justice scale weighing questions marks

You Choose What’s Right-Ethical Relativism / Spiritual Meditations

I believe people are good for the most part.  So how is it that some believe that women should be quiet and submissive while others have women preachers?  How is it that some believe the LGBTQ community is defined by their genetics and should be allowed to choose whom they love while others think they should be killed or imprisoned?

Where we stand on these polar opposites, and everything in between, is based on what our cultures have taught us is right or wrong.  It’s known as ethical relativism.

What is Ethical Relativism

Ethical relativism – In ethics, the belief that nothing is objectively right or wrong and that the definition of right or wrong depends on the prevailing view of a particular individual, culture, or historical period.

Does that raise some major concerns for you?  It does for me but it warrants consideration.

When it comes to determining what is ethical, many of us rely on our religious upbringing or that of our parents.  Why not, what else do we have to base them on?  It is interesting to apply ethical relativism to a few controversial scripture verses and see where it takes us. I encourage you to search your own heart and expand on these thoughts.

Scripture Worth a Modern Review

A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this. (Deut 22:5) 
  • This truly depends on the cultural definition of what constitutes men’s and women’s clothing.  Does this include theatrical costumes?
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet (1 Timothy 2:11–12, NIV)
  • Some societies are matriarchal.
  • Some have women preachers with God-given inspiration to share.
  • Some have women CEOs.
  • These do not separate anyone from God.
[In worship] Every man who prays or prophesies with long hair dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with no covering of hair dishonors her head—she is just like one of the “shorn women.” If a woman has no covering, let her be for now with short hair; but since it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair shorn or shaved, she should grow it again. A man ought not to have long hair. (1 Corinthians 11:7) 
  • Praying women internationally have been cutting their hair for centuries.
  • and the long-haired man that comes to my mind is Samson, one of God’s own people. 
  • God cares more about what is in a person’s heart than what they look like; hair length has nothing to do with reverence.
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers,  for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine  that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Tim 1:8-11)

Historical cultures exhibit much diversity in what is covered in this verse, but here are a few jumping off points.

  • Have you ever run a red light or parked illegally? 
  • Let us thank God for Jesus the rebel. 
  • Are we not all sinful?
  • God gives us free will to be irreligious or not. 
  • Some societies have practiced human sacrifice as normal.
  • Where people draw the line defining sexual immorality fluctuates between cultures and periods in time.
  • Recent history has not been kind to homosexuals but there were periods of ancient history when it was quite acceptable, and some societies are moving in that direction today.
  • The slave trade in the Southern USA in the 18th and 19th century was common-place and rationalized as acceptable, even by some professed Christians. 
  • I don’t know anyone who doesn’t lie occasionally, even if only to avoid hurting someone’s feelings; some lie to themselves.
There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them. …Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you. (Lev 11:4,12)
  • Here is an example of the Old Testament law that was retracted by God in a dream to Peter in the New Testament.  Did God change His mind, or did humanity find healthy ways to prepare the ‘unclean’ food?

Time and Place Matters

So, here’s the point-we can’t always apply Biblical statements to every culture but must understand them in the context of the time and place they were written. Then apply that understand to our current time and place.  Too often we cling to our well-ingrained dogma, thoughts, and behaviors, searching in spiritual texts for those fragments that support our position, that of our friends or what is generally socially acceptable.   

Jesus said

“Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.”  (Luke 17:1 NIV)

Leading someone astray from God includes being a poor example in how we correct, undermine, or denigrate their life, behavior or personality, as well as, leading them into addiction, prostitution or numerous other degrading behaviors. 

So, we have a conundrum; do we allow our culture to define what is right and wrong? Do we allow scripture to define it?  Do we just do whatever seems right to us at the time?  My thought is to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

As thinking,  believing adults, we need to question whether our heart and actions hurt or undermine another person. As you may have heard, whenever possible, it is better to be kind than to be right.

Scripture to Live By

Following are a few scriptures that remind us to implement kindness in our lives. The principles they express are universally accepted by the 5 major world religions.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:2)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3:12-14)
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

I have heard people redefine who their neighbors are to fit their biases.  However, if we look at the context of this verse, we find that the neighbors of Jesus’ time included Romans,  Greeks, other Gentiles, Sadducees, Pharisees, Samaritans and those of various peoples who were often present in Israel. Our ‘neighbors’ are everyone.

