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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sly Pride

In keeping with my recent posts, I went and studied the definitions of the words criticism and judgement (let me take a moment to nod toward Sassy Granny for sparking a new found love of word studies with her fondness for her good friend Merriam.) For some reason I had always made a distinction between the two in my mind. In Jen's world criticism seemed to be something spoken while judgement was something more internal, more mental.

I found no such distinction made in the dictionary, though it seems in common speech people do tend to use criticism to speak of comments or thoughts being expressed outwardly by a person, namely the critic.

I began thinking about the act of speaking critically or pronouncing judgements over people.

You totally know what came to mind next, right? Of course it was the book of James since I've been studying there for a few months.

Chapter two of James- WOW! I'm blown away once again at the richness of God's Word is. When I came to verses 14-18 I couldn't help but chew once again on the connection our beliefs have with our actions. James 2:18 asserts that merely claiming faith doesn't prove we possess it. The real test comes from what is born out of our faith in the form of deeds. In other words what we really trust in, rely on, cling to, and adhere to turns up in the way we "DO".

It occurred to me that it might be relatively easy for us to clean up our external behaviours and keep criticism of others to a minimum by only sharing with our spouses or close friends when we feet the occasion really called for it. We might be able to (mostly) curb our outward expression of judgement toward others. That might make us feel like we've really accomplished something; like maybe we've done enough. We might be tempted to say, "I'm not judging others."

We must remember that faith without deeds is useless, though.

I think it is so very dangerous for Christians to stop at mere external behaviours, because we know it's only a matter of time until what is truly in our heart flows right out our mouth. We are also aware that God is interested in the contents of our hearts. It would be faulty of us to assume that the deeds, here, would be merely external. The deeds of our hearts may be far more treacherous, running amuck and unchecked if we define them merely by superficial parameters.

Of course it's a double edged sword because we often gauge real change by visible "fruit" in a person's life. We are told that we will know a person by their fruit. Though sometimes we have to wait a LONG time for that fruit to appear. The temptation during that time is to consider the late bloomer a bearer of bad fruit, or a non bearing plant all together.

Case in point of a late bloomer: myself in my story. And so we see how easy it is to move through temptation and into the sin of playing judge over others whenobserving the only thing we can see- that is the "fruit" of a person's behaviour. We're reminded once again that only God can know a person's heart.

I don't know about you but all this confronts me with a REAL need for humility in my life. My heart is heavy to think of the myriad of ways I pass judgement of people daily. The ways in which I do this might seem small at the time; they might seem harmless but I'm realizing they most certainly are NOT.

For example (and you're REALLY going to find this ironic): I looked at a women who was picking up her daughter in the school's car line the other day. She was wearing outdated CLOTHES (are you laughing at my folly yet?) that were very unflattering on her. That she looked clean was about the best I could say for her disheveled ensemble. For a second I was tempted to ask her what possessed her to appear in public dressed like that. But then, I realized what little I know about anything in the world. I realized it was possible that this woman could have given all her best clothes to a homeless woman so she could interview for jobs. Or, maybe she was laid off and could only afford to buy second hand. Possibly she barely managed to trude out the door when her iron broke after she was up all night with a sick child. I don't know.

My point is, I DON'T know. And I probably won't find out either. So why would I want to spend my time (even if it's just a fraction of a minute) making assumptions and creating an atmosphere in my mind where I would be tempted to somehow elevate myself above another?

However I might attempt to explain that I wasn't intending to make sweeping assumptions about her character (only her curious taste in attire) I cannot explain away the futility of such behaviour.

All this to say, I'm taking on a new attitude when it comes to looking outward into the world; I want to see people through grace-colored lenses.

If I happen to come across someone in a situation where I might be tempted to form some kind of opinion about them or their actions I'm asking God to help me stop, and take inventory of my heart and my intentions to determine whether or not it is fruitful for me to even expend that energy.

I take James chapter two seriously when it says we need deeds to prove our faith is alive. The catch is I, alone, cannot do the heart transforming work needed to stop judging others. I need the Holy Spirit for that. So, if James 2:20 admonishes us that faith without deeds is dead, Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us just Who those deeds originate from.

Philippians 2:1-11 (NIV)
1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.


Sassy Granny ... said...

What a "sassy" post, Jen!

As I've aged, I've come to see exactly what you're expressing here: thoughts and words are powerful! In fact, they are so powerful the entirety of scripture calls us to harness our very hearts (and thoughts), before ever letting a word proceed from our mouths.

No doubt it all links to God's own Word - Jesus Himself. May we always be about the blessings and not the cursings.

What a great & timely reminder!

Kathleen (and Merriam too)