The Highways and the Byways

Written by Nathan Buck / February 2018

We are so quick to judge others.

I would like to think that I strive to be an accepting person; thoughtful; caring—not judging.

See, I would like to think that. But to say that I am thoroughly any of those things is a hard slap in the face to the truth.

I recall a day awhile back where I walked into work and saw that I was going to be training in a new employee. However, I noted that the man I was going to be teaching was a temp. Temps, or “temporary workers”, are profiled as lazy, mischievous, and just all-around-rotten. Most of them are workers unable to find employment anywhere else. Some come straight from jail.

So I expected nothing better as I went to meet him.

His physical appearance shouldn’t have been important, but it stood out to me: young, with long, scraggly hair and beard, dingy clothing, and as I drew nearer, a pungent smell that I assumed was body odor.

Straight-away I wondered if he had been in jail, and I felt a level of contempt.

The sad thing is, none of those things were out of place where I work. Hey, even I come in with messy hair and ripped jeans. But the saddest thing was that here was another human being and I labeled him a scoundrel based on my societally vain idea of defining people by how they look.

I like to think that God was sending me a message through this man.

As I trained him in, we talked. I found out that he was an auto-mechanic working a second job to make money for his upcoming wedding. I found out that he had gone to Cornell High School, and not only that, but he had played basketball against our team in high school. And when we connected over our high schools, and he realized I attended a small Lutheran school, he made a comment about being a Christian too, and said something along the lines of, “It’s cool when you meet other Christians you have never talked with before.”

I remember feeling excited. How neat is that? We didn’t discuss much doctrine, but I thought isn’t it neat that he identifies as Christian? Yet at least when I drove home that night, I thought to myself, How sad is that, that I thought he was a bad person? And if I hadn’t been assigned to work with him, would I have considered him worthy of my time? Probably not.

It was a good reminder for me. And I need many more.

God does not judge us by our physical appearances. He doesn’t judge us by what society thinks of us or by our economic standing. He doesn’t even judge us on what we’ve done in the past.

It says in 1 Samuel 16:7 “A man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” God knows we are sinners, all of us. We look through corrupted eyes and see the bad that may not even be there. We gossip, we lie, we think hurtful thoughts and rationalize that those things don’t hurt anyone, or that if done in secret, no harm no foul.

But it pains God—the same God who made all of creation and desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).

It is here that the Bible truth of objective justification is beautifully espoused: that God’s son, Jesus Christ, lived a perfect life as God and man, and took the punishment that we deserved on the cross when he died to pay for the sins of every human soul. Christ died and rose again when he justified the world so that we could be brought to faith in God through Christ’s sacrifice.

This should make every Christian realize that the greatest sinner they know is themselves. It was for the personal sins we know we commit, and even those we don’t that Christ suffered and died. And why? Because he cares for all. He didn’t just die for you and me. He died for your neighbors, the boy who delivers your paper, the congressman on TV…but also the man in jail for murder, the prostitute on the street, and the heroin addict in rehab.

We are in no position to judge the heart of another. God tells us plainly through the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:12, “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.”

God gives us the directive to not rely on our own human methods of judgement, as I did earlier in this article. Rather, He directs us to follow what He says in the Bible. We are not to come to someone bringing only Law and an insistence that the person can do something to atone for their sin like Catholic theology. Neither are we to come without the law like modern day “feel-good” churches whose only emphasis is in love and acceptance without any mention of the ugliness of sin or of God’s perfection.

No, we are to humbly ask God to give us wisdom and strengthen our faith while realizing that “the law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ so that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). We can take comfort that the Bible is our authority, not the will of the world. In Romans it is said “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” and in John 13:15 where Christ says, “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.”

Illustration by Kayla Barthels

It is evident that we look at people and form our own opinions. It is clear that God does not.

In the parable of the great feast, Jesus tells his disciples that a certain man gave a great supper and invited many. But when it came time, the guests all gave excuses. The man said to his servants, “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and byways, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”

In the meaning of this parable, many will reject the invitation to the feast of heaven, but God searches out believers where they will be found, no matter if they are lame, blind, or beggars on the street.

The Bible doesn’t discriminate based on appearance, situations, or past sins. Jesus healed the blind and ministered to the sick. He healed outcast lepers. He held company with Jews and Gentiles, tax collectors, fishermen, centurions, and even prostitutes. Christ comes to men and women, rich and poor alike.

God looks at the heart, and knows his own. It doesn’t matter if someone is wearing clothes that you wouldn’t to church, or if you have heard that someone has a checkered past. Christ died for you, and for me, and God knows the heart that turns to him and trusts in his forgiveness.
So do not look at another with your own judgment. Look at that person as someone who Christ died for, whether they come from the highways or the byways.