Have you ever heard of a compliment sandwich?
A compliment sandwich is when someone puts something ‘nice’ before and after something terrible or … true.
“Dear, I love your tie. Your zipper is down. Nice shoes!”
Or, “Hey, you really sing loudly, but you’re way off key, thanks for being enthusiastic!”
I’ve got to tell you: Paul never ate or delivered a complimentary sandwich of any kind. Paul is straight up meat and potatoes.
In the second chapter of Romans, Paul is quick to clear things up: God is not nice and therefore, Paul is not worried about being nice. Paul laid out the good news of the gospel in Romans 1: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” The good news to Paul is that you can be saved. But there’s no mention of a carefree, purposeless life.
To Paul, life is absolutely intentional. Paul wants to cut straight to the heart of what the Romans need to hear. And somehow, the story of Paul is about taking the passion of the guy who was convinced of the Jewish “rightness” and pointing it toward knowing and loving God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So Paul wants to make major points about what it means to be loved by God, and to show God that you love God back.
#1 We can’t judge anyone else because by judging them, we compare ourselves to them and to God and we come up short (2:1). We come up short because God knows what we’re really like (2:3). When we judge others, we deny God’s grace, turn aside his kindness and patience, and miss the point of God’s kindness toward us: it’s not to make us happy but to show us how we need God’s forgiveness in the first place.
Think about all of the people we judge on a regular basis – and I don’t mean because we’re watching American Idol.
We judge people who don’t look or dress like us. I’ll admit it, at one time or another in my life, I have judged people for their actions, their tattoos, their using of various substances I didn’t use at the time, their grades, their sense of humor, their dress or lack thereof, their beliefs or lack of belief…
And somehow, I remember a moment in the car that brought it all clear to me. I was driving somewhere, I think the mall, and someone stupidly, crazily, idiotically, offensively pulled out in front of me! How dare they!?! I was steaming along, headed toward a place where I was going to eat or shop or …whatever, the point is that it doesn’t really matter, when I turned the corner to get there and recognized that I had just stupidly, crazily, idiotically, offensively pulled out in front of someone else who had to slam on the brakes to not rear-end me.
I wonder if Paul doesn’t wish we could get a real close up on our own judgmental behavior. Whether it’s thinking less of the person who we think doesn’t make the same parenting choices we would even though we don’t know how hard they work or what they hope for their children, or the way we figure that the other church must not really be into Jesus because they don’t do things the way we do.
Paul’s first dose of meat and potatoes in chapter 2 is this: Don’t Judge. Because we’re all guilty, we’re all stuck and only God can get us out.
#2 Still, even thought he’s telling us not to judge, he knows we will but he encourages us to consider our actions.
Paul tries reasonably often to point out that he doesn’t get everything right, that he’s trying to explain the heart of God but he (Paul) gets in the way sometimes. Paul knows that he judges and he knows that a problem among the members of the early church. So he wants to lay out the consequences of continuing to judge others, the results of conditioning ourselves to think that we’re better than we really are: we are actually banking a deposit of God’s righteous judgment.
You must think, if you’ve been tracking this for the last few weeks, that Matthew 25:31-46 is my favorite Bible passage. It is one of them, but consider this: Paul keeps harkening our attention to the recognition that we must consider what we do to other people as being done to Jesus.
When we judge others, we judge Jesus. Now, that is ridiculous! But we put ourselves in a place where we act like we’re bigger and better than we are. And Paul says “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done'” (2:6). So we have a choice: pursue glory, honor, and immortality in doing good to receive eternal life, or, we can embrace judging, our own self-interests, wrath, and anger to receive “not eternal life” (2:7-10). Paul wants to be clear that we’re reaping whatever it is we’ve pursued because “God does not show favoritism,” Paul says, but gives us exactly what we have proposed that we actually want.
#3 If we get too carried away by our understanding of right and wrong (the law), then our own pattern of right and wrong will be what our lives are finally evaluated by. But that doesn’t leave much room for grace, does it? It doesn’t matter that we know the law, if we don’t obey it, and it doesn’t matter if we follow the law if we don’t recognize the grace of God.
Paul digs into that a bit deeper in Romans 2:17-24. He wants his hearers in Rome, who considered themselves to be Jews first and Christians second, to understand that their head knowledge of the law could not save them from the judgment of God. He wants them to recognize that while they can say they do one thing, that they often do another, that they are hypocrites whether they like to think so or not.
Paul asks a series of questions that wrap up our scripture today. “You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law” (2:21-23)?
Remember that opening bit about not judging? Paul wants us to ask ourselves how much we really know outside of the grace of God. He wants us to ask ourselves if we really have the place to challenge the position or morality or decision-making of others, knowing that we ourselves fail to be morally good when something challenges us.
Are we generous with our time but hold back our money?
Are we kind to others but miserable to our families?
Are we gracious in our interactions with others, but malicious in the way we talk behind their backs?
Are we quietly pious at church but failures when it comes to choosing Godly ways in our midweek decision-making?
Paul’s letter to the early church at Rome may appear pleasant enough, but it is blistering in its criticism. Again: Paul wrote to the Romans about issues that he knew they had in their midst so that they would get “sorted out” by their religious leader, even if he was absent.
Again, Paul’s points: Don’t judge. Make sure your actions match what you say you believe so that you don’t betray yourself. Don’t rely on your actions but embrace grace.
So, how do we lives this out? How can we make sure that we are turning away from judgmentalism and judgment itself to embrace the grace God extends through Jesus?
I believe – and it follows the example of Paul – we must seek out those who push our buttons, those who make us uncomfortable, and love them the best way we can.
I recently discovered an organization that is serving eighty-eight churches in twenty-seven states and two countries. It’s a program founded on the belief that single mothers who make the conscious decision to have a child by themselves shouldn’t actually be alone. It wasn’t that long ago that the church, broadly speaking, wouldn’t have received those single women with open arms. Some churches still wouldn’t.
Somewhere along the way, the people behind the organization saw that it was more important that the women and their children were more important to God than judging what decisions had lead these women to have children outside of marriage. Somewhere along the way, someone realized that it wasn’t there place to judge those women or those children, but that it was up to them to extend grace. To embrace the grace of God, and to embrace those women and children with grace, too.
I don’t know what it is that you need to let go of, whether it’s judging yourself or someone else, but it seems that Paul’s warning for the church of Rome still speaks wisdom to us.
Don’t judge. Fear the Lord. Embrace grace.
Each of us must focus on God’s call on us and recognize that grace. Ultimately, it’s about that relationship, between us and God, that will make all the difference.
Mother Teresa wrote a poem, “Anyway,” to chronicle how that love might change our lives. I leave it with you today to reflect and to pray:
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.