What did Jesus mean when He said “do not judge”? Did He mean, “Never call anything a sin”? Or, did He mean something else? Would it surprise you to know that in another place, Jesus actually commanded us to “judge”? So, which is it? To judge or not to judge—that is the question!

The word “judge” in the New Testament has different meanings depending on how the word is used in its context. That’s true in English as well. If I told you I was “judging” someone, you might not know whether I was doing my job as a judge in a court of law or disapproving of their lifestyle. You would need more information. When we come across “judge” in the Bible, we have to look at the context to know exactly what is meant. Basically, it can mean two things:

  1. The bad kind of judgment, which is self-righteously condemning other people without a good reason. In Romans 14, the Apostle Paul condemned those who were “passing judgment” on other people’s “opinions”. There are clearly some disputable matters and we simply don’t have the right to judge others for disagreeing with us.
  2. The good kind of judgment, which is using discernment to determine what is good, right and true. In John 7:24, Jesus instructed His followers to “judge with righteous judgment.”

In Matthew 7:1, Jesus was commanding us to stay away from the bad kind of judgment. He was telling us not to self-righteously condemn other people. In other words, Jesus told us not to have an unmerciful, judgmental, condemning attitude toward people.

Therefore, He was not telling us to never call any action, attitude or lifestyle sinful. The context of Matthew, the New Testament and the entire Bible make this clear. We would have to ignore the rest of the Bible and decide that only the first three words of Matthew 7:1 were actually given to us by God.

The Bible—even Jesus Himself—labels many things as sinful. Jesus affirmed the Bible’s definition of marriage (e.g., Matthew 19:4-6) thereby labeling all other forms of marriage (e.g., polygamy, homosexual marriage) and all other forms of sexual expression (outside marriage) as “immorality” and “adultery” or sinful.

Jesus labeled hypocrisy and adultery and most divorce and all kinds of things as sin. The Bible adds to this list in numerous ways. In Hebrews 4:12, it is clear that we are to let the Bible “judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God, through the Bible, defines what is and is not sin, and it is not “judgmental” to agree with God.

So, it is not a violation of Jesus’ command “do not judge” to agree with God about what is and is not sin as it has been defined in the Bible. But, it is sinful to have a judgmental attitude toward others. And, as Matthew 7:3-4 make very clear, it is also sinful to hypocritically focus on someone else’s sin (“speck”) while ignoring your own sin (“log”).

But, in fact, these verses (Matthew 7:3-4) highlight the fact that as Christ followers, we not only have the responsibility to “first take the log” (sin) out of our own eyes, but we also have the responsibility to help others “remove the speck” (sin) from their lives. We have the great privilege of sharing with others that there is a solution to sin: Jesus Christ. By believing in Christ, we can be saved from the eternal penalty of our sin. By trusting God’s Word, the Bible, and following Christ as His disciple we can be saved from the power of sin in our lives. And by putting our hope in Christ, we have the promise of one day being set free from the presence of sin for all eternity.

[For a more thorough explanation of Matthew 7:1 and the command “Do not judge…” click here.]


[For a short explanation of “Do not judge…” click here.]

What is the most quoted verse of the Bible today? Any guesses?

Josh McDowell reports that until recently, polls showed that the most well-known verse in the Bible was John 3:16. But now, the verse most widely known and quoted by Christians and non-Christians is Matthew 7:1:

Do not judge…”

Why? Why would “Do not judge…” become such a popular verse?

I once received an email from a woman (I’ll call her Jane) who described herself as a lesbian. Jane was very angry because someone in our church (I’ll call him Bob) had offended her. So, I—a completely innocent bystander—received an angry email simply because I was Bob’s pastor. I found out later that the offense was simply that Bob chose not to attend Jane’s lesbian “wedding”. Bob felt his presence would communicate an endorsement of Jane’s lesbian lifestyle. Jane’s email included this question: “Is it encouraged in your church to judge others?”

Is that what happened? Did Bob “judge” Jane? Most people in our culture today—I believe—would say yes. They would say that to not affirm someone’s lifestyle—especially homosexuality—is to judge them.

Is this what Jesus meant by “do not judge”? If so, is there any behavior that should be called into question? Is there any lifestyle that can be identified as sinful? Or, is judging the only sin? Is that what Jesus meant?

Let’s go to the source. Let’s look at Matthew 7:1—Jesus’ original statement—and its context (Matthew 7, the Sermon on the Mount and the New Testament) to gain the guidance we need in order to understand “do not judge.”

Two Basic Meanings

The word “judge” (κρινω) appears 114 times in the New Testament. It has different meanings depending on how the word is used in its context. That’s true in English as well. If I told you I was “judging” someone, you might not know whether I was being overly critical of someone or doing my job as a judge in a court of law or disapproving of their lifestyle. You would need more information.

When we come across κρινω, we have to look at the context to know exactly what is meant. Basically, it can mean two things:

  1. Bad judgment—which is self-righteously condemning other people without a good reason.
  2. Good judgment—which is using discernment to make a wise choice.

My premise is this: Jesus was commanding us to stay away from the bad judgment—the bad sense of κρινω. In Matthew 7:1, He is telling us not to self-righteously condemn other people.

We humans don’t make good judges. I’m not saying that we should not have judges in a court of law—that’s a different issue. The kind of judging Jesus was talking about is God’s job.

