A FEW GOOD WORDS
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?
Every Divine Service begins with the prepositional phrase, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We can’t hear these words spoken by the pastor and not remember that they were the same words spoken over us at our baptism. Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20 "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." So what do these words mean? And why do we begin each worship service by the pastor speaking them and us saying our Amen to them?
First of all these words teach us that God is one and there is no other. Jesus didn’t say baptize in the “names” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He said “name” singular. There is one God who reveals himself in three distinct persons. The Father who protects and preserves us from all the dangers and evils of this sinful world. The Son who redeemed us, paid the price for our sins with his own innocent suffering and death. And, the Holy Spirit who creates saving faith in our hearts covers us with the holiness of Christ and keeps us in the one true faith.
It is upon this one name and this one Triune God that we call as we come into his house and seek to have communion, fellowship with him, and receive his gifts. It is the Name he put on us in the water of holy baptism when those words were first spoken over us. The Lord attaches this beautiful promise to his name, 1 Kings 9:3 “I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” The Lord promises that where his name is there his eyes and heart will always be to watch over and care for us. Jesus himself says, Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
So our service begins where it all began for us. It begins remembering that God put his name on us and declared us to be his own children forever, warts, sins, sickness and all. We fill in the first words of the sentence with the only words that assure us we are worthy to stand before our almighty God and call upon him for grace and mercy – the words, “I am baptized”, and the pastor finishes the sentence, “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Together we say, “Amen.”, which means “Yes, Yes, Let it be so.”
“I am baptized”, are words that don’t need to be spoken aloud. They are the words faithful hearts speak continually without end, pointing us again and again day after day to the one sided covenant God made with us, “I am your God and you are my child.” We can doubt our faith is strong enough, and we can certainly know our righteousness is not enough to make us worthy of God’s presence and blessings, but there is no room for uncertainty when we remember our baptism and the promise God made when he put his name on us. “You are mine. Welcome to my House. Enjoy my blessings.”
Matthew 7:1-5 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out of your eye, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”
Matthew 7:12-20 “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
These two statements from Jesus demonstrate that his teaching about judging others both deserves and requires careful attention. The first statement seems to say we shouldn’t judge others at all, while the second tells us how to judge whether someone is a good person or a bad person, a false prophet or a true prophet. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”
I think most Americans relate well to Jesus’ words, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” Many parents teach their children not to judge people by outward appearances. People should not be judged by the color of their skin, how big or small they are, the kind of car they drive, the house they live in, or the amount of money and possessions they have. In America we do not tolerate judging of people by their race, religion, or even their sexual preferences. We are taught by the media to embrace diversity, and even if we disagree with someone’s religion, political views, or sexual orientation they still have a right to believe what they believe. We should not judge them, and they should not judge us just because we are different.
It is sinful pride that makes us think we are better than someone else and judge their looks, views, or beliefs by our own standards. When we judge others with pride in our hearts we are judging them only by our own standards. If they judge us with their own standards they would think themselves better than us. Violence often results from judging one another by our own personal, family, or community standards. Jesus is warning us that judging others by our own personal standards will result in others judging us by their own personal standards. Instead, Jesus calls us to humility and to confess that we have a plank to remove from our own eye, before we can remove the speck from our brother’s eye. Jesus concludes, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
Finding the Measure
Jesus is telling us to be careful how we judge others, because they will judge us as we judge them. “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Jesus doesn’t speak against judging people. He warns us about the “measure” we use. Jesus makes it clear that he doesn’t judge people by his own standards, his own “measure”, his own words. John 12:46-50 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness."As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say."
Jesus says that he simply speaks what God the Father told him to say. The “measure” by which he judges a man is his Father’s Word. It is not Jesus who is judging, but the Word of God. “that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” Jesus does not judge by his own opinions, desires, or standards of what is good or evil, right or wrong. He simply speaks the Word which his Father has spoken to him. We are to judge others and ourselves, but not with our own “measure”, our own ideas, opinions, or thoughts of what is good and evil, right and wrong. To use our own “measure” is pure arrogance and then we are just being judgmental and end up thinking we are better than others.
When God’s Word, however, is the “measure” we use to judge ourselves and others, then we are not the judges, rather God’s Word is the judge, the “measure”, the standard. Saint Paul also writes, “1 Corinthians 4:3-6 “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written." Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.” Saint Paul doesn’t care what other people or a human court decides, or even what his own opinion of himself is. His opinion of himself is that his “conscience is clear.” In his judgment of himself he finds no guilt in himself. His conscience is clear. He concludes, however, “but that does not make me innocent.” Just because, in his own opinion, he judges himself not guilty doesn’t mean he really is innocent. “It is the Lord who judges me.” It is the Lord’s “measure”, judgment that matters in the end, not other humans’ or even his own.
