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JUDGMENT, TOLERANCE, AND LIBERTY
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
16 SEPTEMBER 1990
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
1 John 1:9-10
Preparation Verse: (1 John 1:9-10)
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
Sometimes, we who are Christians get confused about how we are to act, particularly when it comes to judgment and when we are to have tolerance and what it means to have liberty.
Today we are going to take a brief look at what God's word tells us about these modes of behavior, and how we are to react when we encounter various situations.
Let's begin by looking at the Ten Commandments. Turn with me in your Bibles to Exodus 20:1-20.
1. Then God spoke all these words, saying,
2. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3. "You shall have no other gods before Me.
Here in the very first commandment, we see how we are to discern the way we are to react as true believers – as Christians.
This commandment is final, as are all the others.
We are to judge (discern) between those who follow God and those who go after other gods.
We are not to be tolerant of such "other god" practices within the congregation.
We do not have the liberty to go after other gods, or the people who worship them. We are to leave such matters with the Lord.
Our liberty is only with the Lord our God.
Let's go on with our reading and see how this thought becomes more defined.
4. "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.
5. "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,
6. but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
If we begin to allow even the images of something into our presence, that could lead some weak person astray; then we have violated the liberty that the Lord has given us.
If we begin to allow or tolerate "idols," anything that comes before God, into our congregation, we begin to dilute God's presence. As the Word says, those who do such things actually hate God, and not only will they suffer, but their children who follow in their footsteps will also suffer.
A simple example of this can be smoking. It is a known fact that children suffer from secondhand smoke in the home. I’m not jumping on smokers, for there are far worse things. I just want you to judge (discern) honestly for yourselves.
We are to judge (discern) that which is of God from that which is not, and separate it from our midst. We do not have the liberty to tolerate it.
Let's look at some more of these commandments, beginning at verse 7:
7. "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
We are so casual in our everyday language that we seem to accept that it is okay to use the Lord's name in vain, because almost everyone does it.
The majority doesn't rule when it comes to holiness before the Lord our God.
And I know that the Lord has given all of us a better command of the English language than we like to admit, for every one of us is capable of not swearing and not using the Lord's name in vain in order to express our self.
We who use the Lord's name in vain, and we who tolerate it used in our presence, can expect to be punished, just as the Word says.
We don't have liberty in this area of our lives. Our liberty is in not having to accept this worldly lifestyle.
Note what else God has to say:
8. "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
10. but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
11. "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
Here is one of those commandments that probably every one of us violates at one time or another, but that does not make it any more acceptable to the Lord.
On the contrary, it tells the Lord that we really don't honor His Word.
But we do have the liberty to admit our mistake and seek to correct our
And we are to tolerate those who practice different sabbath days than we do, and we are not to judge them for that difference, as long as they honor that day before the Lord.
Let's go on with our reading:
12. "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
This is the first commandment with a promise.
It is also a practical commandment, for if we do not honor our earthly fathers and mothers, how are we to honor our Father who art in heaven?
Listen to the other commandments:
13. "You shall not murder.
Note specifically that there is no limitation on this commandment, as many try to make us believe.
This commandment applies to us planning to kill any other living being, whether human or other animal.
Let's go on.
14. "You shall not commit adultery.
15. "You shall not steal.
16. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
We are to judge (discern) these things when we see them. We are not to tolerate them. And we have the liberty in the Lord to do this.
Note how God tells us this in the next three verses:
18. And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance.
19. Then they said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die."
20. And Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin."
This is probably the greatest problem with our society today, and particularly with the Church. We have lost our fear (reverence) of God.
When the people heard Moses repeat the commandments of the Lord, they said they would listen. They did not say he was being judgmental.
And if I or anyone else repeats these words, does it make us judgmental?
On the contrary, it makes us obedient to the Lord our God.
But it also makes us responsible to live a life that is in accordance with
God's commandments, otherwise we would be hypocrites.
Note how Paul expresses the way of our judgment, tolerance, and liberty in Romans 14, beginning with verse 1:
1. Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
What is this saying to us?
We are to separate ourselves from close association with a Christian who is guilty of a moral lapse, one who is living in their sin.
But, upon their repentance, we are to accept them back into the congregation. We are to judge their sin while they are living in it. We are not to judge them when they repent, just because they are weak in their faith.
And we are never to judge a person on the grounds of doctrinal differences, as long as they are solid on the basics, such as those spoken of in the Apostles' Creed.
