sermon: Elements of Judgment (Part Three)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 21-Apr-14; Sermon #1209B; 78 minutes
We must emulate the ways of God, demonstrating justice in our lives, thoughts, words, and deeds, preparing to judge in God's Kingdom. God does not operate with the "one size fits all" system; each circumstance we encounter is somewhat unique. Though there are two Great Laws (love toward God and love for our fellow man), not all laws below these are on the same level; none of God's Laws are 'done away.' In every situation, we need to strive to hit the mark, but a distinction must be made between unintentional (done in ignorance) or deliberate. Intentional sins conducted with bravado erode the respect for God, inviting the death penalty, while unintentional sins call for a measure of mercy and sometimes a measure of damage control. Sin does not always occur in a straightforward manner with everyone fully involved to be able to discern. To whom much has given, much will be required; the ruler is more culpable than the ordinary citizen. Everybody is not equally guilty. Murder and manslaughter is not equivalent. Criminal negligence is not the same as a normal accident; circumstances alter judgments. On the basis of a deliberative sin on the part of King David (taking a military census), Israel lost 70,000 people in one day. God's judgment was always sternest on the High Priest, and then the ruler, and then on the head of the family. Teachers, especially hypocritical teachers who do not practice what they preach, receive a far sterner judgment than their students or disciples. We are all responsible for what we hear and how we act upon it. Judgment is measured against the capacities of knowing the truth and acting upon it. Judging is a difficult process of measuring against the Word of
I will open this sermon in Deuteronomy 32:1-4. This is going to be a continuation, part 3, of my Elements of Judgment series. Moses is telling us a great deal about our creator here:
Deuteronomy 32:1 “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. Let my teaching drop as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, As raindrops on the tender herb, And as showers on the grass, For I proclaim the name of the Lord; Ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.”
The thing that caught my eye was that all of His ways are justice; every decision He makes is perfectly balanced measuring every aspect that may play upon the judgment that He actually lays down; and when He does lay it down and puts into effect, what He has decided…everything is justice, everything is right, everything is good, everything is equal. Punishments are just and kind. Sometimes we may wonder about why He does what He does; for instance when He killed Aaron's two sons because they apparently were drunk (under the influence of alcohol) when they performed their responsibility, and just like that, lighting or something similar came out of His throne and those two were dead.
Then there was the man who reached out to do what he thought was a good work and to steady the Ark that was shaking on top of that cart. It was an act of justice on the part of our God, who struck him dead, because really what the man was saying was, “Hey, I have to take care of this because God cannot take care of it.” He underestimated God's awareness of what was going on.
I bring those up because they were shocking examples; there are others such as when He killed Ananias and Sapphira. There were other times when He did things like that, but every decision was thoroughly thought through, and when He rendered that decision, even if it only took the blink of an eye for that decision to be made and carried out, it was justice.
We do not have that kind of mind yet that is able to execute fair judgments in every circumstance that comes up. We are slow in our thinking; and in many cases, we are slow in our thinking because we simply are not aware of the laws of God the way we need to be. That is one of the reasons why I am going through this series on Elements of Judgment, so that we will understand this is a serious responsibility to begin growing toward the greatness of our God in the decisions that we make.
Those who are slowly but surely, gradually, falling under the influence of nice people so that services becomes nothing more than a social experience with a little bit of spiritual learning thrown in; this shift in the people’s thinking has gradually taken place, and they are falling victim to what the Ephesian church did there in Revelation 1 turning things into a nice pleasant Sabbath experience with no real working relationship with what went on the other six days of the week.
The subject of this series is of importance for a fair number of high level reasons. The term “to judge” means to hear and decide authoritatively whether for one’s personal opinion or as in an official capacity of the merits of a controversy, as in a court, government, contest, business, or family. It reaches into many parts of our life.
Overriding all of these issues is that we have been summoned by God to be part of His very family; that alone requires a great deal of preparation because these preparations involve our thoughts and conclusions regarding virtually every area of life itself.