More thoughts related to this topic can be found at these links:

Are You Smart Enough to Judge Others?

Who are Your Neighbors

Relevant Scripture

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy…Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy,” (Acts 2: 17–18)

sketch of Jesus and Samaritan woman at well

Are We Smart Enough to Judge Others?/Spiritual Meditations

Many of us live in a society drowning in shallow judgments based on a people’s appearance, vocabulary, dialect, education, fashion, sexual preference, ethnic group, where they live, where they’re from, are they interracially married and other characteristics that are meaningless to God. We even judge ourselves based on how well we think we measure up to such standards. Often those standards are hoisted upon us during our developmental years by parents, teachers and peers, and now our mind accepts them.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Of course, we know there are more important issues in life; loving others, humility, gratitude, patience, generosity and all the guidance we find in the ten commandments and the sermon on the mount among other texts. How do we prevent ourselves from criticizing those who have a speck in their eye?

In order to swim out of the riptide of biases, we need to focus on that which is meaningful to God; a person’s heart, their soul, their Inner Being. But are we so wise and discerning that we can see that deeply into a person? Do we know and understand all the pieces of their life that have come together to make them who they are? Their behavior may not be what God would wish for them, but is it up to us, with our limited knowledge, to correct them? Let’s explore.

Generally, Don’t Judge Others

It is easy to quote the Bible verses that support our position on any issue, but if we look at all the verses regarding judging others, we find that the list is more heavily weighted against it.

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at 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,’ and behold, the log is 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 7:1-5)

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God…. Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Rom 14:10-13)

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:46-48)

For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” (Heb 10:30)

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:37-38)

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. (Rom 14:1-13)

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. (Rom 12:16)

Judgment pollutes our heart as we often intend malice, while slandering another person (Mark 7:20-23). It also makes us vulnerable to hatred as we plant seeds of unforgiveness and condemnation that take root in our hearts and minds (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Judge With Understanding

In John 7:7 Jesus told his disciples that the world hates him “because I testify about it that its works are evil.” He also repeatedly criticized the Pharisees. So, he couldn’t have meant that we’re all supposed to just throw up our hands and say, “Hey, to each his own. Who am I to judge?”

We are blessed to have words of guidance and direction from Jesus. Unfortunately, we do not have his inspired understanding of a person as he demonstrated in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. After speaking with Jesus, she announced to her neighbors “see a man who told me all the things that I have done”

When Jesus told us the harsh truth about our sin, he brought us close. He made us his friends, even as sinners.

The ultimate goal of confronting a person, with the way they are separating themselves from God, is to bring repentance. We are called to judge sin—always with the goal of repentance and reconciliation.

The following two verses support judgment, but in a spirit of teaching.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:24-26)

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. (Gal 6:1-6)

John 7:24 says “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” which speaks to the necessity of being wise enough and discerning enough to know what ‘right judgment’ is. Who can make this claim?

Proverbs 31:9 comes right out and says it “Open your mouth, judge righteously” but then goes on to qualify what we should be judging “defend the rights of the poor and needy. “

The Apostle Paul, however, came up against gross immorality in one of his fledgling churches. Not only did he point out the offending individual, but he identified the characteristics of persons that the church should shun. Although there certainly was/is merit in eliminating bad influences within the church, influences that could hinder spiritual growth in others, it is difficult to apply first century descriptions to twenty-first century society. If one covets the car of his rich neighbor or idolizes a celebrity should they be shunned? What we consider to be immoral today is also significantly different than 2000 years ago; just compare the typical attire of a first-century middle eastern woman with the norm of today. Yes, we should use these verses as guidelines, but we must be very careful in how we apply them, keeping in mind that Christians already have a reputation for being ‘judgmental’. Here’s what Paul said:

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you…. that someone has his father’s wife…. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present….Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?  Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened….But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:1-11)

When are You Being Judgmental?

