• Steven Marsh

Love–Passing Judgment Is a No-No: a Reflection on Psalm 103:8-13, Genesis 50:15-21, Matthew 18

Living with an attitude of gratitude. That requires generosity. And generosity is an outgrowth from being loved and loving. It must have been our second or third date. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon. Janet and I were at my parents’ home. I was beginning to sense that Janet might be the one for me, but there was one thing that we hadn’t yet spoken about. Was she willing or unwilling to be baptized in the Holy Spirit? Given Janet’s background in the Evangelical Covenant Church, I was certain that she, like most Presbyterians, was not familiar with the supernatural. My church had just gone through several years of revival. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were alive and peoples’ lives were changing. So, the day had come for me to check out Janet’s belief about the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts.

With that in mind, Janet and I took chairs out near a great shade tree in the backyard of my parents’ home. I began to examine Janet on her beliefs. Well, it didn’t take long for Janet to figure things out and she quickly pointed out to me that she wasn’t about ready to speak in tongues, so that I would feel better that she was filled with the Holy Spirit. And furthermore, she was quite offended. What had I gotten myself into? Being put in my place, I quickly regrouped and apologized profusely. Life in Christ is the bottom line of a Christian’s identity, not a particular teaching on the purpose and power of the Holy Spirit or anything else for that matter. William Greenway, Associate Professor of Philosophical Theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, writes, “…our identity is not derived from political, economic, or moral standing or from identification with some people in opposition to others.”[1]

This is the focal point of our text in Romans. We are to welcome the weak in faith and not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Who are the weak in faith and why is quarrelling over opinions so engaging? Most succinctly, the weak of faith are those who raise law/commandments to paramount significance, struggle loving others, and are entwined in the decay and corruption of human appetites. The weak in faith are those who use rules, regulations, doctrines and adherence to them as criteria for being faithful. The weak in faith are all those who use the law of Christ to divide as opposed to unite.

Genesis 50, Psalm 103, and Matthew 18 confirm the point made in Romans 14: welcome the weak in faith. First, we are to love those with whom we have disagreement. The phrase “hate the sin and love the sinner” has been turned into “Hate the sin and sinner.” Followers of Jesus are not to personify people with some sin. We are to be known as people of forgiveness. Second, never forget the radical grace you have experienced. Like Paul, you have been a hater and persecutor of those with whom you disagree. Followers of Jesus aren’t to negate political, doctrinal, or moral realities that consistently raise their heads in contemporary quarrels. We stand not because we are right, but because of God’s unmerited love for us. Through being loved by God and in turn loving others, we move more and more in God’s ways. We become generous and live with an attitude of gratitude.[2]

Welcome those who are in weak in faith. Yes, welcome those who are the law/commandments police and the law/commandments breakers? Lesslie Newbigin writes, “Gibbon … said that in Roman society all religions were to the people equally true, to the philosophers equally false, and to the government equally useful. It would be difficult to deny that this is true of some of today’s ‘developed’ societies. … Tolerance with respect to what is not important is easy.”[3] Listen carefully to Romans 12:4. “Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” Rules and regulations, doctrines and dogmas can become the lord, small “l” of our lives. Oh, we stand or fall before the small “l” lords all the time. If one chooses to serve another lord, it is before that lord that they will stand or fall. They do not stand or fall before you…or me. We are not to judge. In the end, all will be upheld by the Lord, large “L.”

What does this mean for you today? Passing judgment is a no-no. It’s not good or helpful. In fact, it marginalizes and excludes. We are not to judge. We are to love and love extravagantly. We are to live humbly. We are not the correct doctrine police. We are not the ethical and moral behavior monitors. We are not the arbiters of a biblical holiness code. We are to be generous, living with an attitude of gratitude. We are to love God and others. Period. Rob Bell, the author of Love Wins writes,

Jesus calls disciples in order to teach us how to be and what to be; his intention is for us to be growing progressively in generosity, forgiveness, honesty, courage, truth telling, and responsibility, so that as these take over our lives we are taking part more and more and more in life in the age to come, now…Jesus invites us, in this life, in this broken, beautiful world, to experience the life of heaven now. He insisted over and over that God’s peace, joy, and love are currently available to us, exactly as we are.[4]

The message of Jesus is this: who a person professes him to be is all that matters. Not correct belief or behavior. Loving instead of judging is the matrix through which the weak of faith, which is every one of us, believer and non-believer alike, are welcomed and cherished. Just perhaps, the way we love is the way God captures the person trapped in the marginalization of judgment. Hmmm? Thus, all we can do, if we need to use a verb, is love.

[1]William Greenway in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 66.

[2]Some ideas in this paragraph gleaned and adapted from Claudio Carvalhaes, Mark Douglas, William Greenway, and Kathryn D. Blanchard in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, 50-73.

[3] Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 138.

[4]Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York, New York: HarperOne, 2011), 51, 62.

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