Are you a hypocrite?

Why are we willing to see the faults in others but quick to turn a blind eye to our own faults? 

  • Do you tend to overlook the dark things in your life or family by telling yourself that you’re doing things the right way?
  • Do you try to keep up an image for others by highlighting the things you feel you do right and pointing out the way others do wrong?
  • Do you downplay or make excuses regarding the wrongs in your life or family that should cause you to be more humble toward those who fail?

Perhaps God has recently humbled you by exposing ways you have failed. Have you learned the lesson? Or, do you continue to judge others as if you had never been humbled? 

Do you allow yourself excuses while not accepting excuses for others? How can we sit in judgment on others when what has happened right under our noses or in our lives is as bad or far worse? Is this a mechanism we use to give ourselves a sense of self-righteousness and live in denial of our own situation?

Are you quick to see (and even talk about) ways others don’t measure up while overlooking obvious failures in your life or family? Do you think others don’t notice such blatant hypocrisy? 

Questions from Jesus and the apostle Paul

  • “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” (Matthew 7:3-5).
  • “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?” (Romans 2:3).
  • Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat” (Romans 14:4,10).

Take off the mask of hypocrisy and come before God and others with humble honesty. Would you rather learn even harder lessons to bring you to a more humble state of mind and heart?

Steve Cornell

The workers in the vineyard

My current series on the teaching of Jesus brought me to the parable on the workers and the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).

(Audio version here)

This is considered one of the more difficult parables to interpret but it reaches deeply into the human heart at a level that connects with all people. It exposes a common tendency to resent the blessings of others whom we think don’t deserve them (certainly not as much as we do!).

As with many of Jesus parables, he starts with the familiar and turns the story in unexpected and provocative directions. We could even say that Jesus turned stories in ways that were intentionally disruptive to established cultural assumptions. He did this to expose prideful and self-righteous hearts. It reminds us that God is willing to allow disruptive events to get to the true condition of our hearts.

In this parable, Jesus is also explaining what the Kingdom of heaven is like. “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1).

The topic of kingdom was big for the disciples. Israel chaffed under pagan Kingdoms for centuries. They longed for a deliverer to lift the power of Rome off of them. Even after the Lord was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples, they asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). I am sure Jesus stirred their curiosity when he said, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).  Not long after Jesus gave this parable, two of the disciples requested prime positions in Christ’s kingdom, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37).

Jesus’ early disciples did not have the right perspective of Kingdom. They viewed it as an opportunity for personal advancement based on rank and merit. They pursued the highest places of honor not the lowly positions of service. They had a lot to learn about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. They argued repeatedly over who should be considered greatest among them. Jesus had to repeatedly correct their misguided and self-serving way of thinking. It was in stark conflict with the entire mission of Jesus (see: Luke 22:24-30Philippians 2:3-11).

This is the background for many teachings from Jesus about what the kingdom of heaven is like. It’s like saying, “This is what God’s rule looks like this…” Or, “This is the way it works in God’s kingdom…”

Five parts to the parable of the workers in the vineyard 

  1. Kingdom introduction v.1
  2. Hiring the workers vv. 1-7
  3. Paying the workers vv. 8-10
  4. Complaint of the workers vv. 11-12
  5. Answer from the owner vv. 13-15
  6. Concluding proverb v.16 

Take a moment and read the entire parable

Kingdom introduction v.1 and the hiring the workers vv. 1-7

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

Paying the workers vv. 8-10

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.

Complaint of the workers vv. 11-12

When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

Answer from the owner vv. 13-15

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

Concluding proverb v.16

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Context

It is helpful to read the larger context for this parable. It deals with status, wealth, greed and discipleship in a context that reverses the expected values of the world (Matthew 19:13-20:34).

Looking more closely

The story is not unfamiliar to Jesus’ listeners. One day an owner of a vineyard goes into the market to hire day laborers. The pay offered was also typical pay for such workers (a denarius for the day). It was also typical and even commanded in the OT to pay these workers at the end of the day. Some of them depended on each days wage to survive for the day.

The work day pictured was also typical (12 hours).  But the parable breaks from the expected in some provocative ways. It would have been unusual, for example, that an owner would make five trips to hire day workers (unless perhaps the vineyard was close to the market place). Such a miscalculation of needed workers, let alone hiring some to work for a mere hour, would have been exceptionally unexpected.

