Thursday, February 25, 2016

Admonishing vs. Judging

Twitter is my favorite online community, because there, you can interact with people all around the world and at the same time receive short messages of 140 characters or less that can encourage you in innumerable ways.

But Twitter has a potential downfall for Christians, if they send out tweets with deep spiritual meaning that can be misunderstood by those who are young in their faith or those who have no faith at all.

I am usually vigilant about not doing this, but sometimes I inadvertently tweet something that to me conveys a deeper spiritual meaning but can be read (and twisted) in a superficial way. This week, one of those tweets led me to dig into the difference between admonishing other Christians and judging them.

Basically, the tweet was from a church pastor, and it said, "If you're not filled with God, you're self-absorbed." 

The words struck me personally, because I've been thinking lately about Jesus's words to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3: 14-22. You know the passage -- the one about lukewarm faith and how He's not going to tolerate it. Immediately when I read the tweet, the passage flashed through my mind as I thought, "If you're a lukewarm Christian, you are not fully filled with God's desires. And your really are self-absorbed with your own cares, worries and concerns. That's true."

I re-tweeted the tweet, mostly because I felt it spoke to my own nature and inclination to not fully depend on God. For me, the tweet was a good admonishment to be mindful of this.

Within a few minutes, I had a response from a new friend who is an atheist. She felt the tweet was judgmental. Did it mean that atheists are self-absorbed? She wanted to know.

My response ... No. The tweet is directed to other believers, I said. And then I further explained the connection to Revelation 3.

It got me thinking about the difference between admonishment and judgment ... and also the difference between how God wants Christians to relate to non-believers vs. fellow believers.

If you're on social media as a believer, you carry a huge burden to convey the message of God's love in the way in which Jesus conveyed it to those who do not believe. You also have a responsibility to admonish fellow believers.

OK, so let's break this down. First of all, how did Jesus relate to non-believers?

Time and again, we see a compassionate Savior, one who goes out of His way to gently coax wayward sheep to the Shepherd's arms. The examples are numerous. The prostitute who poured perfume on His feet and wiped them with her tears. The Samaritan woman. Zacchaeus, the tax collector. Even some of the disciples were part of the fringes of society -- Matthew, the tax collector, is a good example, and so is Simon the Zealot (who was part of the society that incited revolts against Rome).

In all cases, Jesus speaks tenderly to those that the religious leaders of the day deemed "sinners." He made it clear repeatedly that people who are considered to be "sinners" by the religious establishment will be in the Kingdom of Heaven before the religious leaders would be.

Which leads us to the next point ... the difference between admonishment and judging.

Jesus also pulled no punches when it came to the religious leaders of His day -- the Pharisees and Sadducees. Remember that little incident in the Temple with a whip? Or if you really want an eye-full of Jesus's ire against hypocrisy, sometime sit down and read Matthew 23. Check out the language.

Now. That's judging. And it was righteous judging -- not hypocritical judging (which is altogether different -- what my atheist friend thought I was doing with that tweet).

OK. Now let's look at the difference between that and admonishment.

Admonishment is a loving correction or warning.

I'm a parent of a 12-year-old boy, so it's easy for me to illustrate this with a "mom" example:

Let's say we're going to someone's house for dinner. Before we get there, I say to my son, "Make sure you say, 'Please,' and 'Thank you,' and if you do not like something they offer, say, 'It looks delicious, but no thank you.' Never say, 'I don't like that.' You always want to consider the host's feelings, because she has worked hard to cook this just for us, as her guests."

That's an admonishment. It's gives him the structures of social niceties and explains the reasons behind them -- to be kind to one who has been kind to him.

Now suppose we go to the dinner after I give him this admonishment in the car. He sits at the table, and he rolls his eyes at the food, refuses to put anything on his plate, tells the host that he doesn't like what she has prepared, grumbles and says he wants to go home.

OK, I don't have to tell you that when we get home, he is facing some serious consequences.

That's judgment.

Now let's take this one step further.

Suppose next week I decide to bring a foster child into our home -- one who has been shown no love or care or concern -- one who has had no instruction from a loving parent. We are invited to the same dinner at the same friend's house.

Is the foster child expected to live up to the same standards that I place on my child, who has received my admonishments and love for the past 12 years?

Of course not.

If that child behaves in the manner that I used in the first example -- refuses to eat, tells the host he doesn't like the food, rolls his eyes and insists on going home -- is that child going to face the same consequences that my own child would receive?

Of course not.

One more step in the story, and then I think you'll see where I'm going ...

Now let's suppose that the foster child stays with us for a year, and I decide to adopt this child. The child has only been with us for one year (but 12 months is 12 months).

Although that child has had the benefit of my instruction for a year, is that the same as having my instruction and love for 12 years -- the time period that my birth child has been with us? Even though the child is now an adopted member of the family, does that child have the full knowledge of the family that the birth child has?

You see where I'm going here.

That child will be admonished in his behavior, of course, but he is still learning many things that the birth child knows just through osmosis.

How does this apply to a situation on Twitter, social media in general -- or even at your church, where you may have made friends with a new family in attendance?

As fellow brothers and sisters who are grounded in the faith -- who have had the benefit of the Spirit's guidance in all matters in our lives -- we are responsible to each other to admonish each other. So if I see a tweet from a pastor that says, "If you're not filled with God, you're self-absorbed," I don't take offense. I know this is meant for my good and that the words are to encourage my relationship with God.

Proverbs 27:6 says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy."

In other words, if a fellow believer "wounds" you with an admonishment, you and I both know it's for our good. We examine our hearts and determine if the friend's words are brought to us through God's guidance.

But if you're dealing with new believers (as our example, the adopted child) ... or non-believers (as our example, the foster child) ... you can see that the "standards" of admonishment are completely different. In fact, before you offer these dear people your "wisdom," please stop yourself and ask God how He'd like you to handle it. I guarantee you that you'll get an answer, if you are praying with sincerity.

I have had non-believing friends reach out to me and ask for my genuine opinion on a sin they have committed or a wrong they feel they have done against someone else. But I only offer these opinions when asked for them.

On the other hand, if a church leader, for example, was engaged in an immoral relationship -- yes, you call them on it. See First Corinthians chapter 5 for the basis for my statement. There is a time and place for admonishment -- and there is a time and place for judgment, when it is necessary in order for that person to return to God.

One more thing on this ...

I looked up the original language for the word, "admonishment" in the Bible.

What I found was that the late Hebrew characters -- and also the Aramaic -- in the original text mean one thing:

"To give light."

If you are "admonishing" someone, you are shining a light to guide them.

So let's admonish each other -- and when dealing with those who are still struggling with belief -- be kind. Be gentle. Treat them with the same care and love that Jesus showed the unbelievers in His era.

To seal the point, here is a list of Scripture verses on admonishment for your perusal.

Romans 15:14
Colossians 3:16
Psalm 141:5
Luke 17:3
1st Thessalonians 5:14
2nd Timothy 3:16

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