Background Scripture: Matthew 7:1-12
Quotes of the Week:
The fewer the facts, the stronger the opinions.
Arnold H Glasgow
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Right? That certainly is true and while opinions may vary greatly, we should at least respect what others think. This puts us in a difficult spot some times, as believers. On one hand, we know that the Bible is very clear that there is only one way to eternal life and a relationship with God, and that is through Jesus Christ, but on the other hand, we will encounter many people who don't want to hear anything about it. It is difficult, because if we were at a mountain pass and we knew that a bridge used by a highway was out, we would do whatever is in our power to stop ANYONE from driving to their death, wouldn't we? Even if people didn't want to believe us, we would do that, right? In fact, we may even put our own lives at risk to warn them. Yet, when we talk about eternity, we are often told that we should be silent, because that is just our belief or what some would say is an opinion. It is ironic, isn't it?
As you go through life, you will encounter many different people who think many different ways. I have worked at the same place for nearly 30 years and I have worked around people who are primarily technical, and based on where we work and live, many of us have very similar views to one another. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that the whole world doesn't think the same way as you and I do. Actually, we could probably find areas where any of us would think differently as well (which can be found in my workplace as well). It isn't a problem to have differing opinions, but it can lead to problems if someone wants everyone else to think like they do (or else).
In life, you will encounter difficult people. Perhaps their view of life is markedly different than your own, and one or the other is not willing to let that slide by. Sometimes, it is when others have had failures in their lives, and for whatever reason, we have put them to the side, as if they are not worthy of being treated with respect. You will find this happens often and I find that fascinating, because each of us on our own have done things that we would want to be forgiven for, but we find it so easy to judge others for similar failures. I think of the story that Jesus told in Matthew 18 about the servant who owed more than he could ever repay (millions) to his king. The king forgave his tremendous debt and cancelled it. Then, the servant went out to find another person who owed him much less (thousands) and threatened him and had him put into prison until the debt was paid in full. Sound familiar?
There are some people who want to sit back and judge other people constantly. I often think of facebook and the internet in general, where you can find something to validate your opinion or views (and if it isn't there, you can create it and act as if it was someone else's). Honestly, I used to try and read things that people posted, but often found that they were links to some off the beaten path website that sensationalized everything, with a specific purpose in mind. We need to realize that just because something links online does not mean it is true. You will find some people that continue to post the same type of things every day, to make a point. Perhaps it makes them feel better. Perhaps they think they are educating everyone else. From my own experience, I find that I am less likely to pay any attention, because it is easy to see that they have an agenda.
In this lesson on transformation, we now focus on opinions. As has been stated before, we are not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. This transformation involves the way that we think and it involves every aspect of our lives. When we give our lives to Christ, there are changes that happen from the inside out. We try to will things to happen, but if it isn't changing you internally, any change on the outside is a ruse. How can you be transformed in your opinions?
I believe that Jesus is speaking about a person that is always hyper critical. You probably know people that are quick to criticize others and tear down anyone with an opposing view. They treat others harshly and unfair, if they don't line up with everything that they say. You may be thinking of someone else specifically right now, but let me ask, what about you? Do you have a critical spirit towards others?
Do you find yourself quick to form an opinion and judge others, based on your initial thoughts? Have you ever found yourself hearing something about someone else and later realized that what you heard was not at all accurate? Often, it is 2nd, 3rd or 4th hand information that we hear. Have you ever played the game where people pass a secret around the circle by whispering? Very seldom is it the same by the time it gets to the end. When a story is told, often parts are left out, to emphasize a specific failure, because face it, failure stories make any story more sensational, right? Often, we don't know the circumstances that were behind what we have heard. We've all done this, from time to time, where we take a stand based on a bit of information, and later we find out that significant pieces were left out. We end up standing in judgment of others when we find that we are in fact doing more damage than helping at all. What began as a small disagreement can grow for a molehill to a mountain, leading to a critical spirit and problems galore.
Jesus continued with a ludicrous example of looking at a speck of sawdust in another's eye, while paying no attention to the plank in our own eye. Don't you find it easier to point out issues in the lives of others, rather than handling your own? I remember the playground saying that when you point at someone else, you have three fingers pointing back at you. I find it interesting that Jesus refers to other's faults as specks and our faults as logs. Don't we usually reverse that? We see someone with a problem and we can easily chastise them, without realizing that we have the same problem (or another similar problem that is just as bad, but not 'yet' known). Thomas Adams once said that "men are like barbers. They trim all men but themselves." How true.
What would be different if in the case where we need to correct others, we first evaluated our own lives? And, then when someone really needed correction, we treated them like a physician providing medication to help heal them, as opposed to being the law enforcement officer taking them to prison? When there are legitimate issues, is there a hope to see change and restoration, or are we intent to punishment? Quite frankly, you will encounter people that are not going to change, no matter what you do. At that point, you decide if you can deal with it or if you have to move on. At no point, however, is Jesus suggesting that a person be chastised or punished for thinking differently than you or I.
This verse, by itself, may seem out of place. Perhaps there are a couple of ways to view this verse. In the context of judging others, there may be a time where you simply can't continue to be around someone who has markedly different views and opinions than yourself. Note, it is possible for people to have totally different views and still get along, if they keep those views to themselves. However, at other times, a person may continue to be caustic to you and even though you may desire to interact or have a relationship, they seem to be unwilling to act in an appropriate manner around you. If you continue to subject yourself to abuse, it can lead to many more problems. So, in effect, as the previous verses say that we need to take care of our own issues and not focus on other's issues, which could lead to a peace at any price type of life, Jesus continues to say that you should not have to let yourself be beaten up by others. Do what you can do, and if that doesn't take care of the situation, then distancing yourself may have to be the answer.