Why then does Jesus picture five separate hirings? Some take this to be an allegorical way of picturing the five successive stages of history:

  1. Adam to Noah
  2. Noah to Abraham
  3. Abraham to Moses
  4. Moses to Christ
  5. Christ to the Present

While this is possible, it is certainly not clear from the parable. The same is true of the efforts to spiritualize the parable in the following construction:

  • Vineyard – the Kingdom
  • Owner – God the father
  • Forman- Jesus
  • Workers – believers
  • Pay – salvation
  • Work day – the believer’s lifetime of service
  • Evening – eternity

This seems to make the parable say more than Jesus intended and upon closer examination, the imagery breaks down in significant ways. All such efforts remind us to exercise caution when interpreting parables. Although parables intentionally invoke imagination and discussion, it’s generally not wise to make them say more than would have been understood in their original context.

Basic considerations in the parable of the workers and vineyard

  • No one deserves to become a worker in the vineyard but no one receives a free gift of grace.
  • Each worker and receives a wage, some more than expected; others less than they feel they deserve based on comparison with others.
  • There is not a significant emphasis on generosity in the parable because the wage is not unusual. The goodness of the owner is contrasted with the evil eye of the first workers.
  • The first workers would not have complained without comparison with the late comers.

Who is Jesus aiming for in this parable?

  • Opponents – If Jesus had the religious leaders in mind, the parable emphasizes tax collectors, sinners and Gentiles entering the kingdom (those called last to work).
  • Disciples – If Jesus was focused on his disciples, the parable warns against envy based on perceptions of rank and comparison as well as misplaced notions of merit.

What we know with more certainty

  • By emphasizing who gets paid first (those who came last), and how those who joined in the middle of the day would receive “whatever is right or just,” Jesus exposed the condition of the hearts of the others.
  • Jesus issues a clear challenge to human standards of ranking and merit (first and last). 
  • The contrast is between the goodness of the owner and the complaint of those who felt they should have received more. 
  • The first workers would not have complained without a comparison with others.
  • God’s treatment of people and justice cannot be measured by human standards.
  • We continually compare ourselves with others and judge fairness based on our perception of what we feel is due to us. Or, we think justice means equal pay for equal work and that no one gets an advantage.

Questions worth asking

  1. Why is goodness toward others often an occasion for envy and resentment?
  2. Is it possible to allow someone else’s advantage spoil your gratitude, contentment and joy? 
  3. Does God allow things like this to happen to challenge and expose our hearts?
  4. Why do we find it difficult to rejoice over the good things that happen to others?
    • I Corinthians 12:26 -If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
    • Romans 12:10 – “take delight in honoring each other.”

5. Why do we tend to always calculate ways we feel slighted in comparison with others?

Deeper reflection on envy

“Envy is resentment of someone else’s good, plus the itch to despoil her of it. Its natural corollary is what the Germans call Schadenfreude, the enjoyment of someone else’s despoilment. The envier not only sorrows over another’s good fortune and wants it to change; he also rejoices in another’s misfortune and wants it to persist. Hence an envious conservatory student may feel privately delighted at the memory lapse of a rival during her recital performance” (Not the Way It’s Supposed to be, Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).

Envious people find sadistic pleasure in the downfall of others. Worse, they will appear publicly sympathetic while privately gloating.

“Envy (and its gloating subsidiary, Schadenfreude) shows us human antagonism in one of its basest and most unheroic forms. Wherever we find envy, we find the wreckage of human and Christian community. Envious people backbite. They deliver congratulations with a smile that, in another light, might be taken for a sneer.” (Plantinga).

“The envier gossips. He saves up bad news about others and passes it around like an appetizer at happy hour. The envier grumbles. He murmurs. He complains that all the wrong people are getting ahead. Spite, bitterness, discord which undoes all friendships, accusation, malignity—all these things flow form envy and together turn friendship and good fellowship into a rancorous shambles” (Plantinga).

Scripture warns: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice” (Proverbs 24:17). Remember this: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). Alternatively, love “…does not delight in evil” (I Corinthians 13:5-6).

The history of envy begins with the ambition of angels (“I will make myself like the Most High,” Isaiah 14:14) and leads to the suspicion of Eden (“You will be like God…” Genesis 3:1-6). 

Envy emerges in the first human family as an insidious motive to the first act of homicide (Genesis 4). Cain, “who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother” (I John 3:12), allowed envy to be a prelude to homicide (Genesis 4). But envy was also the motive behind the most vicious crime of history: “the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy” (Mark 15:10).

