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Judgment, the final in a rant of three.

January 15, 2008
by

I must say as a kid I worried about judgment. I mean hell fire and brimstone, one false move and you are zapped for eternity. One incorrect reading of Ephesians 5:19 and it was bye-bye. It was a lot of pressure for a kid who wanted to do things right who had a streak of obsessive compulsive running through his veins.

I mean in the end I went to school with a lot of kids whose parents weren’t to bright. They didn’t know the correct right way to read the Bible and because of that they were lost for eternity. Much of my childhood evangelism was correcting my neighbors because not only did I need to get it right I needed to convince them to get it right or else my ticket might not get punched.

It all seemed to make so much sense to them. They explained it and explained it again. We had our commands and our examples and then we even had what was called necessary inference. These are things that had to be inferred, there was no other option. So I judged in the way I was told we would be judged, on our ability to figure it out and do it the right way and correct all those who did it wrong.

But wait, as an adult something very strange gets in the way. There is this little story about sheep and goats. Now before we go too far I find it interesting how we tend to divide the Bible up. So one parable takes on a life of its own and becomes disconnected from the following story.

If you look at Matthew 24 and 25 you see a conversation about the second coming of the Messiah. In Matthew 24 you see Jesus talking about the end of it all and this works into the parables in chapter 25. We read about the ten virgins and we are taught to always be prepared. This is followed by the parable of talents which says not only should we be prepared for this end but we should be investing what we have before Jesus returns. But guess what, the text really doesn’t say what the talents are or what they represent. The parable doesn’t say what the virgins should be doing or what constitutes being prepared, it just reminds us that we should.

No, these parables are followed by the story of the final judgment and we are told what will come when the Son of Man returns. What does the King have to say? What were those talents used for? What was a sign that one was prepared? What is the separation line for sheep and goats? How well you reconstructed a supposed New Testament worship pattern? Your grasp on the exact moment of salvation?

No, it was how you treated others. What did you do for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, those in prison. Jesus goes so far as to say when you do that for another you do it to me. Now that is a strong statement. Our church likes to say that we are trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community but to be honest I’m not being Jesus to them, they are Jesus.

You see we often times make the mistake of measuring the worth of giving to these people by how many respond to the message of Christ. We often time don’t want to give to the poor because we think they did this to themselves, they should have known better, but Jesus doesn’t say that, he says I am them. I think he was trying to motivate us to give.

I have heard this text used to attack legalism and I agree but I have also watched people use this to attack legalism without turning around and doing anything about it. I have had people say that helping those in need is one way to attract people to church as they try another. I know I know I’m a real downer these days but I don’t think Jesus could say it any clearer, we have been set free by grace to serve the least of these.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. benoverby permalink
    January 15, 2008 10:32 pm

    Not a downer, but a necessary corrective for many of us. You make a terrific point about those who use the text to slap legalism but then do nothing. Grace isn’t a permission slip for a life of napping as we wait for the great judgment bell to ring, ushering us out onto the eternal playground to enjoy pleasures forever more!

    If our life isn’t marked by passion and zeal for God’s glory by doing the same sort of things Jesus did, then no matter how much we claim to be grace-centered we will look, and live off-center.

  2. January 16, 2008 2:58 am

    I don’t think as Christians we are always jumping in out of the grace of God. Isn’t that wonderful I think as Christians we should never cheapen the grace of God by choosing to sin and then later asking God for forgiveness. We should cherish the grace we have in our Lord. One of my favorite scripture if not my favorite is found in 1 John 5:13 “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of GOd so that you may KNOW you have eternal life.” As Christians we have nothing to fear. We have something to be excited about. Eternity with God. We journey with him here on earth and on into eternity. It is incredible when you stop and think about it.

    God isn’t an all seeing that is watch you; waiting to zap you everytime you make a mistake. He even tells the Isrealites when he gives the ten commandments that he is graceous to thousand generations who love Him and follow his ways. I believe as love as we are walking in the light as he is in light and striving to do our best we have nothing to fear on judgement day. I think it should give us peace, joy, happiness, knowing that we are saved and can be confident of it.

  3. Jim Sexton permalink
    January 16, 2008 4:57 pm

    I agree with your thought that we have been set free to serve the least of these. That is one of the things we have been set free to do, but it is only one of them.

    God’s grace sets me free to live, love, reach out, teach, exhort, encourage, and so on and so forth. The sad truth is that most people cheapen God’s grace by using it as an eraser, cheating on Him with sin and then coming back to get their grace, so that they can go and sin some more.

    When we realize that living as Christ did means to love every single one that God has created and placed before us, then we will be less apt to play games and more focused on serving. That serving may be in many forms, it may take the form of stooping to serve or standing to teach. It might be responding to tragedy in love or it can be spending time feeding the poor and hungry.

    Jesus did all of those things and more. Too many people focus on only part of His ministry. They want to preach and little else, or feed spiritually by teaching and not be bothered to feed physically those who are in need.

    You mention that many feel like the poor are that way due to their own doing, and frankly most of the poor I deal with on this reservation fit that to a tee… I strive not to ignore them on that basis, but to try to help them to live better, as Christians and as humans. I feel the frustration that many feel, feeding and clothing ungrateful people who will choose to make no change to their lives. After a while I will begin to be less available to them because they are choosing their own pathway.

    We forget that the bible also says that “Unless a man works, he should not eat.” I was written to Christian people who were literally sitting around doing nothing but sponging off of those who were also Christians, taking full advantage of the free handouts that those around them were making available. We are to see to the needs of others, I can’t agree more, but for those who actively choose their hardships, Paul calls them busybodies and their lives disorderly.

    When Jesus himself had crowds follow him, because he had fed them the day before, his answer was to feed them spiritual food the next day, not physical food. Perhaps that way, He was able to sort out the followers from the freeloaders…

    Jimbo

  4. January 16, 2008 5:45 pm

    Jimbo,

    As always I appreciate your point of view.

    There have been times when I have declined requests for aid and times where we have to cut a family off because they are not moving forward, but I do see a difference between being focused out there helping those people in need knowing you will at times have to say no and not being out there at all helping meet needs.

    I’m not saying we disagree because I don’t think we do but Jesus still began by meeting needs, he didn’t not meet needs simply because his ultimate goal was to take them deeper and in the end he didn’t tell us we would be judged as his sheep because of our ability to recognize those who don’t really deserve aid.

    The verses you give are the classic ones used when churches do little or nothing to bring justice to those in need. Just so you know tonight we meet to begin to put together our HigherUp job skills training. We want to help people with their job skills so that they are better prepared to meet their own needs.

  5. Jim Sexton permalink
    January 16, 2008 6:43 pm

    Good stuff. We are also working on collecting a wardrobe, a collection of nice clothing that people can go to interviews with, and in the case of some, helping them with semi-professional attire to get them started at that new job.

    You are correct, we do not disagree on this stuff, sometimes just state it in different ways. Like I said, Jesus met needs and then taught. Too many people stop at the meeting needs part of the example and aren’t bold enough to go to the next level and teach as Jesus did.

    “Silver and gold, have I none…”, good old KLV memory verses spill out even today! There are times when we simply cannot help, but still have the ability and opportunity to teach…. “but what I do have I give to you…”

    Jimbo

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