  • We don’t know all the facts. God is the only one who knows everything. We don’t know why people dress the way they do or why they behave the way they do. We don’t know how much they’ve changed or grown in the past year. We don’t know how hard they’re struggling with their sin. God knows.
  • We don’t know someone’s motives. Only God knows the motives of a man’s heart. We only see the outside. We may see someone who appears to be unfriendly, but they may have just lost a loved one or been fired from a job. Maybe you got mad at some guy because he didn’t shake your hand. Well, maybe he didn’t shake your hand because he didn’t want to give you that skin rash he’s been trying to get rid of. We can’t discern motives usually.
  • We tend to pre-judge people. We see how they dress or the color of their skin or how they smell. I once had a guy admit that he didn’t like me because I reminded him of someone else! I didn’t have a chance!

My point is: We just don’t make good judges. But, God is completely objective and shows no favoritism.

Another time, Jesus taught on this same subject and Luke recorded a somewhat expanded version of this command: Look at Luke 6:36,37:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.”

This list supports my interpretation of this command in Matthew 7:1, which is that Jesus is telling us not to have an unmerciful, judgmental, condemning attitude toward people. The question is, does the context support this? Look at v.2:

“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”

This verse tells us that if we “judge” in a wrong manner, it will directly affect the way we are judged. Possibly, this means God will judge us by our own impossible standards. If you are short on mercy and long on condemnation, perhaps God will not show you much mercy. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15:

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

Same principle. But, I think Jesus had something else in mind here. If you and I are unmerciful and judgmental of others, I believe others will pick up on that and treat us the same way. We don’t like unmerciful people—as a general rule. We have trouble extending them mercy. We have trouble giving them the benefit of the doubt that they have good intentions. People tend to be repelled by a judgmental person. We judge him by dismissing him. Ignoring him. Just wanting to get away from him. So, Jesus is telling us that if we are unmerciful and judgmental, we will repel people and our good intentions will never be known.

A few years ago, I had to go to Topeka for an appointment. As I drove through town, I passed by what I believe was a funeral home. I’m not sure because I was greatly distracted by a group of protestors on the sidewalk outside the business. They were young and old—some even children. They all held signs or wore t-shirts that proclaimed, “God hates fags.” Did those people have good intentions? It’s possible. Was anybody going to listen to them? No one will even give them the time of day because their whole approach is so unmerciful and judgmental.

Specks and Logs and Pearls and Hogs

Look now at vs.3-4:

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?”

This is one of Jesus’ greatest illustrations. A “speck” is small. A “log” is big. The word “speck” here refers to any tiny piece of wood, or grass or hay. The word “log” refers to the main beam holding up a building. An enormous piece of lumber! Do you get the picture? Imagine a person standing here with a speck in her eye and I come along with an enormous log in my eye and I say, “Here, let me help you with that speck in your eye.” It’s really quite humorous.

The point is this: The “speck” and the “log” represent sins. Jesus is mocking a person with a big sin making a big deal out of the relatively small sin of someone else. In fact, the humorous part of this picture—which is actually the sad part—is that this person with an enormous beam in his eye does not even seem to be aware of his sin. This tells us that his sin is self-righteousness.

Self-righteousness is a sin of blindness. It is the sin of someone with grossly distorted vision. It looks directly at its own sin and still sees only righteousness.

Don’t think it won’t happen to you, either. Any of us can be completely blinded by our own self-righteousness. King David—a man described by God as “a man after God’s own heart”—took Bathsheba, another man’s wife, got her pregnant, then had her husband killed to try to cover up the sin. Then, in 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan came along and told David a story that made him mad. It was about a man with many sheep who stole the one single sheep another man had. David insisted that the man be punished! Nathan said, “You are that man.” David was so blinded by his own self-righteousness, he had no idea Nathan’s story was about him. No doubt, the tears came and washed that big log out of David’s eye.

So, when Jesus said, “Do not judge…” He meant don’t be self-righteously judgmental. It is God’s place to judge. Only He can judge in pure righteousness.

But—and this is really getting at the crux of the matter—did Jesus mean we are unable to “judge” (i.e., discern) what is and is not sin? The answer is found in the verses which follow. Look at Matthew 7:5-6:

“…First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

First, Jesus said, “take the log out of your own eye.” Obviously, Jesus is telling us to begin by taking a good hard look at ourselves. Before we can remove our logs, we must find them and admit that we have them. Before we can do that, we’ve got to quit judging others. Why? If we’re busying ourselves with everyone else’s sins, we can easily ignore our own.

So, the first thing we should do is ask God, “What are my logs?” Then confess your sins.

Ask God, “What sin am I not seeing in my own life?” When He shows you, don’t make excuses. Don’t even start with promises. Just agree with Him that its sin and grieve with Him. Remember earlier in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:4) Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” He was saying that those who understand how bad sin is will grieve with God over the destructive nature of their sin.

Then confess your sins. 1 John 4:8 tells us:

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

God’s not surprised when there’s logs floating around in our eyes. Don’t you be surprised either. Don’t be surprised when you see one in my eye. If anyone claims to have no specks or logs he is deceiving himself and the truth is not in him. But fortunately, God has no logs. He is faithful and righteous. The next verse, 1 John 1:9, gives us one of the sweetest promises in all the Bible:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Confess it and get rid of it.