It’s particularly sobering to consider how envy is fueled by the all too common sins of ingratitude and discontentment. It feeds on a surveying spirit of resentment with the lethal potential of becoming hatred. Envy vandalizes joy and joyful community.

Steve Cornell 

 

Celebrate the Resurrected Judge!

Audio version: Play Audio!
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One of the most important bodies of leadership in the US (if not, the most important) is the Supreme Court. It’s not surprising that some of the ugliest political battles have been over Supreme Court appointments (remember Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas?).

Given the immense influence of the court, we should understand that one of our main concerns in choosing a president is what kind of judges the candidate would appoint.

Whether we’re talking about the high court or lower courts, the decisions of Judges profoundly alter the lives of individuals for better or worse. Sometimes they affect millions of people — shaping the entire future of a nation.

Today, however, I invite you to remember that the most important court appointment has been made. It’s an appointment to the highest judiciary seat possible and it covers the entire human race. 

There will not be any ugly political battles. No filibusters. No votes of confirmation from politicians. This appointment did not come with a news conference or a press release. God did something far greater. He made the appointment of the Supreme Judge and confirmed it by raising him from the dead.

There is an interesting and repeated emphasis in the Bible connecting the Resurrection of Christ with his position and function as the final Judge of humanity.

“God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son (John 5:21-22).

“They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen — by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:39-42).

“Christ died and returned to life so that he   might be the Lord of both the dead and the   living. You, then, why do you judge your   brother or sister? … For we will all stand   before God’s judgment seat…. So then,   each of us will give an account of ourselves   to God” (Romans 14:9-12)

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:25-29).

The trial and crucifixion of Jesus was the most profound perversions of justice known to humanity. Although repeatedly declared innocent by the Roman governor and others, they proceeded to mock, torture and crucified the innocent one. But by raising Christ from this illegal death sentence, God reversed the atrocity of injustice and appointed Christ as the final Judge of humanity. God gave proof to all people that Jesus is the appointed judge of humanity when He defeated injustice and death and raised Jesus to life.

“Wicked officials committed a terrible injustice in killing him, but God reversed that injustice by raising Jesus from the dead, showing him to be God’s Son and appointing him as judge over the entire world. Judge Jesus has endured horrible oppression and injustice, and he has overcome it by rising again. His resurrection encourages us never to give up on justice but to believe that the Lord will always have the final word. If you know that Jesus lives and that he is the appointed judge, you know that justice will triumph and that injustice will be overturned and punished.” 

“The victory achieved by Christ through his death and resurrection on that first Easter morning is the guarantee of God’s final triumph over evil. By his perfect life, his death for our sins and his resurrection, it is Christ who has won the right to be the final judge of the human race” (David Feddes).

Celebrate our risen Savior and final Judge!

Steve Cornell

See also: “The final judge of all people” (from Jonathan Edwards, 1703-1758).

God gives grace to the humble

 

“We human beings are a strange lot. We hear high moral injunctions and glimpse just a little the genuine beauty of perfect holiness, and then prostitute the vision by dreaming about the way others would hold us in high esteem if we were like that” (D. A. Carson).

People who habitually do this tend to draw attention to the sins, faults, weaknesses and failures of others. This is the comparison trap that can easily produce the spirit of the Pharisee who thanked God he’s not like other men. Legalism provides people with a deceptive means for screening out their own sins by highlighting the sins of others.

Let’s oppose this spirit on every level because it insults the grace that leads us to salvation.

Remember Jesus words, “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” (Matthew 7:5). Jesus condemned hypocritical judging. He insisted that we must “first” remove the log from our own eye before we’re prepared to notice and remove the speck from our brother’s eye.

If you know someone who has a habit of pointing out the sins, faults, weaknesses and failures of others, recognize that this could be a cover up for issues in his own life or a means of exalting himself over others. People who are insecure or who always feel a need to be right or to know more than others are especially susceptible to this behavior.

Gently encourage such people to reflect on the Apostle Paul’s words, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:3-5).

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (I Peter 5:5-6).

Steve Cornell

 

Don’t be alarmed by conflict

Mature perspective on conflict

The key to unity in a marriage, family or Church is not the removal of all conflict (that happens in heaven).

So instead of being unrealistically alarmed by differences and disagreements or dancing around them, we should view them as opportunities to mature in deeper and stronger love for one another (I Peter 4:8). When we avoid conflict or just enable others, we often postpone trouble for the future. God provides many opportunities (through conflicts) for us to practice the kind of love He demonstrated to us (Romans 5:6-8).

