6. Love And Judgment
6.1 Attitude To Others
One of the themes of the parables of judgment is that our attitude
to our brethren will have an impact on the outcome of the judgment.
Those who will be in the Kingdom will therefore be powerfully taught
at the judgment the utter supremacy of love. This will be the basis
upon which we enter the Kingdom. Mt. 25:45 seems to suggest that
our attitude to the weak ones of the ecclesia will especially be
considered by the Lord. Of course, he knows the verdict and why
he has reached it already; but it seems that the parable is teaching
that we will be brought to realize that our attitude to our
weak brethren has such an impact on our position before the Lord.
For then we will realize that we are all weak. Consider his repeated
emphasis on the importance of our attitude to others:
- The 'unjust steward' was saved because he forgave others their
debts after getting into a mess himself. He wasted his Lord's
goods, as the prodigal did (Lk. 15:13 connects with 16:2). Seeing
the prodigal represents all of us, the lesson is surely that we
all waste our Lord's goods, therefore the basis of salvation is
through our forgiving others as an outcome of our own faith in
the Lord's grace. This is one explanation of why the parable of
the steward flows straight on from that of the prodigal.
- The rich man was condemned for not helping Lazarus.
- The Pharisee was condemned not just for being self-righteous
but especially for his despising of his sinful brother.
- The one talent man was rejected because he didn't give his
talent to the Gentiles and earn usury for the Lord.
- The big debtor was rejected because he wouldn't forgive
his brother. The Lord says that He will make such a person pay
all the debt (Mt. 18:36). There is a connection here with an earlier
parable, where He spoke of how unless a man agrees with his adversary
quickly, the adversary will drag him to court and jail until he
pays all that is due (Mt. 5:26). The adversary of the parable,
therefore, is the Lord Himself. He is the aggressive invader marching
against us with an invincible army (Lk. 14:31), with whom we must
make peace by total surrender. Putting the Lord's teaching in
context, He is showing Himself to be very harsh and demanding
on the unforgiving believer, but very soft and almost unacceptably
gracious to those who show forgiveness.
- The elder son went out of the Father's fellowship because he
couldn't accept the return of the younger son.
- Elders must give an account for their flock (Heb. 13:17)- implying
that there will be a 'going through' with them of all in their
- The drunken steward was condemned because he failed to feed
the rest of the household and beat them.
- The lamp went out because it was kept under a bucket
rather than giving light to others.
- Perhaps the hard working labourers were sent packing by the
Lord because of their complaint at the others getting the same
payment for what they considered to be inferior work to theirs.
If the parable is meant to be read in this way, then it seems
so sad that those hard working men (cp. brethren) were almost
saved, but for their attitude to their brethren.
To keep the faith to ourselves without reaching out into the world
of others was therefore foreseen by the Lord as a very major problem
for us. And indeed it is. Disinterest in ecclesial meetings and
overseas brethren, unwillingness to really enter into the struggles
of others, apathy towards preaching, all often as a result of an
obsession with ones' own family...this is surely the sort of thing
the Lord foresaw. We all have the desire to keep our faith to ourselves,
to hold onto it personally on our own little island...and it was
this attitude which the Lord so repeatedly and trenchantly criticized.
And in his demanding way, he implied that a failure in this would
cost us the Kingdom. He more than any other must have known the
desire for a desert island spiritual life; but instead he left the
99 righteous and went up into the mountains (i.e. he prayed intensely,
after the pattern of Moses for Israel?), in order to find the lost
sheep (Mt. 18:12). In a sense the judgment process has already begun;
Mt. 18:24 says that the Lord has "begun to reckon" now, and so now
we must urgently forgive one another. He is watching our attitude
to each other here and now. Mt. 18:33,35 teach that the attitude
we have towards our brother deep in our heart will be revealed and
discussed with us at the judgment.
The lighting of the candle is a symbol of our conversion (Mt. 25:1;
Heb. 10:32). Our lamps were lit by the Lord Jesus (Lk. 8:16; Heb.
10:32) for the purpose of giving light to the house. The Lord lights
a lamp in order to search for his lost coin, that weak brother or
sister that means as much to him on a deep, indescribably personal
level as a woman's dowry money in the Middle East (cp. a wedding
ring; Lk. 15:8). But the lamp he lights is us. This is yet another
example of his parables being intended to fit together. We must
burn as a candle now, in shedding forth the light, or we will be
burnt at the judgment (Mt. 5:15 and Jn. 15:6 use the same words).
This is but one of many examples of the logic of endurance; we must
burn anyway, so why not do it for the Lord's sake and reap the reward
(3) ? The ecclesias, groups of believers, are lampstands
(Rev. 2:5 cp. Ps. 18:28). We must give forth the light, not
keep it under a bucket, letting laziness (under a bed) or worldly
care (a bushel) distract us; because "there is nothing hid which
shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but
that it should come abroad" (Mk. 4:21,22). In other words, the very
reason why God has hidden the things of His word from the world
and some aspects of them from our brethren, is so that we can reveal
them to them.
If we don't shine forth the light, both in the world and in the
household, we are not fulfilling the purpose for which we were called.
Perhaps this is the meaning of Acts 16:10, where Luke says that
they preached in Macedonia because they perceived that "the Lord
had called us for (in order that) to preach the gospel (in
this case) unto (the Macedonians)". Whether such an interpretation
appeals or not, there are many passages which teach that our salvation
will be related to the extent to which we have held forth the word
both to the world and to the household (Prov. 11:3; 24:11,12; Dan.
12:3; Mk. 8:38; Lk. 12:8; Rom. 10:9,10 cp. Jn. 9:22; 12:42; 1:20;
1 Pet. 4:6 Gk.). Those who reap the harvest of the Gospel
will be rewarded with salvation (Jn. 4:36). Such work isn't
just an option for those who want to be enthusiastic about it. With
what measure we give to others in these ways, we will be measured
to at the judgment (Mk. 4:24 and context). 1 Cor. 3:9-15 likewise
teaches that the spiritual "work" of "any man" with his brethren
will be proportionate to his reward at the judgment. Paul
certainly saw his reward as proportionate to the quality of his
brethren (2 Cor. 1:14; 1 Thess. 2:19,20; Phil. 2:16; 4:1).
Our attitude to others is simply so eternally important. John’s
writings are characterized by seeing everything in terms of dualism,
black and white, good and evil. He describes those who do not love
their brethren as having not seen God, as not being a child of God.
Martin Hengel has observed: “How one behaves towards a Christian
brother at one’s own front door is the deciding factor over faith
and unbelief, life or death, light and darkness”.