Thursday, March 8, 2012

Love, Not Judge, Our Neighbor

Jesus really tried to make things simple for us.  He knew, being a law-abiding Jew himself, the propensity for human beings to complicate matters.  After all, God incarnate came to earth fully human and fully divine.  In his human form, I imagine he was capable of thinking and feeling the same way you and I do.  He observed the customs and traditions of his time and entered history, not in a vacuum, but with life marching on around him.  There were all sorts of socioeconomic problems, class distinctions, gender distinctions, and religious distinctions.  In short, a world with problems that resemble, in one form or another, the world we live in today.

When an expert in the law, a Pharisee, tried to trip Jesus up by asking him what the greatest commandment was, Jesus summed up everything under the sun for us.  The first command was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  The second command was to love your neighbor as yourself.  I think we often like to leave off the 'as yourself' part, but those two words, in my opinion, harbor the true meaning.  Jesus goes on to state that all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22: 34-40).  Wow, the entire law hangs on those two commandments?  Could it really be that simple?  Yes, I believe it can!  Now is it, in fact, that simple to truly love God with everything we are and love our neighbor as ourself?  Living out those simple commandments is not so simple in our fallen world, where we often chose self over God and over others.  

But let's dive deeper into the idea of loving, not judging.  Notice how Jesus did not say love only those neighbors you agree with, share similar political persuasions with, and/or have everything in common with.  He said love your yourself.  Jesus was on the spot, being grilled by the Sadducees and Pharisees; he could have laid out a new list of laws and commandments, he could have given us a 'ten steps to get to heaven' list, he could have done any number of things; yet he chose to tell us how to live a God-honoring life by giving us the two greatest commandments.  

But what does the Bible tell us about judging others?  Matthew 7:1-5 says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  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."  Romans 2:1-3 states, "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges.  For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.  Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?"  Another example is James 4:11-12 that states, "Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters.  If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law.  But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.  God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge.  He alone has the power to save or to destroy.  So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?"  

Do you see it?  Friends, the world does not need another judge.  God, the righteous judge, is at the helm and I've got some news for us all:  there is not, nor will there ever be, a job vacancy to fill that position.  So, why do we spend so much time judging others rather than loving our neighbors as ourself?  Acts 17:31 tells us that "God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man (not your or I) he has appointed."  So, relax the judging and amp up the loving already.  Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly (Micah 6:8) with our God.  Worry not about the business of others, just love them.  Love them in our prayers, our thoughts, and our actions.  

So, here is a short quiz to see if we are making progress:

(1) Your neighbor is a Democrat and you are Republican.  You think Obama is a baby killer, who was not even born in the United States, and that his health care plan is destroying the economy.  Do you (a.) love them OR (b.) judge them?

(2) Your neighbor is gay or lesbian.  You have read in the Bible that homosexual acts are unnatural and are a sin.  You briefly forget that the Bible also mentions countless other thoughts and acts that are sinful.  You immediately start to form an imaginary hierarchy of sins and instantaneously decide that your sins are less severe than your neighbors.  You forget that we live in a fallen world where all of us are sinners saved by grace.  You have a choice.  Do you (a.) love them OR (b.) judge them?  

(3) Your neighbor creates a video to draw attention to atrocities that are being committed around the world.  32 Million people view the video within 24 hours and now people who have never taken an interest in Africa are suddenly educated about crimes that have been being committed there for decades.  You decide that their interests are self-serving and their approach wasn't perfect.  Do you (a.) love them OR (b.) judge them?  

I hope this fun quiz is making you somewhat uncomfortable.  It is just so, so easy to judge others and frankly, we have no business doing so.  We are commanded not to.  Yet, judge on we do.  I believe we are fearful that loving others will somehow create an 'anything goes' world.  However, if God commanded us to love others and He alone knows how this story plays out, we have got to trust that loving is obedience to His will.  It takes intentionality in our thoughts and actions to love rather than judge.  A few years ago, I started asking God to convict me each and every time my thoughts or actions started to wander into 'holier than thou' territory.  You know what happened?  He did just that.  It is now almost instantaneous.  I will hear, "convicted, convicted, convicted" over and over in my head until I stop my thought and change my mind.  "Love not judge, remember?", the voice says.  

So, the next time you are tempted to judge another person, I sincerely hope you are able to stop and remember that we are commanded to love one another as we love ourself.  That means, if you would not think it, say it, or do it to yourself, we have to right to think it, say it, or do it, to another.  Sounds simple, right?  Almost like heaven!  
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