  • When you are more enraged at someone else’s sin than you are embarrassed by your own.
  • When you gossip. What makes gossip so dangerous is that you are judging someone without giving them the chance to change. At least if you judged someone to their face, they could do something about it.
  • When you refuse to forgive – To refuse to forgive someone is to be almost entirely ignorant of the enormity of what God has forgiven you.
  • When you think the other person is hopeless and assume they won’t change and won’t listen to your fully considered guidance. You’re consigning them to their sin without ever giving them the chance to receive grace.
  • When you “cut off” those who disagree with you. This is the essence of judging.

Being Judgmental Says Something About You

We usually judge others in the areas where we feel the weakest. We expose our own insecurities when we criticize someone else.

Although it is an admirable goal, I don’t think that it’s possible to live a life where we never judge anyone, ever. So, I’d like to offer a practice that may help.

Stay out of judgment and be in curiosity.

Judgment shuts us down and keeps us from understanding the full situation. If we’re being honest, most judgments about people are based on incomplete information.

Curiosity, on the other hand, keeps us open to the possibility that there is something about the situation that we don’t fully understand.

Conclusion

John tells us in I John 4:20 “If a man says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar. for if he doesn’t love his brother, who he can see, how can he love God , who he can’t see”.

We must realize the balance between grace and truth. Don’t judge others by withholding the truth. But don’t judge them by speaking the truth without grace. Instead, give them the grace and truth of the gospel. Truth without grace is judgmental fundamentalism; grace without truth is liberal sentimentality. The gospel combines both.  But if there is any question in your mind as to whether you should criticize someone, don’t.

References

Shola at “The Positivity Solution”

“Judging Others” by All About God

“7 Signs that You are Judging Others” by J.D. Greear

 

 

EKG spelling love

What’s Hiding Behind Generosity? / Spiritual Meditations

Psychologists advise us that generosity provides numerous benefits, not only for others, but for ourselves.

How Generosity Improves Our Lives

A 10-year research study of 2700 people done by the University of Michigan revealed that the positive effects of generosity include improving one’s mental and physical health and promoting longevity.   Researchers found that men who did regular volunteer work had death rates two-and-one half times lower than men who didn’t. Generosity reduces stress, supports one’s immune system and enhances one’s sense of purpose.

In an article for Psychology Today, Lisa Firestone Ph.D.  tells us that “generosity is a natural confidence builder and a natural repellent of self-hatred. People who battle depression have been shown to benefit from volunteering, as it gives them a sense of value and purpose, while placing them in a social environment.”

Though we may fail to see a downside to living an altruistic life, and readily applaud acts of generosity in others, many of us fail to allow others to be generous to us. Those of us who have been taught to give without asking for anything in return, feel ashamed or embarrassed at being given a hand. However, accepting from others allows them the opportunity to experience the aforementioned benefits. It’s truly the give and take that brings us our greatest sense of joy.

What Constitutes Generosity?

You may be familiar with the following Bible verse.

When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.  But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. (Matt 6:2-4)

As you read it, do you first think of the ‘gift’ as money? The word ‘alms’, which is used in many Bible versions of this verse, is also defined as food given to poor people with synonyms that are, for the most part, indicating the giving of something concrete, like a handout or contribution. And this was the direction of my earlier thinking because the synagogues were notorious recipients of monetary contributions and because ‘charity’ is typically thought of as money or goods.

Yet generosity also includes kindness, hospitality and service to others; acts that everyone has the resources to provide. My Hebrew language advisor, Dr. Frank Leeds III, tell me that

“The giving of Alms is rooted in the Hebrew word Hesed.  Hesed is translated scores of different ways with the accent not on what is given but rather what flows from a loving heart …which is also the key characteristic of God.”

What Flows from a Loving Heart?

Service to Others Flows from a Loving Heart

Mother Teresa was a shining example of a giver of ‘hesed’.

“In determining which work would be done, there was no planning at all”, she said. “I headed the work in accordance with how I felt called by the people’s sufferings. God made me see what He wanted me to do.”

Her ability to ‘see’ was one of her gifts from God. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit gives every believer a spiritual gift that he chooses for them. He explains:” A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.“ (I Cor 12:7) There are different ways of serving, but the same Lord is served. There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to all for their particular service. So, these gifts are much more varied than any list you will find in the Bible and we each have at least one that we can use to serve.

