Human Altars, Life Mottos, and Beth Moore

“At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing.” (Judges 21:25) 

This is the last verse in the book of Judges. I read it and turned the page to see what came next, but that’s it: there was no king and the people just did whatever they wanted. Throughout the book, we see how Israel has devolved into moral and religious corruption. God continues to draw them with His mercy, and they continue to reject Him. Over and over, it plays like a broken record.

The tribes were given specific directions, but chose to do their own thing. What is interesting is that in the absence of leadership or relationship with God, they formed their own little idols to worship. It’s the human condition to worship something… they just chose the fake over the real. There is a depravity happening on an individual level and on a wider cultural level, it permeated everything they did and it had awful consequences. They were in a kind of moral free fall, and interestingly enough the book ends there. The people just did their own thing.

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with a culture that claims to embrace logic and science, but in reality lives solely by feelings. The radical feminists’ entire agenda relies on the necessity of a fixed gender. The transgender phenomenon relies on the exact opposite argument. What is happening? The blatant dishonesty and willful ignorance involved is mind-numbing. Want to murder your baby just before it’s born? No problem, it’s not really a baby anyway and it’s your right. But please love all and accept everyone. Your six year old boy feels like a girl? Great! Follow that path and do whatever you like, nothing is real until you say so. Unless you need it to be. Wait… now I’m confused again. 

I listened to a podcast yesterday that pointed out some interesting consequences to this kind of direction-less thinking. The sexual revolution of years ago delivered some unexpected results. Decades later we have fatherless kids, rampant abortion, shattered families, pervasive pornography, and a #MeToo movement that acts genuinely surprised that we are in this mess. Who has been liberated in all this? Nobody. In trying to free ourselves of all constraints, we have become complete slaves to an ideology that can change with the weather. 

We cannot just keep clinging to self and expect things to work out. Lisa Whittle, in her book Put Your Warrior Boots On, says one of my favorite things ever: 

“This is why getting right before God is so vitally important. This is why the search in the bottom of a bottle must end. This is why no more playing around with sex. This is why our marriages need to get right. This is why we have to stop playing church. This is why we can’t just do whatever we want. This is why we need to be committed to holy living, at all costs – because sin kills the fight out of us and we need all the fight we can get. Standing is dozens of different moments of yes to God and no to self. We can’t expect to stand for God without practicing. Otherwise, when the time comes, we won’t know what to do.” 

We can choose to be the captain of our own ship, but it’ll be more like a rowboat in a typhoon. Rudderless and entirely at the mercy of the changing waves. We need a captain. We need Jesus at the helm. The wisdom of the world is coming in direct conflict with the wisdom of God, now more than ever. God has made foolish the wisdom of the world (I Corinthians 1:20). When you go against the true nature of God, you are faced with two choices: continue in folly or surrender to the truth. The vast majority of our world chooses to continue on believing and promoting things that are false. What is our role here? Bury our heads in the sand? Argue our point until we are exhausted and even more frustrated? Meh.

We are to joyfully embrace the truth. We are to love our neighbor. One of my mottos in life is “speak the truth in love.” It’s so important. Both sides are important, both are necessary. Humorously, I saw this on Twitter yesterday: 

 

Dang, Beth… did you look me up? Because I actually DO have this in my Twitter bio. I get what she’s saying… don’t whack someone over the head with your big fat truth if it’s going to shred them. But this is Biblical and we cannot and must not discount it just because it isn’t fancy or soothing enough for your feelings. Don’t ever say “no, no no” to anything in God’s Word. Say “yes, yes, yes” even when it makes you uncomfortable. I’ll save this for another day, but enough with people telling us how and what to glean from God’s Word. No more human altars. 

We need a compass. We need absolutes. Jesus is the only sure thing that keeps us from drifting about in a sea of our own mess. The idol of self is getting bigger every day and we must look away from it if we are to stay afloat in this crazy world. 

Secular Puritains

“A mob of secular Puritans…” 

I read that phrase this morning in a Wall Street Journal article and it really struck a chord with me. It was a write up on the recent hysteria over the fact that the Vice President’s wife, Karen Pence, works at a Christian school that is… well… Christian.

This past week has been both discouraging and maddening. I’m dumbfounded by the ability our culture has to create chaos at will, out of thin air. Take a big ‘nothing-burger’ as my son would say and drop in some phony accusations, half-truths, innuendos and ‘voila!’… you have yourself a scandal. Let’s all be outraged.

While we were all focused on taking some Catholic kids and a Christian art teacher down a notch, something else happened.