The key to unity is a deeply shared commitment to work through differences and pursue reconciliation based on God’s love for us in Christ (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1; Titus 3:3-7)

Make every effort….. (memorize these verses)

  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace” (Romans 14:19).
  • Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy” (Hebrews 12:14).
  • Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).
  • “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (offenses)” (I Peter 4:8).
  • “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).

 Love is anti-rivalry and peace-building 

  • “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

Balancing truths

Short audio clips

Steve Cornell

Syria, Abortion and Hypocrisy

During his speech on Syria, President Barack Obama appealed to those he called his “friends on the left,” saying, “I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor. For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.” 

The president also said, “America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

On one level, I understand that we live in a world where international safety might require measures of accountability between nations. We must not allow our weariness with war to make us complacent to the dangers in the world. Admittedly, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were partly based on misguided idealism about our ability to export democracy to the Middle East. But let’s not exchange this idealism for some kind of delusional isolationism. 

Whether we like it or not, we are living in a global community. Advanced capabilities in warfare like long-range missiles and chemical and nuclear power require us to be global in our concerns. The U.S. also is the most powerful nation in the world and with that power comes responsibility. 

I regret living in a world where we sometimes have to kill people to restrain evil. I also find it morally unsustainable to stand idly by while people are being tortured and unjustly killed. Sometimes, aggressive violence must be stopped by principled force. 

In his book, “Love in Hard Places,” D. A. Carson raises important questions: “Where an enemy is perpetuating its horrible holocaust, is it not an act of love that intervenes, even militarily, to prevent that holocaust if a nation has the power to do so? And is not restraint in such cases a display, not of loving pacifism, but of lack of love — of the unwillingness to sacrifice anything for the sake of others?”

Yet, on another level, it’s a bit difficult for me to think of America as the moral leader when it comes to the safety of children. How can we argue for the safety of children from chemical attack in another country when (especially among those on the left) we fiercely defend the legal right to abort millions of babies in this country? 

Some will likely take issue with this comparison, but no matter what title you use for the occupant of a mother’s womb, it’s a human life with the potential of becoming a mature human being. It’s an indisputably verifiable fact that the life of the fetus is more than a “product” of conception. Abortion does not merely terminate a pregnancy; it terminates the life of a baby. 

If you have children, look closely at them and remind yourself that had you chosen to abort any of them at any point from conception to birth, you would have ended the life of the child. Induced abortion is the deliberate destruction of an unborn child.

If you’re unconvinced or offended by my comparison, at least do some research on what happens in an abortion. Induced abortion is the premature expulsion of a human fetus through surgical or chemical means. More than 90 percent of induced abortions are performed for nonmedical reasons. The large majority of surgical abortions are performed during the seventh through 10th week of pregnancy. By this time, a baby’s heartbeat, arms, legs and fingers are identifiable.

The thought of a mother’s womb becoming a baby’s death chamber is unconscionable. In a country where the laws allow abortion, should we expect to be viewed as a moral leader in protecting innocent children in other parts of the world? 

Perhaps the humility and resolve President Obama mentioned should start with our own nation. Jesus gave some excellent advice for all of us to follow when he said: “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” (Matthew 7:3-5). 

Steven W. Cornell is senior pastor at Millersville Bible Church. He is also a correspondent for Lancaster Newspapers Inc

The advantage of Christian counseling

In a conversation with a medical doctor, he expressed frustration about the number of times he diagnosed significant levels of anxiety or depression only to be told by a patient that her pastor or friend warned against medicine and suggested that her problem was spiritual.

“This kind of five Bible verses and you’ll be better approach is far more common than many realize.” The doctor said.

He’s right. And Christians lose credibility in this area when they have far more too offer. In my conversation with the doctor, I suggested the following perspective:

Perspective on Christian counseling


When I counsel others, I usually begin with an assumption that they have a full line of moral credit. I treat them as individuals who can accept and pay for their debts. Out of basic respect for their dignity as beings made in the image of God, I relate to them as responsible, capable, culpable and accountable.

Yet I realize that life is not so easily reduced to raw choosing. We must guard against a tendency within the Church to make all of life a matter of choice; of obedience or disobedience. We must apply compassionate consideration to how complex life can be. Far too often believers approach people one dimensionally, as if humans were only spiritual beings in need of salvation.

