SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
The Coming Judgment Should Make Us Less Judgmental
Key Verse: God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. – Romans 2:16
Rather than confess your sins, dear reader, I will confess my own. I am quick to stand in judgment of others, especially those who are cavalier about moral conduct that, according to Scripture, is abhorrent to God. I am guilty of harshly judging “the liberals” who do not share my convictions about the significance of God’s Word as our guide for daily living.
The words of Paul in the lesson before us drive me to my knees as I recall the many times I have condemned others for the sins I struggle with in my own life. I can preach a good sermon against judging others even though I continue to find fault with others. To paraphrase the words of Jesus, I am an expert in spotting “the speck” in my neighbor’s eye but blind to “the log” that is in my own eye.
I share all of this simply to affirm that I, for one, really need to allow this teaching of Paul to humble my arrogant spirit and move me to repentance so that my heart can be cleansed again by the Holy Spirit.
As I pondered the meaning of this passage I kept remembering the compelling words of this prayer from our liturgy:
“Almighty God, unto whom are hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
How that prayer stirs my soul! My heart is an open book to God! He knows all my secrets! He knows my every desire, my every thought! How arresting is that thought! Yet the prayer does not leave me in despair. It gives me hope that God can cleanse my heart of every shameful thought, if I am willing. And by his grace, I can love as I ought, and in so doing glorify his holy name, and all this “through” my Lord Jesus Christ! Such knowledge evokes a glad Hallelujah of praise!
Paul felt the guilt that you and I have felt about harshly and wrongly judging others. Early on he had condemned Christians, jailing them for their blasphemy in proclaiming Christ the Messiah. Then he met Jesus! He was saved by the mercy of God. His sins were forgiven. Gratitude for God’s mercy became a dominant theme of his ministry.
Our judgment of others does not serve God; it does not honor Christ. People who are living in darkness do not need our condemnation. They need our compassion. They need our encouragement, our love, to trust Christ and his power to rescue them from their sins. We need to remember, every time we are tempted to condemn others, that if God can cleanse our hearts, then he can cleanse their hearts also.
If we will remember constantly that we are Christians only by the mercy of God, it will help us to offer mercy to others. Many who are living in sin are moved by the love of believers to seek God’s forgiveness. There is surely no higher compliment ever paid us than when a seeker says, “There is something different about you and I want what you have.” What they want, what they see in us, is the spirit of Christ, and we have that spirit only by the mercy of God!
The energy we use in condemning others could be channeled into deeds of love and mercy. In the first year of our ministry, my wife and I had lunch one Sunday in the humble home of Mrs. Emma Shepherd. The subject of Oral Roberts’ healing ministry came up. I began pontificating on the matter, roundly criticizing the television evangelist. I ripped the dear man up one side and down the other.
Mrs. Shepherd, the godly matriarch of a large family, listened patiently as I sounded off. Then, in a sweet, conciliatory voice, she said quietly, “Now Brother Albritton, if you cannot say something nice about someone, you had best say nothing at all.”
Her words stopped me in my tracks, and I condemned no one else that day. I wish I could say “no one since that day,” but I cannot. I can say that over the years I have recalled Mrs. Emma’s words many times, as though the Holy Spirit were inviting me to cease my judging of others.
May God so cleanse our hearts that we may more freely offer mercy to others, remembering always God’s undeserved gift of mercy to us. Thus may our love, though imperfect, demonstrate the love of God for us all. The very thought of the coming judgment, when we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, should prompt us to “forgive one other even as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us.” On that day it is certain that the cry of every person will be for mercy, not justice.
+ + + + (Contact Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org)