They said it was a big deal and it sure is. Read up on it if you can stomach it. See through the loopholes and the fancy language. This is pretty rich coming from a guy who wants the death penalty off the books. In addition to the unimaginable ‘abortion up until birth’ bit, do you know what else these folks did? They redefined what it means to be a person. A person is now “a human being who has been born and is alive.” In order to keep the industry thriving, you have to sanitize it a bit I suppose. If it’s not an actual person, there’s nothing to feel yucky about. And how special that One World Trade Center was lit up in pink to celebrate. You know who else did this?  Slave owners. Actual Nazis.

The mob of secular Puritans is an impossible group to reason with or fight against because they have no real truth other than what they deem good in the moment. Their false righteousness will embrace you one day and slay you the next. You can be a Christian, but you can’t espouse any beliefs that make you actually act differently than the world. You can fully embrace government programs for children while simultaneously celebrating their murder when they are not convenient. This is a sad and pathetic way to live for sure, but aside from complaining about it, what is a Christian to do? I’m genuinely asking here… I certainly don’t have the answers, but here are some thoughts:

  • While doing all the fact-checks, make sure you do a heart check as well.
    • Facts mean nothing if we can’t present them with some kind of humanity. “…in humility, correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Timothy 2:25)
  • Pay a visit to the issues, but dwell with Jesus.
    • Life still has beauty and worth and God is still good. We can’t be effective disciples if we only surround ourselves with controversy. Shut down the apps, the media, and go hang out with some actual people. “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things which one may edify another” (Romans 14:19).
  • Remember what’s behind the curtain.
    • The evil can be overwhelming. The battles can seem too much. We don’t need to get tangled up in personal offenses and conflicts that lead to more strife. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

God is still good.

We can walk in the light and expose the darkness at the same time (Ephesians 5:11).

We can be His children in the midst of a crooked generation (Philippians 2:14).

In Biblical times the people would tear their clothes and put ashes on their heads. I thought of that when I saw that building all lit up in celebration. Things aren’t as “nuanced” as they would like us to believe. God is pretty black and white, and He won’t be mocked. In the meantime, keep on keepin on as they say. Love the truth, love your neighbor, and pray for this great country.

 

 

Unhappy Birthday Roe v. Wade!

Yesterday, our country celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy of nonviolent activism. Today, many are celebrating the “birthday” of the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion on demand. The irony of posting “happy birthday” to Roe v. Wade is lost on many it seems, but I digress. Regardless, we stand at 60 million abortions and counting since the decision 46 years ago.

Planned Parenthood made the rather bold move of equating MLK’s civil rights struggle with the struggle for reproductive “freedom”, a statement that prompted his niece to come out and say that making such claims on his birthday was “inhuman”. They were not alone, however, as story after story posted on mainstream media this week seem to agree:

  • Abortion is about freedom. Freedom to start a family on your own terms.
  • Jesus never mentioned abortion. The Bible never mentions abortion. You can oppose choice, but claiming it’s about Christianity is baseless.
  • Most Americans support reproductive justice and safe access to abortion.
  • Abortion helps ensure that every child is a wanted child.
  • Abortion is normal.

Several articles lament the devastating effects of what happens when women don’t get an abortion. We are told that this sacred right is under attack now more than ever. The New York Times ran a story telling us all to get better prepared and more aggressive, because abortion is still not easy enough for some women. They may have to drive a few hours to a clinic. They may miss the gestation ‘deadline’ in their state be “forced” to go through with their pregnancy. Not to fear, the New York assembly will vote today to legalize abortion up until the time of birth. The Mother Jones article referenced above reminds us that when women are “forced” into having a baby, they just can’t ever catch up financially to their fellow sisters who had access to this most empowering and lifesaving procedure. Un-ironically, they bemoan the devastating effects that will last for generations. They assure the reader that over time, women who have had abortions are just fine… their children however, really pay the price from the get-go and are set up for a life of hardship. Better to never be born than to suffer financial hardship or inconvenience.

Of course, no one speaks of the effects of a culture that makes women feel they have no choice but to choose an abortion. The “me first” society in which anything goes is never to blame. We’ve somehow equated being ’empowered’ with a most un-empowering act and called it freedom. Their tagline is “on demand, without apology.” 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said recently that anyone who disagrees that there is a right to abortion is “not in line with where we are as a society.” 

