The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

By J.D. Walt

Prayer of Consecration

Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

Jesus, I belong to you.

I lift up my heart to you.
I set my mind on you.
I fix my eyes on you.
I offer my body as a holy and living sacrifice to you.

Jesus, We belong to you.

Praying in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.


You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
    every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God

Romans 14:10–12 (NIV)


Consider This

Let’s rehearse the story so far on Romans 14. 

  1. Paul acknowledges the conflict and deems it a non-essential matter. 
  2. He shifts the conflict from warring factions to personalized reckoning.  
  3. He asks them to personally clarify their convictions.
  4. Now, rather than bringing them face to face into some kind of mediated conflict resolution, he pushes them to deal personally and directly with God. 
  5. Now, in today’s text, ten verses in, he identifies the real issue and calls them out. 

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? 

The presenting issues here are eating meat, drinking wine, and keeping sabbath. The underlying matter is of another order entirely. It is the soul cancer of judgment and judging one another. Paul knows nothing will destroy this little church faster than the spirit of judgment among the people. Paul knows where this goes next. 

Or why do you treat them with contempt?

If the spirit of judgment constitutes the cancerous cells, then the sign of their malignant spread is contempt. Paul chooses a very strong word here: exoutheneó. It goes way past judging others and into the realm of mockery and despising them. 

Some years ago, the celebrated Jewish psychologist John Gottman embarked on a landmark research study on divorce and its causes. He developed a model which could predict eventual divorce with a documented 90 percent accuracy rate based on the presence of certain behavioral markers. Through his research, he identified four relational cascading markers which point to and ultimately cause relational dissolution. They occur progressively and in this order, criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. He called them “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (If you are interested check out the wikipedia page for an overview). 

Take note, modern readers—and especially those of us who are dealing with church conflicts (not to mention marital and other relational impasses)—of Paul’s prescription. Before we need an exploration of the conflict we need an examination of conscience before God.1 So often we enter into processes to resolve conflict with others before we have dealt with ourselves in the presence of God. It invariably results in escalating the conflict. This is so because most of our conflicts reach an impasse because of our own deep investment in being right in our own judgment.

For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
    every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

Translation: Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go straight to the throne of God. Run to the foot of the cross. Bow and kneel at the feet of Jesus. Declare with your mouth: Jesus Christ is Lord. Refresh the faith of your heart that God raised him from the dead. Invite the Holy Spirit to lay bare your heart and search you and grant you a spirit of repentance. Repent of a judgmental spirit, of criticism, of defensiveness, of contempt, and of stonewalling. 

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God

Paul is inviting the followers of Jesus, then and now, to go ahead and get in the habit of giving this account to God, who alone is the Judge, now—while there is still time to recover and make amends. This is the great miracle of mercy and the mystery of grace.



Abba Father! Thank you that you are the Righteous Judge. Forgive us when we attempt to usurp your authority by inserting ourselves in your place. We confess we get crossways with other people and escalate our conflicts when we fail to find ourselves alone at the cross before you. You are the Judge, and we can entrust ourselves to you who judges justly—just as Jesus did. Holy Spirit would you teach us this way of turning away from the escalating conflict and turning directly to you? This is wisdom and for it we thank you. Praying in Jesus’s name, amen.