What Is the Meaning of Jesus’ Teaching About Judging?

When Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged,” was He implying that we should regard everyone’s viewpoint equally?

Based on Jesus’ own actions, we can be sure He didn’t mean we should ignore and tolerate evil. Jesus wasn’t passively tolerant toward people who were doing evil things and promoting evil values. He often made judgments regarding their actions and confronted them ( Matthew 21:13; 23:13-36 ; John 6:70-71; 8:39-47 ).

Jesus taught in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets who consistently confronted evil—even at the risk of their lives1 ( 2 Samuel 12:1-12 ; 1 Kings 18:18 ). Like the prophets, Jesus illustrated that love is sometimes expressed through confrontation. If we love our neighbors as ourselves, we must at times be as willing to compassionately confront evil and self-destructiveness in their character as we are in our own. A father who gives his children anything they want spoils them. Likewise, our heavenly Father would ruin us if He set no limits for us and indulged our every whim. Love for our neighbor involves the same principle. There are occasions when God requires us to confront serious error and sin.

When we confront sin in the right spirit, we are acting in love, not judging in the sense of Jesus’ words in this verse. When motivated by love, we won’t be self-righteous and feel that we are better in the eyes of God. A loving heart is humble, knowing that before a holy God all people are equal ( Romans 3:9,23 ;Galatians 3:22 ; 1 John 1:8 ).

Judging, as Jesus condemned it in these verses, is unforgiving condemnation—a hypercritical, self-righteous, vindictive spirit that continually seeks to uncover the faults of others while overlooking one’s own sins.2

Jesus’ warning against this kind of judging emphasizes that any measure we use to judge other people will be used against us. He said, “For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” ( Luke 6:38 ). Jesus teachings elsewhere ( Matthew 6:14-15; 18:23-35 ) made it clear that self-righteous, unforgiving people will not be forgiven by God. Their rigid, unforgiving hearts demonstrate that they aren’t the children of God ( 1 John 3:14-15 ). Their refusal to forgive others demonstrates that they have never experienced the purifying power of the Holy Spirit in their own life.

Personal experience illustrates the truth of Jesus’ words. When we judge other people self-righteously and vindictively, they will respond to us in the same way. In contrast, if we are patient and compassionate, the people in our lives tend to overlook our minor failures and flaws.

More subtle, but no less damaging, is the internal effect of an unforgiving, judgmental spirit. Since we naturally project our own attitude upon others, judgmental people usually assume that other people are as vindictive and judgmental as they. This puts them under the crushing pressure of living up to their own harsh, unforgiving expectations.

Jesus’ words in this verse don’t require us to be passive in the face of evil. They require us to confront it in the spirit of compassion, humility, and love.

  1. In fact, Jesus specifically identified Himself with the Old Testament prophets and told His enemies that they hated Him for the same reason that their fathers hated and killed the prophets ( Matthew 23:29-37 ).Back To Article
  2. Jesus made this clear a few verses later when He said, “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye” Or how can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,” when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye ( Luke 6:41-42 ). Back To Article
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What Is the Rapture?

From the earliest days of the church, Christians have anticipated a day in which Jesus will return for all those who believe in Him. This hope is rooted in many Scripture passages, all of which make it clear that the issue is not whether Jesus will return but when.

The term rapture is derived from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 . Like other texts referring to Christ’s return, this passage speaks of Jesus returning in power and glory to resurrect the dead. But more clearly than any other passage, it tells of His “catching up” of believers.

The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).

The term rapture itself is taken from Jerome’s 4th century Latin translation, the Vulgate. He translated the Greek term for “caught up” with the Latin term that had the same meaning — rapiemur. Rapiemur is from rapto, the word from which rapture has been derived.

Not all Christians use the term rapture, but for many Christians this term aptly represents the glorious moment when Jesus will appear in the sky to “catch up” His church before returning to rescue a remnant of Israel and set up His kingdom on earth.

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What Is the Underlying Cause of Violence?

The human race didn’t create itself, nor can it find fulfillment in itself. Human life is meaningful only in relationship to God (Deuteronomy 8:3; John 4:13-14; 6:32-35, 49-50). Originally, Adam and Eve enjoyed a relationship with God in the Garden of Eden. When they chose the path of distrust and disobedience, they fell headlong into fear, loneliness, meaninglessness, and despair. They were exiled into a dangerous world where living became a struggle (Genesis 3:16-19, 22-24). Cain took his parents’ distrust and disobedience a step further by hating and killing the brother who sought to restore something of his parents’ lost relationship with God.