I realize this is a topic that stretches far and wide with lasting consequences on both sides. Those staggering numbers are people’s actual lives, and as much as those parade signs implore me to be loud and proud about my body and my choice… I sink low with the heaviness of how we have created a culture so detached and so numb to anything outside ourselves and our immediate wants. I don’t sit up on a pedestal and judge women who have been through this. I ache for them to know the forgiveness and healing that only Jesus can give. But we have to surrender the empty propaganda and accept the truth of what this is really about.

The “shout your abortion” crowd calls their movement a triumph. Collectively, I think we know better than to go that far. The sacrifice they make to avoid a temporary or permanent change in lifestyle is a heavy one. Many do not regret it. Some do.

Forty-one years ago, a young woman carried me for nine months and then parted ways with me. Was it inconvenient? Yes. Was it humiliating, embarrassing and confusing? Yes. Was there a bigger picture for her to think about? Yes.

Time doesn’t make it go away. That beautiful woman still struggles. I have my little moments where the trauma rears its ugly head. When all is said and done, is she any more traumatized than the woman who chose an abortion all those years ago? I think not. As an adoptee, the lens through which I see all this is admittedly colored. But the excuses just don’t sit well with me. The frequency and ease with which this is happening should be distressing to everyone. Our self-centeredness is leading us to self-destruct.

So when a guy like Justin Trudeau has the nerve to preach to people like me with the weak argument that I’m wrong because I’m not marching lockstep with the rest of society, I take it as a compliment. History is littered with the masses making utterly tragic decisions thinking there is safety in numbers.

I realize that without a Biblical worldview, my arguments are useless. Sin wreaks havoc on the human condition, and a person without Christ can easily normalize sin. Abortion is never normal and it never will be. If our biggest fear is that we don’t have enough access to it, we need to re-examine why it is we are so thirsty for it in the first place.

The greatest human stories come from struggle. I am forever grateful that the woman who couldn’t take care of me at least had the conviction to see things through. I would argue that many women who were afraid of the consequences of having a baby have faced equally devastating consequences by not having one. Regardless, let us please instill the truth in our children and ourselves that life is never disposable. May we understand and accept that sin has consequences, but Jesus forgives and frees. He is able to take the mess we’ve created and make something good out of it. My entire life is a testimony to that truth, and if it changes just one person’s mind, if it leads just one person to the foot of the cross… it will be well worth it.

So un-happy birthday Roe v. Wade… you may be legal and even loved, but I will keep speaking up and speaking out against your disastrous consequences until you are no longer so high on that altar.

Boys Will Be Boys… If We Let Them

“The warrior must learn to yield his heart to nothing. Not to kill his heart for fear of falling into temptation, but to protect his heart for nobler things, to keep the integrity of his heart as a great reservoir of passionate strength and holy desire.” John Eldredge

Because I am on that crazy Twitter thing, I get a front row seat to the latest cultural outrages and moral lessons du jour we all are supposed to be having big opinions about. The latest brouhaha being the Gillette razor company and their new ad challenging men to confront their innately barbaric behaviors and act more civil. Depending on your personal views, it’s either touching or pandering propaganda. Regardless, for some reason it’s going down as one of the most ‘disliked’ ads in internet history. In an interview, the president of the company said,

“By holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behavior, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal ‘best,’ we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come.”

It sounds nice and good on the surface I suppose. Lots of buzzy buzzwords, but it’s not horrible. Everyone should at least aim to not be a jerk to others in life, right? A new generation y’all… working toward their personal best, whatever that may be. We are holding each other accountable for what, exactly? The criminal behavior of some? Or just behavior we deem unsavory and disagreeable? Who decides what everyone’s personal best should be? 

Some in the Twitter-verse called this ad “breathtaking and necessary”, jumping on the idea that toxic masculinity has ruined basically everything, and a new kind of modern masculinity needs to take it’s place. Others say the condescension is just too much… imagine a shampoo commercial asking women to rise above their innate manipulative cattiness… I don’t see that succeeding in the same way. See the problem? It’s not that anyone is actually threatened by a silly razor commercial, or even against the idea of respecting one another… it’s the continual, relentless message to men and boys that something is inherently wrong with them because they are male, and the one-sided argument that they (never women) contribute to a toxic kind of society. The Dove commercial parades women of all shapes and sizes around and tells us “you’re fine just how you are!”, while the message to the guys is, “men, you have some work to do.”

As a mom of two boys, it is definitely NOT my goal to raise hyper-aggressive, emotionless man-bullies. My basic dream in life is that they grow up to be godly men of character, integrity and morals. I just don’t believe in neutralizing or stifling what makes them who they are and replacing it with something completely unnatural.