As mentioned, there are a couple of ways that this verse could be interpreted. I believe that in context is best, but there is also a valid point consistent with other Scripture, if this verse talks about discernment of sharing the gospel with others. I've seen lessons that only use this verse and that is the way that they usually interpret it. Basically, with the gospel, it is effective for all people and all need it, but there are some that are downright antagonistic towards hearing the gospel. When Jesus talks about not giving dogs what is sacred, He is not talking about the dogs as the family pet. He was speaking of savage, half wild dogs that were violent and threatening to people. When He talked about not casting pearls to pigs, He was referring to things of tremendous value and hard to obtain (as pearls were) and not giving those to who were opposed or didn't appreciate the value.
When sharing the gospel, you will encounter those who are obstinate and argumentative. It isn't a problem to engage in honest debate with others for a while, but you quickly find out if people are open or if they are only wanting to argue about it. We are called to be patient and longsuffering with our brothers and sisters, but with those who are deadest against listening to anything about Christ, we shouldn't waste our time.
So, you can see that there are a couple of ways to interpret that verse, but in both of them, there is a time when you give others a chance, without expending energy on solely pointing out their errors. However, at some point, when you have done all you can do, there comes a time when you may have to cut the cord and not continue to expose yourself to caustic behavior.
If you're like me, you might like for this to be a well-defined process. Wouldn't it be great in my case, with the ALS diagnosis, if there was a step by step process that I could follow to be cured? We need to remember to seek, in alignment with God's will. Our will at times may line up with His, but at other times, our will may be in opposition. Face it, if there were only a process, God would become a glorified genie and we would end up in many cases worse off. If you got everything you thought you wanted in the past, would that have been a good thing?
We need to realize that when a child asks for things from their parent, the parent will usually try and give the child what they need. At times, they may get what they want, which may be more than a need, but at times they may not get what they want and think they need, because in the long run, it may be better for them to not get it. As parents, we make bad decisions from time to time, but it should not to be to harm our kids. At times, we try to please them. At times, we try to meet their needs. At times, we exceed what they want. At times, we give less. We are anything but consistent over the long haul. Perhaps each of us have a skewed view of God because we often think of earthly parents and assume that God would act the same. However, despite the wide variety of ways that earthly parents respond, God responds consistently. We may not always like the answer we get when we ask, but often, we will find that there may be a reason why our prayer was not answered. I know that we all have lingering questions about why God does one thing in one case and another thing in another. Why did God heal this person and not that person? Why are some blessed in so many tangible ways and others simply aren't? We have to trust that God knows best, even if we can't fully comprehend why He may answer as He does. We may never know.
I believe that the real point is not in the exact way we treat one another, but that we should be deliberate and conscious about showing concern for others. This often goes contrary to what we do naturally, as our instincts are to look out for our own interests, which will often lead to conflict in relationships.
When we think of the Golden Rule, I don't think that there are many people that disagree with the concept. Certainly, some people just seem to prefer to do what they do, with little concern for others, but the concept is generally agreed upon. This is a good standard for how we should treat others. As we think about our opinions and our interactions with others, we should understand that we should be considerate of one another.
Are you willing to accept that other people think differently than you? Certainly, there are some things that are elementary and necessary to believe the same - that we are all sinners; that our sin causes us to be separated from God; that God demands payment for ALL sin; that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live a sinless life and to be put to death for our sins, rising to new life and bringing victory over the power of sin. As believers, we all need to agree on these key tenets of our faith. We also need to realize that none of us are going to be able to live a life of perfection, so being able to deal with the impact of sin is a crucial to keeping relationships.
There are myriads of other non-essential views that people have. Some of them may be more closely related to portions of Scripture, but are not the primary tenets of our faith. You will have differing views on different ordinances within the church, and you will have differing views on different social stances. We need to strongly consider what Jesus said, in saying "judge not, lest ye be judged". If you were to just ask yourself how you handle this statement with others with whom you have had disagreements, do you find yourself standing in judgment over them?
We each should evaluate our own lives and when we have areas of our lives that are out of alignment with what we say we believe, we need to handle that. I firmly believe that we all struggle or have struggled with this, as we have allowed actions, habits, thoughts, attitudes, our speech and other areas of our lives to run rampant. What is God saying to you? When you are at church or at a Bible Study, are you allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to you, or do you find yourself saying that you wish someone else could hear what you heard. The only person you can control is yourself, and only then if you allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life. Take care of your own issues!
There will be times when we find that we may simply be unable to continue to be around others without it causing personal distress. I believe that you and I should do all we can to ensure that we can work things out with others, but there are times that you will find an impasse. Don't think that every person that disagrees with you falls into this category, but only step away when it is obvious that there is not real resolution and it is more or less a last resort. Stepping away should not imply permanence, as we only need look at our own lives to see how we can change.
The only way to be transformed in any area of life is to give it over to God. Are you seeking God's wisdom and are you willing to be changed, when you feel that God is leading you in that direction? We will be praying for all who read this lesson and we ask that you pray for us that we can all become the people that God desires us to be, and that we will experience the fullness of His grace and mercy.