Yet, according to Scripture, there are four dimensions of human life. We are…

  1. physical beings with bodily needs.
  2. social beings with relationship needs.
  3. psychological beings with cognitive needs.
  4. spiritual beings with a need for God.



Christian counselors have a unique advantage of being able to approach issues holistically based on these dimensions. I use the word “advantage” because many other disciplines will not consider that spiritual dimension. If we find it inadequate to leave out this dimension (as we should), why do we do the same thing with the other dimensions?

A thorough biblical understanding of humanity protects us from simplistic reductions because we know that God has made humans as physical, social, psychological and spiritual beings. Each of these dimensions must be considered when understanding and counseling behavior.

Unlike other disciplines, Christian counselors do not treat people as products of impersonal chance. Since we know that there is a personal creator, we call people to more than human perspectives about life.

The mistake Christians often make is being overly zealous to offer quick answers for the issues that trouble people. “After all,” we’re told, “the Bible speaks to every issue of life.” “So,” it seems to many believers, “all I have to do is find a verse or two of Scripture that applies and share them with the person who asks for advice.”

This approach is typically based on careless listening. When we’re more interested in our answer than in understanding a person’s problem, we need to learn patience by listening more compassionately. We don’t want to be the fool who answers a matter before hearing it. And we should always try to ways that the four dimensions might relate.


Some clarification

I am not suggesting that we encourage people to avoid responsibility for their actions. Playing the victim only binds people to more destructive life-patterns. But superficial diagnoses typically lead to inadequate remedies.

When counseling others, for example, it would be horribly simplistic to overlook or  minimize the effects of a deeply troubled upbringing. When children (who are intended by God to be lovingly nurtured and brought to maturity under the responsible oversight of parents) are neglected, poorly guided or abused, it profoundly affects their personal lives and relationships.

In many cases, one must look back to better understand the influences that shaped their current approaches to life. Our story is not meant to be one formed in isolation but in a social context — for better or for worse. Each persons story has been significantly shaped by others.

We shouldn’t look back to blame, excuse or justify, but to understand and find a clearer plan for change.

What we’re saying is that one’s sociology (relationships and life circumstances) plays a significant role (by divine intent) in shaping one’s overall life. This must be considered by those who counsel the whole person holistically (based on a full biblical perspective of humanity).

Wisdom then calls us to consider a wider perspective of life as we help individuals address their deepest needs. When counseling deeper life issues that hold people in patterns that are not flourishing in God’s will, very often a person’s social history and context must be explored as part of the diagnosis. This is validated by the fact that a key component to flourishing in a blessed life is our associations or those we are in company with (Psalm 1:1-3).

Another example is the use of medicinal aids for behavior or moods. Many medicines are helpful for addressing actual physical needs but use of them should not preclude responsibility and accountability in seeking resolution to negative behaviors and moods. The need for medicines should temper our approach to people with large doses of compassion and mercy, but only in a context that preserves the dignity of an individual exercising as much responsibility as possible — in a context of truth.

I suggest that counselors and doctors should never view medicinal aids as a solution for neurologically based needs. We are more than bodies and brains with physical needs. Other dimensions of our being (spiritual, emotional, social) must receive thoughtful consideration in our battle for health.

There is a tendency among some Christian counselors to react with suspicion toward medicinal aids. This is sometimes a reaction to a common negative posture found in secular psychiatry and bio-psychiatry toward spiritual dimensions of personhood. But we must not allow misguided assumptions (no matter how condescending) to cause knee-jerk reactions among Christian counselors. Nor should we carelessly dismiss research and findings in these fields.

A biblically-based holistic approach to counseling respects all dimensions of personhood created by God in the full context of a narrative of creation, fall, redemption, sanctification and final restoration.

Christian counselors should use the widest possible lens for understanding and addressing human behavior. This provides counselors with a unique advantage for being holistically honest in dealing with human problems.

Christian counselors have a unique advantage of being holistically honest in dealing with human problems. A theologically grounded vision of humanity protects counselors from simplistic reductions. Each dimension of life must be considered when understanding human behavior. And we also take seriously the profound affects of sin on each dimension. Diagnosis and solution that does not take seriously this painful truth will be superficial at best and ultimately harmful.

Steve Cornell


Did Jesus welcome unrepentant sinners?

I read an article this morning emphasizing a response to the Supreme Court decisions about marriage based on the grace of the gospel.

