All Saints, Cochrane

Almighty God, you call your Church to witness that in Christ we are reconciled to you. Help us so to proclaim the good news of your love, that all who hear it may turn to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

May the words of my lips, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Introduction

Like it or not, winter is coming. We know it’s true as Canadians because Canadian Tire has begun advertising some of their fall-cleanup and winter fun gadgets on TV. I’ve always thought there was a bit of a keeping up with the Joneses aspect to many of these commercials. For those of you not familiar with the expression, it refers to keeping up with the purchases of your neighbours to show that you are somehow equals.

It’s a concept that is actually quite pervasive in our society. Maybe it’s not about whether or not you bought a 360cc gas snowblower with power steering and heated handle, but how many of us as children faced pressure to constantly be buying the latest fashions and trendy clothes and school supplies? Think also of the stereotype of the parent groups where adults judge one another for the schools and activities they send their children to. Or at the workplace, where the stores you shop at are viewed as a reflection on who you are.

I am sure that in our lifetime, each and every one of us has been on the receiving end of this judgemental process of weighing the merits of a person on the basis of some material, physical, external thing. I say it’s probably happened to each of us because it’s also something that happens in the Church. Whether it’s being judgemental over the types of music, the prayer book used, maybe the preferred version of the Bible, or how often you do Bible studies. Each of these remains at its core a judgemental attempt to belittle one person and raise another on account of something that can be observed.

Judgemental Romans

Just as this is something that happens today, we learn from our Epistle reading that it was an issue in the earliest age of the Church as well. St Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome is all about exhorting and correcting them, teaching them how they are to live their new lives in Christ. In it, St Paul tells us not to judge one another. We are to “welcome those who are weak in faith… for God has welcomed them.”[1] In our passage today, he specifically mentions this issue of eating or abstaining from meat, and the question this raises is what is all of that about?

Well, in Biblical times, meat and animals were sacrificed for offerings, but usually only half of it would be burned and the other half would be given to the priests or whoever was performing the sacrifice. This is referenced many times in the Old Testament in the Jewish sacrificial system, but it was also true in the pagan religions. For Jews, it was prohibited to eat meat which had been sacrificed to pagan idols. For Christians, however, this no longer held true in the same sense. Some ate only vegetables, thinking that in doing so they would avoid polluting themselves, while others felt comfortable eating such meat.[2]

The disagreement then arises over whether one side or the other has the right of it, and St Paul enters into the disagreement. He tells us that rather than judging one another, we are to look to our own actions and motivations. Is everything we’re doing motivating by showing honour and thanksgiving to God?[3]

A key point of his instruction here hinges on what is meant by judgement. Is St Paul saying that in Christ we have complete freedom, so don’t render judgement on the actions of another ever? St Paul certainly spoke of our freedom in Christ elsewhere in Scripture,[4] but that doesn’t seem to follow from the context of this passage.

You see there are other points in his letters where St Paul also exhorts Christians to rebuke and correct their Christian brothers and sisters when they stray from God’s Truth.[5] Later in his letter to the Romans, he says, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offences, in opposition to the teaching you have learned; avoid them.”[6] Christ himself instructed that when someone sins against us we are to gently attempt to correct them.[7]

Going back then to our reading today, there must be a particular meaning to his call that we are not to judge. Looking at the word judgement itself, while it usually has a meaning associated with judicially rendering a judgement, a secondary meaning is also used several times in which it refers to, “personal judgements on others.”[8] To distinguish it, we might look at this not in terms of “don’t judge,” but rather an instruction that we not be judgemental.

Yet there is also here a reminder about judgement. The fact that we are not to judge or be judgemental doesn’t mean we will not be judged ourselves. Among the early Church Fathers, our passage was clearly understood as an exhortation and reminder that judgement belongs to God.  St Paul makes this pretty explicit in verse four where he states, “Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall.”

Living the New Life

Again then, what exactly is this all getting at? Yes, there’s truth, and yes God is the one who will judge that. But so what?! That’s not really news for most of us.

Our theme today is the new beginnings. St Paul here is speaking into what it means to live the new life in Christ, and more specifically what that means to live the new life in Christian community. One which recognizes that not everyone will be at the same state in their faith. Some may be at a stage where they can only eat vegetables, while others might be able to eat meat.[9] He is reminding us that this is to be expected in community, and really what he’s warning against here is the person who might snidely try to build themselves up by taking a brother or sister down, or even just thinking they are better than their brother or sister.[10]

Anyone could be on the receiving end of that judgemental nature. Those who are eating meat judge the vegetarians to be weak in faith, while St Paul notes that the vegetable eaters are condemning the meat eaters as law breakers, just as when we aren’t keeping up with the Joneses we might condemn them and consider them vain or materialistic.[11]

The warning not to judge is a warning against envy and pride. It is a warning against following Christ for the wrong reasons. For trying to be pious because you want to elevate yourself over others. It is, as Jesus warned against, hypocritical. To paraphrase Christ: whatever you do, do it in secret so it may be seen not by others, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will judge you.[12]

Conclusion

That’s all fine and good, but what does this passage really tell you? What does it all come down to?

Our passage speaks clearly to practical instructions on how to live in Christian community, by not being judgemental. It’s this passage that reminds us of this, but it’s all of the Bible that explains to us why we need to not be judgemental.

Throughout the Scriptures we hear the exhortation, “Be holy for the Lord your God is holy.”[13] God calls us to emulate his holiness, part of which is love. Out of love for us, when we fall short, God is not judgemental. God does not think less of us or more highly of himself when we sin. God sent his only son to be incarnate in this world to help us, to heal us and to restore us. That is his response. To be holy, then, as God is holy means not being judgemental towards others, but sharing in that same heart of love for one another.

The core of that message is that God loves you. God loves you and calls you to show that same love to others, because you are called to be in community. You are not in this alone.

St Paul is exhorting us to live in this Christian community not giving into pride and envy that lead us to judge others in order to build ourselves up at their expense, but to practice the virtues of charity, self-giving love and forbearance. It’s in living in this community of love that we grow more deeply into the image of Christ. When our brothers and sisters are in error we may, out of love, gently seek to correct them, but we are never to pridefully take the place of God to judge them. Again, we are called to live this new beginning in community so that we can help our brothers and sisters, and so that they can help us. In all things we are called to remember that we belong to Christ, and that he is our Judge.[14]

So, dear brothers and sisters, if this week you are tempted to be judgemental, remember that God is the one who sees the heart, and it is the heart which he calls to judgement. God sees your heart and calls on you to show the love and care for others that he shows you. If someone else is being judgemental, remember that their judgements are not God’s. You have a worth and dignity that is unseen. It’s not based on what you buy, what you have or what you do, but because God loves you. Remember that you are a part of a community, the great family of God. Consider the virtues each of us as Christians is called to show, and draw encouragement and strength from those virtues being displayed by others in this great family.

I have spoken to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Rm xiv. 1a, 3b

[2] Pseudo-Constantinus, “The Holy Letter of St Paul to the Romans,” ENPK 84

[3] Rm xiv. 6

[4] Rm vi. 22; I Cor vi. 16; Gal v. 1; etc

[5] Gal vi. 1; I Tm v. 20; II Tm iv. 2; etc

[6] Rm xvi. 17

[7] St Mt xviii. 15-17

[8] TDNT, 923

[9] Rm xiv. 2

[10] St Jerome, Ep. 22.37

[11] St John Chrysostom, Hom. Rom. 25

[12] cf. St Mt vi. 5-21

[13] Lev xi. 44, xix. 2, xx. 7; I St Pt i. 15; etc

[14] Acts x. 42

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