Recently I received an email from a sister in Christ calling me a Pharisee. Hmmm…a Pharisee? The dictionary gives two definitions of Pharisee: 1) A Pharisee was a member of an ancient Jewish sect that emphasized strict interpretation and observance of the Mosaic law in both its oral and written form; 2) A hypocritically self-righteous person. I think my sister was probably referring to the second definition. And maybe she’s right. However, it is that first definition that I was really aiming for – in a New Testament kind of way. I think anyone who knows me, knows that I live in a black and white world. I am devoted to absolutes: right/wrong, good/evil, yes/no. I am teaching a semantics class this semester and I repeat again and again, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” Yup. Pretty black and white.
Sadly our world is often lived in the gray areas. Gray. Dismal. Unclear. And if you try to draw clear distinctions, as I am prone to do, then there is the question of being judgmental. Are we as followers of Christ ever directed by Scripture to be judgmental? And what is Christ referring to when He said, “Judge not…unless you want to be judged?” People really like to quote that verse.
But I believe…brace for it…that we are to judge. I think it is part of our role here on earth as the Body of Christ. Sentencing people to hell? Nah…that’s not our job! But declaring truth and explaining the rightness of things…yup! That is. Discernment is a form of judging.
What do we do with Scriptures like Paul telling us not to eat with a brother who is living in sexual sin (I Cor. 5:9-13)? How do we handle Scripture that says, “Judge every word that comes out of the mouth… (I John 4:1)” or even when Paul tells us not to be unequally yoked – that takes judgement, right (II Cor. 6:14)? That verse is not just referring to marrying a non-believer – it is referring to business partnerships, contracts, as well as marriage. Peter tells us to “know those who labor with us,” (I Thess. 5:12) in order to do that ya need a little judgment.
Jesus said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). So I have to ask the question, Is there such a thing as right judgement? And if so, what is it?
It’s dicey! And I know every deed done outside of love becomes hateful. All our actions, decisions, and even our judgments have to come out of a heart filled with love. And we need a large dose of wisdom to know the difference.
For me personally, I am alive today because someone cared enough to speak judgment into my life. My Mom had come to visit me in college. I was doing drugs, living with a boy, smoking 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day, and dressing inappropriately. I was a mess. My Mom was leaving for home (it must have been a weekend in hell for her) and as she was leaving she said, “God is not pleased with the way you are living.” I replied, “Why don’t you let God tell me that?” And my Mom’s words cut deep, “Because I think He can’t get through to a heathen.” My Mom called later to tell me that she had made a hard decision: to cut off all contact with me. “I will always love you Teri, but your lifestyle is wicked and I can’t condone it. I love you too much to act like you’re okay.” And she exercised very tough love. It took less than a year. Not hearing from her; not having any communication; no money; no help; no support; no one to listen to me when I needed a shoulder to cry on–these actions of her judgment slammed me to the ground and forced me to cry out to God. Sometimes God’s judgment is His greatest grace in our lives. I will say that it was the greatest gift my Mom ever gave me. I hit rock bottom and found the Rock of my Salvation – Jesus my Savior Who forgave me of all my sins and cleansed me from all my guilt! My Mom’s judgment saved my life and I am grateful.
The kind of judgment I’m trying to explain here is like this: say you see someone out in the street and a truck is coming. You know that if he doesn’t move, that truck is going to hit him and kill him. You shout, “Hey! Look out!” and if he doesn’t hear you, you run into the street and you knock him out of the way and you try to save his life. It’s not gently, quietly, or even gracefully – it is a hard-hitting, I-love-you-too-much, you won’t die on my watch kind, a passionate pushing to safety.
When I see a person living in sin – living in ways that are contrary to the Gospel – I want them to know that there is freedom in Christ. Sometimes I think love, true love, is speaking judgment into peoples’ lives and allowing them to hear God’s words on lifestyles that are contrary to His will and way. I know it is a silly refrigerator magnet, but it is true, “God loves me just the way I am and He loves me too much to leave me there.”
I think it is wrong for brothers and sisters in Christ to yoke up with followers of demonic religions (i.e. Scientology). I think it is wrong for brothers and sisters in Christ to attend same sex wedding showers and marriages. I think it is wrong for followers of Christ to neglect being the salt and light we are called to be – Truth Speakers – not sentencing those held in bondage, but prayerfully, carefully, lovingly opening the locks of bondage to their chains with Truth and Deliverance. This is our calling. And sometimes it is not pretty and sometimes it is not popular and sometimes it’s awkward and sometimes people will think we are Pharisees. But for me to be anything less would be disingenuous. I love sinners. I am one saved by grace, but I also have a duty to speak truth and the truth is this: Jesus is the Way, the only Way and no one comes to the Father but by Him and His words are clear – obedience is mandatory.
Sherif Girgis writes, “Friendship isn’t served by supporting what we think wrong. We must trade our safe, undiscerning love for Christ’s own—aflame with truth but also vulnerable and understated, free of smugness or distance. Then we must get on with serving our friend, now on alert for signs our love was conditional. We prove those suspicions wrong, slowly, in every interaction.”
“I love and live by the ethics of Jesus…He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners because that was how he could connect. Jesus’ love, though unconditional, was not static. Beginning with acceptance, he moved into challenge, as seen with Zacchaeus. Would Jesus have shown solidarity by collecting the odd bit of revenue? I don’t think so. Jesus separated the person of Zacchaeus from his iniquitous business practice in order to redeem him” (CT, Feb. 23, 2015) Lisa Severine Nolland.
Am I a Pharisee? Perhaps, but I hope not. I hope that I am a lover of people. I hope that I am a friend who will snatch a loved one from the flames even if the extrication is painful. Peace.