Monthly Archives: March 2015

Just and Unjust Judges

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. [Matthew 5:25-26 ESV]

Do we have to stand before a Judge before admitting when we have done something wrong? Are Judges known for being compassionate? Do they forgive offenses, willful acts, crimes against men and the state? Is it not their responsibility to look at the evidence and determine culpability? Are they not charged with upholding the law which constrains them? What Judge is going to set aside law for personal preference? If they do then they are not a Judge but as much a criminal as those standing before them. Those Judges who are just will agonize over their decisions because they want truth and compassion, justice and righteousness.

Christians are faced with unjust judges daily. All those around us will judge our actions and words against their arbitrary standard or a predetermined measure. They will assess not only what is right and good but every wrong. For the unjust Judge will build a case regardless of the facts, no matter the evidence. Those being accused of doing something wrong may not have done anything wrong. Christians who suffer for righteousness’ sake face accusers who are judging them because of their relationship with Christ. In fact, they have probably done everything right.

However, I do not think this is what Jesus is speaking about in these verses.

I think he is telling us to judge ourselves against God’s standards so that those who do accuse us have no evidence to substantiate their claims. If they do have evidence because we have done something wrong then we are responsible for righting the wrong. Jesus is using the world’s unjust system as an illustration for God’s justice. We cannot expect non-Christians to act like Christians.

We can expect Christians, or those who say they are Christians, to act according to God’s known will. We must say sin is sin. Jesus is direct in His statements about a brother confronting a brother about sin.

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. [Matthew 1815-17 ESV]

Again, I do not think this is what Jesus is speaking to in these verses (Matthew 5:25-26), though they are related. I think He is telling us to admit when we are wrong, confess sin, repent and turn away from sin, before being hauled in front of a Judge. We should not have to be told when we are wrong. A Judge will not be nice. God is loving and compassionate but not nice.

One of the underlying principles of the Sermon on the Mount is the desire of God to make those who are His whole. For the individual, wholeness means being remade, recreated by God into the likeness of His Son. We are created in His image, bent and corrupted by sin, then recreated by His Spirit and fit for here as witnesses and for eternity as citizens. God changes the person immediately but takes His time disciplining and developing the person for eternity. He makes the person whole intellectually, morally and emotionally and willfully. He molds those who are His into people who act obediently as His servants.

I hate the process for it demands I see myself as God sees me, as Christ sees me and as the Holy Spirit sees me. God sees me covered with the blood of Christ. Jesus sees me as one He is willing to die for and did. He who lives in the Christian, the Holy Spirit, sees me as a citizen-student being fit by Him for eternity.

This is important. Christians must not view themselves as they see themselves in the world. God trains us, when we are obedient, to see ourselves as He sees us, covered with the blood of Christ. We stand before Him, and before the world, in His grace.

Have you ever tried to defend, rationalize or excuse your wrong actions and attitudes before an impartial Judge? He will not let you. Either we judge our sin or God does and He may use a human judge which will carry much pain. There is an eternal difference between remorse and repentance.

Offering Our Gift

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [Matthew 5:23-24 ESV]

I do not want to leave the impression that for the Christian all suffering is suffering for righteousness’ sake. More often we suffer because of our own sin or as a consequence of someone’s sin rather than because of our relationship with Christ. We may bring suffering upon ourselves. We may experience suffering because of our proximity to sin, as a result of historical sin or because of unrecognized sin.

Christian’s are redeemed and sanctified yet continue to live in the world, in their sinful flesh. Many, because of allowing sin to have a place in their lives continue to violate God’s will and sin against their “brother.” Sin’s effects may carry over generations of families, cross geographic boarders and span history. Adam’s sin is carried by all of mankind. David sinned and the entire nation suffered. God’s third statement declares those who worship idols will teach their children to worship idols. Children learn to sin from those around them and then teach others to sin.

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. [Deuteronomy 5:8-10 ESV]

Sin is a reality in the fallen world. Though Christians are redeemed, Christians still sin. Sin stops worship. When we sin against another person we are sinning against two, against the other person and against God. This is not a matter of debate. All sin is first rebellion against God.

Jesus is explicit. If anyone has something against us because of our sin then we cannot worship God. He uses a word which means anything regardless of the size, intensity, relevancy or even knowledge. You, the citizen of the kingdom of heaven, are required to make your relationship with the offended person right. This does not include manufactured offenses based upon any person’s ungodly standard. This is sin violating God’s standards against a person created in the image of God.

Before this can happen there must be an acknowledgment of the wrong done, not by the party offended but by the offender. It is not the responsibility of the person who holds the offense to request reconciliation but the person who committed the sin. Admitting sin is almost impossible for any unless directed by the Holy Spirit and seen through the new eyes of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven. When Christians sin they have to recognize the sin, that it has compromised their relationship with God and with the other person and then mourn of the consequences of sin. Damaged and broken relationships are one of the temporal consequences of sin. Separation from God is the eternal consequence of sin.