While I appreciated the tone and many of the reminders, a particular line from it troubled me. The author invited us to reflect on the way that, “Jesus first welcomed and received unrepentant sinners” before saying, “Go and sin no more.”

The word “unrepentant” is what concerns me.

The author rightly suggested that, “The love that is meant to mark us as Christians is meant to receive people in the generous and gracious way Jesus received people.”

This emphasis, however, could be a little misleading when it comes to unrepentant people — even in relation to the courts’ decision.

First, in keeping with the theme of the article, Jesus was often ran with the “wrong people” of society. Why do you think they labeled him “the friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19)? The self-righteous crowd shook their heads in disgust at the people he spent time with and used his associations to renounce him. Even at the end of his life, when he died for us on the cross, Isaiah foretold his final association — “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

Secondly, Jesus also clearly and repeatedly jolted the self-righteous religious establishment with culturally scandalous statements and stories. Imagine their response when he said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31). How could he tell a story that placed a tax collector in the temple and sent him home justified before God instead of the Pharisee? Wow! There is no softly and tenderly Jesus is calling in this – just bold truth to cut to the heart of our self-righteous ways!

Yet the unrepentant sinners of Jesus’ day were mostly the religious leaders. And we could hardly say that he warmly welcomed them. Broken sinners, yes; self-righteous, arrogant (“see and do things my way, or else” sinners), no. It’s important not to be confused on this matter so that we don’t melt everything into a non-Christ-like kind of “just accept everyone no matter what” approach.

When His disciples began to mimic the behavior of the religious leaders, asking about greatness in the kingdom, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2). Yes, changes must be made because “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5). Without these changes, you will not even enter heaven. It is reserved for the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). 

Now I certainly agree with the author that, “To receive an ‘other’ as they are, without first mandating behavior changes, requires us to tolerate a bit of anxiety or discomfort. It demands that we release, or at least relax, our natural impulse to announce our opinions. To receive another as they are, and not as we wish them to be, is to agree with the apostle Paul’s conviction that it is God’s kindness that leads to repentance.”

But many of those who argue for gay marriage mirror the intolerant religious leaders of Jesus’ day more than the broken and contrite ones to whom the kingdom is open. They are not the “sinners” who seek grace but act more like the self-righteous who condemn and ostracize any one who disagrees.

Many of those promoting gay marriage have become some of the most intolerant people in our country. They operate with a “see things my way, or else” approach. If you hope to show them kindness it will only be accepted if it comes with full endorsement and celebration of what they want. The slightest disagreement with them wins one labels like “hate-monger, bigot, racist, homophobic, etc…

Many don’t realize that anger and bitterness underlies much of the homosexual lifestyle, not because of society but because of personal histories of those who choose to live it. This is one reason that gay relationships are notorious for domestic problems. 

I hope this balanced perspective leads to deeper discussions on our calling as Christ followers — especially in a context of responsible citizenship in a democratic form of government. 

Steve Cornell

Judge not, lest you be judged.

“Judge not, lest you be judged.”

    • These are perhaps the most well-known words of Jesus.
    • They’re commonly used to keep people from making moral judgments about others. 
    • Some people use these words to excuse themselves from making judgments. “Who am I to judge?” they ask. “After all, Jesus did say, ‘Judge not…’”

So…

  • What exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke these words?
  • Was he advocating a mind your own business policy?
  • Was he forbidding all judgments about the actions of others?

A good question


John R. W. Stott asked if obedience to these words required us to “…suspend our critical faculties in relation to other people, to turn a blind eye to their faults (pretending not to notice them), to avoid all criticism and to refuse to discern between truth and error, goodness and evil?”

Let the context speak

As with most confusion over the meaning of the Bible, a careful reading of the context is the key to understanding.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you 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. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:1-6).

While Jesus clearly condemned a certain kind of judging, he equally advocated a need for judgments. Jesus was not excusing us from all moral judgments. He was not promoting an individualistic attitude. Far from it!

Later he spoke of the need to go to one who sins against you and “tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). Love requires moral concern for others. But that concern must follow the order Jesus taught in Matthew 7:1-6.

What kind of judging did Jesus condemn?


Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 7:5). Jesus condemned hypocritical judging. He insisted that we must “first” remove the log from our own eye before we’re prepared to notice and remove the speck from our brother’s eye.

Jesus encouraged involvement in other people’s lives, but only after careful self-examination and self-correction. On another occasion Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were notorious (as are most religious people) for judging based on appearance. They were also notorious for their hypocrisy (see: Matthew 23).

