“Judgy” (October 1, 2023)

Divided churches have existed for millennia. British Hyrams looks at Paul's advice to a divided community in Romans 2.

Outlook Standard Lesson for October 1, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Romans 2:12-24, 28-29

When searching for a house, you frequently hear the most important factor determining property value is “Location. Location. Location.” When reading the Bible, I would echo this advice and say that the most important factor in determining biblical meaning is “Context. Context. Context.” Much damage has been done and many opportunities have been missed based on a lack of knowledge about biblical context or willful misinterpretation of such.

Context. Context. Context.

In Romans, Paul writes to Christian Jews, people who believed in Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as the law provided by God in the Old Testament. Many of these people considered Paul unfaithful because he proclaimed the gospel to the Gentiles, a group Christian Jews saw as different than them — they were not the chosen people of God and did not follow the law of God in the Torah.

In the same letter, Paul addresses Christian Gentiles who think God has rejected the Jews because many Jews did not wholly respond to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each group was partial to their own point of view. It was easy to spot the speck in the eye of the other group and to pat themselves on the back. Whew! It’s complicated! It’s also familiar behavior, then and now.

Avoid being “judgy”

I don’t know if “judgy” is a word, but if it is not, you know what I mean. At the end of Romans 1, Paul rattles off a list of vices. In the opening verses of Romans 2, he essentially says that we condemn ourselves when we judge other people because we are guilty of the same offenses. And, more importantly (my emphasis), God’s judgment is in accordance with the truth. In other words, quit being “judgy” and let God do the judging.

In my work with college students, one of the fastest ways to alienate a young adult who may be questioning their faith is to judge them. What Paul says rings true in my experience — in both my professional experience as a college chaplain and as a former college student myself!

What to pursue instead of a posture of judgment

Honestly, I had to take a deep breath before delving into this section. It may be tempting to hear Paul’s focus on action and think Paul is calling us to busyness instead of judgment. However, I need us to be clear that this assumption is incorrect. Paul writes, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (v. 13). Those who have the law and those who do not (have the law) are both to be doers of the law, not hearers only. We must not be caught navel-gazing and doing nothing. Nor should we wear ourselves out trying to do “all the things.”

We are to be the ones who obey or fulfill the law, the beginnings of which start from the inside, our inner selves. From there, most, but not all, of our beliefs move to outward action. Knowing who and whose you are, what gifts God has given you, and how God has called you to participate in building the kingdom here on earth are important parts of your Christian identity that are learned in prayer, study, worship and work, etc. These will inform how you hear God’s call and align with God’s righteousness in the “doing” of the work as you move through life. Yes, even when sometimes God does a new thing and moves you in a different direction.

Beloved, those who are connected to the Lord inwardly, by heart, receive both praise (and judgment) from God, not from humans.

Questions for discussion

  1. Have you ever honestly stopped to think about why you judged another person so harshly for something they did (or didn’t) say or do? Why or why not?
  2. Can you concretely identify how your inner being and connection with the Holy One has informed the way you “show up” as a doer of the law (or as a participant in kingdom building)? Why or why not?
  3. What connections can you make to this text as World Communion Sunday is being celebrated around the world today?

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