Who Are You Who Judge Your Neighbor?

James 4:12

We live in a time when tolerance is a chief virtue – not tolerance in the way the Bible defines it, but tolerance for almost any sort of sin or error that may be practiced or promoted by man. As a result, our society is most intolerant of what could be seen as one person judging another. After all, what business do we have judging anyone else?

This is a good question to consider. We certainly must not judge when it is not our place to do so. James wrote, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12). Paul wrote, “Now accept one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (Romans 14:1). A little bit later he asked: “But you, why do you judge your brother: Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10). One of the most quoted statements by Jesus was spoken in His Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

Do these passages teach that all judgments we might make are wrong? Conversely, is it possible to be wrongly accused of judging others?
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What is Truth?

Truth, newspaper

What is truth?” This was the question Pilate asked Jesus after hearing the Lord’s claim that He came to testify to the truth (John 18:36-37). When we think about truth, we must understand two things: (1) it is unchanging and (2) it is the same message for all. The word of God is truth (John 17:17). His word does not change (1 Peter 1:25) and is to be preached to all people everywhere (Mark 16:15).

Many have the idea that there can be many truths – you may have your own truth, and I may have mine. This is not what the Bible teaches. The same message of truth is for all. The differences come from our perception of the truth. These perceptions can be very different, despite a common message.

In the minds of man, truth can have various characteristics. Let us consider the conflicting characteristics of truth depending on the perspective of the hearer.
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American Individualism and Ecumenism in Religion

On January 14, 2009, The Christian Science Monitor posted an article about the growing trend in this country of those who claim to be Christians deciding on their own what they will believe instead of relying on some church or denomination. The following paragraph does a fair job summarizing the main points in the article:

“A sizable majority of the country’s faithful no longer hew closely to orthodox teachings, and look more to themselves than to churches or denominations to define their religious convictions, according to two recent surveys. More than half of all Christians also believe that some non-Christians can get into heaven.”

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Non-Denominationalism

Last month I posted an article about the problem of denominationalism. Yet there seems to be a shift occurring in the religious world. We are seeing a gradual move from denominationalism to non-denominationalism. It is becoming more common to pass a church building and see that the name on the sign does not include a denominational distinction. That is one sign of this shift.

Denominational distinctions are becoming less important. It used to be that people would generally identify themselves by their denomination. They would think it strange when you said you were “just a Christian.” Now they tend to simply call themselves Christians, too. This may be a step in the right direction (Acts 11:26; 1 Corinthians 1:12-13), but there is still more that needs to be done. There are two things that have come from this decreased emphasis on denominational distinctions.
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Romans 14

The “grace-unity” doctrine is one of the biggest dangers facing the church today. It is sometimes called “unity-in-diversity.” It is the old denominational concept that we can each have our own understanding of the Bible and we cannot say that one is right and the other is wrong. Sin and error can be overlooked because of spiritual weakness and differences of understanding. This idea is popular among the religious world. As time goes on, its popularity is increasing in the Lord’s church.

Romans 14 is often used to try to defend the concept of unity-in-diversity. Because of the sharp disagreements that exist, I believe many brethren think that Romans 14 is a difficult passage to understand. It may be true that it is not as simple as some passages (i.e. Mark 16:16), but we certainly can understand what Romans 14 is teaching. I hope this article will help make it a little clearer.
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Doctrinal Unity

Many professing Christians are perfectly willing to admit that they have little or no interest in doctrine. They enjoy speaking and hearing of the story of Christ and the grace of God that was shown in His sacrifice. They desire to learn how to deal with the problems of life and how to be a good moral person. But there is less interest in doctrine because, allegedly, doctrine divides us. So they want to ignore doctrinal differences and unite on the basis of our common faith in Christ. This is the old “unity in diversity” mentality.

When we speak of ignoring doctrinal differences, what exactly does that mean? This may be a little hard to define, but things like the work, worship, and organization of the church would be considered matters of doctrine. Teaching on marriage, divorce and remarriage would be doctrine. How the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian would considered doctrine. It seems as though almost anything that has the potential of causing division among those who believe in Christ is labeled as doctrine.
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Unity in the Ephesian Church

Unity is one of the predominant themes of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In the second chapter, he wrote of the unity between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-22). Historically, there was hostility between these two groups, but Jesus came and “made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14). They were reconciled in “one body” (Ephesians 2:16). Earlier, Paul indicated that this body is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23). Jesus did not establish a church of the Jews and another church of the Gentiles. He built one church (cf. Matthew 16:18). All men who will be faithful to Him “are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).

The fourth chapter also addresses the subject of unity. Paul instructed the brethren to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). He wrote of one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father (Ephesians 4:4-6). A few verses later he mentioned different “offices” in the church (Ephesians 4:11) that were in place for “the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). The goal of this was that we might “attain to the unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13).
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