Owning sin is one of the characteristics of being poor in spirit and is the first step into the kingdom and the primary characteristic of a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.  Owning the sin is recognizing the truth. “Sin” is not a made-up offense, as when the intolerance of the world demands we acquiesce to ungodly expectations. Our offense is first against God and then against another. But Jesus uses the word “brother” which means brother, someone near and somehow related.  He uses the same word in the previous verses when He speaks to denigrating anyone in the kingdom.

Citizens of the kingdom of heaven are servants of the King of heaven and work toward knowing Him intimately and desiring to be and do His will. This includes offering spiritual worship and keeping clear and righteous relationships with other citizens. Our focus is upon fulfilling the image of God and the likeness of Christ which characterizes the citizen.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners (strangers) and exiles (aliens) to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12 ESV)

We are strangers and aliens in this world. Aliens are citizens of heaven living as exiles, witnesses to the world until they are repatriated. Strangers are passing though the world being prepared by God for eternity.

Obedience is an act of Love

When did obedience become a sacrifice?

Scripture tells us God wants those who are His to follow Him in loving obedience. Yet, those He commands to obey rebel and may justify their rebellion as an obedient sacrifice. This shows superstitious thinking, trying to hide personal sin and rationalize poor choices and actions.

Though Scripture is replete with examples the coronation of King Saul is one such story. God chose Saul as king over Israel because the people wanted a king. Samuel grieved over this choice but God reminded him of the rebellious hearts of the people.

“Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. … Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. [1 Samuel 8:7, 9-10 ESV]

Read what Samuel told Saul when he anointed him king in 1 Samuel 10:1-7.

God’s priest, Samuel, gave Saul God’s authority anointing him king. Saul now has authority to act as one with God’s full power behind him. Yet, Saul was weak so God gave him three signs to confirm his authority. What did Saul do after these signs were fulfilled? Was he fully convinced of his place before God? Did he rally the people and the fighting men around him and attack the enemies of Israel? Did he throw off the oppression of the enemies of God? Did he take the throne with strength and force and certainty? Did he plan anything to help his people become free from the threat of God’s enemies? Did he seek God and set his hands and will to do the will God?

He went home and started plowing. He knew how to work for his family but had never been taught to work for God. It wasn’t until the Ammonites attacked Jabesh-gilead that God’s righteous anger welled up in Saul and he took command.

Saul’s authority was as Israel’s king not as God’s priest. God held these offices in sharp distinction. Samuel would not do what Saul was appointed by God to do and Saul should not do what Samuel was given to do by God. Here is Saul downfall. He had not been taught, nor did he seek to have, a relationship with the God he served. When the Spirit of God came upon Saul as fulfillment of one of the signs of his authority he was changed. He did not embrace the change but retreated to the comfortable and known.

Again, the Philistines attacked Israel and Saul, the designated leader, hid with his men in caves. When Samuel did not arrive within the designated time Saul committed a rash act.

“Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him.

Samuel said, “What have you done?”

And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” [1 Samuel 13:9-12 ESV]

Saul was afraid. He did not trust God. Being God’s appointed authority over the nation gave him a place before God no one else had. But, he was superstitious and tried to control God by offering a sacrifice which he had no authority to offer. He knew offering the sacrifice was wrong. Notice he said he “forced” himself to offer the sacrifice.

This one act sealed Saul’s future. It is not that sacrifice was wrong. Nor was it that Saul didn’t need to seek God’s face and will. He needed to ask for God’s strength and direction, to talk with God and listen to Him. His act was foolish, the act of a man who thinks he can manipulate God by doing something, anything, to gain His attention and good-will.

Because of this act Saul lost the kingdom to David, a man after God’s own heart. David sinned more grievously than Saul ever could. But David carried in the thinking of his heart a spirit of repentance. When David did wrong he grieved at how he sinned against God. When Saul did wrong he excused his actions as necessary. David loved God. Saul had no love for God.

Obedience is evidence of love for God.

Facing Suffering

I am faced with a dilemma. How am I to face suffering when my life and expectations are to not suffer?

Throughout our world Christians face persecution and suffering because of their relationship with Christ. We tend to view persecution as overt and physical suffering, such as a government condemning to death a Christian who converts from Islam to Christianity. We, sitting in our safe, comfortable homes, feel little conflict when a man 12,000 miles away stands firm in his faith even to the point of death. Our consciences have been so seared with the blatant lies of the world which surround us we feel nothing, or perhaps only a simple, easily ignored, minor discomfort, on hearing such a story. We have no experiences with which to relate to those facing daily the hatred of the world.

Or do we? Persecution is also subtle, as innocuous as a boss or friend demanding unethical behavior and compromise from a known Christian. We are faced with an even more subtle attitude of tolerant intolerance. We are lulled into complacency by embracing the desirable things of a world at complete odds with God. Each desire is filled with a temptation which then coerces us to compromise a known value, revealed to us by the Holy Spirit but never jammed down our throats. God asks for obedience then expects us to exercise our minds, emotions and wills to do what He wants, think as He thinks, recognize His moral truth as His standard and act in obedience. We don’t because we do not comprehend the value of suffering for righteousness’ sake.

