphaz would take the accusations at face value and add more. Civility, compassion, and mercy were gone. Sadly, it was in the Name of God that it was done.

Tuesday: Job responds to Zophar.

<>< Test Everything. Cling to what is good. ><>