Bearing a mark ensuring that anyone who killed him would suffer vengeance seven times over, Cain founded the first city (Genesis 4:17) along with a social order that could be preserved only through fear of vengeance and retribution. It wasn’t long before Cain’s great-great-great grandson Lamech defiantly boasted that while God might avenge Cain’s murder seven times, he could personally avenge himself seventy-seven times (Genesis 4:23-24).1 Soon civilization was so corrupt and violent that God destroyed it in a flood, sparing only one just man and his family (Genesis 6:9-13)

But human violence didn’t end with the flood. The offspring of the patriarchs through whom God intended to establish His kingdom (Genesis 12:1-3) took possession of the Promised Land and established a city at Mount Zion. Although the bearers of the promise, they soon filled their own city with such violence that God brought judgment against them by means of even more violent nations (Ezekiel 7:23-27; Matthew 23:34-24:2).

Like Cain, the people of Noah’s day, and the Israelites, people of every generation are alienated from God. Without a connection of love and trust with the Creator, they are also alienated from each other and themselves. Yet rather than turning to God for affirmation and meaning, they seek it in social convention. Further, just as Cain hated Abel, people hate genuine prophets and honest men and choose leaders willing to nurture their illusions. The more their leaders flatter and mislead them, the more the people admire and honor them (1 Samuel 8:6-9).

Founded on falsehood, culture is deeply flawed, doomed to fail (Lamentations 2:14; Micah 3:11; Luke 6:39; Isaiah 30:10; Isaiah 56:10; Jeremiah 5:31), and satanic at its core (Ephesians 6:12). When consensus crumbles, disillusionment brings fear, isolation, suspicion, and rage. Just like Adam and Eve, we dread exposure of our “nakedness”—our pretense to purpose when we have no purpose, our pretense to strength when we have no strength, our pretense to peace when we have no peace, our pretense to love when we have no love. When the social contract fails, the violence of our hearts is unleashed in a desperate search for a scapegoat to blame.

Perhaps the scapegoat will be a politician or political party that was once viewed with adulation. Perhaps it will be an ethnic or religious minority. Perhaps it will be an “enemy” nation or alliance of nations.

Unwilling to accept responsibility and unwilling to turn to God, we unleash chaos. At this point, the dehumanizing, demoniacal madness of Saul (1 Samuel 18:10-11; 19:9-10; 20:33) and the dweller of the Gadarene tombs (Mark 5:1-5) becomes manifest. We objectify and kill fellow human beings like insects and vermin. Our “enemies” respond in kind.

Yet our greatest rage, like the rage of Cain, is roused when someone like Abel exposes our need for redemption.

  1. In Matthew 18:21-22, Jesus apparently has Lamech’s boast in mind. In sharp contrast with a social order founded on vengeance and hatred, Jesus said that his disciples should forgive those who sin against them “seventy times seven.” Back To Article
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What Is the Unpardonable Sin?

There are thousands of people who are terrified that they may have committed the unpardonable sin. This is a shame, considering the fact that their very repentance (or desire to repent) is evidence that the Holy Spirit is still working in their lives. If God had given up on them,they would have no desire for a right relationship with Him.

It is important that we have an understanding of the historical context in which Christ spoke of the sin that could not be forgiven. In Matthew 12:32 , Jesus said that speaking against the Son of Man can be forgiven but speaking against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Jesus was referring to the sin of those Pharisees who stood at the crossroads of redemptive history and saw the evidence of Christ’s goodness, but still accused Him of being under the influence of an evil spirit. They saw the Messiah perform miracles of goodness and love,and they called it the work of Satan. They did nothing less than attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to satanic power!

These Pharisees stood in a unique place. While claiming to be God’s representatives to Israel, they deliberately and willfully attributed Jesus’ power to Satan. They did this in the face of direct evidence that Jesus was in fact the sinless Son of God. It was a shocking act of wickedness.

People living today aren’t in the position to personally reject Jesus Christ in the same way the Pharisees did. If there is an unforgivable sin today, it would be the sin of consistently and continually denying the truth of the gospel throughout one’s life, gradually hardening one’s heart against God and His revelation of Himself in Christ.