A second reason is that this summons by Him also includes a position of high importance within the family of God. That position involves some measure of rulership, some level of leadership and authority within that family’s government over the earth until that portion of God's purpose is ended. Thus the act of judging involves matters of one’s personal life right here and now as we negotiate the circumstances we face on a daily basis including our examination of ourselves, our evaluation of others in the congregation, and as we compare ourselves to others who are in the world.
At the same time we are preparing ourselves within God's calling and learning, God's standard of conduct and attitudes, regarding life’s choices. We would very much like that everything regarding God and His laws be cut and dry, simple, as in a “thus saith the Lord” situation. However God does not operate using “one size fits all” forms of justice. As we are seeing, it is not that easy to make proper choices. Why? Because “one size fits all” simply is not fair as we will see more of as we go along.
This sort of system is not really justice in every situation because life is much more complex than that. Every circumstance needing judgment does not happen in the same repetitious straight forward manner. It seems that life is showing us that there are so often nuances that make virtually each circumstance at least somewhat unique.
We have already seen that God's love is the greatest of all His virtues and characteristics; it is what we are to grow into. Our individual levels of possession and use of that characteristic are different. For example there are eighty seven people here and there might be eighty seven different levels in that one characteristic alone.
We have also seen that love and righteousness have the same basic standards: the law of God, however, not all laws are equally significant. There are two laws virtually on the same level from which all other laws hang; thus all other laws are from lower levels than those two. We have found that though the wages of sin is death, and sin is the breaking of God's laws, some sins do not bring the death penalty.
There are some that teach that God's laws are done away. That is an outright careless and sloppy doctrine and is demeaning of God as a sovereign Creator and Ruler and of His word. Those supposedly done away with laws are still in the Bible, and Jesus commanded that we live by every word of God. Those laws they say are done away with are still in the book. Jesus says they are to be paid attention to and used as the situation arises. If they are still in the book, they are there for our learning and there wisdom.
We learned that justice, mercy, and faithfulness are matters of law, not just feelings. They are matters of law and are of higher significance in terms of judgment and therefore conduct and attitude. In the example that Christ gave of meticulous tithing…(understand that meticulous tithing should be done), still justice, mercy, truth and faithfulness are even greater than that.
Two broad principles to provide us a measure of guidance are: First, never assume a law of God is done away. Second, not all laws of God are of equal significance. Thus with this mass of evidence that is gradually growing, if we want to grow in understanding and therefore wisdom, we are forced to seek and consider God's word patiently and thoroughly; from what we have been given and more which is to come, we should be learning that God is seriously concerned regarding fair judgment, and so we should be too. We just read in Deuteronomy 32:4 that “all His ways are justice,” so His judgment is perfect in every situation, and He wants us to grow toward that.
His laws and His judgments are not to be treated in a casual manner regardless of what the broken laws might be and where they might be located in His book. There are people who disregard any law of God, any saying of God, simply because it appears in the Old Testament. It is passé to them. God's word tells us in the book of Isaiah that His word is forever.
This is out of concern for glorifying God and out of concern for the sinners as well as those who are injured from others breaking God's law. Judgment has to be concerned with all of those things. Our desire should be that we act righteously and hit the mark each and every time. That is a very, very high goal. We will find as we move on that God is also gracious to the sinner and has made allowances for the circumstances under which a sin is committed. We will turn to the book of Numbers.
Numbers 15:22-23 And if you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments which the Lord has spoken to Moses—all that the Lord has commanded you by the hand of Moses, from the day the Lord gave commandments and onward throughout your generations…
Numbers 15:29 You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, both for him who is native born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the Lord, and he shall be cut off from among his people.
In this brief section, we are faced with two terms I think need defining. Unintentional implies ignorance or weakness; so if you see that within a description of a law or a judgment, unintentional implies ignorance or weakness. Intentionally infers deliberateness, defiance, even bravado against God and His command. It is an “I do not care, I am going to do it anyway attitude.”
The person sinning in this attitude is in danger of losing all fear of God; we must grow to see that God's laws are not trivial. They are given for the well-being of all involved.This section shows that there is a great difference between the seriousness God holds a sin to be as revealed by the attitude of the sinner. In Numbers, we will see a sin that was committed.