Mother Teresa also expressed that

“Whoever the poorest of the poor are, they are Christ for us. -Christ under the guise of human suffering. The Missionaries of Charity (her convent) are firmly convinced that each time we offer help to the poor, we are offering help to Christ. The work is nothing but a means to express our love for him.” Then she said “let us not be satisfied just by giving money. Money is not everything. The poor need the work of our hands, the love of our hearts. Love, and abundant love, is the expression of our Christian religion. “

This attitude is based on Matt 25:31-40, where Jesus tells the disciples about the future separation of the righteous and unrighteous.

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;  and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Jesus claimed His acts of service channeled the loving acts of service of His Father and the acts themselves were proof of this claim. Healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, calming the storm, raising the dead, casting out demons, and dying on the cross are some.

Jesus said “I am in the Father and the Father is in me “.   Likewise, Christ will recognize those who are in him and in whom he is. Jesus’s acts of service were evidence that he was the Son of God, just as we are sons and daughters of God, sisters and brothers of Christ, also evidenced by our acts of loving service.

Hospitality Flows from a Loving Heart

Generosity also includes hospitality which is more than a simple welcome or an offer of food or drink. Hospitality is an attitude of a loving heart that opens us to the enrichment of new ways of thinking and living that are brought to us by others. It is to receive them on their own terms by offering friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving them alone.

Hospitality implies attentiveness to others and to the needs of others, even anticipating their needs. Often our lack of hospitality is simply the failure to notice and acknowledge others and their needs—both the needs of the larger world and the needs of those closest to us. Jesus models that attentiveness; He noticed the sick, the excluded, the hungry, and those that others passed by.

Kindness Flows from a Loving Heart

If you live in a busy world, kindness is a form of generosity that is hard to find. It is being gentle, thoughtful, helpful, and forgiving at times when it would be easy to be angry. Your level of kindness surfaces when the sheer inconvenience of a situation would seem to justify non-involvement. Kindness much prefers considerateness to anger, and leaps enthusiastically over the barriers of inconvenience.

Kindness is being gentle, thoughtful, helpful, and forgiving at times when it would be easy to be angry.

It is only too evident that Christians should be ambassadors of kindness. As the Apostle Paul advises in Ephesians 4:31: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

But kindness is not exclusively Christian. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius understood the personal as well as the social benefits of kindness. “Ask thyself daily,” he wrote, “to how many ill-minded persons thou hast shown a kind disposition.”

The expressions of kindness may be simple and undramatic. The results, however, can be decisive and most dramatic. A young man, named Mark, was trying to negotiate his way home one day with his arms full of paraphernalia he had just taken from his high school locker. The inevitable happened. He tripped. Suddenly his precious cargo was no longer in his arms but scattered on the sidewalk. A Good Samaritan bystander, a student from the same high school, stopped and helped his distraught neighbor. A small act of kindness, undramatic and unpretentious. A conversation ensued and, before very long, a friendship developed.

In time, Mark explained to his friend that the reason he cleaned out his locker was because he did not want to leave a mess behind for someone else. He had saved up enough of his mother’s sleeping pills to put himself to sleep permanently. He was going home to kill himself when an act of unexpected kindness gave his plans and his life a new direction. Kindness, truly, can save lives

Conclusion

A generous heart knows no bounds. Our ability to give to others is not limited to money, for there is often a greater appreciation for your kindness, hospitality and service particular to the need, which is often unexpectedly presented. We must prepare our hearts to allow a spontaneous loving flow. This can be done by meditating on the spiritual truths found in scripture and putting them into practice. All that we have been given by God drastically outweighs the time, talents and virtue we give to Him in service.

Relevant Quotes

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. —Simone Weil

If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one. —Mother Teresa

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. – John Wesley

If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. And if you want to be first, you must be the slave of the rest. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matt 20:26-27)

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart. (Prov 3:3)

The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all. (Acts 28:2)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Heb 13:2)

References:

The Love Languages of God by Gary Chapman

“Generosity-What’s in It for You” a Psychology Today article by Lisa Firestone PhD

Putting on the Heart of Christ by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

“Virtue of Kindness” – Dr. Donald Demarco