Remember this important point: No one has committed the unpardonable sin (the sin against the Holy Spirit) if he or she is concerned about having committed it. A person who sins against the Holy Spirit has no love for God or any desire to be reconciled to Him.

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What Is Witchcraft?

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines witchcraft as:

The human exercise of alleged supernatural powers for antisocial, evil purposes (so-called black magic). A female held to have such powers may be called a witch or sorceress, the male counterpart being named wizard, sorcerer, or warlock. Belief in witchcraft survives in modern technologically developed cultures and remains a potent factor in most nonliterate societies.

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines witchcraft in the following way:

a. an act or instance of employing sorcery especially with malevolent intent: a magical rite or technique; b. the exercise of supernatural powers: alleged intercourse with the devil or with a familiar.

and the Colliers Encyclopedia states:

Witchcraft may be defined for general purposes as the use of supposed supernatural power for antisocial ends. In primitive societies where magic is an accepted part of religious ritual, the witch is the unauthorized, and especially the malevolent, practitioner.

Notice that these works refer to witchcraft as the use of sorcery and supernatural power for malevolent intent. Witchcraft of this type exists in nearly every cultural setting. This judgment isn’t merely the conclusion of “Christian culture.” Historian Jeffrey B. Russell, who is not at all hostile toward modern Neopaganism, states:

Folk tales, like dreams, express the concerns of the unconscious in symbols; the meaning of the figure of the witch, like the meaning of any symbol, varies with the story. Usually, however, she represents an elemental natural force possessing enormous and unexpected powers against which a natural person is unable to prepare or defend himself, a force not necessarily evil, but so alien and remote from the world of mankind as to constitute a threat to the social ethical, and even physical order of the cosmos. This manner of portraying the witch is very ancient and probably archetypal. This witch is neither a simple sorceress, nor a demonolater, nor a pagan. She is a hostile presence from another world. The gut terror inspired by this archetypal witch helps to explain the excesses of hatred and fear that welled up during the witch craze.

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What Kind of Relationships Will We Have in Heaven?

Not many details about recognition and relationships in heaven are given in Scripture. There are, however, several inferences which show that we will recognize one another in heaven and that we will remember our former relationships.

The rich man recognized Lazarus in “Abraham’s bosom,” even though he was in a different place and separated by a great gulf ( Luke 16:19-31 ). In addition, the disciples recognized Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration, even though these two men had lived many centuries before ( Matthew 17:1-5 ).

The apostle Paul said that we will have more knowledge in heaven than we have now. This may indicate that we will know and recognize more people in heaven than here on earth ( 1 Corinthians 13:12 ). He also said that for him it was “far better” to depart and to be with Christ than to remain in his body on earth ( 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ; Philippians 1:22-23 ).

In all of these Scriptures, heaven is depicted as a place of greater experience than we now know on earth and with more knowledge and understanding, joy and delight. It will be a place of celebration of the interconnectedness between God, us, and one another. Part of the joy of heaven will probably be the unfolding of the tapestry of life and viewing how God has masterfully interwoven our lives together.

What about our marriage relationships? While the Bible teaches that the marriage relationship will change after the resurrection ( Matthew 22:23-33 ), it is safe to assume that because of the very nature of heaven, the quality of the relationship between a man and a woman will be better in heaven than it was on earth — even if they are no longer husband and wife. Certainly the joys of heaven will far exceed the pleasures of marital intimacy.

Scripture leads us to believe that we will enjoy such a state of wonderful intimacy with our glorified brothers and sisters that there will no longer be a need for the exclusive relationships that protect us from loneliness and despair in a fallen world.

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What Should I Think of what I Experience in Dreams?

Scientific evidence is accumulating that dreams have vital physiological and psychological functions. Our dreams apparently play an important role in creativity and problem solving.

1  This and other scientific discoveries about the important physiological role of dreaming show that the mysterious activity of dreaming is “hardwired” into us by God’s design, for our benefit. For that reason, we shouldn’t fear dreaming.

The Bible illustrates how highly the Hebrews and other ancient people esteemed dreams and those who could interpret them (Genesis 41; Daniel 2), and that they viewed dreams at times as natural (Ecclesiastes 5:3), as evil (Deuteronomy 13:1-2; Jeremiah 29:8), or as divine revelation (Genesis 28:12-13; Genesis 37:5,9). ( See the ATQ article Is it possible that some dreams contain important symbolic meaning—or even a message from God?)

