Judge Not


One of the most difficult things for the Christian to comprehend is the relationship between law and grace.  This issue has caused more problems within churches and within families than any other concept I know.  And, at first glance, the Bible seems to give us contradictory information.  For instance, the Bible tells us: “…you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Phew! I like the sound of that!  I don’t have to worry about obeying all those laws the Bible gives! But elsewhere in the Bible it says, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him” (1 John 3:6).  Oh-Oh.  That sounds ominous.  Maybe I do need to worry about my actions after all.  Or what about the matter of even trying to figure out what is sinful and what isn’t?  Should we even try to do that?  Well, in one spot in the Bible, we read “Judge not that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).  But then elsewhere we read, “Judge among yourselves…” (1 Corinthians 11:13). What is going on?

      Well first, as traditional Presbyterians, we believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God.  We know that the Bible is correct on all topics it means to address, and so we need to reconcile the whole of Scripture, from cover to cover, if we are going to be able to understand any concept fully, particularly something as difficult as the Christian’s relationship with sin and the Law.

      So to start sorting our thoughts on this matter, let’s turn to a

specific issue that the Bible deals with extensively: the Sabbath.  What can a Christian do and what can a Christian not do on Sunday after church? (In the Old Testament they observed the Sabbath on Saturday, in the New Testament era we observe it on Sunday. Why the day changed is a different discussion for a different day.)

      The Law is very clear that God’s people must observe the Sabbath. The command to keep the Sabbath holy is part of the Ten Commandments(Exodus 20:8-11).  Furthermore, when the Israelites did not observe the Sabbath, God was not at all pleased.  See, for example, Ezekiel 20:23-24.  Honoring the Sabbath is part of God’s Law.  And Jesus said, “till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). 

      But what about the passage we read above (Romans 6:14, and again in Galatians 5:18) that says we are not under the Law but under grace?  Does that mean we don’t have to observe the Sabbath any more?  Christians are sharply divided on this issue.

      For instance, a number of us go out to eat Sunday after church.  But when my cousin Thea and her family from Holland came to visit, they had a problem with doing that.  They consider eating out on Sunday, and causing other people to have to work at their job in order to serve food, to be something a Christian shouldn’t do.

      The Bible talks about this very thing in Romans 14:5-6: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.”

      Sam Galloway and I talked about this several months ago.  He was debating about whether or not to have his store open on Sunday.  I’m pretty sure he wanted me to give him a yes or no answer about what the Bible says he should do. But, knowing what the Bible says in Romans 14, I couldn’t do that.  Now, I will admit that when Sam decided to close his store on Sunday, I was happy with his decision.  I believe he did it to glorify God.  But if one day he changes his mind and opens on Sunday again, I certainly won’t have a word of condemnation for him.

      There is no way for me to know whether or not what you are doing on a Sunday afternoon is breaking the Sabbath.  That is between you and God.  It is none of my business and it would be wrong for me to judge.

      Does that mean I don’t believe in the Ten Commandments?  I absolutely do.  I believe in all of the Bible with all my heart.  We must remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  But exactly how you, my Christian friend, go about remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy in your own life is between you and God.  It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict you of sin, not mine (John 16:8). As we read elsewhere, “…let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another” (Galatians 6:4).

      Furthermore, even as Christians, we often struggle with things in our own lives that we know to be sin.  Read Romans 7 for an in-depth discussion of this.  I have spoken with fellow Christians numerous times who know they need to make a change in their life, but they just don’t have the strength to make the change yet.  I’m in that same position myself, and will be until the day I die.  We never get past the truth of Romans 7.  So what do we do with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in the midst of some sin, awaiting the sanctification process to manifest itself more fully in their lives?  The answer is to love them, pray for them, and support them.  But we must not condemn them.  That would be judging in a manner Jesus Himself refused to do while walking this earth (John 8:15).