Numbers 15:32-36 Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day, And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him under guard because it had not been explained what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” So, as the Lord commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.
I think there is one thing that we have to insert, here. I am doing this knowing a bit more about the mind of God and that it is highly likely that this term “sticks” is mistranslated. It was more than just picking up sticks, as in going out into the woods and picking up sticks that broke off a tree. It is more than that. This is illustrated by the very fact that God gave the death penalty. He judged this sin as deliberate. It was not just a mistake; it was not just something unintentional. The man did it, and it was not just one or two sticks. He picked up a great deal more. In other words, there is descriptive material left out.
The man was clearly not ignorant. It was God's judgment that the man be put to death. Numbers 15 takes place after they have been out in the wilderness and gone through many Sabbaths. This man did what he did deliberately and repeatedly on this particular occasion. Moses was not sure, but God told him to put the man to death.
This man was in a position spiritually that connects to something given by the Apostle Paul in the book of Hebrews 10:26: a warning for you and me regarding the proper attitude toward the Sabbath.
Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
God is concerned about our Sabbath conduct. The conduct of that man in Numbers 15 shows us God's attitude toward deliberately breaking the Sabbath concerning something the man should have known full well that he should not have been doing.
Leviticus 4:2 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying; if a person sins unintentionally against any of the commandments of the Lord in anything which ought not to be done, and does any of them…
He is implying a measure of ignorance—unintentionally. This is the heading of the chapter (verses 1-2) thus indicating (without saying it directly) that a sin done through ignorance or unintentionally is on a different level or is to be judged differently than one done intentionally. We saw an example of a sin that was judged by God to be intentionally done—the man picking up the sticks—and now we are in a situation where the context has to do with an unintentional sin. They are not judged nearly as seriously as the Numbers 15 man was judged. We will now turn to Genesis 20, where we will see an example of this kind of sin.
Genesis 20:2-8 Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “she is my sister,” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man's wife.” But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? “Did he not say to me, she is my sister? And she, even she herself said, He is my brother. In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.” And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart, for I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man's wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
Now what Abimelech did was sin because of his intention, but God then moved to effect some damage control so that no more damage would be done that had not already been done. What do we have here in way of evidence? In this incident, Abimelech was being lead into a grievous sin by the combination of his own lust, the cultural practices of the times, and Abraham and Sarah's dealings in half-truths. He would have sinned except for God's intervention.
Now Abraham and Sarah were every bit as guilty of leading him on by their fears; their fears drove them to sin. They were afraid of losing their lives. They did what they did in order to protect themselves. There was a bit of self-centeredness, and a combination of weaknesses on both sides (Abimelech, Abraham, and Sarah) which sets the stage for God to intervene. Nobody asked him to intervene, but He did so anyway. We have a situation that was not a matter of willful presumption; just people following their weaknesses.
Numbers 22:26-34 Then the Angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left. And when the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam, so Balaam's anger was aroused and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “ Because you have abused me, I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would kill you” So the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden, ever since I became yours, to the day? Was I ever disposed to do this to you? And he said, “No.” Then the Lord opened Balaam's eyes and he saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way with His drawn sword in His hand; and he bowed his head and fell flat on his face. And the Angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to stand against you, because your way is perverse before Me, the donkey saw Me and turned aside from Me theses three times, If she had not turned aside from Me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live.” And Balaam said to the Angel of the Lord, “I have sinned for I did not know You stood in the way against me. Now therefore, if it displeases You, I will turn back.”
Notice, there was weakness. Balaam simply did not know the entire situation. He just acted carnally; that is all there was to it—the way he had been trained to think and go and do. He did not know that the Angel was blocking the way and making the donkey do what it did. What this teaches us is that sin does not always occur in a straight forward manner. We will see a little later where God, in a sense (He did not actually do this), but came close to making David sin. David did it on his own, but God was involved.
God was involved in this situation we just read, because the Angel was there and Balaam did not have any idea what was going on. He was being used to present a lesson for you and me about the way He judges. He took that into consideration. What this teaches us is that sin does not always occur in a straight forward manner, with everyone involved fully informed so as to be able to discern right and wrong.