When we hold other people to tight moral standards while making plenty of allowances for ourselves, we engage in unlawful judging. When we “play God” by trying to enforce standards not specifically established by God, we are in danger of being judged by God (Matthew 7:2; Romans 2:1-4).

Some professing Christians, (like the Pharisees), view their traditions as equal with God’s commands and wrongly judge the godliness of others based on them. This happens when people make personal applications from general commands of God (like his demand for non-conformity to the world and holiness of life), and then elevate their applications to command status.


Three categories for Christian standards


To avoid unlawful judging, we need to recognize three categories for setting Christian standards.

  1. First, some behaviors are clearly commanded.
  2. Secondly, some things are clearly forbidden.
  3. Finally, certain matters are permitted, or left to free and responsible judgment according to the best of our knowledge and conscience.

When we demote something from categories one and two into category three, we treat God’s clear standards as negotiable. When we elevate matters from category three by treating them as if they belong to categories one or two, we self-righteously judge others with our own opinions. The first action threatens purity; the second unnecessarily disrupts the unity of God’s people.

Matters of freedom vs. Matters of command


When a behavior, custom or doctrine is not addressed in Scripture with specific requirements or moral absolutes, it’s a matter of Christian freedom. When Christians condemn others in areas not specifically addressed by Scripture, they become guilty of the judging forbidden by Jesus.

But to agree with God’s clearly revealed standards does not constitute unlawful judging – unless, of course, it involves the kind of self-righteous hypocrisy Jesus repeatedly condemned. It’s possible to make accurate judgments but to be hypocritical in making them. Self-examination and self-correction are necessary for avoiding hypocritical judgment.

Scripture clearly reveals many moral standards God expects us to follow. Aligning with God on a specifically revealed moral judgment is not to make oneself judge, but to honor the standard of the Judge.

Follow the example of Jesus


Jesus taught with conviction and authority on many subjects.

“It is all too easy to believe in a Jesus who is largely a construction of our own imagination- an inoffensive person whom no one would really trouble to crucify. But the Jesus we meet in the Gospels, far from being an inoffensive person, gave offense right and left. Even his loyal followers found him, at times, thoroughly disconcerting. Jesus did not go about mouthing pious platitudes; had he done so, he would not have made as many enemies as he did” (F. F. Bruce).

I agree with the one who suggested that, “the capacity of judging, of forming an estimate and opinion, is one of our most valuable faculties and the right use of it one of our most important duties.” Judicial systems in every nation depend on the proper exercise of this capacity. But let’s be sure to use this valuable faculty first and most directly on ourselves. This will ensure a more humble and merciful application to others.

For further reflection

  • He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored (Prov 13:18 NIV).
  • Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself (Gal 6:1-2 NLT).
  • See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:12-13).
  • My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins (James 5:19-20 NLT).

Watching vs. Watching out for

When we honor the distinction between watching others and watching out for them, we’ll be far better postured to avoid wrongful judging. The first is prideful and pharisaic behavior; the second is humble and loving care for the wellbeing of others. Let’s live and teach this distinction to ensure we obey Jesus’ command, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”

Steve Cornell

See: Understanding legalism 

When confronting others

 

Loving confrontation is sometimes necessary in genuine relationships. We participate in deception when we allow people to believe they’re on good terms with us despite their violations of the relationship.

Confrontation is simply a matter of integrity for those who won’t accept insincerity and hypocrisy. 

“If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love, but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which bypasses the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality (John R. W. Stott, Confess Your Sins, p.35).

Love covers or confronts

In relationships shaped by the gospel, “love covers a multitude of sins” (i.e. offenses)” (I Peter 4:8). Those who withhold restoration over minor offenses are lacking in genuine love based in the gospel (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1; Titus 3:1-7). Where such love is absent, immaturity and manipulation will threaten unity. Please take time to review the two principles for resolving conflict here.

When deeply or repeatedly betrayed, however, forgiveness does not necessarily require that one immediately grant the same level of relationship back to an offender. Even when God forgives our sins, He does not promise to remove all consequences created by our actions. Yes, being forgiven, restored and trusted is an amazing experience, but it’s important for those who hurt others to understand that their attitude and actions will affect the process of rebuilding trust. Words alone are not sufficient to restore trust in such cases.

Watch your attitude

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”

See also: Forgive, or else!

Steve Cornell