Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gavels and Oranges

Someone once said, “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who don't understand, no explanation is possible”.  I would love to properly credit this quotation, but can’t find an attribution.  Instead, I’ll just proceed with the assumption that this is a fairly accurate observation of the human condition, and I’ll use it as a steppingstone for what follows.

You’ve heard it by now.  “Pittsburgh’s going to the Super Bowl!”  The Green Bay Packers are the other team participating.  Neither Bret Favre nor Bart Starr will be the starting quarterback for the cheese heads.  It doesn’t much matter.  This isn’t about football.  It’s about perception.  And understanding.  Tiny incidental little stuff like that.

Jesus said “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1 NKJV), and that is the heart of the matter – a misunderstanding of the difference between being a judge, and a fruit inspector.  You hear this verse quoted often, and usually because the individual quoting it is doing so without understanding, and without understanding, well meant intentions come across seeming more like ignorance.  I know that’s a harsh way to put it, but when you pick an idea out of context without understanding the full spectrum of its meaning, well, fill in the blank.  Just saying.

The word “judge” appears 191 times in the Bible, and in all of its tenses and variations, appears 658 times.  The Greek word is “krinō” and has a variety of meanings, including, “call in question, condemn, determine, esteem, go to law”.  The Hebrew word is a little harder to pin down as there are 24 different variations to it.
The significant things about the most common use of the word are that, the use is more often than not carrying negative connotation, and, that in the end, God is the only one whose judgment matters.  In fact, the Scriptures are clear that sooner or later every soul who ever stood on this earth will stand before a Holy God in judgment; some for reward, some for sentencing.
But there is another side to this coin; one we often wish to ignore.  Jesus is once again speaking in John 7:24, when He advises his disciples, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment”.  Here, the same Jesus who said “Judge not” in Mathew, is saying “Judge, but with very specific criteria” in the Gospel of John.  Same Greek Word, but a very different contextual understanding.  Here the distinction is to judge with righteous observation.
The best test of understanding is to test, or prove, Scripture with other Scripture.  This second concept of judgment, also called discernment, is literally scattered throughout the Bible.  When the first century church in Jerusalem was faced with a problem regarding the care of and for Greek widows in the church, the Disciples advised the congregation to “seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom…” (Acts 6:3)  Verse 5 tells who were selected.  Only seven were selected.  That implies that some were not selected.  The criteria was given for selection; men who had a good reputation in the community of believers, men full of the Holy Spirit, and wise men.  These men were ‘judged’ to be acceptable by the measure of the quality of their character.
In other places in Scripture, the Bible instructs us that we have an obligation to point out observable sin in the lives of fellow believers, with the intent of helping them to be restored in their walk with the Lord.  It is an obligation on our part to help each other in our walk of faith.  The book of James is resplendent with this observation. Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding the selection of elders and other leaders for the church mirror the instructions in Acts, and in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus echoes this idea by stating in a parable that the observable evidence of our walk of faith is the presence of fruit in our lives (Matthew 7:20).  Paul clarifies this thought by explaining ‘fruit’ as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV)
These are observable character traits.  In the verses preceding these, Paul points out the antithesis of this ‘fruitful’ walk by defining more observable character traits: “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like…” (Galatians 5:19-21 NKJV).
Or to put it another way, you can stand in an endzone at a football game and point to heaven after a score until your hand falls off, but if the observed qualities of fruitful living are not there the rest of the time, and in fact, what is observed the rest of the time is contrary to those few moments under he cameras, you probably ain’t bearing much fruit.  In terms of where I live now, oranges don’t magically appear in time for the New Years Day parade.  They grow over time, and if I’m planting pineapples, I’m not going to get orange juice.
The purpose of this all is to help us as Disciples of Christ, help each other in our walk with the Lord.
Two distinctly different concepts:  Judgment, and Discernment.  One is reserved by and for God.  The other – the fruit inspection one – is our responsibility.
But, as I said at the onset,  you either get this, or you don’t.  If you do, you didn’t need this explanation.  If you don’t, odds are this didn’t help, and were right back where we were 800 words ago: “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who don't understand, no explanation is possible”. 
It remains true that God alone knows the heart, but I don’t have to be God to understand that when my rim is sitting on the ground, my tire is out of air, and that my observation of the absence of air in my tire requires its refilling.
Go forth, and bear much fruit.
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