Saturday, June 24, 2017

Do Not Judge (except when you should!)

“Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1a)

These are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.  His words carry absolute authority in our lives. We should obey them, and we risk serious consequences when we do not.  In some ways this seems simple.  Yet, in other ways obeying this command is not simple.  In order to rightly obey this command of Jesus, we need to understand what it means and what it does not mean.

We need to remember a general principle:  interpret Scripture with Scripture.  With regard to prohibitions like “Do not judge”, this means that we should use the Bible to determine which of the following it might mean:
“Never judge in any way under any circumstances.”
“Never judge except in certain rare cases specifically allowed by the Bible.”
“Never judge in certain ways, but in other ways we should judge, as explained by other Bible verses.”

Some prohibitions are indeed absolute and without exception.  Here are two examples:

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

“You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).

There is not a single positive example of someone committing adultery or worshiping another god from Genesis to Revelation.  Those commands are absolute and have no exceptions. On the other hand, the command to not do any work on the Sabbath (see Exodus 20:10) did have exceptions.  Jesus himself made this clear (see Matthew 12:12).

Is the command of Jesus, “Do not judge”, more like the command to not commit adultery (a command with no exceptions) or more like the command to not work on the Sabbath (a command with exceptions)?

Types of Judging We Should Do

Here are four passages which either directly state or strongly imply that in some cases we should judge:

#1   NIV Matthew 7:5 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.

This verse seems to imply that after we pay attention to our own sin and can see more clearly, then we should in fact be prepared to help others remove sin from their lives.  This seems to involve a type of judging where we see something in someone else’s life and carefully conclude that it is a sin that they need help to remove.

#2   NIV Matthew 7:15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?

How can we obey this verse unless we examine the fruit in the lives of those who claim to be prophets and in some cases make a judgment that a person is a false prophet? The same principle seems to apply to false teachers (2 Peter 2:1).

#3   NIV Matthew 18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

Obeying this verse does require us to make a type of judgment.  Namely, we must make a judgment that someone has sinned against us, or at least that we have good reason to believe that they have.

#4   NIV 1 Corinthians 6:1 If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?
 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?
 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!
 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!
 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?

In this passage, leaders in the church are not only allowed to judge, but are given the responsibility to judge between Christians who come to them with a dispute.

How Should We React if Someone is “Judging” Us in One of the Ways Described Above?

We should humbly listen and consider whether or not their words have any merit. It does not help to angrily protest “Don’t judge me!”  We should remember these wise words:

NIV  Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.

Types of Judging We Should Not Do

Now that we have some idea of what “Do not judge” does not mean, let’s think about what it does mean.

1.  Based on Matthew 7:2, we should use the same standard with others that we want to be used with us. If we want to be judged strictly and harshly by God, without grace or patience or mercy, than we judge others that way.  Of course, that would turn out really terrible for us.

2. Based on Matthew 7:3-5, if we think we see a problem in someone else’s life, before we try to help them we should examine our own lives. Although God DOES want us to help others get free from sin, we need to prioritize getting rid of our own sin.  This often will leave us with little time to judge others.

3.  According to 1 Corinthians 4:5, we should not judge people’s motives or their hearts. Only God can do that.  It’s not our job.

4. According to Romans 14:1-13, we should not judge people who have different opinions or practices on issues which are relatively minor or not clear in the Bible. We can discuss such differences gently and humbly, but we should not do so in a judgmental way.

5.  Based on Matthew 21:31-32, we should not judge what kind of people are more likely to believe the gospel and become followers of Jesus. Many people whom the world views as “terrible sinners” are humble and eventually cry out to Jesus and receive salvation.

6.  Based on Galatians 6:1, if we do catch someone in sin, we should restore him gently. This rules out harsh, mean judging.

7.  When in doubt, “Do not judge”.  The fact that Jesus warned us not to judge tells me that most human judging is sinful judging.  There are so many ways in which we can blow it.  We can judge when we should show mercy and be patient.  We can judge too harshly.  We can judge hypocritically, ignoring our planks while focusing on specks.  We can so easily cross the line from judging words and actions to judging hearts and motives. Often our judgments are just plain wrong.  So, yes, there are exceptions and times when we should judge in some ways.  But be very, very careful and always remember the words of our Lord:

NIV Matthew 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

We have seen that in some ways “Do not judge” is a complex command.  But let’s remember that it often means, plain and simple:  Don’t judge!

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Devil’s Place in a Christian’s Life, an Analysis of Ephesians 4:26-27

In this life, we cannot completely avoid temptation from the Devil and his demons, nor will we be free from their opposition to our efforts to share God’s love and truth.  Even Jesus was tempted (but never gave in!), and even He faced opposition from the Devil working through people around Him.  Temptation and opposition through others should be the extent of the Devil’s influence in the life of a Christian.  Tragically, this is often not the case.  We often give the Devil a place in our lives which he should not have.

Paul wrote the Ephesians to Christians. After describing our glorious salvation in the opening chapters, in chapter four Paul begins to urge us to live a life which reflects such a great salvation:

NIV Ephesians 4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Paul explains the importance of unity among Christians, then he moves on to explain why it is so important to “no longer live as the Gentiles do” (Ephesians 4:17).  Paul is warning us not to continue to live a sinful life like people who do not know God. As part of Paul’s efforts to encourage us to live a godly life, he includes this warning, which we will spend some time analyzing:

NIV Ephesians 4:26-27 "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Paul mentions a specific sin, namely anger.  While we don’t want sin in our lives for even a moment, the damage of sin grows when we let it stay in our lives.  This is why Paul warns us not to let the sun go down while we are still angry.  Of course, Paul is not saying that it is fine to be angry from sunrise at 5am until sunset at 7pm.  The point Paul is making is that once we become aware of sinful anger, we need to confess it, repent, and seek God’s help to get rid of it.