Like the daydreams and thoughts that drift into our minds in our conscious state, dream fantasies generally seem spontaneous. Sexual activity, rage, and violence often occur abruptly and uncontrollably in dreams. In dreams, all of us do things we certainly would never do if we were awake. We also have nightmares that seem to express our deepest fear and insecurity.

Many people describe having had “lucid dreams.” In lucid dreams, we are aware that we are dreaming and are sometimes able to choose our actions. Some early Christian ascetic monks actually believed that we are responsible not only for what we do in our waking state, but for what we do in our dreams. These monks withdrew from society and dedicated themselves to an isolated life of grueling hardship. Their solitary focus on subjective experience may have made them aware of some things that most of us don’t experience.

Occultists in many cultures have been interested in lucid dreams and have sometimes sought to cultivate lucid dreams and increase control over their fantasies. Such efforts to use occult technique to gain control over one’s dreams are sinister. At the very least, they focus attention away from the real world into a fantasy. At the worst, it may open one’s mind to overtly demonic or subconsciously destructive influences. (See the ATQ articles Why Is It Dangerous for Subconscious Images to Penetrate Our Waking Consciousness? and Why Are Channeling and Mediumship Dangerous?)

To the degree we are aware that we are dreaming and to the extent that our dreams are under our control—that is, lucid—we may be responsible for our actions and shaping our character by our choices.

However, the vast majority of dreams aren’t lucid. Most dreams are fantasies created by our sleeping brain from random memories. In certain ways we feel especially vulnerable when we are sleeping. But God never sleeps. He is always guarding and protecting us (Psalm 121:1-3).

Scripture nowhere indicates that God holds us responsible for what happens in our dreams. But our dreams should serve as a vivid reminder of how dependent we are on His love and grace.

  1. See the papers, “Sleep Inspires insight” in Nature magazine, January 2004 (Wagner, Gais, Haider, Verleger, and Born, from research at the University of Luebeck) and “REM, not incubation, improves creativity by priming associative networks” (Cai, Mednick, Harrison, Kanady, and Mednick). (The Mednick paper is at Back To Article
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What Should the Church do with a Christian Swindler?

Earthly restitution isn’t always possible. King David could never undo the consequences of his sin with Bathsheba because his arranged murder of  Uriah was irrevocable. On the other hand, when Zacchaeus became a  follower of Christ, he expressed a willingness to make more than a full  restitution to those he had abused in his office as a Roman tax  collector. The basic question is therefore not whether we can make restitution, but whether we are willing to do so if it is within our  ability.

In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus placed the emphasis on reconciliation:

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your
brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the
altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then
come and offer your gift (NKJV).

William Barclay gives some important background for understanding Jesus’ words:

But two most important things have to be noted. First, it was never held that sacrifice could atone for deliberate sin, for what the Jews called “the sins of a high hand.” If a man committed a sin unawares, if he was swept into sin in a moment of passion when self-control broke, then sacrifice was effective; but if a man deliberately, defiantly, callously and open-eyed committed sin, then sacrifice was powerless to atone. Second, to be effective, sacrifice had to include confession of sin and true penitence; and true penitence involved the attempt to rectify any consequences sin might have had. The great Day of Atonement was held to make atonement for the sins of the whole nation, but the Jews were quite clear that not even the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement could avail for a man unless he was first reconciled to his neighbour. The breach between man and God could not be healed until the breach between man and man was healed. If a man was making a sin-offering for instance, to atone for a theft, the offering was held to be completely unavailing until the thing stolen had been restored; and, if it was discovered that the thing had not  been restored, then the sacrifice had to be destroyed as unclean and  burned outside the Temple. The Jews were quite clear that a man had to  do his utmost to put things right himself before he could be right with God (The Gospel of Matthew, pp. 139-40, emphasis mine).

An intelligent white-collar criminal who knows how to evade significant punishment and continue to live more affluently than people he has
exploited demonstrates no repentance or desire for reconciliation. If such an individual is able to make significant restitution but is  unwilling, a church that neglects to hold him accountable enables his sin.

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What View Did Early Christians Have of Involvement in the Military?