We are learning from God's judgments regarding the way He does things that He wants people to be as fully informed as possible so that the judgments are as good as possible. What I want you to get out the next verses that I am going to read is to notice the progression of the required offerings for sin. The first one is for a high priest that sins unintentionally.
Leviticus 4:3 If the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, then let him offer to the Lord for his sin which he has sinned a young bull without blemish as a sin offering.
Just to remind you, again, this talking about unintentional sins, sins done in ignorance, sins done out of weakness. If the high priest sins, his sin is exposed, and he has to offer a bullock.
Leviticus 4:13-14 Now if the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally, and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done something against any of the commandments of the Lord in anything which should not be done and are guilty; When the sin which they have sinned becomes known then the assembly shall offer a young bull for the sin, and bring it before the tabernacle of meeting.
So, if the whole nation of Israel as a body commits a sin, they also have to offer a bullock.
Leviticus 4:22-23 When a ruler has sinned, and done something unintentionally against any of the commandments of the Lord his God in anything which should not be done, and is guilty, or if his sin which he has sinned comes to his knowledge, he shall bring as his offering a kid of the goats, a male without blemish.
Now we see there a clear decline, a lessening of the penalty; compared to a bull, a goat is nothing or very little. If this was the United States and somebody in a high position does something, it is very likely that they are going to be punished by being fined at a much steeper rate than an ordinary citizen. You get the progression, here. It could be that if somebody like the high priest sins, that guy would go off to jail, and he would stay there for fifteen years or whatever. If you and I did the same thing, just common ordinary citizens, we might only get one or two years in jail because of our lack of understanding.
We are beginning to see elements of things that appear later in the New Testament regarding judgment—to whom much is given, much more is required. In other words, all sins do not have the same penalty. All sinners do not get punished to the same degree. A great deal depends on who does it, when they did it, how they did it, and so on. God takes all those things into consideration, and it is the only way judgment can be fair. Everybody is not equally guilty.
Leviticus 4:32 [talking about an ordinary citizen…] If he brings a lamb as his sin offering, he shall bring a female without blemish. [We later find out it could have been a goat. So the goat is less than the other.]
Leviticus 24:17 Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death.
Reading that law as it is might give the impression that the breaking of the sixth commandment was rigidly cut and dry, but we will go to the book of Deuteronomy, where this same law is expounded a bit more.
Deuteronomy 19:1-7 “When the Lord your God has cut of the nations whose land the Lord your God is giving you, and you dispossess them and dwell in their cities and in their cities and in their houses, you shall separate three cities for yourself in the midst of your land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess. You shall prepare roads for yourself, and divide into three parts the territory of your land which the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, that any man-slayer may flee there. And this is the case of the manslayer who flees there, that he may live; Whoever kills his neighbor unintentionally, not having hated him in time past—as when a man goes to the woods with his neighbor to cut timber, and his hand swings a stroke with the ax to cut down the tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he shall flee to one of these cities and live; lest the avenger of blood, while his anger is hot, pursue the manslayer and overtake him, because the way is long, and kill him, though he was not worthy of death, since he had not hated the victim in time past. Therefore I command you, saying, you shall separate three cities for yourself.
So an accidentally killing, though it is still serious, is not necessarily a sin automatically unto death. The slayer who accidentally killed somebody…if he did not make it to the city before somebody put him to death, he was fair game…until he got to the city; once he got to the city, he was safe there. To the best of my knowledge, Israel had no prisons for people of this sort; they fled to a city of refuge, and the whole city was their prison. They were not cramped down in a cell, getting a bad attitude from all of the others around. But in a way, they could live fairly close to a normal life, but they had to stay inside the city.
When the high priest (who was high priest when the man accidentally killed a person) died, they were free to leave the city, and nobody was allowed to put him to death or inflict any new penalty.