Let's continue with verses 2-6:
2. One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
This is not talking about people who are vegetarians for reasons of compassion, or for not wanting to be a participant in the murder of an animal.
This is talking about flesh eaters who refrain from eating flesh that is sacrificed to idols.
3. Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him.
4. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5. One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.
6. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
Who is the one who is weak in the faith, and who is the one who is strong?
And would you consider that perhaps both are strong and both are weak; and that our determination of strengths and weaknesses is based on our frame of reference?
We are strong when we hold to our beliefs and live a Christ-like life in that belief.
We are weak only when we are blown about by every whim of doctrine, as the wind blows the leaves on an autumn day.
We are to judge a person only upon their life in Christ and their belief in the deity of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, for that is all that it takes to make them a Christian.
We are not to judge their different methods of worship, their differing doctrinal positions, or the day that they dedicate to the Lord, whether it is one specific day or every day.
We are to tolerate our mutual differences and love each other as Christ loves us.
Jesus Christ died to give us this liberty and freedom from our death in our sins.
God seems to judge equally those who are weak and those who are strong, and He will help the one who is truly weak to stand.
But God desires that we all would be strong.
And God also want us all to continually grow in our faith, until we truly seek to live in the heavenly will of our Father who is in heaven.
So, while thinking about this, also remember that there is no death in heaven; thus, we should do everything in our power to eliminate as much death as we can here on earth.
Listen to the grace of God expressed in verses 7-9:
7. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;
8. for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
9. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Christians can not live for themselves in a selfish and personal way, as does the world; for if we do live in Christ, we will naturally want to serve each other and the whole of God's creation, as the good steward we were charged to be.
Our lives are no longer our own; even though we still have a free will, our lives are now the Lord's, and it no longer matters whether we live or die; we are still the Lord's.
This refers to all Christians, for Christ didn't die one way for one person and another way for another. He died and rose again once for all who would believe on Him.
God makes no distinction on the strength or form of our belief, as long as we accept Him as Lord and Savior.
This is why we are given the following warning in verses 10-12:
10. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.
11. For it is written,
"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall give praise to God."
12. So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Remember, that these words are being spoken to believers, and not to those who have never known Jesus Christ. A brother is a believer in Christ.
God is warning us to quit fighting among ourselves over every whim of doctrine.
Quit judging each other over the way we practice our faith.
If God tolerates our differences, then shouldn't we?
There is liberty in Christ!
What we are to judge is the sin in our lives and repent of it.
We even have the liberty to judge a person’s lifestyle, as to whether or not it is Christian:
Do they walk the walk?
Or are they nominal Christians who just talk the talk?
Or do they do neither?
But if they show themselves to be Christians by the fundamentals of our faith, then we no longer have the liberty to judge them.
Now listen to the words of Paul as he ties this together, beginning at verse 13:
13. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this – not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's [or sister's] way.
14. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself ; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Remember, Paul is still speaking about the flesh of animals sacrificed to idols.
15. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
16. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil;
17. for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
18. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
Some of us eat meat, and some of us are vegetarian. Do we eat the way we do to honor God? If so, then it is okay.
Only when we do things not to honor God is it wrong.
Does eating or not eating one thing or another have anything to do with our salvation?'
Of course it doesn't!
How about the way we serve Communion; is one way better or worse than another?
Of course it isn't!
And will any way cause us to gain or lose our salvation?
No, it won't!
If we baptize by sprinkling or by immersion, does it add or take away from a person’s life in Christ?
Of course not!
Now, with these thoughts in mind, let's continue with our reading beginning at verse 19:
19. So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
20. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
21. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
22. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
23. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
The eating of meat is basically referring to the kosher dietary laws of the Jews; but as it is a doctrinal issue, it is also an example of all other doctrinal issues.
We have the liberty in Christ to partake or not partake in any of these issues, but we do not have the liberty to use them against another, or to harm any other living being.
If we do something that someone else considers a sin, and we knowingly do it in front of them, we also are committing a sin.
And we would only do such things if our love for the other person was not real.
Therefore we can be judged as any other sinner.
Remember, in the love of Jesus Christ there is still the discernment of the truth, and it is the knowledge of the truth that will set us free and give us that liberty we all desire.
Judgment, tolerance, and liberty really only work together in the Love of Jesus Christ our Lord.