Discernment vs. Judgement

In an effort to not be judgmental, I believe that we’ve lost discernment – and while discernment may look like judgment, it is actually entirely different.

“Who are we to judge?”

This is the phrase that is most often said when the average Christian explains why they decided not to confront a friend about their sin. I have recently come to the belief that this is blatant misunderstanding about what it means for a Christian to recognize sin.

Why are we afraid of appearing judgmental? Mainly because that’s the stereotype that Christians have been handed and unfortunately, this isn’t unfounded at all. Christians who fall on the other end of this spectrum are equally guilty of muddying the waters of judgement and discernment.

Scripturally speaking…

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
Matthew 7:1

I’m going to take a stab at an interpretation of this scripture: we’re not supposed to judge. I guess that’s pretty clear. I think the first mistake about this is a misunderstanding about what it means to judge. In the modern context of the word ‘judge’ we get it half right. We understand that saying ‘that is morally wrong’ is judging. But we neglect the other side of that same coin, that saying “that is morally right” is also judging. If you follow Christ you no longer have the right to decide what is right and what is wrong. You’ve given that up – that is up to God and God alone. You never really had the ability anyway and by following Christ you have given up your imagined right to do it, placing it on the cross.

This was a mind blowing revelation to me – the idea that “Judge Not” applies to either direction. The idea that when a person says “that’s ok” they’re being equally judgmental as the person who condemns. Looking now, I know I’ve been guilty of both. I brought this before a friend of mine and he asked me what I though about those times where a clear judgement call needs to be made – that is where discernment enters in. Take a look at this scripture, it may seem to conflict with the one mentioned earlier, but it actually has a very different meaning:

Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 1 Corinthians 2:15 NLT (emphasis added)

Krino vs Anakrino

In Scripture there are two common words that are translated as “judge” ἀνακρίνω “anakrinō” and κρίνω “krinō” – the greek prefix “ana” means upon or against, so krino happens first, followed by anakrino. Krino means judgment as to condemn, to rule, to damn, to determine the law, to decree. This is the word used in the phrase “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Matthew 7:1. Anakrino means to examine, to reason, to search, to ask questions or to discern. This word is used in the passage “…for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11.

What we now know as “judgement” is krino. What we now call “discernment” is anakrino. Judgement is a function of God; he makes the law, he makes decrees and he decides what is right and wrong. Discernment is a function of His followers; it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Discernment is different from Judgement in that it recognizes instruction from an external source and puts it into practice.

When a cop pulls you over for speeding, do you say “don’t you dare judge me!” No, because you know that there are laws that he’s abiding by – he’s not making the judgement on what speed is dangerous – that was already done – he was merely doing his work as an officer of the peace; following the authority that has been placed over him.

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. Corinthians 2:14 NIV (emphasis added)

What many people today call judgement is actually discernment, someone expressing what the Holy Spirit is speaking to them about what is right and wrong. God has already judged – now it is for us to discern what that judgement is and that only comes through the Holy Spirit. Just as judgement is always wrong for us to do, discernment is never wrong. Though, it can be carried out incorrectly; we are told that we must be gentle in our use of discernment.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Gal 6:1

This is often when people call christians judgmental. Instead of being gentle, they are ungracious, condescending and ultimately un-Christ-like. Gentleness is a key to the proper use of the gift that is discernment.

To Conclude

We’re not supposed to judge; we’re not supposed to make a call on what is wrong OR right based on our own internal moral code. We’re supposed to discern, with the guidance of the Spirit, what God has already judged. To do otherwise is to say you believe you’re smarter than the creator of the universe. So give up your gavel to God and leave the judging up to Him, but don’t neglect discernment; those with the spirit can discern all things.

Toward a Theology of Humor

Salt: from bland to overbearing

Humor permeates through every part of our culture and this wasn’t always the case. It used to be that there were lots of places that you would never find humor and lots of subjects that were off limits for joking. That seems to be no longer true. From church worship services to funeral homes you can expect to find humor everywhere. And from death to religion no topic is too sacred.

To be clear I’m a student of humor. I don’t fault humor for its abuse. I love a good laugh and apparently I’m not the only one. According to eHarmony.com, the most desired trait by both men and women is humor. More than anything physical, more than any skill, it seems that people want to have someone with whom they can laugh.

Now while it hasn’t always been as expansive as it is now, it has been around for a long time. Humor was invented in 500 BC by a Greek philosopher named Slapamines. Slapamines was studying chickens on his farm and watching as they crossed the path between his stables and his coupe. When he began to wonder about their intentions and he became the first to ask why they were crossing the road. Okay that’s not true, but humor can be traced back hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. The Greek comedies, many of which were written between 500 and 400 years BC, have a surprising number of ‘modern’ comedic devices – including some rather risqué humor.

