Despise – Part 1

He shouldn’t have said that… Doesn’t she know what she’s done… How dare the leadership make that decision without… Why won’t [fill in name] apologize for something clearly against… And we go on and on. Now, it could be that they’re plumb wrong. But, maybe those people know something we don’t? Perhaps, they’ve made their choices and are fulfilling their destinies. Any which way, we must always have before us this admonition, which starts out this way:

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)

Calvin counsels that we should exercise humility and forbearance:

But you, why do you, etc. …First, by the term brother, he checks this lust for judging; for since the Lord has established among us the right of a fraternal alliance, an equality ought to be preserved; everyone then who assumes the character of a judge acts [against reason].

Secondly, he calls us before the only true judge, from whom no one can take away his power, and whose tribunal none can escape. [In the same way that] 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; it is absurd for a Christian to take to himself the liberty of judging the conscience of his brother…

As we discussed in our last post, the visible church is populated by both wheat and chaff, between which, we cannot reliably discern except by their going out from us, therefore Calvin says:

As I live, etc. …The word of God has ever had its enemies, who have been perversely resisting it, and its despisers, who have ever treated it with ridicule, as though it were absurd and [mythological]. Even at this day there are many such, and ever will be.

It hence appears, that this prophecy is indeed begun to be fulfilled in this life, but is far from being completed, and will not be so until the day of the last resurrection shall shine forth, when Christ’s enemies shall be laid prostrate, that they may become his footstool. But this cannot be except the Lord shall ascend his tribunal: he has therefore suitably applied this testimony to the judgment-seat of Christ…

Finally, he calls to mind both scriptures: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” and “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,” by his saying:

Every one of us, etc. This conclusion invites us to humility and lowliness of mind: and hence he immediately draws this inference, — that we are not to judge one another; for it is not lawful for us to usurp the office of judging, who must ourselves submit to be judged and to give an account.

From the various significations of the word to judge, he has aptly drawn two different meanings. In the first place, he forbids us to judge, that is, to condemn; in the second place, he bids us to judge, that is, to exercise judgment, so as not to give offense.

He indeed indirectly reproves those malignant censors, who employ all their acuteness in finding out something faulty in the life of their brethren: he therefore bids them to exercise wariness themselves; for by their neglect [of their obligations to serve God and fellow believers] they often precipitate, or drive their brethren against some stumbling block or another.

Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.The Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, from 1536 to 1541, Michelangelo (1475-1564)

The Last Judgment, from 1536 to 1541, Michelangelo (1475-1564), In the Public Domain in the United States

Seasoned with Salt

You have friends. They don’t profess Christ as their savior. Do you take them aside, present the gospel in stark terms, and drop them if they don’t repent? That’s not what the Lord does, is it? The Apostle Paul gives us instruction:

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:5-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

How should we put this advice into practice? Here’s what Calvin says:

Walk wisely. [Paul] mentions those that are without, in contrast with those that are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10.) For the Church is like a city of which all believers are the inhabitants, connected with each other by a mutual relationship, while unbelievers are strangers.

But why would he have regard [given to unbelievers], rather than to believers? There are three reasons: first,

lest any stumbling block be put in the way of the blind, (Leviticus 19:14,)

for nothing is more [likely] to occur, than that unbelievers are driven from bad-to-worse through our imprudence, and their minds are wounded, so that they hold religion more and more in abhorrence.

Secondly, it is lest any occasion may be given for detracting from the honor of the gospel, and thus the name of Christ be exposed to derision, persons be rendered more hostile, and disturbances and persecutions be stirred up.

Lastly, it is, lest, while we are mingled together, in partaking of food, and on other occasions, we be defiled by their pollutions, and by little and little become profane.

To the same effect, also, is what follows, redeeming the time, that is, because [interaction] with them is dangerous. For in Ephesians 5:16, he assigns the reason, because the days are evil. “Amidst so great a corruption as prevails in the world we must seize opportunities of doing good, and we must struggle against impediments…”

Therefore, walking wisely, we should not put stumbling blocks in our friend’s path, not dishonor the gospel, and not become profane, ourselves. Instead, we should use those opportunities we’ve been given to honor the name of Christ. But Calvin goes further:

Your speech. He requires suavity of speech, such as may allure the hearers by its profitableness, for he does not merely condemn communications that are openly wicked or impious, but also such as are worthless and idle. Hence he would have them seasoned with salt.

Profane men have their seasonings of discourse, but he does not speak of them; nay more, as witticisms are insinuating, and for the most part procure favor, he indirectly prohibits believers from the practice and familiar use of them. For he reckons as tasteless everything that does not edify. The term grace is employed in the same sense, so as to be opposed to talkativeness, taunts, and all sorts of trifles which are either injurious or vain.

So, we should speak to others with courtesy, consideration, and tact.

That ye may know how. The man who has accustomed himself to caution in his communications will not fall into many absurdities, into which talkative and prating persons fall into from time to time, but, by constant practice, will acquire for himself expertness in making proper and suitable replies…

Nor does [Paul] merely say what, but also how, and not to all indiscriminately, but to everyone. For this is not the least important part of prudence — to have due regard to individuals.

Our conversations with friends should enlighten their (and our) morals and understanding. We should practice proper and suitable replies to each one who asks for a reason for the hope we have. We would do well to imitate Christ’s discussion with the woman at the well.

Two People Talking

Two People Talking, 23 August 2012, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a work of the U.S. Federal Government in the public domain.