Celebrate the Resurrected Judge!

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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 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 actually 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

Unity or Uniformity?

“Part of God’s design for the church is that it should successfully manifest unity in diversity. It was His intent that people with divergent personalities, nationalities, gifts, abilities, tastes, and backgrounds should become unified in Christ without sacrificing personal distinctiveness (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Colossians 3:11).”

“Accordingly, God does not view differences of opinion in the area of freedom as a bad thing. The inevitability of such variance of thought is not seen as a flaw in an otherwise beautiful plan. It rather represents one more situation in which the supernatural character of the church, and its observable distinctiveness as a living organism, may be manifested before the world (John 13:35; 17:20-21).”

“What God desires, then, is not uniformity of opinion but unity of relationship (Romans 15:5-7). And so, instead of trying to eliminate divergence of opinion, the Holy Spirit has given specific instructions to guide our response to it.” (Dr. Garry Friesen, Decision Making and the Will of God).

Relate in unity with those who do not share your convictions

Believers are free to establish their own conviction in areas of freedom, but they are clearly not permitted to condemn those who do not share their opinions. If God has not specifically addressed a behavior, custom, activity, or doctrine, we are not allowed to manipulate biblical data to suggest that God has been specific on the matter.

On the other hand, a believer is clearly not permitted to ridicule or look down on other believers who feel constrained in areas of freedom. These are required attitudes that must become matters of accountability in our Churches and fellowship groups.

What about House rules or Rules of order?
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An exception to this standard applies to those under authority (children under parents, citizens under governors, and members of organizations or institutions). I call these exceptions “house-rules” or “rules of order.” They cover behaviors belonging to the category of debatable matters. Unless being ordered to do things that disobey God, those under authority are responsible to submit to the rules established.
Children, for example, must obey their parents’ rules even on debatable matters. College students must abide by the rules of their institution even if such rules are not specifically addressed in Scripture. Societies and governments sometimes establish rules of order in areas not specifically addressed in Scripture. Since believers must submit to governing authorities (unless they are being asked to disobey to God), they must obey the laws— even on debatable matters. But it is wise to distinguish these standards from the explicit commands of God.
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Clarification
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Groups of believers (like families) are permitted to establish in-house rules. But they are not permitted to judge the spirituality of other believers unless their standards are explicitly required by God. If parents set standards for their homes in areas where the Bible doesn’t explicitly speak (as they should), their children are commanded to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1). Other families in the Church (who do not share their convictions) should not ridicule them. But more conservative families should not condemn others for exercising their freedoms on debatable matters.
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Steve Cornell

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?

“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.” (Romans 14:1, NLT)

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The words, “what they think is right or wrong” is a translation of  εἰς διακρίσεις διαλογισμῶν. Another translation renders it: “passing judgment on disputable matters” (NIV). The ESV translates, “not to quarrel over opinions.”

This phrase introduces us to a category that many feel uncomfortable with. But some issues or opinions are disputable matters and are therefore reserved to personal conviction. More importantly, these issues are not to be obstacles to Christian fellowship — to receiving one another. This means that we must not argue over such matters.

But how can we determine what issues belong to the category of disputable matters?

Obviously, in the context of Romans 14, issues like food choices, special days and drinking wine are treated as disputable and reserved to the personal opinions of each believer. In fact, the apostle wrote: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (Romans 14:22). Are there other matters that fit into this category of disputable? It might help to think of three categories for moral decision-making as a Christian.

Three categories for setting Christian standards

1.Things clearly commanded
2.Things clearly forbidden
3.Things permitted (left to free and responsible judgment to the best of our knowledge and conscience)
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Believers are responsible to establish their own conviction under the third category. These are also considered areas of freedom. When a believer reaches a personal conviction in these areas, he is not permitted to condemn those who don’t share his opinions. This principle is taught in Romans 14:3-4 –
“The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?”
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If God has not specifically addressed a behavior, custom, activity, or doctrine, we are not permitted to manipulate biblical data to suggest that God has been specific on the matter. On the other side of this, the apostle is equally clear about prohibiting a believer from ridiculing or looking down on a fellow Christian who feels restricted in areas of freedom. These are required attitudes for our Churches and fellowship groups. There is nothing disputable about these requirements. 
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To further clarify this category, consider a definition and guiding principle for disputable matters. 

 What is a disputable or debatable matter? 

An area of behavior, doctrine or tradition on which Christians disagree because a specific biblical absolute does not address it. A matter of personal preference not divine command. These matters belong to the category of Christian freedom or liberty.
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Guiding principle for debatable matters:
When a behavior, doctrine or tradition is not addressed in Scripture by a specific moral absolute either commanding or forbidding action, it belongs to a category of freedom. In areas of freedom, Christians are encouraged to establish their own convictions but are not permitted to judge or ridicule others who do not share their conviction (Romans 14:3).
There are more principles in Romans 14 and 15 to guide Christian fellowship in handling disputable matters. Please read through both chapters carefully. The apostle addresses two groups that are found in most Churches. Consider these groups:
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1. The weak in faith- (Romans 14:1;15:1)

Those who feel bound to abide by rules and traditions that are not required by God’s absolutes.When thinking about one who is weak in faith, notice that  faith is used of convictions about what they believed the faith forbids and what it allows. They are not weak in character but in conscience. Yet they must guard their attitudes against thinking that the entire Church is bound to their conscience. 

2. The strong in Faith (Romans 15:1)

Those who do not feel bound by rules and traditions outside of God’s absolutes. Yet they must be careful not to exercise their liberty in a way that hurts those who are weak. Ironically, the weak are the more conservative on disputable matters yet often they consider themselves strong for being more conservative. The temptation of the weak is to become Pharisaic by judging others by their personal preferences on disputable matters. The strong are to protect the weak but they must rebuke the pharisee. 

I hope this helps local Churches work through the complexities of disputable matters in a way that promotes unity. If you need more help, go to the category for legalism on this blog. 

Steve Cornell