I sometimes write articles that are critical of human behavior.
I’ve poked fun at someone driving a Hummer with the license tag “For God.” I’ve questioned the faith of men who say they are Christians but spend their time telling dirty jokes and watching R-rated movies.
I often recommend to people that they read the Bible more, pray more, reach out to the poor.
I try to do this in a non-judgmental way, not naming names, not pointing fingers. But invariably someone responds negatively to one of these articles or suggestions.
“… Perhaps the driver of the Hummer was on his way back from donating 10 million dollars to the Salvation Army, tithes monthly more than we make in a year, and donated his fleet of corporate jets for tsunami relief. Let's not be too quick to judge based on a vanity plate,” one person wrote.
“… None of us can see into the hearts of others nor can we understand the relationship between God and one of His children.... despite what the outside actions might seem,” this person continued.
I can’t argue against either point. But my purpose in writing the articles wasn’t to rebuke any particular person. In fact, the people in the articles could be completely fictional. The articles were written so that each reader could examine his or her own Christian walk in light of materialism, idolatry or general conduct.
If the Hummer driver were truly a strong Christian, reading the article might at least make him think twice about the statement his choice of vehicle is making to someone who doesn’t know him. The same might be true of profanity-spewing men.
All of this brings me to a different question:
When and how is it appropriate for Christians to hold each other accountable in our walks?
Many of us are quick to quote Matthew 7:1 when someone criticizes us.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” we quote, then jump to Matthew 7:3, “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?”
The implication is that we are somehow banned from rebuking someone unless we are perfect – sort of like John 8:7, when Jesus tells those who would stone a prostitute, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."
Instead, perhaps we are encouraged, even commanded, to hold fellow Christians to the same standard that we would wish to be held to.
In that light, let’s look at Matthew 7:2 – in between the more popular verses: “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 we tend to read that as a negative? Don’t we want to be living up to God’s standard? Don’t we want someone to point out our flaws so we may correct them?
I discussed this point with some Christian friends recently and we joked about the “normal” way people respond to criticism.
I poked one brother in the arm and said, “You need to read your Bible every day!”
He gave me a mock glare and said, “Huh, you’re a fine one to talk. When was the last time you did any intercessory prayer?”
Another brother chimed in: “I didn’t see either one of you helping out at the orphanage last Wednesday. So why should I listen to you?”
Really, here is how the exchange should go:
“You need to read the Bible every day. I started doing it last month and I can’t tell you how much closer I feel to God.”
“Hmm. You know you are probably right. I need to find the time for that. And I’d strongly recommend you take some time and do more intercessory prayer.”
“Hey you guys, while we're at it, faith without works is dead! Why don’t we all go volunteer at the orphanage next week.”
This may sound a little strange, but be patient while I march out some scripture to back me up:
Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. (Leviticus 1 9:17)
Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. (Proverbs 9:9)
Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear. (Proverbs 25:12)
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage -- with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:2-3)
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
And what about John 8:7?
Perhaps that teaching is intended to deal only with unconstructive criticism. These people were about to kill the prostitute, not inform her of the error of her ways.
Likewise, our intentions should be constructive when we rebuke a Christian brother or sister.
Let’s not forget that the stakes are high:
There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. (John 12:48)
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