The ultimate judgement comes from the Lord on the Day of Judgement. He will then perfectly bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of our hearts. The Lord is the One to whom we will ultimately answer. It is his judgment alone that matters not our own or anyone else’s. Therefore it is vital that we not use a “measure” in judging ourselves that either falls short of the Lord’s “measure”, or goes beyond it.
Taking Measures Into Our Own Hands
Paul says, “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written.” Paul is warning us not to go beyond the Lord’s written Word when judging ourselves or others. If we judge ourselves with a “measure” less than God’s Word then we begin to think that our sins aren’t so bad and we become complacent in our sin. We don’t seek forgiveness from Christ because we have judged that the things we do aren’t sinful, but are accepted by society. On Judgement Day we will be found unprepared because we haven’t repented of deeds that are sinful based on God’s “measure”, God’s Word, God’s judgement.
On the other hand, if we depart from God’s Word like the Pharisees and start judging people by standards that go beyond God’s Word, then again we have turned from the Lord’s “measure” and made up our own. When we start telling people how many steps they can take on the Sabbath Day, or what foods they can eat, then we have gone “beyond what is written.” We cause people to doubt their salvation and Christ’s forgiveness when we start making up our own “measure” with which to judge them.
When we speak God’s Word of Law and Gospel alone, to ourselves and others, then it is the Lord’s Word that judges not our own “measure” or standards. We do not judge. We do not set the “measure”, the standard by which we are to judge. We simply apply God’s Word to ourselves and others. The accusations that we are judgmental, or hypocrites only applies when we start judging people by our own standards, opinions, or ideas instead of by the Word of God.
Jesus says of his Father, “I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” When we speak the Lord’s commands, his Word, and when we use his “measure” to judge ourselves and others, his command leads to eternal life. The goal of the Lord’s judgment is always eternal life. When we judge using his standards, his commands, his Word alone and not our own judgment then we too are aiming at eternal life, for ourselves and others. Like Saint Paul we should care very little about the way others judge us or even how we judge ourselves if using a “measure”, a standard other than the Word of God. On the other hand, because the path to heaven is narrow and the road to destruction is wide we ought to rejoice to have brothers and sisters in Christ who will with God’s “measure” admonish us when we sin.
One of the questions that is asked of us when we join the church is, “Should I become aware of a fellow Christian living in apparent willful disobedience to God, I will speak to him/her in Christian love. Likewise, I will permit myself to be fraternally admonished.” Yes or No? Saint Paul writes in Galatians 6, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” The Lord calls us to use the measure of his Word to judge, admonish and restore one another.
Knowing that I am sinful by nature and that it is only the grace of God that keeps me from straying from His Word and Path I sincerely pray that my fellow Christian brothers and sisters would judge me when I sin. If you do not apply God’s Word of Law and Gospel to me when I slip into error then I may never see my sin and be lost forever. I don’t care if it is embarrassing to me, or difficult for you to gently show me my sin. Out of love for me do it anyway. Don’t just let me wander off to my destruction and eternal death. Trust in God and in his Word. Judge not with your own standards as hypocrites do, but with the “measure” of God’s Word as those do who love to find the lost sheep and bring it back into the fold. I may grumble, complain, and say all kinds of false things about you when you try to show me my sin, but I would still want you to try to restore me with God’s Word, with his command that leads to eternal life. If that is what I would want others to do for me, how can I not also do the same for them?
Desperate Times Require Desperate Measures
Saint Paul was once called to show his deepest love and greatest faithfulness to God’s Word. In Corinth the Christians were reveling in the sins they could commit since Jesus had died to forgive all sins. They didn’t understand that Jesus had rescued them from sin. He did not rescue them so they could sin all the more. 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
St. Paul was speaking the harshest judgment that the Word of God speaks. He was expelling this unrepentant sinner from the fellowship of believers. He was expelling him from the church. The Church began to call this practice excommunication. It was the strongest “measure” God had given his church to wake unrepentant sinners from their sleep and call them back to the narrow path. Paul makes it clear that his judgement had one purpose for this man lost in sin, “so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” Paul only wanted salvation for this man. Love and judgement often seem mutually exclusive. But love is there when we admonish and even punish our children. It is there when we judge ourselves and others with the “measure” of God’s Word that leads to eternal life.
Beware of sinful pride that cares more about peoples’ opinions of you or our church than the souls we are trying to bring back to the narrow path. When we speak God’s Word it is his Word that judges, not our personal opinions or standards. When we attempt to call back a lost brother or sister it is out of love; doing for them what we would want them to do for us. Proverbs 20:6 “Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?” We are called to love one another and be faithful to the Lord’s “measure” that leads to eternal life.
June2018 & July 2018