Does this principle apply only to anger?  No.  In this same section of Ephesians, Paul mentions a number of other sins including greed (Ephesians 4:19), sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:3), obscenity (Ephesians 5:4), and drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). In fact, Paul uses several broad words and phrases which basically cover all types of sin:

“your former way of life” (Ephesians 4:22)
“any kind of impurity” (Ephesians 5:3)
“the fruitless deeds of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11)

What is true of anger is true of sin in general. It is important not to let sin remain in our hearts and minds.  Why is this important?  There are many reasons, but here I want to focus on the reason Paul gives in Ephesians 4:27.  When we allow sin to remain in our lives, we risk giving the devil a foothold.

Giving the Devil a Place in Our lives

What does it mean to give the devil a “foothold”?  The Greek word translated “foothold” is topos. This word basically means “a place”.  More specifically, this word often refers to an inhabited place.  Inhabitation is not always the focus of topos, but major Greek lexicons recognize that inhabitation is often part of the meaning:

Looking at a few verses where the same Greek word topos is used will help you to see the meaning:

ESV Luke 2:7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place (topos) for them in the inn.

People did not give a place in the guest room for Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus.  Tragically, many people do give the devil a place in their lives by allowing sin to fester in their hearts.

ESV Revelation 12:7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place (topos) for them in heaven.

The devil and his angels (who are now called demons) no longer have a place to live in heaven.  But these demons are not homeless.  Billions of people are giving these demons a new place to live by allowing sin to remain in their lives.

Does this Mean a Christian Can be Demon Possessed?


A demon cannot own a Christian.  Christians have been purchased for God with the blood of Christ (Revelation 5:9).

Actually, “demon possessed” is an unfortunate translation of the Greek word daimonizomai. Sometimes in English we make a noun into a verb:

terror + ized = to suffer from extreme fear

demon + ized = to suffer from demonic oppression or be influenced by demons

The Greek word daimonizomai is equivalent to the English word “demonized”.  They simply took the Greek noun for “demon” and turned it into a verb. The word “possessed” was not used at all. Adding the concept of “possession”, which implies “ownership”, causes confusion. There is no word meaning “possessed” used to describe what demons do to people in the original Greek of the New Testament.

Since demons can’t possess Christians, what does Paul mean when he refers to giving them “a place”?  Paul does not stop and explain what the demons will do if we give them “a place”.  I’m sure they never do anything good!  It seems likely that they might have the following types of influences and effects if we give them “a place” in our lives:

1.  They might increase the level and intensity of temptation in a particular area.  If we give in, we might end up committing far more serious and damaging sins than the sin that originally opened the door to the demonic influence.

2.  They might in some ways distract us when we are trying to pray, read our Bibles, worship, or serve the Lord.

3.  They may cause us to have evil thoughts and dark emotions, including depression, fear, and anger.

4.  They might rob us of peaceful rest and peaceful emotions.

5.  They might influence us to believe things that are not true.

6.  Evil spirits often cause sickness and disease.

7.  They might take us captive to do the devil’s will and work through us to harm others (2 Timothy 2:26).

In general, these things and more are all consistent with the broad description of the devil’s work which Jesus gave to us:

ESV John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Some people get really concerned about whether we should think of the demon as being “in” a person.  I don’t care if a demon is “in” someone or if it is more like it is sitting on their shoulder or buzzing around their head like a fly.  The point is, we want to guard against evil influence in our lives, and if demons gain “a place”, we want to get rid of them.

I learned the following illustration from others.  I think it will help us apply the truths we have been looking at so far.

The Rats and The Trash

Imagine that a friend told you he was having a terrible problem with rats in his kitchen.  He explained that he would battle them with a broom until he was exhausted each night.  He sometimes managed to get rid of them, but then they would be back the next day.  He begged for your help.

So, you went over to his house to take a look.  And there in the middle of the kitchen floor was a huge, stinking pile of garbage.  Apple cores, banana peels, chewed on chicken bones, and more were all piled up and appeared to have been there for some time.

Trying to be gracious, you said, “Friend, I think I see the problem”.

The point of the illustration is simple.  Demons are like rats.  They are attracted to trash  in our lives. If we let anger, greed, lust, or other sins fester in our lives, then we risk attracting the rats and giving them a place in our lives.  Sure, we can battle them and drive them out using the powerful Name of Jesus.  But if we don’t clean out the trash and replace the trash with good things from God, those rats are likely to come back.  Isn’t that what Jesus taught?

Matthew 12:43 "When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.
 44 Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.
 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation."

Here’s the Good News!  Because of Jesus’ death for our sins, your sins can be forgiven.  God is ready to clean sin from your life. 

NIV 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Once your sins are forgiven and purified, the devil will no longer have a right to “a place” in your life, and with the authority of Christ it will be far easier to resist the devil and watch him flee.

Dear brother or sister, how about you?  Perhaps you do not have a huge heap of stinking sin garbage in your life, but might you have a banana peel or an old rotten apple core lying around?  Might these old stinky sins be giving the devil “a place” in your life and robbing you of some of the joy and power God wants you to experience?  If so, I encourage you to stop and pray right now. God’s grace in Christ Jesus is available to you and His power in you is far greater than the devil’s.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .