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John Wesley On Unfairly Judging Others — An Excerpt From "John Wesley's Teachings: Society and Ethics"

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9780310587187Of late, I am finding a new source of theological and pastoral insights from what I believe is one of the most untapped, neglected evangelical fonts of wisdom: the teachings of John Wesley.

From God and His providence to Christ and His salvation, pastoral theology to ethics and society, this Methodist preacher-theologian offers us pastors and teachers a wealth of wisdom to not only draw upon for our own ministry, but also to pass along to our students and congregants.

For the past few weeks we've been plumbing the depths of Wesley's font using a new resource on his teachings, John Wesley's Teachings: Society and EthicsIt is the last of Oden's four volumes that makes this Methodist minister's thoughts accessible to modern readers inside and outside the academy. His final volume is the most practical of the four, because it gets at the heart of how a Christian should behave.

(Read our two articles giving an overview and offering 5 criticisms.)

To give you a sense of what Oden has provided the Church, I want to share a short excerpt from a chapter in Oden's theological ethics section, the core of which is found in Wesley's thirteen discourses on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

The underlying root in this ethic is summed by Oden: “The Christian life is the fruit of justifying faith. It arises not as a result of an idea but in response to an event: God’s grace made known in the cross and resurrection.” (179)

In Wesley’s words, the Sermon was a “stable doctrine” that acted as “a summary of the Christian life, beginning with repentance and proceeding through justification to perfect love.” (179-180) It was the ethical foundation to the kind of life that God desires of his children, the kind of life that’s blessed in which the Christian is living in full enjoyment of and accountability to God. And in the short section below, we see one aspect of life God detests: unfairly judging others.

-Jeremy Bouma, Th.M. (@bouma)


2. Unfairly Judging Others

a. You Will Be Judged Eternally as You Judge Others in Time

The first hindrance Jesus cautions us against is unfair judging. “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”  Do not judge the neighbor at all unfairly in this world, for you will ultimately be judged entirely fairly by the eternal Lord. So “do not judge, or you too will be judged.” “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

b. Let the Fairness Ethic of the Community of Faith Be Openly Seen

The community of faith is like a city set upon a hill. The interpersonal behaviors of the Christians are open for the world to see. The world can see the struggle going on in the Christian life. Many will see that Christians seek “to be humble, serious, gentle, merciful, and pure in heart.” If so, they are likely to earnestly desire “these holy tempers as they have not yet attained, and wait for them in doing all good to all men, and patiently suffering evil.”

But if that fairness is not really there to be plausibly taken into account by the world, then Christians are easily dismissed as hypocritical and insincere. Unfairness within the believing community provides the world with an excuse for condemning those whom they might otherwise do well to imitate, for example, when Christians “spend their time in finding out their neighbor’s faults instead of amending their own.” In that case, Christians may appear to “never go beyond a poor dead form of godliness without the power.”

3. Focusing on the Mote in Another’s Eye

Jesus asked why we see so clearly the speck in another’s eye yet “pay no attention to the plank in [our] own eye.”  Why inspect “the infirmities, the mistakes, the imprudence, the weakness” of others without considering your own self-will and the idolatrous love of the world? “With what supine carelessness and indifference art thou dancing over the mouth of hell!”… If you judge your neighbor harshly or tell him you would like to help him with the mote in his eye, that only rankles him.

a. First Cast Out the Beam from Your Own Eye

You will be more able to remove the speck from another’s eye if you first take the plank out of your own.  This is a reasonable moral requirement for anyone offering criticism: the willingness first to critique oneself. The most ancient rule of moral knowledge since Socrates has been: “Know thyself!” Since you know your own inadequacies, do not forget them in criticizing others. Be honest about the incongruities in your own life. “Cast out the beam of self-will!” (pgs. 263-264)

Old Testament Today, 2nd Edition

John Wesley's Teachings: Society and Ethics

By Thomas C. Oden

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