James 4:8-10 says:

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

That’s how you get rid of logs. Mourn over and confess your sin, humble yourself before God. Ask Him to cleanse you.

But that’s not all. Following Jesus is not just about me. It’s about us. In the second part of this verse, it becomes clear that Jesus did not say we should never “judge” someone else. There is such a thing as good judgment. In other words, a “speck” represents someone else’s sin. If you’ve had a speck, a grain of sand in your eye—maybe under a contact lens—you know that it’s painful, it’s destructive and it must get out of there. It’s no log, but it’s still sin. In this verse, Jesus encourages us to “take the speck out of your brothers’ eye.” It’s a good thing to help a brother or sister in Christ to remove the sin from their lives.

So, the second thing we should do is ask God, “What specks should I remove?” Then proceed with caution. 

Never forget that you must be seeing “clearly” before you do this. You must let God examine your own heart and you must confess your own sins first, but there is a time to address someone else’s sin and help them remove it.

In Colossians 1:28, Paul described what good, healthy ministry should look like:

We proclaim him, admonishing (warning) and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul added:

And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

This is tough stuff and even dangerous territory. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Make sure it’s an important matter. Romans 14:1 says, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” Some things are “disputable matters” (yes, my Evangelical brothers and sisters, some things are gray!) and we might not need to deal with those at all. This does not mean something that is “disputable” is not important. It just means that we might need to be patient with a new believer or a weaker brother. Don’t make a big deal out of a disputable matter at the wrong time or in the wrong situation.
  2. Let the Word of God be the judge. You’re not acting as judge from your own idea of what is sin. If you’re going to help someone remove something from his eye, make sure it’s a speck and not his retina. Make sure it’s really sin. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” When we let the Word of God be our guide, we are not kicking God off the throne. We’re letting Him be judge. When we judge ourselves by the Word of God, we are sufficiently humbled and equipped to “judge” others because we will judge them by that “standard.” It will not be you or me judging them, but God’s Word and thus, God Himself—the true Judge.
  3. Make sure you have the right goal. Jesus said later in Matthew (18:15), “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” Is the point of “removing specks” to make someone feel bad? Is it to demonstrate your superior spiritual maturity? No. If you even suspect that you have prideful motives, back way up. Jesus said the goal was to “win your brother over.” You’re proceeding with caution for the sake of someone else. That’s the right goal.

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “We do not judge the people we love.” If he meant, we are not judgmental toward the people we love, he was right. But, if he meant, we never call any behavior sin and just keep quiet no matter how destructive we believe their behavior is, he was wrong.

Brothers” help each other with their “specks.” A sister who loves her sister in Christ will lovingly and gently help her remove that sin from her life that is blinding her. Brothers in Christ will find a way to help their brothers recognize the presence of sin in their lives and help them remove that sin.

Look again at v.6 (Matthew 7):

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Jesus indicates here that you have something that is “holy”—spiritual “pearls.” Our “pearls” represent truth and righteousness. The words of Jesus Christ in this great Sermon on the Mount are life-changing and eternally important. We have been given the great privilege of calling people to be disciples of Christ—to live a life of surpassing righteousness, to be light in a dark world and to be salt in a decaying society.

So, the third thing we should do is ask God, “What are my pearls?” Then get ready.

To be a follower of Christ is to be ready, willing and able to offer “holy pearls” of truth and righteousness to the world around us.

“Dogs and swine” in that day were not pets—not valuable livestock. Most were wild scavengers. They foraged through the garbage dump on the edge of town and were potentially dangerous to anyone who came near. So, what did Jesus mean? Jesus isn’t talking about dogs and hogs—He’s talking about people. A type of person who is so angry, so closed-minded, so stubborn, so lethargic, so stuck in their ways that it is a waste of time to try to convince them that there is sin in their lives and they need to change. I believe Jesus is telling us to use another type of good judgment—discernment to know when we should just shut up and pray.

So, the fourth thing we should do is ask God, “Who are my hogs?” Then pray and get out of the way.

We have great treasure to share with people. But there will be many who treat these truths—not as holy and priceless—but as foolish or unimportant. “They will trample (you) under their feet…” if you invite them to trust Christ and identify themselves with Him and His people—the church—and walk in His ways. “They might “turn and tear you to pieces” if you let them know God calls what they’re doing “sin”—even if you do it lovingly and graciously. They might chew you out. They might call you names. They might quit talking to you. They might just completely ignore you. They might leave the church. There comes a time when we just need to pray and get out of God’s way.

Why is “Do not judge…” such a popular verse today? I fear it is because people believe it means something Jesus never intended. I fear it is because people believe it means we should never call anything sin. But this cannot be what Jesus meant. We would have to ignore the rest of the Bible for it to mean that. But God Himself—through the special revelation found in the Bible—has identified many things as sin. It is not judgmental for followers of Christ to lovingly and graciously agree with God and let others know. It is not judgmental to agree with God that all sin is destructive and to lovingly and graciously help others put off those sins.

In fact, it is very unloving and even judgmental to ignore others and “tolerate” sin by hoping it won’t be a big deal to God. It is unloving because all sin is destructive. It is judgmental as well. When we ignore people we know to be in sin, and we don’t do anything to intervene, it is the same as saying, “They’re not worth the trouble. They’re not worth my time.”

So, do not be judgmental. But be discerning. Agree with God about what is sinful and—like God—intervene in the lives of those you love to help them identify and put off that sin for good.