So humor is everywhere, its vital to relationships and humor is ancient, but as a student of humor I just want to take a look at what the Biblical view of humor is. Many Christians (myself included) make an unintentional assessment regarding what kind of humor is acceptable for Christians: the kind that makes me laugh. This isn’t a good litmus test and with as common as it is in our culture, I think its time we move toward a theology of humor. Upon researching this topic I turned up an interesting passage of scripture that I never would’ve thought much of before.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Colossians 4:6 emphasis added

This is interesting for two reasons. First, the word picture of “seasoning” conversation with “salt” was a phrase in Greek literature. The commonly understood meaning of ‘salt’ in this context was ‘wit.’ Second, in the Greek, the word for seasoned is artuō. It means to fit or arrange – so its connotation isn’t what we think of as randomly putting salt on something, but rather meticulously allowing just the right amount.

So, it seems here that we’re actually told to include wit in our conversations, but also grace. Equally important to note, however is that we’re told to be ‘seasoned’ with wit in a measured amount – not too little, not to much.

So what is too much salt?

Here are a couple of passages that I turn to that outline what ‘too salty’ might look like.

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:4

Honestly this is a tough scripture for me, because I don’t like to put limits on joking. Let’s take a look at it. First off, none of the words used here for ‘obscenity’, ‘foolish talk’, or ‘course joking’ appear anywhere else in the new testament so we have nothing to compare it to. Studying the words you’ll find that ‘obscenity’ in this case could be defined as ‘that which offends Christian purity.’ ‘Foolish talk’ – means just that; don’t be an idiot when you open your mouth. Course joking  – well it means course joking, but it can also mean dishonesty. Okay let’s look at another scripture.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Matthew 7:6

I hope this one is obvious; certain things in life are sacred – if you give them up to be treated as fodder for animals, they’ll do exactly what you’d expect an animal to do.

Okay so when is there too little salt?

I think part of the answer is in that verse in Colossians. Before we’re told that our conversation is to be seasoned with salt, we’re told that it should be full of grace. Social grace is a loving act that extends a willingness to seek to understand the other person. I believe a key element in this is a willingness to joke about yourself. I also think you have to let scripture and the Holy Spirit guide you

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

Don’t be a stick in the mud! Don’t laugh in the face of tragedy! Be willing to laugh at yourself when other laugh at you, be willing to cry when others are crying. God wants us to have a balanced, healthy temper. Jesus tells us that even while fasting we’re not supposed to be somber, tortured souls

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18

I refer to this scripture for two reasons: It shows us that Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be gloomy people. But it also shows that Jesus doesn’t mind using a little sarcasm to make a point. “I tell you they have received their reward in full.” That’s sarcasm! That’s comedy! Dr. Elton Trueblood has written a book on the Humor of Christ (the only remaining ‘new’ copy on Amazon.com can be yours for only $351.39!) In this book he outlines 30 different places where Jesus uses humor such as sarcasm, irony and hyperbole to teach. For a good article on Jesus’ use of Humor check out this one from biblestudy.org.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

First we’re told to rejoice (twice) in the Lord! Second we’re told not to worry – that means cynicism is not a God-condoned form of humor. And finally we’re told the kind of things about which God wants us to think. This to me is the ultimate test for anything that you’re struggling with: Is it God’s will for me to dwell on this? “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy..” Can you say that about your sense of humor?

What the Bible says about humor:

  1. Harsh humor at anyone’s expense is not Christ-like. Harsh joking is clearly outlined in Eph. 5 as the opposite of being an ‘imitator of Christ.’ You cannot use “but, its the truth!” as an excuse. Harsh is harsh and as Christians we’re called to be Loving. – That being said, Jesus himself used some sarcastic humor towards others (see his introduction to Nathaniel) in John 1:47. I don’t think we’re supposed to take ourselves so seriously that we can’t have a light jab thrown our way.
  2. Humor that is not pure, is not God honoring. Let me step back and say that ‘purity’ does not mean ‘free from sex.’ If that were the case then the Shakers were the only pure people among us. “Purity” means free from sexual sin – sin like lust and sex outside of marriage. Jokes that endorse, romanticize, trivialize or promote sexual sin are not a part of a holy life. Jokes that endorse holy matrimony while upholding its sanctity are pure.
  3. What’s sacred is Sacred. Human life, salvation, the human body, Jesus’ passion and the teachings of scripture are not to be trifled with. Do I think every joke about someone going to heaven and meeting St. Peter is sinful? No. I do believe that you should think twice before making any jokes on these subjects, however. Humor is one thing, flippancy is another – be sure that you’re not throwing pearls to pigs.  Me personally? I don’t joke much about death, salvation and judgement.
  4. Intentionally deceiving people in a humorous way is still lying. Lying is still wrong. I’m not saying it’s wrong to say something outlandish to make a point or even to get a laugh; Jesus even used hyperbole. I’m saying that if you’re really lying – even if its out of amusement and not ‘malice’ its still lying.
  5. Jesus himself had a sense of humor. He used humor to teach, to get points across, to be memorable. To be humorous in a pure, holy and loving way is actually (dare I say it?) Christ-like.

