So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture: “As I live and breathe,” God says, “every knee will bow before me; every tongue will tell the honest truth that I and only I am God.” So, mind your own business. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God. (Romans 17:10-12)
Hands full, indeed! My own life needs all the focus it can get. I don't really have the time or energy to criticize yours! I might think pointing out something a little 'off-kilter' in your life makes me look a bit better, but I probably noticed it in yours because I am so familiar with that same thing in my life! As Paul pens these words, he is addressing the tendency within the church to be critical of others who may not worship exactly as you do, or who seem to have just a little bit of a different upbringing in the faith. There were those in the church being critical of others just because they didn't observe some of the holy days or wasn't concerned where they bought their meats in the marketplace. They didn't even ask if the meats had been used as a sacrifice to a false god - they were just hungry and bought the meat! Sometimes we get all wigged-out at another for the silliest of things, finding fault in whatever action 'ruffles our feathers', all the while forgetting sometimes people do things without knowing they are even doing them!
When we point the finger at another, we are in danger of acting as judge and jury in their life and that is not a good place to be. As we have discussed before in this blog, there is only one Judge and that is God. He is the one that will hold us each accountable for our choices. It is not good to usurp his position! Paul's advice is good, but it bears some caution, as well. Yes, we are to 'mind our own business' and take care of the things in our life that are not quite as they should be, but there may come a time when we need to step into the path of another who may not be making wise decisions. It isn't that we are criticizing their unwise path, it is that we are coming alongside to help them realize they may be treading on dangerous ground and to help they avoid making an unwise choice. Paul was dealing with those who were just nit-picky over silly observances - things that didn't apply any longer since Christ's death, burial, and resurrection was the final 'sacrifice' needed to do away with sin. He wasn't dealing with helping a brother or sister avoid some choice that would take them down some dark path.
God asks us to be loving toward one another. He recommends this be done by coming alongside the other person, learning from each other as we walk this 'Christian path'. Will we occasionally not make the best choices as we do? You betcha! Neither of us are perfect, nor will we always know we are making unwise choices when we do. We are likely to fall down as a result of a missed step along the way. The reason we are to come alongside each other may actually to be there to help each other when we fall down, knowing full-well that we will not always be able to help another avoid the fall in the first place. Sometimes we fall because we didn't know any better - at others it is because we are willful and independent. Let's not judge 'why' another falls. Let's be there for them if they do. Better yet, let's be there just in case they might ask for our help to actually avoid that fall in the first place. As we learn to walk this walk together, side-by-side, we might just avoid a few of those places we never suspected would be a challenge for either of us in the first place. Just sayin!