Love has no labels?

Does “love” really have no labels? So does it matter how we define “love”? Does this mean gender, race, religion, age, etc., don’t matter at all? Does “love” = “sex” or include “sex” in some of these statements? If so, does “love” really have “no age” either? Does “love” have no number? Does “love” have no species? Is a same-sex family really “no different than any other family”? And how does one come to all these conclusions–feelings? Anatomy? Popular opinion? If someone’s “religion” disagrees with these conclusions are they and their religion therefore UN-loving? Oh, and if a person agreed that love is the most wonderful thing of all, and that people of every color, gender, religion, nationality, etc., should absolutely love one another, would he or she be UN-loving if he or she believed some sexual choices are sinful? And would it be loving to affirm all sexual choices as equally valid if some of those choices were dangerous or unhealthy? If love has no religion, but all major religions agreed that some sexual choices are sinful, does that mean all major religions are UN-loving? Does it mean “love” can only be found and achieved apart from religion? Or only within religions that don’t “judge” anything as sin (except judging)? Just wondering.

I can remember a time when my wife, Beth, hatched some eggs with the kids for a school project. They had such a great time playing with the baby chicks. We then had chicken for dinner about that time and one of the kids suddenly made the connection.
This sparked some interesting conversation about eating meat and (inevitably in our house) what the Bible says about it, etc. As we processed I thought about how in the not-too-distant past many more people did their own slaughtering (e.g., my grandparents) and it was a more natural/normal part of life.
We who get our meat from the supermarket down the road may have a great appetite for meat, but no longer have the stomach for the slaughter part. The whole discussion, however, should also spark some big questions: How do we determine what is moral? Are animals equal to humans—meaning, is it murder to kill an animal? Is it more immoral to kill animals which seem more self-conscious (i.e., monkey vs. fish)?
If there is no God who is above us who has spoken a system of morality, then it’s all just a matter of opinion. If there is, then what He has spoken about what He created should be our guide for answering such questions. So, while I believe we should have as much compassion as possible for our animals and be good stewards of creation, the Bible is clear that it’s not wrong to eat the meat of animals (Genesis 9:1-6; Mark 7:18-19; Colossians 2:16). And eating meat requires slaughter. Not eating animal meat is okay too, however (Romans 14:1-2).
As Genesis 9:1-6 makes clear, mankind is a superior creation because we have been created in the image of God. To kill an innocent human being is to attack the image of God within that person. That is not true of animals. Therefore, it is not wrong to slaughter and eat animals.

Q: “Where in the law does it say that women should be submissive?”

A: I assume this question came from 1 Corinthians 14:34 which reads: “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.”

To the Jew, “The Law” was another way of saying, “The writings of Moses” or the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible).

I take this reference to the Law in 1 Corinthians 14:34 to be referring to Genesis—the story of the creation of man and woman because in two other places in Paul’s writings about the submission of women, he refers to Genesis 2:20-24 and the order in which man and woman were created:

1 Corinthians 11:8-9: “For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.”

1 Timothy 2:13-14: “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. “

Again, in both contexts Paul is explaining why wives are to be in submission to their husbands and in both cases teaches that the order in which God created man and woman was significant—it demonstrated that wives were to be subordinate to their husbands.

Peter also uses the example of women in the Law to support his teaching about the submission of women:

1 Peter 3:5-6: “For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

So, this is the understanding of the Apostles (the Apostolic teaching) about the subject of submission from the Old Testament Law.

If you’d like to do some more extensive reading on this subject, I recommend Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood which are both available for free on-line in pdf form.

Just Joking?

I like to joke around. Sometimes people actually laugh. In fact, I think no other people in history have loved to joke around more than Americans.

I was recently wondering about my jokes, others’ jokes and just what the Bible has to say about how and how much we like to joke around. Can you believe how practical the Bible is? It actually does talk about joking!

So, I took a look—just to gain clarity regarding some of my own joking. You decide if any of this applies to your own joking. It starts with a word study and my conclusions are at the end.

Coarse Jesting?

Depending on what the joking actually is, it may fall under the prohibitions of Ephesians 4:29 or 5:4:

Ephesians 4:29 (NASB95) 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 5:4 (NASB95) 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

“unwholesome” =

sapros (σαπρός, 4550), “corrupt,” akin to sepo…  Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

sepo (σήπω, 4595) signifies “to make corrupt, to destroy”; in the passive voice with middle sense, “to become corrupt or rotten, to perish,” said of riches, Jas. 5:2, of the gold and silver of the luxurious rich who have ground down their laborers. The verb is derived from a root signifying “to rot off, drop to pieces.” Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

In Eph 4:29 σαπρός (unwholesome) is in contrast with that which is ἀγαθός ‘good’ for building up what is necessary. In such a context ἀγαθός (good) may be interpreted as that which is helpful, and by contrast σαπρός (unwholesome) may be understood to mean ‘harmful.’ Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.

“filthiness” =

aischrotes (αἰσχρότης, 151), “baseness” (from aischos, “shame, disgrace”), is used in Eph, 5:4, of obscenity, all that is contrary to purity. Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson. to act in defiance of social and moral standards, with resulting disgrace, embarrassment, and shame—‘to act shamefully, indecent behavior, shameful deed.’ Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.

​”silly talk” =

morologia (μωρολογία, 3473), from moros, “foolish, dull, stupid,” and lego, is used in Eph. 5:4; it denotes more than mere idle “talk.” Trench describes it as “that ‘talk of fools’ which is foolishness and sin together” (Syn. Sec. xxxiv) Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

talk which is both foolish and stupid—‘foolish talk, stupid talk.’ Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.

​”coarse jesting” = ​​

eutrapelia (εὐτραπελία, 2160) properly denotes “wit, facetiousness, versatility” (lit., “easily turning,” from eu, “well,” trepo, “to turn”). It was used in the literal sense to describe the quick movements of apes and persons. Pericles speaks of the Athenians of his day (430 B.C) as distinguished by a happy and gracious “flexibility.” In the next century Aristotle uses it of “versatility” in the give and take of social intercourse, quick repartee. In the sixth century, B.C, the poet Pindar speaks of one Jason as never using a word of “vain lightness,” a meaning approaching its latest use. Its meaning certainly deteriorated, and it came to denote “coarse jesting, ribaldry,” as in Eph. 5:4, where it follows morologia, “foolish talking.” Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

coarse jesting involving vulgar expressions and indecent content—‘vulgar speech, indecent talk.’ Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.

​”are not fitting” =

In Eph. 5:4 the ἅ οὐκ ἀνῆκεν (are not fitting) … is that which does not belong, which is opposed to καθὼς πρέπει ἁγίοις (proper among saints, v.3). The unsuitable nature of an action is shown by the fact that those who perform it are ἅγιοι (saints, v.3) acting ἐν κυρίῳ (in the Lord, v.8). This unsuitability may concur with the judgment of the world (Col. 3:18) or it may contradict it (Eph. 5:4: εὐτραπελία (coarse jesting), for example, is accepted by the world, cf. Aristot. Eth. Nic., II, 7, p. 1108a, 23 ff.). Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Friedrich, G. (Eds.). (1964–). Theological dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

to be fitting or right, with the implication of possible moral judgment involved—‘to be fitting, to be right.’ Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.

Thoughts from others:

  • A. S. Wood: The three terms (“obscenity,” “foolish talk,” “coarse joking”) each occur only here in the NT. Paul has already warned against “unwholesome talk” (Eph 4:29) because of the harm it does to those who are compelled to hear it. Now he attacks it from another angle, because it is unseemly for Christians and usurps the place of praise. “Obscenity” (aischrotēs) in this context is broadly equivalent to “filthy language” (aischrologia, Col 3:8; BAG, p. 24). Next comes “foolish talk” (mōrologia), which is stupid chatter or silly twaddle. This is combined with eutrapelia (literally, “an easy turn of speech”), which means versatility and witty repartee. The NEB has “flippant talk.” Because of the determinative content of v. 3, however, it may refer to “coarse joking” (NIV) and double-entendre. These things must be repudiated, because they “do not come up to the mark” (BV). Instead, the Christian’s mouth will be continually filled with thanks to God (Eph 2:7; 5:18; Col 2:7; 3:15). Wood, A. S. (1981). Ephesians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, pp. 68–69). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
  • Harold Hoehner: “Improprieties in speech—obscenity (aischrotēs, “shameless talk and conduct”), foolish talk (mōrologia, lit., “stupid words”), and coarse jesting (eutrapelia, “vulgar, frivolous wit”)—are out of place for Jesus’ followers, because such vices often harm (cf. 4:29), whereas thanksgiving is appreciation for others and is helpful. Paul was not intimating that humor itself is sin, but that it is wrong when it is used to destroy or tear down others.” Hoehner, H. W. (1985). Ephesians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 638). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  • J. B. Bond: “Paul also prohibits filthiness, foolish talking, and coarse jesting, sins of speech. He rightly points out that believers should instead use their voices for giving of thanks to God. Words are so powerful that believers must be careful how they relate to others, showing their love for God and for them.” Bond, J. B. (2010). The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (p. 882). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

My thoughts:

In a nutshell, the thing I took away from this was that I would like to have a higher standard. I developed a list of questions to help me think it through:

    • What exactly is a higher standard?
    • How much have I been influenced by my culture?
    • What good comes from my joking?
    • Does my joking please God? Glorify God?
    • Is it good for edification?
    • Does it ever cause harm?
    • Is it full of grace?
    • Why do I joke?
    • Do I enjoy shocking people with certain kinds of jokes?
    • Am I motivated by trying to to entertain people? Impress people? Spread joy? Build up others? Teach better?
    • How much is too much?
    • If I joke around too much will others have trouble taking me seriously?
    • Do my jokes—even if they are clean and joyful—sometimes kill a spiritual moment or stifle the Spirit’s work?
    • Do I spend more time joking or more time giving thanks and offering up praise?

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…a time to weep and a time to laugh.”

King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)

Epaphras…always laboring

[I’m studying through the prayers of Paul in my devotion times. I really enjoyed Colossians 4:12 recently. Just wanted to share some of the things I found about this guy named Epaphras—a lot of cut-and-paste, but also some of my own notes as well as my prayer response at the end.]

“Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Colossians 4:12)

  • This prayer is unique in Paul because it was actually Paul reporting what Epaphras was praying for the Colossians. I include it here because it is in one of Paul’s letters, and because Epaphras was such a great example.
  • “Epaphras…”
    • Epaphras (shortened form of Epaphroditus—“lovely”), a Christian worker with Paul who served as missionary to Colossae (Col. 1:7; 4:12; Philem. 23). (Nelson’s Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 636)
    • <ep’-a-fras> ([ Ἐπαφρα̂ς, Epaphras]): A contracted form of Epaphroditus. He must not, however, be confounded with the messenger of the Philippian community. He was with Paul during a part of his 1st Roman imprisonment, joining in Paul’s greetings to Philemon (Philem 1:23). Epaphras was the missionary by whose instrumentality the Colossians had been converted to Christianity (Colossians 1:7), and probably the other churches of the Lycus had been founded by him. In sending his salutation to the Colossians Paul testified, “He hath much labor for you, and for them in Laodicea, and for them in Hierapolis” (Colossians 4:13). Epaphras had brought to Paul good news of the progress of the gospel, of their “faith in Christ Jesus” and of their love toward all the saints (Colossians 1:4). Paul’s regard for him is shown by his designating him “our beloved fellow-servant,” “a faithful minister of Christ” (Colossians 1:7), and “a bondservant of Christ Jesus” (Colossians 4:12 margin) . The last designation Paul uses several times of himself, but only once of another besides Epaphras (Philippians 1:1). (S. F. Hunter, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: 1915)
  • “Who is one of your number”
    • Most translations (NIV, NKJV, TM, LEB, KJV, etc.), “who is one of you.”
    • He was a Colossian himself. Perhaps this is the secret behind his earnest labor in prayer: He was a companion of the Apostle Paul and he traveled throughout the Roman Empire for Christ (if he was part of the Pauline team), but never forgot who he was and where he was from. Lord, help me to pray as “one of CBC’s number”.
  • “A bondslave of Jesus Christ”
    • Bondslave—37.3 δοῦλος, η, ον: pertaining to a state of being completely controlled by someone or something—‘subservient to, controlled by.’ (Louw-Nida)
    • NET Bible, Deuteronomy 15:16-17 and note: “However, if the servant says to you, “I do not want to leave you,” because he loves you and your household, since he is well off with you, 17 you shall take an awl and pierce a hole through his ear to the door. Then he will become your servant permanently (this applies to your female servant as well). (Footnote #34: sn When the bondslave’s ear was drilled through to the door, the door in question was that of the master’s house. In effect, the bondslave is declaring his undying and lifelong loyalty to his creditor. The scar (or even hole) in the earlobe would testify to the community that the slave had surrendered independence and personal rights. This may be what Paul had in mind when he said “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal 6:17).
    • The phrase δοῦλος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ occupies a special position when used in self-description, as often in Paul, but also in the salutations of Jm., Jd. and 2 Pt. We might also add Col. 4:12, where Paul describes his fellow-worker Epaphras as a δοῦλος Χριστοῦ. Even as a self-designation the phrase δοῦλος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ cannot be separated from the understanding of the relationship of Christians to Christ in terms of an interpretation of the work of Christ as redemption. If this is so, then it first suggests the conscious subordination of the one who uses it to the claim of Christ, and therefore his integration into the community. In this sense, it is fully consistent with our picture of Paul as derived independently from other sources. The aim of Paul is not to dominate the Church. He seeks rather to edify it as one who, set in the service of Christ, discharges his office in the place appointed…the self-designation δοῦλος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as used by Paul expands the parallel ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. If the latter describes Paul’s office according to its significance and operation towards those without, the former describes it according to the relationship to Christ and therefore its final basis, which consists in the fact that Christ has won Paul from the world and made him His possession. (TDNT)
    • Jesus’ servanthood radically revised the ethics of Jew and Greek alike, because He equated service to God with service to others. When we minister to the needs of the hungry or the lonely, we actually minister to Christ (Matt. 25:31–46). And when we fail to do so, we sin against God (James 2:14–17; 4:17). In this light, all who took part in the fellowship of service were ministers. The concept is strengthened when the use of the Greek word doulos is noted. This was the term for a bondslave, one who was offered his freedom but who voluntarily surrendered that freedom in order to remain a servant. This idea typified Jesus’ purpose, as described by Paul in Philippians 2:7. This passage alludes to the “servant of God” teaching of Isaiah 42–53. Truly Christ fulfilled this exalted calling, because His life was dedicated to the needs of others. Following our Savior’s example, all believers are bondslaves of God (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Col. 4:12). We are to perform “good deeds” to all people, with a responsibility especially to fellow Christians (Gal. 6:10; Heb. 10:24). (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary; under “Minister”)
    • Lord Jesus, I am Your bondslave. I surrender my independence and personal rights. My aim is not to dominate Your Church. I seek rather to edify it as one who, set in Your service, discharges my office in the place appointed—CBC/Lawrence.
  • “Always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers”