At the time of Christ, Roman power had neared its peak. Roman troops controlled a vast area stretching from England to the Black Sea and from the Rhine River to the deserts of North Africa. Though it was the most powerful government in the world, the Republic had fallen and been replaced by military dictators. Rome was notorious for its decadence and corruption. In spite of Roman corruption, the apostle Paul clearly set forth the principle that secular government is God’s agent to maintain the rule of law on earth (Romans 13:1-7). Because Paul addressed this principle to the Christian community in Rome, it is clear that the fact of governmental corruption doesn’t overrule the need for governmental authority. Human nature as it is, it’s hard to imagine civilized life without the influence of governmental power through police, courts, and legislatures. In fact, it was Roman justice, as flawed as it was, that protected Paul from certain death at the hands of his fellow Jews (Acts 23).

It is interesting that in spite of Rome’s corruption, her centurions were widely respected as men of competence and integrity. Polybius wrote that centurions “were chosen by merit, and so were men remarkable not so much for their daring courage as for their deliberation, constancy, and strength of mind.” All of the centurions mentioned in the New Testament are praised as Christians, God-fearers, or men of good character (Matthew 8:5,8,13;27:54; Mark 15:39,44-45; Luke 7:2,6;23:47; Acts 10:1,22;21:32;22:25-26;23:17,23;24:23;27:1,6,11,31,43;28:16).

Although honorable men of a pagan background served as officers in the Roman army, the early church was opposed to Christians in the military. Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote:

For the first three centuries, no Christian writing which has survived to our time condoned Christian participation in war. Some Christians held that for them all bloodshed, whether as soldiers or as executioners, was unlawful. At one stage in its history the influential Church of Alexandria seems to have looked askance upon receiving soldiers into its membership and to have permitted enlistment in the legions only in exceptional circumstances (A History of Christianity, pp. 242-243).

Adolf von Harnack summarized the reasons for Christian opposition to involvement in the military:

The shedding of blood on the battlefield, the use of torture in the law-courts, the passing of death-sentences by officers and the execution of them by common soldiers, the unconditional military oath, the all-pervading worship of the Emperor, the sacrifices in which all were expected in some way to participate, the average behaviour of soldiers in peace-time, and other idolatrous and offensive customs—all these would constitute in combination an exceedingly powerful deterrent against any Christian joining the army on his own initiative.

The early church, having a realistic view of the necessity for governmental authority but no illusions about its primary loyalty to Christ, didn’t approve Christian military involvement. Only after Constantine’s conversion made Christianity the favored religion in the empire did a destructive process begin that merged the religious authority of the church with the political and judicial power of the state. Soon Christians could no longer easily distinguish between the authority of Christ and of Caesar–usually with tragic consequences

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What Was Paul’s “Thorn”?

What was the “thorn” that Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 12:7?

We do not know exactly what the affliction was that Paul called his “thorn in the flesh.” It probably was a physical malady. There is some evidence in Scripture that Paul had an eye problem. He spoke of the large letters he used in writing to the Galatians (Galatians 6:11). He also declared that the Galatians would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him (Galatians 4:13-15). Some have suggested that this may have been a chronic eye disease or an injury suffered when he was stoned in Lystra (Acts 14:19,20).

Paul also referred to his “thorn” as “a messenger of Satan.” We know that the devil afflicted Job with a physical malady (Job 2:7) and caused physical deformity to a woman (Luke 13:16). We therefore have scriptural support for the idea that the “messenger of Satan” can be something physical.

Those who believe that the thorn was something other than a physical affliction point out that it was sent to “buffet” Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7), that is to prick the apostle’s arrogance which may have lingered on after he had been converted from Pharisaism. Some scholars prefer this interpretation and think Paul referred to Alexander the coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14), Hymenaeus, and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17), as the “thorns” who were adversaries of the work and therefore doing Satan’s business.

Those who hold to this view also refer to Numbers 33:55, where Moses warned the children of Israel as they were about to enter Canaan, “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell.”

Another example of such a “thorn” would be Elymas, the sorcerer mentioned in Acts 13, who tried to turn the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, away from the faith (v.8) and was addressed by Paul as “you son of the devil” (v.10). And in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Satan is said to have prevented Paul more than once from visiting the Thessalonians.

The fact of the matter is that the Bible doesn’t identify Paul’s thorn. God must have had a good reason for not giving this information. He probably left it this way so that people with various kinds of physical and spiritual problems might identify with Paul and experience the grace that God has promised (2 Corinthians 12:9).

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