Worldly attitudes devalue Christ’s sacrifice, the gift of suffering experienced by the persecuted and our own worth. Christ told us we were worth His deep, agonizing suffering. He told us that to follow Him we also would suffer. We grieve and mourn over sin and grieve and mourn when those who are part of the Body of Christ endure intellectual abuse, emotional oppression and physical trauma because of Christ. With Paul we can say “if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” [1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV].

Do we not?

No one wants to face suffering but such suffering for righteousness’ sake is the fertile ground God uses to grow the Church. We are not prepared in this country, or many places, to face or stand against someone, anyone, who has something against us because we belong to God. Instead of correcting our thinking, challenging and changing the way we think, we accept the thinking of the world which encourages through a skewed philosophy biased actions and unjust decisions.

When we think and act like the world we show how insignificant is our relationship with God. He created us in His image so our thinking would conform to truth unaffected by sin and rebellion. When confronted by the philosophy of the world our spirit, counseled and directed by the Spirit who resides within, knows there is something wrong. We may not be able to articulate the wrong, or explain how it is wrong, but we know.

However, when anything we do is perceived by the world as wrong when we know it is God’s express will, bringing the world’s displeasure from our righteous actions and attitudes, do we then submit to the world and agree we are wrong? Are we not convinced of God’s will? If we do no wrong why do we allow the world to convince us otherwise?

All who are His are owned by Him. This is an unpopular position. Our words, actions and attitudes are to focus upon Him who strengthens us, directs us and who gives us grace and a peace. This confounds the world. Do we compromise His moral will and character in order to please the world? Or do we please God and face with peace and grace the hatred of the world?

Only those operating under the same standard of justice can be reconciled. We are reconciled to God because we come under His justice and righteousness not the worlds. Being judged by those in the world will bring God’s judgment upon those in the world. Those who hold to a standard bent away from God will never be able to comprehend the actions, attitudes and words of a Christian. They may be curious, though.

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. [1 Peter 3:14-16 ESV]

Live the gospel. All are called by God to obedience. And maybe those who persecute you will see Him.

Even to Death

Peter, the boldest, most opinionated, outspoken of the disciples, was one of the “inner three.” He walked on water and witnessed Christ’s metamorphosis on the Mount of Transfiguration. He bore Christ’s rebukes after each of his arrogant, unthinking statements. At the end of his life He died for Christ.

On the night before Passover, the passion of Christ, Jesus continues preparing His disciples for His death. He tells them what will happen, what they are to do and to wait for. Peter hears only some of His words and allows his arrogance to rise. He declares he is ready to stand with Christ through anything and everything, even facing death.

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”

Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” [Matthew 26:31-34 ESV]

Jesus rebuked Peter often. I have often wondered how Peter felt after each rebuke, every time Jesus challenged his intent, the thinking of his heart. I can only imagine hurt and since Peter is like most men, his pain turned into stubbornness, a form of anger. Did he say to himself “I will not fall away!” dejectedly and dutifully following his Master into a garden like he had done so many times before. This night would be different. This night they would have unwelcomed company. This night would begin a day of terror and suffering for Jesus.

Mark adds to the story.

But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. [Mark 14:31 ESV]

It is not until we read Luke’s account we discover a hidden element to Peter’s heartfelt declaration.

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. [Luke 22:31-32 ESV]

Like Job, and how many other unknown followers of God, Satan squeaked into God’s presence, tolerated by a Holy and Just and Good and True God, and threw down a challenge. Satan cannot be everywhere since he is not God. He can direct those who are his, who speak and act in his name, to tempt and lie to those whose sin will grieve God deeply. God is not afraid of grief and agony and suffering. He decided from eternity past to embrace the agony of the cross as a sacrifice of love for those with whom He will have an intimate relationship. God uses Satan to test the obedience of those He loves so they will fail and relinquish control to Him and live. Yes, He expects us to fail. Only in our failure will we accomplish His will His way. He must be the One who works in us. It is the suffering of our failures which brings us the joy of God presence.

Peter belongs to God.  Satan cannot have him.

John shows us what Peter’s devotion will cost him. Peter, like his fellows, will face unmerciful emotional suffering which will last until they see with their eyes the resurrected Jesus. Christ’s suffering is finished and ours is begun. Do not think for a moment our suffering is not experienced by God. We are hidden in Him, identified with His Son and filled with His Spirit.

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”

Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” [John 13:36-38 ESV]

Jesus knows intimately the heart of His disciple. Peter truly wants to be with his Master. Jesus truly wants Peter with Him.  For this to happen, and it will happen, both must suffer the agony of the cross, one on the cross and one watching. Jesus must endure its physical trauma. Peter must endure its spiritual consequences. He must mourn deeply over the entire consequences of his sin bourn by his Master in his stead.

Do I want to be with God, where He is, to please Him, to love Him? This is hard. My gift will only please Him after I suffer with His Son. This is not something I am willing to face. But, God loves me and will bring me through what He has determined for me. I will never for eternity be out of His presence. Even when enduring the deepest, harshest suffering.