    • For the haphazardly intent, prayer is the overflowing of a heart longing for intimacy with a personal God. Paul Rees, traveling lecturer for World Vision International, talks about prayer as relationship, not discipline: “There is biblical justification for referring to prayer at times as real discipline. Paul speaks about Epaphras as one who labored in prayer. But prayer is a relationship so intimate and so dynamic that it should be easy to listen for God’s voice and to respond by articulating some confession or petition. This idea of prayer as a relationship has grown on me through the years, so that now for me prayer is the healthy expression of this intimacy with God.” (Muck, T. C., Liberating the Leader’s Prayer Life, Vol. 2, p. 44).
    • “You can pray when you can do little else. Robert Murray McCheyne…wasn’t well. He experienced “violent palpitations” of the heart, growing so weak and frail that he took an extended trip, seeking to recover. But he missed his church, and on February 27, 1839 he wrote them these words in a pastoral letter: ‘I wish to be like Epaphras in Colossians 4: “Always laboring fervently for you in prayer.” When hindered by God from laboring for you in any other way, it is my heart’s joy to labor for you thus. When Dr. Scott of Greenock, a good and holy minister, was laid aside by old age from preaching some years before his death, he used to say, “I can do nothing for my people now but pray for them. … ” This I also feel.’ …He once said, “If the veil of the world’s machinery were lifted off, how much we could find is done in answer to the prayers of God’s children.” How much indeed.” (Morgan, R. J., On This Day; Heart Palpitations, February 27)
    • “My favorite text in this regard is Paul’s greeting at the end of his Colossian letter. He commends to his readers their pastor Epaphras, who is visiting Paul, and who is “always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” Then he adds, “I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for all those at Laodicea and Hierapolis” (Col. 4:12–13). What hard work could Epaphras possibly be doing for these people, while he is away from them? His wrestling in prayer for them is hard work. Prayer actually gets God’s work done. Mary Slessor was a missionary to West Africa in the nineteenth century. Her work among orphans there was nothing short of remarkable. Single and an activist, her days were long and arduous and at times lonely. She did the work of ten “normal” people in her lifetime. But she named prayer, not mere “doing,” as the real dynamic of her accomplishments. In letters home to her friends she wrote: “My life is one long, daily, hourly record of answered prayer. For physical health, for mental overstrain, for guidance given marvelously, for enmity to the gospel subdued, for food provided at the exact hour needed, for everything else that goes to make up life and my poor service.… I can testify with a full and often wonder-stricken awe that I … know God answers prayer.… Prayer is the greatest power God has put into our hands for service. Praying is harder work than doing … but the dynamic lies that way to advance the kingdom. I have no idea how and why God has carried me over so many hard places, and made these hordes submit to me … except in answer to prayer at home for me. It is all beyond my comprehension. The only way I can explain it is on the ground that I have been prayed for more than most. Pray on—power lies that way.” “Praying is harder work than doing.” If Mary Slessor, the busy activist, could say that, it must be true. It is harder to pray than to simply “do.” That’s why Eugene Peterson says that the pastor who claims to be too busy to pray is really a lazy person. In busyness, he or she is procrastinating, avoiding the real work of prayer. Why does God tell us to pray for the things he has promised to do anyway? For instance, he tells us to pray that his name will be hallowed and his kingdom come, things he has assured us he will bring to pass, anyway. After all, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess one day that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10–11). French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal suggests that God does it to give us the dignity of causality. When my children were young, they would “help” me mow the lawn. The grass was too thick and the mower too heavy for them to push. So I stood over them, hands on the mower handle with theirs, my body bent slightly forward, and pushed as they “pushed” it through the grass. I could have done the job better and more easily alone, but I wanted the pleasure of their company. I also wanted them to have something to do that mattered, to have the dignity of causality. I think God commands us to pray for much the same reasons. (Deepening Your Conversation With God, pp. 25–27).
    • Lord, forgive me for my laziness. Help me to “labor earnestly in prayer” for CBC.
  • “That you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”
    • The Request: Maturity! Assurance of God’s will!
    • “Perfect”:
      • 88.100 τέλειοςe, α, ον: pertaining to being mature in one’s behavior—‘mature, grown- up.’ εἰς ἄνδρα τέλειον, εἰς μέτρον ἡλικίας τοῦ πληρώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ ‘to the mature person, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ Eph 4:13. It is also possible to interpret τέλειος in Eph 4:13 as meaning ‘perfect’ (see 88.36). In Mt 5:48 it is possible that τέλειος also means maturity of behavior, but it is usually interpreted as ‘being perfect,’ since the comparison is made with God (see 88.36). (Louw-Nida)
      • Biologically “full-grown,” “mature,” e.g., sheep…For Plato the τέλεος … ἄνθρωπος is he who has attained φρόνησις, “firm and true views,” insight and philosophical knowledge, and the goods which these things carry with them…In the LXX (all instances given) the word means “unblemished,” “undivided,” “complete,” “whole”; it is thus used esp. for שָׁלֵם, תָּמִים and cognates. For this τέλειος occurs esp. with καρδία (elsewhere πλήρης → VI, 284, 37 f.), so of the heart which is “undivided” πρὸς κύριον or μετὰ κυρίον in exclusive worship, without idolatry, wholly obedient to God’s will, 3 Βασ‌. 8:61; 11:4, (10B); 15:3, 14; 1 Ch. 28:9 (only here with ἐν καρδίᾳ, elsewhere in predicate clauses); of “total” carrying away, Jer. 13:19 (→ n. 20); the whole offering, Ju. 20:26; 21:4B (sc. θυσίας, A in both vv. σωτηρίον). For תָּמִים it is used of the people which should serve Yahweh wholly and undividedly τέλειος ἔσῃ ἐναντίον κυρίον, Dt. 18:13; of Noah who was “blameless” in his generation (par. δίκαιος) and pleased God, Gn. 6:9 (TDNT)
