Series You Did It To Me

You Did It To Me: Admonish the Sinner

Welcome to the series “You did it to me” where we will be discussing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. This will be a twice a month series from March to September 2015. We hope you enjoy!works of mercy series pic

Judge not, that you be not judged. Matthew 7:1

I think pretty much everyone has heard some reference to this scripture, or at least the sentiment of not being “judgmental” of others. Tolerance and avoidance of being judgmental seem to be almost a religion in and of themselves these days. But what about this verse:

My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20

Or this:

Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; Luke 17:3

Ummmmmm, wait a second! I thought we weren’t supposed to judge each other!! And apparently it’s a “Spiritual act of Mercy” to tell someone they’re wrong?!?! While I could definitely get on board with the idea of telling people they’re wrong, don’t these verses contradict each other?? How can both ideas – “judge not” and “rebuke those who sin” – be correct??

Admonish sinnerThough it may not seem like it at first glance, they are actually on the same page. And yes, they’re both right. Let’s look at a “real-life-ish”, if not exactly realistic, example: Imagine you are driving on a one-way road, and see someone going the wrong way. Do you say to yourself that maybe that’s the “right way for them” and that you don’t want to be judgemental about their choices by saying they’re going the wrong way?? Or do you get their attention and let them know they’re going the wrong way?? You know there is danger in going the wrong way on the road; people could get hurt or even killed. So even if it’s a honk and a quick gesture, your actions are pretty clearly a merciful act, as you are acting to prevent the other driver from horrible consequences.

Okay, you say, I get how that shows the mercy side of it, but what about the “judge not” part??

Well, let’s look at what you’re doing in our example. Are you deciding that this driver is a total nincompoop who shouldn’t have a license to drive and should stick to walking and far away from public roads?? Well, maybe you are, but let’s say you took the other option and you have judged that this person’s actions (going the wrong way on a one-way road) are dangerous to them and others, without extending that judgment to their entire worth as a person and as a driver, and without neglecting your own faults (double-check that you’re going the right direction before honking that horn!). That is what we are called to do, to judge the actions of our brothers and sisters, while remembering that it is never our responsibility or right to judge their worth as a person or the direction their soul is headed after death. Only God can see our heart and properly judge our soul. So we, as imperfect humans, are told not to judge another’s soul but to stick to the things we can see and know: the outward signs, words, and actions of others, and to wisely warn those whose actions show they are headed the wrong direction. Not for the purpose of telling them how bad they are, but just as in the example above, to try to prevent their actions from causing pain and hurt.

Now that all that confusion is cleared up, we come to the hard part, how do we go about telling someone they’re “driving the wrong way” in their sins??

I’m a total pro at this. I build a relationship with the person, then gently broach the subject at a relaxed moment and calmly discuss it with no hesitation, in straightforward and loving terms, and my “admonishment” is always received with appreciation and the realization that I am right.

Oh wait, that’s just how it goes in my head.

In real life, the few times I’ve gathered the nerve to approach such a conversation, I tend to say “um” more than actual words, and twist myself in knots trying not to offend the person, so much so that oftentimes the point is lost. And when the point is understood, frequently the person still takes offense and either respond defensively about their actions or lashes out and attacks me for presuming to tell them they’re wrong. In real life, I’m a rank amateur when it comes to “admonishing the sinner”. So why should you listen to me?? Well, honestly, you shouldn’t. In fact, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to do it!! Truly, don’t listen to me, but do listen to St. Paul:

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Galatians 6:1

Or perhaps even more directly from the source, these lines from Jesus:

Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:4-5

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. John 7:24

What I take from these and other references to fraternal correction is that a few items are most important: gentleness/love, not being a hypocrite, and “judging rightly”. Being gentle and loving is easy to understand – being considerate of the needs and feelings of the person you’re talking to, while at the same time knowing that admonishing sinful behavior, in a way the recipient can truly hear and respond well to the admonishment, is truly an act of love. As for being a hypocrite, that means we don’t rail against sins we aren’t even tempted towards while ignoring our own temptations and failings. It means we acknowledge our own sinfulness before approaching our brother or sister about theirs. Finally, “judging rightly”. While we obviously can’t look into our friends’ or families’ heart to see the full truth of the matter, we can look with as much wisdom as we can at the information we do have (that we know to be true!) and make our judgment only from that, not our assumptions about what is happening.

Oh, and from my own experience, the most important key to the success of the whole thing is prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide you!

Won’t you join me in trying to lovingly warn those that we see are headed the wrong direction?? I promise I will try to practice this skill outside of my rosy mental image of myself!! What response have you received when you’ve reproved those you love who have sinned??

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Following Jesus, the Original Narrow-minded Christian

Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about “tolerance” in the news.  Recently there was a huge debate over a few companies that have come out either in support of the gay marriage like Oreos, and those, like Chik-fil-A, that have come out supporting the traditional Christian view of marriage.  There are other hot button issues out there as well, many that will be the issues at hand in the coming months leading up to our presidental election.  Regardless of where you stand on these issues it’s important to know where Jesus stood and where the Church stands and why.