In Conclusion

If I’m honest with myself, if I can read in the Bible and not feel convicted then I’m happy. That means I don’t have to change. I’ll often try to read into things in such a way that it fits my life-style as it exists. That’s not the way we’re called to live. If you, like me find these passages convicting try to consider it tomorrow. I think the final question to ask yourself is this: is my humor loving? Is it really out of love for others?

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:35

In all things we are to be loving. So next time you find yourself laughing or making a wise-crack, ask yourself “Is this too much salt?”

The Gift of Worship

Worship, Worship, Worship and more Worship

I throw the word worship around a lot. I mean, I probably use it 50+ times a day. If I’m honest, most of the time I misuse the word – using it in one of the following three ways:

  1. Worship is the music that happens before and after the sermon
  2. Worship is a weekly hour-long event (often called a ‘service’ for some reason) that is a combination of elements ranging from entertaining videos to ‘talks’ and ‘testimonies’
  3. A lifestyle in which the worshipper defers to God in every major opportunity.

All of these do fit into one verse or another, but none of them represent one of the most common greek words for worship. I know it’s right on the tip of your tongue so I’ll help you out, it’s προσκυνέω. As found in the phrase “Hey how on earth do you pronnounce ‘προσκυνέω’?” In case you, like me, missed most (or all) of your second (and first) semester of greek the word is pronounced “proskuneō.” Proskueno appears in the New Testament 59 times and each time it is translated as ‘worship’. Here’s the definition:

1. to crouch, crawl, or fawn, like a dog at his master’s feet; hence, to prostrate one’s self, after the eastern custom, to do reverence or homage to any one, by kneeling or prostrating one’s self before him; Used therefore of the act of worship.

2.to kiss the hand to another as a mark of respect, to do obeisance, etc. to another, especially of the Oriental fashion by prostration, hence to worship.

Listen, I’m not going to write any self-righteous paragraph about how we should all aspire to view worship more like this. I just challenge you to read this definition and really meditate over it. This isn’t the only word that relates to worship, but I just thought it was a startling and vivid image and not one that readily comes to mind for me. For a list of words that are related to praising and worshipping check out this page.

Do you ever think of the enormity of the gift we’re given in worship?

I brought this up because of something that our senior pastor Tim Thompson talked about this morning. He was discussing the importance of being plugged into worship. He mentioned a boy who said to his parents “Do I have to go to worship?” to which his father responded “No, we don’t have to; we get to”

If you actually believe in what the Bible says you have to consider how fortunate we are to be invited into God’s presence. To really frame it, I just want to parallel a few scriptures.

The first is the last several chapters of exodus. These chapters outline the specifics for the construction of the Tabernacle. If you haven’t read it recently (I’ll admit it’s not generally considered some of the more inspiring verses of scripture) check out Exodus chapter 26. Look at the insane detail that is given. In all of this God is saying “This is what you have to do to commune with me.” and not everyone got to really be with him. God dwelt in the tabernacle in one place, the “Holy of Holies” this phrasing was a common Hebrew idiom and you see it all over the Bible; Lord of Lords, King of Kings etc. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies. Check out chapter 16 of Leviticus (again, not the favorite among youth leaders looking for scripture that’ll easily relate to this generation) this details the process of bringing a sacrificial lamb into the most holy place.

Doesn’t all that seem difficult, tedious and unnecessary? It is …. now. But only through the blood Christ. When Jesus died the curtain in the Temple was torn away. To those of us who have been following Christ for any number of years this is an all-to-familiar scripture but since most of us weren’t raised in first century Palestine, it means little. So let me remind all of us what this means.

Take a second – really think about it.

I’ve been a Christian so long that I’m bad about taking it all for granted. God – let it sink in. God. . .  the God of the heavens and the earth who created the sun, the moon and the stars (why are they always in that order?)… The same God who created tiny seeds that can grow into a giant redwood… The same God who is beyond our understanding… The same God who took human form and died on a Cross… who had every reason to demand that we come groveling to Him – he came to us. He left the most holy place and made himself available to us.

There are so many times in scripture where the writers of the New Testament do a great job of going through the Old Testament and explaining what it means under the New Covenant created by Christ. The book of Hebrews is written for the Jewish believers, so it focuses on the Old Testament and seeks to explain why and how Jesus is the fulfillment of those scriptures.

So now read Hebrews 9 Check out the first few words:

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. Heb 9:1

Yeah. Yeah it did. Now look at Chapter 10

18And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” Heb 10:18-19

Put it into prospective

Let me encourage you again, go back read Exodus and Leviticus. That was worship to the Hebrews! That was what they thought of when someone said “Worship” The tabernacle; that was the model worship center. That’s nothing like what comes to mind for me when someone says ‘worship.’ Now read Hebrews 9 and 10. Worship – worship as we know it, is a privilege, an honor, a gift. How blessed are we? We get to worship.

We get to worship.