Exodus 21:28-29 “Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property. If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she
gives birth prematurely, yet no lasting harm follows, he shall surely be punished, accordingly as the woman's husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any lasting harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
This is a series of penalties adjusted to whatever the judges determine the punishment should be. It does not mean the person who caused the problem was to suffer the same problem. Let us say he broke somebody’s leg. This does not mean that his leg should be broken in return, but they would set a dollar amount upon the injury, and he would be punished for having broken the person’s leg in that way.
Exodus 21:28 If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, then the ox shall surely be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be acquitted. But if the ox tended to thrust with its horn in times past and it has been made known to his owner, and he has not kept it confined, so that it has killed a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death.
The owner made the death possible by not taking care of that ox. That is why he also gets the death penalty.
What we are seeing in these scriptures is that circumstances do alter judgments. And the different aspects of the scriptures have to be brought into play in order for the judgment to be just and fair. Therefore judge not by just one law, but by a multitude of examples that will appear in God's word.
II Samuel 12:14 [Nathan is speaking to David…] “However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.”
David committed the sin with Bathsheba. She was involved in the sin with him, and the fruit of her body was going to be allowed to die. What I want you to pick up here is who committed the sin—“because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.” In other words, if it had been an ordinary citizen, and not David, the judgment may have been different. But because it was David, the King (remember the list of punishments that we saw in Leviticus 4), He, the ruler of the people, along with the high priest, paid the greatest penalty.
We are going to move from this sin to another sin in which David was involved in. In a way this one is really a bell ringer.
II Samuel 24:1 Again the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go number Israel and Judah.”
I Chronicles 21:1-6 Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel, So David said to Joab and to the leaders of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba to Dan, and bring the number of them to me that I may know it.” And Joab answered, “May the Lord make His people a hundred times more than they are. But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? Why then does my lord require this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt in Israel.? Nevertheless the king's word prevailed against Joab, Therefore Joab departed and went through out all Israel and came to Jerusalem. Then Joab gave the sum of the number of the people to David. All Israel had one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and Judah had four hundred and seventy thousand men who drew the sword. But he did not count Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king’s word was abominable to Joab.
The personalities involved in this are quite interesting because we find out that God was the prime motivator in this. God did not directly motivate David to do this thing; instead, God broke down the wall around David and allowed Satan to instigate him in the taking of a census.
Another piece of information here is that there is no indication whatever that David sinned in counting Israel. They had been taking a census from their beginning. This is how we know how many people left Egypt—a conservative figure is two and a half million people left Egypt when Israel went through the Red Sea. Some say it was more like five or six million people; it depends on who is doing the counting. The church of God has always used the conservative figure of somewhere around two and a half million people left Egypt. The number does really matter, what matters right now for the purposes of this sermon is that it was not wrong for Israel to take a census.
When David ordered the taking of the census, of and by itself such an act was not wrong. The evil in this must have been elsewhere. David ordered it, and we know Joab…who incidentally was David's cousin. Joab was really something. I do not if it was his relationship with David as a cousin that made him do some of the things (whether it was jealousy, or whatever), but he was a thorn in David's side despite the fact that he was a high ranking official that had access to him. Even Joab was upset with this, so he counted halfheartedly. There were two tribes that he did not even count at all. So when he gave the figure to David, he lied. He probably was lying to keep David from doing something stupid.
It seems that the sin involved David's intention for taking the census. Why would he want to know the number of people that he had in his armies unless he was preparing for battle. Nothing in the area of I and II Chronicles or Samuel gives any indication that any nation around Israel was challenging David on those things. So it seems as though (we are guessing here) that the sin must have been that David himself was going to go to war perhaps to expand the boundaries of the land that God had given or promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. While David was king the land was expanded to its limits. So there was something seriously wrong with him taking that census. God went to the extent, in a sense, of trying to stop him by sicking Satan on him.
Do you want to know how serious this sin was? It got so serious that David finally reached a place where he was broken about it. He had knowledge of what it was that he had done, so God gave him three choices. David refused to say anything. So God said, “I will choose the punishment.” David said, “I know that it will be far more merciful than if I made the choice.”