    • “Fully assured in all the will of God.”
      • 31.45 πληροφορέομαι; πληροφορία, ας f: to be completely certain of the truth of something—‘to be absolutely sure, to be certain, complete certainty.’ πληροφορέομαι: πληροφορηθεὶς ὅτι ὃ ἐπήγγελται δυνατός ἐστιν καὶ ποιῆσαι ‘he was absolutely sure that (God) would be able to do what he had promised’ Ro 4:21. πληροφορία: ὅτι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν οὐκ ἐγενήθη εἰς ὑμᾶς ἐν λόγῳ μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν δυνάμει καὶ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ ἐν πληροφορίᾳ πολλῇ ‘for we brought the good news to you, not with words only, but also with power and the Holy Spirit, and with complete certainty’ 1 Th 1:5. The phrase ‘with complete certainty’ may be expressed in some languages as ‘you may surely believe it’ or ‘there is no reason at all for you to doubt.’ (Louw-Nida)
      • In R. 14:5 Paul does not lay down any specific rules on the question of eating flesh (→ IV, 66 f.) or the observance of set days. He simply asks that each should “achieve full certainty” in his own judgment, so that his conduct may build on this without wavering (on the origin of this certainty, cf. v. 22f., → 219, 33 ff.). In Col. 4:12 πεπληροφορημένοι is used in the abs. Formally possible is an interpretation along the lines of R. 14:5: “filled with certainty,” though the general drift of Col. would suggest “brought to full measure.” The latter rendering is favoured by the combination with τέλειοι (→ 285, 10–13): As those who are mature and have come to full stature (the stature of Christ) in Christ, Christians stand firm (R. 14:4b) ἐν παντὶ θελήματι τοῦ θεοῦ (→ III, 59, 6 f.). (TDNT)
  • “…Passion for maturity in the Body is a prominent New Testament theme. Paul told the Colossians, ‘We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ’ (1:28). Paul would settle for nothing less than maturity in his converts. Then there was Epaphras, “a bondslave of Jesus Christ…always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12; emphasis added). Epaphras is not famous like Paul, but he prayed passionately that every member of the Body would reach maturity. This is always to be the passion of gifted leaders. The call to the ministry is not a call to a profession, but to a passion. God gives gifted leaders to the church—not to entertain it, program it, or organize it—but to bring believers to maturity. Nothing less satisfies God’s chosen leaders (Heb. 13:20–21; James 1:4)” (The Body Dynamic, pp. 76–77).
  • “Epaphras had evidently been instrumental in the founding of the church at Colosse (1:7). His concern for the Colossians is clear from his zealous prayers for their maturity and their full perception of God’s complete will for them. These concerns are the burden of this epistle. Epaphras’ fervent agonizing in prayer (cf. Luke 22:44) reflects his understanding that God would provide illumination and continued growth in proportion as people requested these of Him (James 4:2). This is spiritual work that only God can do. Epaphras’ concern for the Christians in the other towns near Colosse suggests the possibility that he evangelized these communities too.” (Constable, p.54)
  • “Epaphras holds the unique distinction among all the friends and co-workers of Paul of being the only one whom Paul explicitly commended for his intensive prayer ministry. The passage quoted above [4:12-13] may well be called his diploma of success in this ministry.” (D. Edmond Hiebert, Working With God: Scriptural Studies in Intercession, p. 77; quoted in Constable, p.54)
  • “Epaphras grasped, what many of us are slow to realize, that the tactics of the Christian battle are born of the strategy of prayer.” (Harrington C. Lees, St. Paul’s Friends, p. 157; quoted in Constable, p.54)
  • “There are many things outside the power of ordinary Christian people, and great position, wide influence, outstanding ability may be lacking to almost all of us, but the humblest and least significant Christian can pray, and as ‘prayer moves the Hand that moves the world,’ perhaps the greatest power we can exert is that which comes through prayer.” (W. H. Griffith Thomas, Christ Pre-Eminent, p. 191; quoted in Constable, p.54)
  • “It is related of an old pastor who every Saturday afternoon could be seen leaving his study and entering the church house by the back door, and about sundown he would be seen going home. Someone’s curiosity was aroused enough to follow one day and watch through a window. It was in the days when the family pew was an institution of the church. The old pastor was seen to kneel at each pew and pray for every member of the family that was to occupy it on the Lord’s Day. He called each member by name as he poured out his heart to God for his flock. His was a ministry of power and his people reflected the grace of God upon them. Blessed is that church which has such a praying shepherd.” (Hiebert, p. 83. See also idem, “Epaphras, Man of Prayer,” Bibliotheca Sacra 136:541 (January-March 1977):54-64; quoted in Constable, p.54)
  • Father, help me be like Epaphras. Transform my mind so that I think of myself as “one of CBC’s number”. This is my home. This is my church family. Transform my heart so that I’m not just talking about being “a family of families,” but actually living it. I commit myself to you as “a bondslave of Jesus Christ”. I surrender my rights—I am Your servant forever because I love You and trust You as King and Lord. I resolve to pray—always laboring earnestly for CBC in my prayers. Forgive me for failing to do this in the past. Strengthen me, lead me, remind me, teach me to do this in the future. And, I pray that CBC may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. Lord Jesus, help me to model and teach spiritual maturity and a complete assurance that Your will is always good and right and best. Help me to clarify—and teach clearly—what spiritual maturity is. Help me to unapologetically call Your people to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which they’ve been called.