Men are born warriors. Whether we like it or not, whether it offends us or not, they have innate drives in them to protect, to compete and well… be different than us women. Just last night my teenage son “accidentally” kicked his foot through a wall in our game room because he lost a ping-pong game to his little brother. A foot through a wall you guys. My first words were, “Whyyyyyy would you do that?!” My brain can’t comprehend it. Of course I don’t want ragey, angry boys parading through the house punching things when they don’t get their way… but I know that sometimes boys will be boys. (The Gillette commercial says I can’t use that phrase to excuse terrible behavior, but I’m using it.) There is biological stuff happening here, and if women can use the hormone argument, so can growing boys. It doesn’t mean it’s excused or that there isn’t a consequence – he’s going to pay up for the new drywall, I assure you. It doesn’t mean my kid is a neanderthal either. No, a girl would probably not kick a hole in a wall over a ping-pong game, but you know what? My boys would never spread gossipy rumors about people the way some girls at school do on a daily basis. Pick your poison, because it goes both ways. Masculinity run amuck is indeed harmful, and so is its feminine counterpart.

Just last week, The American Psychological Association  came out with what they say are very well-researched ‘guidelines’ regarding what they think makes a healthy man. Being adventurous, taking risks, stoicism and competitiveness are out. It’s scientifically acceptable for a man to want to become a woman, but abnormal for a man to pursue the innate drives that make him an actual man. What garbage. 

So, to the John Eldredge quote and why I am addressing this topic: we can’t kill our hearts just because we don’t know how to completely control them. Yes, we humans have a terrible knack for veering off course with our God-given abilities and drives… but if we would yield to our Creator and His purposes… if we would channel all that passion into a great reservoir of holy desire as he calls it… wow. A change of heart, not a change in gender roles, makes men and women Godly and effective. Trying to squash boys down to fit some new idea of masculinity won’t lead to a better culture. Showing them how to protect their heart for the pursuit of noble and better things though, that makes a man. In fact, it makes us all better in the end because we are being who we were created to be.

Hooray to a razor company for wanting to raise the bar a little in our bottom-feeder culture… but no to thinking that the way to do it is by taking away the very things that make men (and women) who they are. God created us to be different. It’s a shocker, I know. Our hearts don’t need to be tamed, they need to be directed. Full-steam ahead, passionate men and women with a holy desire are a force to be reckoned with.

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Baby Tigers and False Peace

“Is it even possible to live a holy Christian life? The kind of life we talk about and aspire to, but seem to fall short of on a daily basis?”

Some form of this question has been buzzing around in my conversations the past week or so with different people in my life. I’ve come to the conclusion that we humans fall into two categories on this subject: man-centered or God-surrendered.

A man-centered approach to this life assumes (rightly so) that we are a hopelessly flawed bunch of people trying to do our best. Not just flawed, but sinful. We float from one good intention to another, sometimes succeeding, but often falling short. We hope that we can meet the goals we’ve set, but we are realistic about the fact that we are mere mortals and certainly not saints. The bar is always just a little bit out of reach.

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Defeater Beliefs

“I’m a Christian, BUT…”

“Well sure I believe the Bible is true BUT…”

We live in a time and place where fence-sitting could be a national sport. It’s good to be grey, bendy, undefined… unless you have defined yourself in which case, be whatever you want. There’s always some crazy hoopla surrounding “Christian” celebs or pastors who choose to go off into the grey, and rightly so.

There’s a great article, entitled “Gracious Confidence is More Appealing than Angst and Doubt that appeared in the Gospel Coalition and really hits the nail on the head I think. The idea of “defeater” beliefs is fascinating to me because it’s these beliefs are being used to draw people in. I have to say, I’m of the opinion that there’s so much beauty and freedom to be found in true Biblical Christianity, you don’t need to have a “yeah BUT…” excuse at any time. Too many big shots are out there preaching a pathetic version of the Bible because they are afraid of bringing the truth to sinners. How arrogant and prideful we have become when we take the responsibility upon ourselves to impress people with our words and actions. Love everyone, yes, but for heavens sakes give them something to believe in.

“But what happens when there are immediate “defeater” beliefs, such as “Christianity is intolerant because you believe Jesus is the only way” or “Christians believe in hell,” or “Christians discriminate against LGBT people because they don’t perform same-sex marriages”? When we come up against these objections, it’s easy to assume that the way to win hearing is to present the teachings of the Christian faith in the most tortured way possible, almost as if we too are as uncomfortable with our religion’s teaching as they are. We build common ground by acting as if we hold in common an outsider’s aversion to Christianity.

