I had originally considered calling this entry “Lay Down Your Judgment” or “Lay Down Your Grudges.” Either would have worked, and I’ll touch upon them here. But I think the title I settled on captures both those ideas, and something more.
My atheist buddy Tim has an amusing-truth kind of song called “I Hate to Be Judgmental,” which begins, “I hate to be judgmental, but some people make me sick.” Later on, though, a larger truth comes up: “I hate to be judgmental, but there’s nothing else to do / Everybody’s judging me—why shouldn’t I judge you?” And it’s true; this judgment thing is an endless cycle. Getting worked up over someone else’s shortcomings is a pretty good time-killer that helps us feel better about ourselves.
Furthermore, it’s quite easy to extend this attitude to other Christians. I mean, we—and of course, by we, we mean they—should know better. They’re Christians, right? There’s certainly truth to that. But let’s remember, especially in a book dedicated to this premise, that all of us are still learning how to properly lay down our lives at Jesus’ feet.
Before we extend judgment, consider this: If Jesus is indeed the greatest thing, indeed the greatest person, in my life, shouldn’t that be true about every Christian I meet—and for that matter, every potential Christian? Shouldn’t I be looking for that movement of the Spirit in the other person, no matter (or especially given) what sin God calls them out of . . . and that Jesus already paid the price for?
When we refuse to forgive, we keep others in bondage. Jesus says it: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). Forgiveness, or the lack thereof, has that kind of power. By believing that we need—deserve—to be repaid for the wrongs done to us, we become, in a very real sense, spiritual slave owners. We accuse others of evil—then, instead of freeing them from it, leave them trapped in it. Are those the kind of people we want to be?
Yet we all do it. I certainly do. And at the same time, I keep someone else locked up, too—me. Slaves still need to be fed and watched over, you know, no matter how much contempt we have for them. And we fearfully await the day they rise up in rebellion against us.
With all that in mind, let’s come back to last week’s “transgressor” thoughts and expand even further. Something else I’ve been noticing in the gospels, and I suspect you have, too: The people we’d normally think of as transgressors (or whatever word we’d substitute for that)—those who commit sins of some obvious type of self-indulgence—aren’t the people who truly anger Jesus. He doesn’t let them off the hook, but he also very openly offers his compassion to them. At the same time he calls them out on the carpet, he calls them to something better. He knows that these people are only trying to fill a void in their lives, however poorly or self-destructively. Thus, he points to himself and says, “I’m what you’re looking for. Lay down all the rest of it and come follow me.”
The people who truly anger Jesus are the victimizers—those who corrupt others, who take advantage of others, those who hurt and damage others, and especially those who do all this under a veneer of self-righteousness. It’s one thing to try to avoid God’s holiness and judgment; it’s a whole ‘nother level to put yourself in the position of God, master, and judge of others. These are the people Jesus takes on constantly, and who are subjected to his anger and pronouncements of judgment. Not surprisingly, it’s these people who ultimately condemn Jesus to death—enabling him to “be numbered with the transgressors.” And yet, how does Jesus tell us to respond?
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27–36).
In short: You don’t get to hold onto your hurt. You don’t get to allow it to fester into bitterness. You don’t get to hold it over their heads. Let Jesus handle it. You, lay it down.
Lay It Down Today
Today’s assignment is a two-parter:
1) Read 1 Peter 3–4. Take note of all the encouragements Peter offers us to live as Jesus told us. There’s a lot of them. Meditate on them. Pray over them.
2) Today’s reading has likely brought someone to mind—and it’s OK if it’s the same person who came up last week; that just proves you’re not done yet. Repeat the following sentence with that person’s name inserted. “Jesus forgave [name] just as he forgave me.” You may need to ask Jesus to give you a heart to truly forgive, to help you receive his forgiveness toward you, or both. So ask.