Romans 2:1-11 – Against Condemning Others

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So, when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (NIV)

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Church at Rome, merely upheld the teaching of his Lord Jesus, who said:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2, NRSV)

Although most people would affirm that showing favoritism is a bad thing, in practice we have a difficult time avoiding it – especially in an election season, like the one in the United States. Political mudslinging is (unfortunately) a time-honored American tradition. And so is religious judgmentalism.

Some of the most emotionally laden vitriol comes from folks who are so heavily entrenched in their religious convictions that they believe any deviation from their way of belief is worthy of scathing criticism.

People, however, do not change because someone criticizes or judges them. They experience transformation through basic divine and human kindness. As a hospital chaplain in a behavioral health unit, I affirm this to be true. Many patients have been told repeatedly by family or friends to stop doing something, get with it, move on, wake up, etc. – all with the condescending edge of judgment. Yet, when someone takes notice, is curious about them, offers helpful encouragement and a listening ear without trying to fix, souls become open to receiving the healing grace of love and truth.

God shows no partiality, and neither should we. God is right, just, and fair in all dealings with everyone. The Lord judges according to divine standards of righteousness and mercy, no matter one’s race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, or social standing. And it is all laced with the love and compassion of Christ.

Christians are not exempt or given a pass on being judgmental. Our own unhealthy practices, bad habits, and angry outbursts will be treated just like any non-Christian by God. In a time when decrying the moral condition of our world is nearly a spectator sport, the New Testament lesson for today reminds us that we must first be concerned for the condition of our own hearts before we can point the finger at another.

We all equally stand in need of God’s grace in Jesus.  There is a symbiotic relationship between our actions and the state of our hearts.  A soft and tender heart toward God leads to obedience; disobedience hardens the heart and leads to God’s wrath, no matter the individual.

So, it will help if we all faithfully engage in daily spiritual practices which keep our hearts attentive and alert to God’s will and way.  No matter how busy we are, or how we feel, to forego or ignore the Word of God and prayer on a regular basis will slowly calcify our hearts and render them unable to respond rightly to grace.  Instead, we can drink deeply of the gospel throughout every day so that we may experience peace.

Judgmentalism, favoritism, and cronyism all begin to melt away when we pick up the tools of empathy, compassion, understanding, and acceptance – using them to forge connections and supportive encouragement. It takes little to no practice to bludgeon someone with condemning criticism. However, it takes repeated practice to speak and act with grace, mercy, and peace, especially when we are stressed and/or anxious about our surrounding circumstances.

Instead of judgment, observe and be curious. Seek more information. Expand the gap between observation and conclusion. The ability to have an awareness of one’s own emotions, to be mindful of self and surroundings, and to do it all with neither criticism nor judgment is perhaps the highest form of intelligence and spirituality.

It is kindness which leads others to repentance, not condemnation. Grace has the final word, not judgment. So, let us be blessed through a gentle spirit which spreads the goodness of God throughout the world.

O God, thank you for the gift of prayer and the grace of your Word.  May it seep deep down into my heart so that I am compassionate and kind, just like Jesus.  Amen.

Psalm 78:1-7 – For the Next Generation

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands. (NLT)

Every generation needs to recall and renew their ancestral faith – not in a wooden or bland acceptance but through vigorous retrospection of God’s past actions applied to present life. This happens primarily through the telling and retelling of stories. Both verbal and written history play a significant role in shaping current and future generations for ongoing faith.

Discussing God and Scripture need not be forced nor awkward. Most people like talking about things important to them. I have no problem talking about the latest books I am reading, my kids and grandkids, and bacon, simply because they are such a big part of my life. Conversations about these and other subjects arise organically out of the time and attention I have given them over so many years.

One of the best ways to live into faith and pass the baton is to regularly spend time with God through consistent Bible reading, heartfelt worship, earnest prayer, ongoing fellowship, participation in service, and other opportunities to learn about God. Talking about Jesus is to be an organic thing from a heart-wellspring that loves God and ponders divine commands.

The passing along of faith needs some intentional purpose and planning. When it comes to family, we can be willing and ready to ask good questions, instead of merely barfing out information. Typically, when my girls were growing up, most of our conversations around the table would center around one question I asked. We discussed it, talked about it, and mulled it over together. Sometimes, the question was deeply theological, and other times it was an intensely practical question. My wife and I often had others share a meal with us, and I would usually ask them to tell their “God story” or to participate with us in the question. If they were not followers of Jesus, I would ask them what they thought about him, and why, as well as tell us about their own religion.

Passing on the faith to the next generations is a sacred trust God has given to us. Embrace it within the home by talking about God and God’s Holy Word as a regular part of your everyday life, and freely converse in public, as well. The following are a few ways of impressing faith to younger generations:

  1. Train them to lead. Adults do not have to do everything. Everyone from toddlers to teenagers can be empowered to serve, if we will take up the challenge to mentor them. When my girls still lived at home, I took at least one of them everywhere I went; it made no difference what it was, whether to the grocery store, on a hospital visit, or even a church meeting. Serving is now second nature to them, part of the air they breathe.
  2. Show empathy to young persons and young families. Any old fool can criticize younger generations about their lack of involvement and how they are always on social media. The wise person will recognize they need our help, not our judgment. To have empathy for them means we recognize they are just trying to do the best they can in this crazy world we live in – a world very different than the one many of us grew up in. It is a hard world, one that is extremely competitive, requiring an offbeat energy and drive than previous generations. Being a student today is not like being a student when I was a kid. And being a young parent is not the same today as it once was. Today’s family structure is completely changed; what we think of as a traditional family only makes up 7% of the American population. The needed response is not to criticize but to empathize and find ways to help.
  3. More dialogue, less monologue. Discussion, conversation, questions, and mutual sharing are the ways Jesus developed his followers, and it is a way that we can likely reach younger generations. Dialogue will go much further than just telling others what they should believe and do. I admit I had to learn this one the hard way. Being a preacher does not always translate well at home.
  4. Adopt a young person, or a young family. If you consider yourself within an older generation, seriously think about taking a younger person or even family under your wing who is not related to you.
  5. Look for ways to support children, teens, and young families. Prioritizing younger generations will mean they do not have to do everything our way. Instead, we will commit to listening for what they tell us they need to love God and build into their own kids’ lives.
  6. Be a great neighbor. Again, any common curmudgeon can crank on about how messed up the world is. However, the wise person will focus on teaching, empowering, and developing young people into good neighbors who engage their local community and the world by addressing issues with great love and lots of compassion.

Lord God Almighty, I believe. I wish for the next generations to believe in you, too. So, let my faith be full and unreserved; let it penetrate all my thoughts and ways. Let my faith be joyful, worthy of being emulated by others. Give peace and gladness to my spirit so that it may shine forth in all my conversations, whether sacred or secular. Let my faith be humble and fully surrendered to the work of your Holy Spirit, for the sake of Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.