Israel lost seventy thousand people in one day. God struck them dead. That was the greatest number of people ever to die in Israel at any time on one occasion. That was a very serious spiritual sin. Even though the Israelites themselves, the citizens, paid the penalty in their body and with their lives, David had to bear with that the rest of his life—the memory of what he did against his own people. God chose that penalty because that is how he wanted to effect David’s mind. “David, you do not do stupid things like that!”
When you compare the totals of the people killed at other times such as when they rebelled out in the wilderness, it does not come close to seventy thousand people. When the ruler is the one who is guilty of the sin or when the father in the family commits a sin, it has far greater effects than if the mother does. That is the way God judges. The person having the greater authority receives the sterner judgment.
This section has to do with the level of punishment given those who have greater authority. It appears as though God's judgment was always the sternest against the high priest, and secondarily would be the judgment against the ruler. Then the husband in the family, then the wife in the family, and right on down.
James 3:1 My brethren let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
The ministry is held to sterner standards than the lay members of a congregation, again that sliding scale is in operation to this day and within the church. Why would this be so within the church? Because of the seriousness of the responsibility in combination with the greatness of the gifts given to carry out that responsibility. Thus teachers receive the sterner judgment.
What we see here is a warning to any who enter this vocation; they should have their eyes wide open to the obligations that are involved. This is one of the obligations. Because teachers are dealing with the most precious things in the church, God's reputation and human personality and character, any misdirecting of these are of great concern to God. Does this not fit exactly with what we saw in Leviticus 4? The determination of the judgment, the severity of the judgment is on a sliding scale as to who does the sin.
We can arrive at another conclusion. God does not judge everything and every person equally. But He does judge everything fairly. He takes all these things into consideration. Four times in the New Testament it says that God judges without partiality.
Matthew 12:34-37 “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.
The first thing to notice is to whom the warning is given; it is given to the Pharisees. They made a perfect target because the Pharisees usually work to set themselves up as teachers within the synagogues; it did not matter whether they were really priests who were assigned that responsibility, they pushed themselves right in because they were Pharisees. They had that mind set.
They had very strict determinations about what is law, what is sin, and what is not a sin. These insincere and rapacious men whose character did not match their teachings receive a greater condemnation. Right from Christ, He called them a brood of vipers. That is a sobering declaration. Their heart was so depraved it is impossible for their mouth to utter anything good spiritually according to Christ.
A person’s heart, we must always remember, is the reservoir of his character; and whatever comes forth from the mouth; it is there; it is stored. We have to be careful what we say because God is going to hold those who are teaching more responsible than He does others in the congregation.
Mark 12:38-40 Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.
That word greater there is comparative and it is telling you God does not judge everybody on the same level. The kind of office a person holds makes a difference in the judgment against them. Here is a very familiar set of scriptures in the book of Luke 12.
Luke 12:47-48 “And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know yet committed things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”
Again, it is a reinforcement that not everybody is held to exactly the same standard. Every law is not on the same level; every sin is not on the same level; every punishment is not on the same level; every act of obedience is not on the same level either. Each one is held responsible for what he can do, but not held responsible for what he cannot do. God put that into effect when Abimelech was about to sin with Sarah. He was not held responsible for what he could not do. He did not understand God's way of judgment, but he did know that he had not done anything with Sarah. It is what he told God, and God accepted that excuse, because it was justified in that circumstance.
John 9:39-41 And Jesus said to him, “For judgment I have come into this world that those who do not see may see and that those who see may be made blind.” Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words and said to Him, “Are we blind also? Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.”
Jesus meant this to be taken spiritually, because He could see that His teaching has two diametrically opposed results. Some receive His teaching with joy and understanding and are thus rewarded. Others openly reject what He said, and they are punished. Reward or punishment are these people’s judgments. Those who do not see are those who are truly spiritually blind and ignorant, but whose minds are in actuality open. They do not grasp it, but when they hear a teaching, their mind is open to accepting it, thus they begin to see. When a person begins to see he begins to be held responsible for what he is seeing.