There are two different views of tolerance that we have to address.  The first is the secular view on tolerance.  We are asked to accept and approve all lifestyles and beliefs different from our own. We are asked to look past our moral compass, what we believe to be right or wrong, and just accept anything and everything without question.  While this sounds wonderful and ideal we know that this is not what Jesus taught.  That brings us to the second view on tolerance- the biblical view.  We know that Scripture tells us that while God loves us and we are called to love each other despite our differences, we are not called to tolerate all lifestyles or others beliefs.  If we see someone, especially a fellow Christian, who is acting in a particular way that goes against our Christian beliefs it is our duty to help them understand what they are doing is not only wrong but can lead them away from God.   Two of the Spiritual Works of Mercy are to admonish the sinner* and instruct the ignorant* (this does not mean a person is stupid but perhaps unaware of the spiritual damage they are doing to themselves). * Luke 15:7, Proverbs 28:23,Galatians 6:1,  Col 3:16, Jude 1:23, Mark 16:15, Ezra 7:25

But didn’t Jesus spend his time with sinners?  Wasn’t he tolerant of everyone he came in contact with on a daily basis?  Of course he was tolerant… but then again, he wasn’t so tolerant either.  Christ teaches us that to be tolerant doesn’t mean that we look the other way when someone is not living in accordance with His teachings.  It means we still love that person but we instruct them and guide them back to the life that God is calling each of us to live.   There is a quote that says, “Love the sinner but hate the sin”.   We can love a person who is sinning yet hate what they are doing in their lives.  It’s hard for some to understand this concept.  Instead they believe that if you say you disagree with a particular belief or lifestyle that you must also hate the person who holds that belief or who is engaged in that lifestyle.   Nothing could be further from the truth.

If we think about Jesus spending his time with sinners we see that it wasn’t because he just embraced all that the people were doing with their lives… quite the opposite.  Jesus spent time with sinners because he knew that they were the ones that needed him the most.  He quietly (and not so quietly… think money changers in the temple) taught those sinners that they were indeed wrong in how they were living.  He called them to change their ways.  I think of the woman who in John 8:1-11 was going to be stoned to death because of her sin of adultery.   When Jesus was asked what he would do with this woman he told the scribes that “whoever is without sin let him cast the first stone”.  Of course no one was able to throw a stone because after all, they were all sinners.  Likewise, we are all sinners too, so why is it that we feel the need to say that any lifestyle that doesn’t go along with what we believe is sinful?   Isn’t this proverbially “throwing the first stone”?
Many people forget the rest of this story.  After all the people had left, dropping their stones to the ground, Jesus said to the woman, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”  Jesus, while not condemning her, tells her that she is indeed a sinner and now she must not sin again.   As followers of Christ we are expected to also remind others not to sin.  We shouldn’t cast a stone but we are called to encourage those we know to be sinning to change their ways and to avoid the occasion of sin.

Isn’t there a line in the bible in Matthew 7:1 that says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”?  Aren’t we judging a person when we disagree with their lifestyle and say that it is sinful?  No.  We are not.  We must understand the biblical reference to judgment here.   Jesus is not telling us that we are never to decide if an action is right or wrong, but that we are not to judge a person’s soul as a result of the sin they are committing.  Only God can make that kind of judgment.  However, we are called to lead those who are going astray through sin back to God.  To do this we must be able to tell what is sinful and what is not.  We must make a judgment about their actions alone.

When we disagree with a lifestyle it does not mean we hate the person living that lifestyle.  Most of the time we love that person so much that we want them to live in accordance with our Christian beliefs.  But what about the fact that not all people are Christian who are living this lifestyle or committing the sin we are so against?  Some are atheist, Muslims, Wiccans, Jewish, agnostic, Buddhist, and the list goes on and on.  Aren’t we pushing our own beliefs on people who don’t want to follow what we believe to be right?  As Christians, while we are taught to respect the beliefs of others, we are also taught that God doesn’t like to see His people divided.  We have been taught that everyone is a child of God.  We should hope and pray for each and every person to come to know Jesus and accept His gift of salvation.   Additionally, Christ and the Church tell us that we must administer to those who are falling away from God.  How can we do this if we don’t make a “judgment” based on the criteria that Jesus left us to determine what is right or wrong?

Our society is based on laws.  Without them we would live in mayhem.  We trust law enforcement and the judicial system to help uphold these laws and to keep us safe.  These laws are based on what our society has deemed right and wrong.  It is imposing a set of beliefs on society because ultimately we know that it is for the betterment of that particular society.  Most people would never argue that we shouldn’t have these rules and regulations in our lives.  Likewise, we look to Jesus and the Church to help us understand the moral rules that we should be following.  We look to them to keep us spiritually safe.  We don’t have these rules because we hate any particular people, we have them because we love them so much we want them to be in Heaven with us one day.  We know that sin and rejection of Christ and his love will keep us spending eternity with him in Heaven.

It is completely possible to “love the sinner but hate the sin”.  Unfortunately many people have a hard time with this concept.  Perhaps they themselves are not able to separate the two but as Christians we must separate them.  We are all sinners and we are all loved by Christ.  We are all called to love as Christ loved.  This means that we should always show love and respect for each other and sometimes, because of that love, we must point out our brother’s sin so that he is able to turn back to God.   This is hard to do, knowing we will be called bigots, intolerant, judgmental, hypocrites, small-minded, uncharitable, conservative, unfair, or narrow-minded.  Still, as it says in Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”