Refrain from Judgement
September 17, 2023
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 103:1-12 and Romans 14:1-12

Did you see what he was wearing?  Did you see what she was eating?  Why are they not bringing their children to Sunday School?  Why do they seldom come to church?  Can you believe she said that?!  That should have been red instead of green!  And on and on it goes when we find ourselves questioning others decisions.

I suspect, I could go around the room here, and everyone would have an opinion about whatever topic I choose to discuss, whether or not you openly share it with those of us here.

I will spare all of you the questioning, however, I do want to you to consider that in these questions we ask or discuss with others, is it a means of learning?  A thought of wonder?  Or is it simply judging others because they choose to do it differently than we do.

Questioning in order to learn something is much different than questioning something because you are judging someone for their decision so that you can then prop yourself up for having a better way of doing it.

We are probably all guilty of judging others, and the tone of how we say something can also play a big role into the negativity that is relayed to either just have a different opinion, rather than when a tone is used to cause harm.

Interestingly, our scripture starts with the discussion of those who are weak in their faith, and how we shouldn’t quarrel over opinions.

If you have spent much time in a church community, you have most likely witnessed quarrels that have festered and remained unresolved resulting in hurt feelings, wounded relationships and broken friendships.

Allowing judgments and differences of opinions to become divisive weapons can lead to broken spirits and broken churches, so how do we prevent this from happening?  We can start with acceptance and forgiveness.

As the people in and around Paul saw their community change with people coming in from other areas, the culture began to change and so did opinions.  Paul wanted the people he was talking with to understand that they might not agree with everything that they saw or heard, however hospitality could still be extended.  We are living in very similar times today.

Paul wanted the people to understand when they encountered people that might not have the same experience in their life of faith as those who had been walking it for some time and following other Christians, these people were still to be welcomed.

We often judge people as inferior and superior depending on how long they have been in the church, their education, their occupation, and so forth.  However, Paul makes it very clear that God measures everyone the same.

We have seen over the centuries, and continue to see today, churches split over the beliefs of those within the church, and other neighboring churches whenever they cannot agree.

One of my commentaries explained it this way (quote by Gilberto Collazo):

‘The problem is that we want to define strength and weakness from concepts that are counter to the manner in which they are defined in the realm of God.  Our strength comes not from our traditions or our church membership.  Strength is not defined by how much Bible we know, or even how much we contribute financially to the congregation.  Our strength lies in understanding that the integrity with which we live our lives is tied directly to how our beliefs guide our actions.  Unfortunately, there is a great discrepancy in this area when the strong are willing to point out the shortcomings of others and fail to see that this action in itself points to their own spiritual weakness.  There are many who self-identify as “strong Christians,” when the truth of the matter is that their judgmental spirit renders them weak in the eyes of God and the community.’

Growing up I pretty much thought everything was black and white, you either did this and you went to heaven, or you did this and you went to hell.  It wasn’t until I came to the Presbyterian Church and had a real understanding of God’s grace, that I began to realize everything is certainly not black and white.  Once we being to understand that because someone is different or has a different opinion, it does not mean they are not accepted for who they are by God.  As I continue to grow older and mature in my faith, I continue to see this more and more. 

Additionally, once we are able to recognize others as God’s children, it becomes easier to respect a different opinion, whether I ever agree with the opinion or not really doesn’t matter, it is the relationship in the presence of God that I have with that person that truly matters.  When we come together in the Spirit of God, we can celebrate each other and the life and faith in community.  It is here that we can begin to experience true joy in the life of Christ.

Paul provides instruction in his teaching that gives permission to live in a relationship with Christ in a manner that makes sense and can be enjoyed.  When we are not judging, we can be growing spiritually.  When we are not arguing, we can be learning and growing spiritually. 

We can recognize and abide by church policies without using them as weapons to rob our community of believers of vitality and newness and vision.

As we have discussed previously, we can come out of our comfort zones and try new things.  If they fail, at least we tried something different, and if they are a success we can experience spiritual growth in community together.

Everyone comes from different backgrounds, upbringing, and spiritual practices, and yet we come here in this place, this holy ground, to share in the love of Christ, to worship together and to give glory to God.  What a beautiful experience it is when we can be tolerant and forgiving toward one another to grow in fellowship together.

It’s okay to have different convictions and still be good faithful people.  It’s okay to disagree with someone, and still love and respect them as a person in Christ with whom you can have conversations that might just open new doors for growth on your spiritual journey in life.

Paul reaffirms that we live in community.  God created us to be in relationship with God and in relationship with one another, creating a community of believers for support of one another.  To care for each other, to pray for each other, and to grow in spirit with each other.  “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  We are the Lord’s whether we live or die.”

We are accountable to each other and ultimately, we are accountable to God.  There is no room for self-centeredness.

When we give up the harmful aspects of judging others, we can begin to live in peace.  When we accept differences and become more tolerant people, we make room for others to come to know and love God.

Over and over again, we see in the gospels Jesus approaching those less desired, the outcasts, and those condemned by others’ judgment.  He welcomed them.  He had conversations with them, and he shared with them the love and acceptance of God.

On the other hand, Jesus also spoke to the tax collectors, the rulers and the wealthy.  He also had conversations with them and welcomed them whenever they approached him, and discussed with them the ways of God.

God is God of all people, even those we struggle to accept.  Paul reminds us that the focus of community is not judgment, rather acceptance, tolerance, and forgiveness are all signs of hospitality that are welcoming and that bring peace for mutual upbuilding.

Together may we all refrain from judgment, and grow in peace and love with each other in a community of faith committed to the ways of our Lord.  By doing this, as Paul encouraged, we can celebrate our unity in Jesus Christ.

*Cover Art by Unsplash; subscription.