Stand Before the Judgment Seat

Last week we considered our propensity to judge others, assigning to some honors and infamy to others, when we have no way to see the quality of their hearts and souls. And, if we could see them, we’d be either too indulgent or too harsh. This week we look at God’s rightful place as Judge. In his letter to the church at Rome, in the fourteenth chapter, the Apostle Paul asks:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; Romans 14:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

The obvious answer to his questions is: our sinfulness. Calvin analyzes these verses further:

But you, why do you, etc. …It is an unreasonable boldness in anyone to assume the power to judge his brother, since by taking such a liberty he robs Christ the Lord of the power which he alone has received from the Father.

…As…it would be absurd among men for a criminal, who ought to occupy a humble place in the court, to ascend the tribunal of the judge; so it is absurd for a Christian to take to himself the liberty of judging the conscience of his brother…

That certainly puts us in our place. But, to examine the matter at a deeper level, consider Paul’s initial question and response in this chapter:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:4 (ESV)

Calvin explains:

Who are you who judges, etc. …Now, though the power of judging as to the person, and also as to the deed, is taken from us, there is yet much difference between the two.

For we ought to leave the man, whatever he may be, to the judgment of God; but as to his deeds we may indeed form a decisive opinion, though not according to our own views, but according to the word of God; and the judgment, derived from his word, is neither human, nor another man’s judgment.

Paul then intended here to restrain us from presumption in judging; into which they fall, who dare to pronounce anything respecting the actions of men without the warrant of God’s word.

These are the same principles Paul proclaimed to the Corinthian church. However, lest we think our lot is hopeless, consider the second half of the verse to which Calvin says:

To his own Lord he stands or falls, etc. As though he said, — “It belongs rightly to the Lord, either to disapprove, or to accept what his servant does: hence he robs the Lord, who attempts to take to himself this authority.”

And he adds, he shall indeed stand: and by so saying, he not only bids us to abstain from condemning, but also exhorts us to mercy and kindness, so as ever to hope well of him, in whom we perceive anything of God; inasmuch as the Lord has given us a hope, that he will fully confirm, and lead to perfection, those in whom he has begun the work of grace…as he also teaches us in another place,

“He who began in you a good work, will perform it to the end.” (Philippians 1:6.)

So, the trade is equitable with regard to persons. We relinquish tribunal powers over others of whom we disapprove because they do not meet our personal standards. Rather, we are to judge others’ actions only according to His word. And God promises to complete the work He set out to do, in those others for whom we should hope well and, most importantly, in ourselves with whom we should be disappointed until His work is through.

77’s-Live Warehouse 1989: “Can’t Get Over It,” “Frames Without Photographs,” YouTube, 77’s

Not Acquitted

How often have we condemned others without cause based on their real or perceived deficiencies? Some in the world have lost their lives this way. However, in the church, we should be more prudent. The Apostle Paul addressed the Corinthian church, who had just such a problem, using himself as an example:

For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore, do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. 1 Corinthians 4:4-5 English Standard Version (ESV)

Theologian John Calvin, expounded on Paul’s remarks:

I am not conscious to myself of anything faulty. …Paul [confesses elsewhere that he]…felt sin dwelling in him…but as to his apostleship, (which is the subject that is here treated of,) he had conducted himself with so much integrity and fidelity, that his conscience did not accuse him as to anything…Yet he says that he is not thereby justified, that is, pure, and altogether free from guilt in the sight of God.

Why? Assuredly, because God sees much more distinctly than we; and hence, what appears to us cleanest, is filthy in his eyes…We think of ourselves too indulgently, but God is a judge of the utmost strictness. Hence the truth of what Solomon says —

“Every man’s ways appear right his own eyes, but the Lord ponders the hearts.” (Proverbs 21:2.)

…Accordingly…we must have recourse to the free promise of mercy, which is offered to us in Christ, that we may be fully assured that we are accounted righteous by God.

Calvin then points out the limitations of Paul’s example:

Therefore, judge nothing before the time From this conclusion it is manifest, that Paul did not mean to reprove every kind of judgment without exception, but only what is hasty and rash, without examination of the case…

Let us know, then, how much is allowed us, what is now within the sphere of our knowledge, and what is deferred until the day of Christ, and let us not attempt to go beyond these limits. For there are some things that are now seen openly, while there are others that lie buried in obscurity until the day of Christ.

Yet, because of man’s utter depravity, Calvin declares:

Who will bring to light. If this is affirmed truly and properly respecting the day of Christ, it follows that matters are never so well regulated in this world but that many things are involved in darkness; and that there is never so much light, but that many things remain in obscurity. I speak of the life of men, and their actions.

He explains in the second clause, what is the cause of the obscurity and confusion, so that all things are not now manifest. It is because there are [astonishing] recesses and deepest lurking-places in the hearts of men. Hence, until the thoughts of the hearts are brought to light, there will always be darkness.