      Because we never know the whole story.  The classic example concerns lying. Suppose we are in Nazi-controlled Europe in 1943.  We are in a home where Jews are being hidden in a secret cellar beneath the floor.  A sharp pounding comes at the front door.  It’s the Gestapo, demanding to know if Jews are being hidden at this location.  Do you tell the whole truth?  If you don’t, you are “bearing false witness” and breaking one of the Ten Commandments.  But if you tell the truth, you are responsible for the murder of others.   Is breaking the ninth commandment in such a situation a sin?  That is a question typically posed in first-year ethics classes in seminary, and I have heard all sorts of strange answers.  But the truth is, we can’t know what constitutes a sin for someone else.  We cannot judge.

      There are times, however, when for our own protection we need to distance ourselves from others so we don’t get caught up in sin. The Bible says, “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one” (1 Corinthians 5:11).  We do not condemn others for their actions, but we need to keep ourselves away from situations in which we will find ourselves tripped up into sin or wrongly identified with sin of others.  If someone else wants to go to a show that I think is risque, more power to them.  But maybe I should choose to just stay home.

      Your elders had to deal with a situation like this a couple years ago.  Our denomination voted to deny the Bible’s authority on sexual sin.  We chose to demur and formally state that we refuse to be identified with those who will not submit to the Bible’s authority on all issues.  Since then, the question has arisen about what our position should be toward individuals who are in a situation in their private lives that may be in contradiction to what the Bible states is acceptable behavior in this realm.  I have been emphatic that we are to leave those issues between God and the individual, and your elders have supported me. 

      We need to walk a very fine line as a church, and it is a difficult road. We need to affirm emphatically that the Bible is God’s Word, and that everything the Bible calls sin truly is sinful and an affront to God.  But we also need to be the least judging of all churches when it comes to extending grace toward one another.  We are all sinners engaged in the slow process of sanctification, each with our own set of issues that are not yet resolved.  We each have a full time job guarding our own hearts.  We are wrong if we try to assess the heart of anyone but ourselves.






Henry Ford

One of the great benefits of living in Southwest Florida is getting visited by friends and family.  When I lived in Le Roy, Illinois, if I wanted to spend time with any of my old acquaintances, I had to go to them.  But the world comes to Florida to play, and my friends and family are no exception. I enjoy having company, most of all because when people on vacation come to visit, they come with a relaxed, vacation mindset.  That makes being with them a bit of a vacation for me as well, even if I never leave Lee County.

                My cousin Thea’s family visited us from the Netherlands this summer, so I got the pleasure of seeing home afresh through their eyes.  Of course, one of the things we had to do was tour the Edison-Ford Estate.  I watched my relatives as they walked through the property. I took notice of the things they noticed, I read the things they read, and I lingered in the places they lingered.  Then I took a few moments, like I do every time I visit the estates, to wonder about the men who built the place. 

                After Thea left,  I took a week of leave to work on my dissertation, and I hid out at my mom’s house to get my work done.  I took one afternoon and went to Dearborn to visit Greenfield Village, the northern counterpart of the Edison-Ford Estate. As I wandered the grounds, I again reflected upon Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, arguably two of the most influential men who have ever lived. And yet, as is so often the case with those who have been influential and mighty, the story of Henry Ford is filled with tragedy.

                Greenfield Village feels like it is Henry Ford’s playground.  In sharp contrast to his infamous proclamation that “history is bunk,” Mr. Ford created one of the most fascinating museum complexes in the world. It is a delightful place to visit.  After my father died, my mother went to Greenfield Village several times, “just to sit and read.”  She described the village as a place she could go where it felt like she was leaving this world and entering another.  I suspect a similar sentiment was in Mr. Ford’s mind as he assembled his project. 

                Like most of us, Mr. Ford was a man who enjoyed enjoying himself. And with his almost unlimited supply of money, Henry Ford was able to indulge in recreation in ways most of us can’t. And yet he spent his leisure time doing the same thing most of us do. He sought the company of friends.  And as he grew older, he reflected upon the memories of pleasant bygone days.