By presenting the image of ourselves as “wrestling” with challenging teachings, we think we come across more human, more vulnerable, and more authentic. We’re convinced we are more winsome when we make it seem as if we’d love for Christianity or the Bible to be different, or we’d love to find a way to interpret these texts differently, but right now, we’re just in the same season of struggle as many people of faith are, as we try to reach the modern world. I believe this approach is fundamentally misguided. There is nothing attractive about people proclaiming the lordship of Jesus who, deep down, resist some of the King’s commands. It’s like saying, “Jesus is Lord, but I don’t like it.”

There’s nothing attractive about inviting people to become part of a community that doesn’t know what it believes, or that is fundamentally uncomfortable with its own teachings. Yet this is the approach that I see among many evangelicals, particularly those of my own generation, who are trying to gain a hearing for the gospel.

I get it. It’s tough to present the beauty of Christianity in a culture in which the plausibility structures are set against you, in a pluralist society that sees all evangelism as intolerant, in an age that sees one’s self-expression (especially sexually) as fundamental to identity. Yes, it’s tough. We can all feel that pressure.

But we do ourselves no favors by backpedaling, by coming up with tortured explanations of why we believe what we believe, or by acting as if our hands are (unfortunately) tied by the biblical text we say is our authority.”

It isn’t authentic to not know what you believe. If we want to share the good news we must first not be ashamed of it, because it is indeed good news. When we act as though Jesus was just messing around when He said A, B or C we are saying our small brain knows better. Here’s a tip: we don’t.

We struggle and we sin, but we don’t totally leave the ranch for other pastures. There’s a truth that anchors us, centers us, and keeps us within the realm of Gods bounty, but when we proclaim to know more and simply bask in our “wrestling” we miss the freedom that Christ died to give us.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15

With gentleness and respect. We respect man more than God Himself when we change His gospel. We may be smart and witty and oh so plugged in to the heartbeat of our culture, but it benefits us nothing if we lose Christ along the way.

Do Your Own Lifting

Been on a longer than anticipated break from writing, all the end of school/beginning of summer shenanagins had me spinning around faster than I’m used to. Wanted to jump back in by sharing a fantastic article by John MacArthur about how we discern, judge (is that a bad word now?), and rightly relate to Gods word. It is easier than ever to see the Bible as a kind of side dish, but we must remember it’s actually supposed to be the “daily bread” that sustains us. Don’t ever let anyone do the work for you… taste and see that He is good, that His words are truth and life to our very bones… we do ourselves such a disservice when we rely on secondhand spirituality.

Here’s some good words from John MacArthur:

“False teachers flourish where there is no scrutiny. That’s why so many of them set up camp in environments where there is little to no biblical discernment—where God’s Word is nothing more than a supplement to personal experience, anecdote, and embellishment.

Why do the heavy lifting of careful Bible study when one can simply “let go” and be drawn into the gravitational pull of a religious guru? Our short attention span and quick-fix culture is easily preyed upon by charismatic sideshows, feel-good philosophy, and the television hucksters of modern pseudo-Christianity.

But we are derelict in our Christian duty if we allow that to happen to us and our churches. When the apostle Paul says to “examine everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), he is calling on all Christians to practice careful biblical discernment in all realms of life.

That may surprise some Christians who see discernment as uniquely a pastoral responsibility. It is certainly true that pastors and elders have an even greater duty to be discerning than the average layperson. Most of the calls to discernment in the New Testament are issued to church leaders (1 Timothy 4:6-7, 13, 16; Titus 1:9). Every elder is required to be skilled in teaching truth and able to refute unsound doctrine.

As a pastor, I am constantly aware of this responsibility. Everything I read, for example, goes through a grid of discrimination in my mind. If you were to look through my library, you would instantly be able to identify which books I have read. The margins are marked. Sometimes you’ll see approving remarks and heavy underlining. Other times you’ll find question marks—or even red lines through the text. I constantly strive to separate truth from error. I read that way, I think that way, and of course I preach that way. My passion is to know the truth and proclaim it with authority. That should be the passion of every elder, because everything we teach affects the hearts and lives of those who hear us. It is an awesome responsibility. Any church leader who does not feel the burden of this duty ought to step down from leadership.

But discernment is not only the duty of pastors and elders. The same careful discernment Paul demanded of pastors and elders is also the duty of every Christian. First Thessalonians 5:21 is written to the entire church: “Examine everything carefully.”

