“The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness,
‘For,’ they said, ‘it is a witness between us that the LORD is God.’”
My focus this morning is actually on the whole passage of Joshua 22:10-34. The Israelite Tribes who lived on the East side of the Jordan River built an altar, which caused the Tribes to the West to prepare to go to war with them. The Western Tribes believed the altar was built in rebellion against the Lord. So they sent leaders to the Eastern Tribes to call them out and question why they would bring such sin into the midst of the people of God.
The Eastern Tribes quickly explained that it was not built in rebellion and that they built the altar not as a replacement for the altar of the LORD, but as a witness to Tribes on both sides of the Jordan that they were faithful and had a portion in the Lord. There was a fear that future generations would see the Jordan as a boundary line between the true people of God, the Western Tribes, and those in the East.
There is a danger in jumping to conclusions, as the Tribes in the West did. Israel was almost at war over a misunderstanding. At the beginning of their response, the Eastern Tribes said, “The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows, and let Israel itself know!” (Joshua 22:22). The Lord knew the heart of those who built the altar. Just as He knows our heart. And just as He knows the hearts of those around us.
This account brings to light the delicate balance in our relationships as people of God. Romans 14:4 tells us, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” In Galatians 6:1, Paul writes, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
We have a responsibility to gently restore those who have turned away from their relationship with God. But at the same time, we must take care not to pass judgment on others simply because their life or their faith doesn’t look like ours. There is trust involved in the latter, bringing the concern before the Lord and trusting Him to take care of His own and make them stand. The challenge for us is to discern this balance.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
We are to build each other up in love. To bear each other’s burdens. To watch out for one another and for ourselves, so that we aren’t led astray by the one who seeks to draw us away from our Lord and who wants to destroy us. And to do so in a way that never condemns, never judges, but only ever loves. Our calling is not to make others conform to our opinions and preferences or to win an argument, but to encourage and strengthen our brothers and sisters in the truth of the Word of God.
“So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:12-13). We are accountable for how we look out for and love our brothers. If we hinder their faith, put a stumbling block in front of them, or judge them, we will answer to their Master and ours. “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:1-2).
And for the times when we feel wrongly judged…when we are sincerely seeking the face of God, delighting in Him, desiring to please Him in all that we do, but are accused of doing the opposite…I pray that we will remember that our Lord knows our heart. Even when those around us don’t seem to understand or even care to try. When condemnation surrounds us, let us remember that “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people” (Psalm 125:2). God is with you. He sees you. He knows you. And He will be faithful. He will deal with wrongs as needed, in His perfect timing and wisdom. Just keep looking to Him, speaking truth in love, building each other up, and trust Him with the rest.