This is important to us because we are being held responsible for what we hear. How deeply Jesus Christ judges that responsibility to be, I do not know. My job is to pass on to you the fact that when we begin to hear, when we begin to see, when we begin to understand, then that becomes part of our mind set for the judgments that we make, and we are to some degree responsible for it from that time on.
I can remember one time Mr. Armstrong kind of blew up because somebody said something in a sermonette that he pretty strongly disagreed with (about people sitting in our presence who were unconverted and that somehow or another they were not being held responsible for what they were hearing). He got up there and said, “I would not go so far to say that; if they begin to hear, they begin to understand. The responsibility is now theirs. By being there, they are subjecting themselves to the judgment of Jesus Christ.”
It may go a great deal easier with them than it would go for one of us, who are truly converted, but nonetheless all we have to do is read Romans 1 where it says that God does not hold those people guiltless. There is a measure of guilt to people who hear the truth and reject it.
Those who do not see are those who are truly spiritually blind and ignorant, but whose minds are actually open. Christ came that these might see—really be converted. In this context, those which see are those who think they see, but in reality reject His truths. That puts them in a very bad position because they are rejecting His truth outright. This was really a strong warning to these people. They were being held accountable for what they were hearing from Him.
He said that they might be made blind. They who think they see would be exasperated and hardened by the truth, because the truth appears contradictory to their false beliefs. Thus their blindness remains; they have consciously rejected the truth.
Those Pharisees were in a bad position; they were facing God in the flesh, and nobody could make truth plain like He could. They were rejecting it and were actually bringing judgment upon themselves because they had set themselves up as teachers of the truth, what Jesus said they disagreed with. Bad position to be in.
If one were blind—had no opportunities of learning truth and therefore truly ignorant—such a person in that same situation who might be in the same crowd where Christ was talking to the Pharisees…those people would not be held guilty. This is what I meant when I said earlier that we are not judged guilty for what we do not know or cannot do. Because the Pharisees said that they had knowledge of God's will, their sin was un-pardoned, because they were not repenting at Jesus truthful message. They said they already knew the truth, but it was not truth. From this it becomes clear that people are not judged for what they cannot do.
Therefore, judgment is measured against the capacity or abilities of men plus their opportunities of knowing the truth. The reason people are condemned is because they are not disposed to receive the truth when it is honestly, openly, and its simplicity offered to them. They still reject it. That is what the Pharisees were doing.
I think that I have made this clear enough. There are so many differences in all of God's laws, His judgments. It should be leading us to be very slow to make a judgment about somebody without knowing a great deal more about why they did it, who they are, how much they know, and so on. This is why Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount preached right to Christ own disciples, “Do not judge.” It is really a cautionary statement about jumping to a conclusion when we do not have enough information to really make a good judgment regarding these people.
Matthew 7:1-5 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge you will be judged the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, Let me remove the speck out of your eye and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.
The King James uses the word mote, instead of speck. A mote is something very small; he also used beam instead of plank illustrating something very large and maybe important. I realize that this is just an illustration, but the illustration does not even fit every sin, every law or every characteristic. They are not all on the same level of importance or seriousness. Jesus is backing up what I am teaching here; we have to be very careful in the judgments that we make because we do not have a great deal of the big picture as to exactly why this person did this, or said this, or whatever. We just have to be very cautious about doing this.
Jesus’ illustration would not be valid if that were not true as you are clearly seeing. God does not operate on a “one size fits all” basis. We have been called to be kings and priests. Both make judgments. One is in the civil area, the other in spiritual, moral, and ethical areas. Ultimately, these two overlap in actual practice, and God's word clearly shows that judging righteously is a distinct and difficult challenge requiring rightly dividing the word of truth.
This again is because sin is not committed in a straight forward manner in every case; there are twists and turns, angles, perspectives, circumstances, and situations that must be considered and weighed if a right judgment is going to be reached. It requires knowledge and understanding to produce wisdom, and this is what the conversion process God is putting us through is designed to produce.
What if because of false teaching that much of what is written is done away. People in that kind of situation are not going to be prepared to step into rulership.
The next section I will be going into holiness. One of the things I will show you as I continue on is that all holiness is not the same either. We will be able to discern more clearly, next time.