The Greek text is by no means complex. The word “carefully” has been added by the translators to make the sense clear. If we translate the phrase literally, we find it simply says, “Examine everything.” But the idea conveyed by our word carefully is included in the Greek word translated “examine,” dokimazō. This is a familiar word in the New Testament. Elsewhere it is translated “analyze,” “test,” or “prove.” It refers to the process of testing something to reveal its genuineness, such as in the testing of precious metals. Paul is urging believers to scrutinize everything they hear to see that it is genuine, to distinguish between the true and the false, to separate the good from the evil. In other words, he wants them to examine everything critically. He is effectively saying, “Judge everything.”

Typically someone will be quick to push back against that command citing Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” As if that somehow rules out any kind of critical or analytical appraisal of what others believe. Was Jesus forbidding Christians from judging what is taught in His name?

Obviously not. The spiritual discernment Paul calls for is different from the judgmental attitude Jesus forbade. In Matthew 7, Jesus went on to say,

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:2–5)

What Jesus condemned was the hypocritical judgment of those who held others to a higher standard than they themselves were willing to live by. He was certainly not suggesting that all judgment is forbidden. In fact, Jesus indicated that taking a speck out of your brother’s eye is the right thing to do—if you first get the log out of your own eye.

Elsewhere in Scripture, we are forbidden to judge others’ motives or attitudes. We are not able to discern “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). That is a divine prerogative. Only God can judge the heart, because only God can see it (1 Samuel 16:7). He alone knows the secrets of the heart (Psalm 44:21). He alone can weigh the motives (Proverbs 16:2). And He alone “will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:16). That is not our role. “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

What is forbidden is hypocritical judging and judging others’ thoughts and motives. But other forms of judgment are explicitly commanded. Throughout Scripture the people of God are urged to judge between truth and error, right and wrong, good and evil. Jesus said, “Judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say” (1 Corinthians 10:15). Clearly, God requires us to be discriminating when it comes to matters of sound doctrine.

We are also supposed to judge one another with regard to overt acts of sin. Paul wrote, “Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. ‘Remove the wicked man from among yourselves’” (1 Corinthians 5:12–13). That speaks of the same process of discipline outlined by Jesus Himself in Matthew 18:15-20.

At least one other kind of judgment is expressly required of every believer. We must examine and judge our own selves: “If we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:31). This calls for a careful searching and judging of our own hearts. Paul called for this self-examination every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:28). All other righteous forms of judgment depend on this honest self-examination. That is what Jesus meant when He said, “First take the log out of your own eye” (Luke 6:42).

Clearly, then, the command in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “examine everything,” in no way contradicts the biblical prohibition against being judgmental. The discernment called for here is doctrinal discernment. The conjunction at the beginning of this verse—“but examine everything”—ties it to the “prophecies” mentioned in verse 20. But this command would certainly include any message that claimed to carry divine approval or authority.

The unusually gullible Thessalonians seemed to have a problem in this regard. Like many today, they were eager to believe whatever was preached in the name of Christ. They were undiscriminating. That’s why Paul addresses this continual lack of discernment in both of his Thessalonian epistles. There is evidence in the first epistle, for example, that someone had confused the Thessalonians about the return of Christ. They were going through a time of severe persecution, and apparently some of them thought they had missed the Second Coming. In chapter 3 we learn that Paul had sent Timothy from Athens specifically to strengthen and encourage them in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:2). They were unaccountably confused about why they were being persecuted. Paul had to remind them, “You yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction” (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4).

Evidently someone had also taught them that believers who died before the Second Coming of Christ would miss that event entirely. They were in serious confusion. Chapters 4–5 contain Paul’s efforts to correct that confusion. He tells them that the dead in Christ will rise and be caught up with the living (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). And he assures them that although that day will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2), they need not fear being caught off guard (1 Thessalonians 5:3-6).

Incredibly, shortly after this, Paul had to write a second epistle, again assuring the Thessalonians that they had not missed some great event on the prophetic calendar. Someone, it seems, had sent them a counterfeit epistle claiming to be from Paul and suggesting that the day of the Lord had come already. They should not have been duped by such a ploy because Paul had written so plainly in his first epistle. He wrote them again:

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you be not quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3)

There was no excuse for their chronic gullibility.

Why were they so vulnerable to false teaching? Surely it was because they lacked biblical discernment. The Thessalonians did not examine everything in light of God’s Word. If they had, they would not have been so easily hoodwinked. And that is why Paul urged them to “examine everything.”

Article “Judge Everything” from Grace To You ministries