And, finally, summing up, Calvin warns:

And then shall everyone have praise It is as though he had said, “You now, O Corinthians, as if you had the adjudging of the prizes, crown some, and send away others with disgrace, but this right and office belong exclusively to Christ. You do that before the time — before it has become manifest who is worthy to be crowned, but the Lord has appointed a day on which he will make it manifest.”

Therefore, we should not judge another’s honor; it is before the Lord that they stand, and He is able to make them stand. And we will all stand before Him one day.

Michael Roe performs “I Could Laugh” at Grace Church, Show Low, AZ – 4-7-2014 – with. Chris Taylor, YouTube, Lyrics

I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me

How often do we say: “I’m sorry; please forgive me?” Rarely, is my guess, based on how often I hear it. I suspect that no longer seeking forgiveness is the result of permissiveness seeping into what used to be common practice almost everywhere. That’s not to say that these words aren’t still necessary for good relations with others.

Most of us know that my standard is the scriptures, and specifically, in this case, the Gospels. Here, we see how the Lord’s disciples tried to evade this very burden; but He didn’t let them do it:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22 English Standard Version (ESV)

And

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Luke 17:3-6 (ESV)

We’re all prone to doubt others’ motives when they keep repeating the same offenses and “seeking forgiveness” time and again. We’re not to be punching bags, after all. However, the Gospel of Matthew lays out a clear process of reconciliation for us to follow:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.

First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

And

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

So, if they refuse to listen to the church and continue to persist in their sin then, as the Apostle Paul states, do not associate with them:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (ESV)

Until, perhaps, the Lord may grant them repentance, or even salvation, if that’s what’s lacking.

Now such a reconciliation process should not be an occasion for gloating; rather, it should give us pause to reflect on our own behavior. We should be humble toward one another:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV)

And this sacrificial love (i.e., agape) is, for the professing church, the mark by which we are to be known:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (ESV)

We have to remember right relationships require humility and not anger:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:19-21 (ESV)

To do this, we must exercise self-control:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)

We must make our actions agree with the words we profess:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 (ESV)

So, then, let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.

Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

The Return of the Prodigal Son, circa 1668, Rembrandt (1606–1669), Public Domain in the US

Resistance Isn’t Futile

The author of the book to the Hebrews, in chapter 12, verses 4-6 says:

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

    nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

Hebrews 12:4-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

Do you say, as I do sometimes: “Why should I struggle against doing my own will and instead do His will?” Or do we see ourselves as better than this One?

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Luke 22:39-46 (ESV)

Some manuscripts leave out the verses in the third paragraph.

So, with regard to the verse:

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

what does John Calvin comment?

Certainly those who imagine that the Son of God was exempt from human passions do not truly and sincerely acknowledge him to be a man…

…When Christ was distressed by grief and fear, he did not rise against God, but continued to be regulated by the true rule of moderation. We need not wonder that, since he was innocent and pure from every stain, the affections which flowed from him were pure and stainless… Christ, amidst fear and sadness, was weak without any taint of sin…

…He [Christ] had no horror at death…simply as a passage out of the world, but because he had before his eyes the dreadful tribunal of God, and the Judge himself armed with inconceivable vengeance; and because our sins, the load of which was laid upon him, pressed him down with their enormous weight. There is no reason to wonder, therefore, if the dreadful abyss of destruction tormented him grievously with fear and anguish.

…And, therefore, though he suffered death, yet since its pains were loosed—as Peter tells us, (Acts 2:24)—and he was victorious in the conflict, the Apostle justly says, that he was heard on account of his fear [Hebrews 5:7]. Here ignorant people rise up and exclaim, that it would have been unworthy of Christ to be afraid of being swallowed up by death.

But I should wish them to answer this question, What kind of fear do they suppose it to have been which drew from Christ drops of blood? (Luke 22:44). For that mortal sweat could only have proceeded from fearful and unusual horror. If any person, in the present day, were to sweat blood, and in such a quantity that the drops should fall to the ground, it would be reckoned an astonishing miracle…

If it be objected, that the fear which I am describing arises from unbelief, the answer is easy. When Christ was struck with horror at the divine curse, the feeling of the flesh affected him in such a manner, that faith still remained firm and unshaken. For such was the purity of his nature, that he felt, without being wounded by them, those temptations which pierce us with their stings.

And yet those persons, by representing him not to have felt temptations, foolishly imagine that he was victorious without fighting. And, indeed, we have no right to suppose that he used any hypocrisy, when he complained of a mortal sadness in his soul; nor do the Evangelists speak falsely, when they say that he was exceedingly sorrowful, and that he trembled.

In the face of deep fear and anguish, Christ prayed earnestly that His Father’s will be done and He opened the way of salvation to all who will be saved. No matter what anyone says, resistance is not futile.

Borg transmission from the movie Star Trek VIII First Contact – English version