                As I walked the streets of Greenfield Village, the place began to make more and more sense to me. In many ways it reflects Henry Ford’s power. He respected Abraham Lincoln, learned the courthouse in which Abraham Lincoln first practiced was still standing, and so he moved the courthouse into his new village.  The townspeople in Illinois objected, but Mr. Ford removed the building so quickly they were unable to mount an effective protest in time. Likewise, he wanted Thomas Edison’s Fort Myers laboratory in his new village.  Mr. Ford didn’t want his friend’s Fort Myers home to be devoid of the laboratory, so he had a replica built — in Fort Myers.  The real laboratory is in Greenfield village, moved a thousand miles away by Henry Ford.  Interestingly, Mr. Ford had no objections to using replicas in Greenfield village.  Most of the Edison Menlo Park exhibit consists of painstakingly accurate replica buildings.  If there was any way he could have the original, he procured the original.  But he was determined to have the village he wanted, even if originals were not available.

                More than his power, however, Greenfield Village represents Mr. Ford’s sentiment. He chose the buildings for which he had an emotional attachment.  They were buildings that represented the places he loved, those he wanted gathered together in one place.    In one corner of the village lies the old barn where, when he was a boy, Mr. Ford’s family would bring the wool from the sheep they were raising on the family farm. Young Henry would ride in a horse-drawn wagon with his father many miles to deliver the wool. At another corner of the village stands the laboratory complex of his dear friend, Thomas Edison.  One can imagine Mr. Ford gathering with a few close friends in Greenfield Village and strolling in the evening from building to building, reminiscing about working with his dad, or about visiting the work of his dear friend, Thomas. 

                We were created to do work.  Work is part of creation that precedes the Fall.  In Genesis we read of the time before plants existed on this world.  There was no purpose for plants yet, because “there was no man to till the ground” (Genesis 3:5b, NKJ). God’s purpose for mankind before the Fall was to have him work and be productive in the world.  After the Fall, with the introduction of sin, work often becomes drudgery, an unpleasant task we must accomplish.  But the ultimate picture of mankind in his proper place is not that of a man snoozing under a tree, it is that of a man productively working at something he enjoys. 

                A wonderful picture of this can be found in John 21.  After the resurrection, after Jesus accomplished the work for which He came, He met His disciples at the beach.  Peter and the others had gone fishing, but after fishing all night they hadn’t caught anything. So Jesus performed a miracle, and suddenly the disciples’ net was filled with fish, which they brought ashore after a great struggle. There are spiritual implications to this story, of course, but there is also a beautiful picture of relaxing together after work.  Jesus had already prepared bread and a fire, with fish cooking over the fire.  He could have just fed them himself, as he had done with the multitudes before.  But he told them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”  Take the work you have accomplished, and let’s enjoy it together. He made certain their efforts were incorporated into the celebration.

                Henry Ford’s best memories, too, seemed to revolve around work.  It must have been a cherished memory to have helped his dad bring the wool to the mill.  He wouldn’t have bothered bringing the building to his village if it wasn’t dear to him.  How sad it is then that his relationship with his son Edsel was so tumultuous.

                When he was a child, Henry Ford’s family attended an Episcopalian church.  My understanding is that they were regular attenders.  And on the highest spot of land in Greenfield Village, Mr. Ford built the Martha Mary Chapel, one of five such chapels he built around the country.  He also bought a Bible for a friend of his, John Newton, and underlined Hebrews 11:1 in that Bible.  I’ve looked in that Bible, it is now owned by Sam Galloway. Henry Ford knew about Christianity.

                Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Ford’s faith was limited to pleasant memories of his childhood.  Many of us are just like that.  Especially in a place like this, coming here can bring back memories of pleasant days gone by.  That’s not necessarily bad. But if that’s all Christianity is to you, then it is bad.  Because you’ve mistaken the feeling, the sentiment, for the real thing.  The sentiment is nice.  The emotional uplift you get here can be delightful.  But it doesn’t do you much good after you leave this place.  It’s a shelter from the storm for an hour, but it won’t get you through the storm and beyond to the place you need to go.  That will only happen if you have what it appears Henry Ford was never quite willing to have — a personal, living relationship with Jesus Christ.  Mr. Ford gained the whole world.  But what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but never finds lasting peace for his own soul?

                Perhaps Henry Ford did develop a relationship with Jesus before he left this world.  No one really knows.  The only thing we can be certain about is our own heart. Is church a place to relive old memories?  Would you build a chapel on your estate, just because it feels like a nice thing to have around?  Or are you ready to take the next step?

                If you hear God’s call today, harden not your heart.