COLOSSIANS #20:THE WRONG WAY TO USE THE LAW

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I think this sermon contains two extremely important concepts; ideas that we will use over and over as we cover the rest of Colossians. Please download the audio and/or save the written version so that you can refer to it again in the future.

Colossians #20  Colossians 2:16-17

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Important concept #1: The Two Ditches.

Before we jump into these verses, we need a broader context about the teachings of the Bible. Martin Luther compared following Jesus to riding a horse. He suggested it is possible to fall off either the right side of the horse, or the left side. In these days, I like the analogy of a road with two deep ditches. You might veer off into the left hand ditch, or the right hand one, and if you do, you end up in trouble. Ideally you stay in the middle, on the road.

Let’s call the right-hand ditch “legalism.” If you go this direction, you start to think that following Jesus is all about behaving correctly. The problem is that there is a tiny bit of truth in legalism. Our behavior should change once we have received the grace of God through Jesus. But it changes because God is changing us through the Holy Spirit, not because we have to earn credit from him. If you are in the legalism ditch, instead of recognizing that right behavior is a result of a true faith, you think (maybe unconsciously) that if you behave correctly, you prove that you are worthy of God. Without realizing it, you start to think that God blesses you because you are a good person. Certainly you aren’t like those other people. People in this ditch are sometimes proud (but often they hide their pride behind pious talk and behavior). They are at least as concerned with how other people behave as with their own lives, and frequently they focus not on what is in their hearts, but rather, what they do (or keep away from doing). They think (sometimes only hinting, but not saying directly) that when people suffer, it is because God is punishing them for their sin. This is a dangerous ditch, even more so because many of those who fall into it think that they are good, Christian folks. They are so busy trying to appear righteous that other people might think of them as strong Christians as well, while in reality, they are offending God by thinking that their “righteous” acts amount to anything.

The truth, of course, is that God’s punishment for sin is death and hell, not troubles in this life, and Jesus already took that punishment for those who trust Him. We cannot earn God’s love or favor, and our attempts to do so are offensive to God. All human beings have been judged equally guilty and unworthy, and all human beings are saved only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. After receiving Jesus, the good works we do are not about earning anything from God; they are about responding to the new life given to us by the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus.

There is another dangerous ditch – the left hand ditch, which I will call “lawlessness.” This ditch also contains a tiny bit of truth: That Jesus paid all for our sins, and there is nothing we can add to that payment. But “lawless” people take it beyond what it means. These folks think that anything goes. If Christ paid for all my sins, past present and future, then why does it matter how I behave? Why not get drunk, or high, when I feel like it? Why not have sex with whomever I want, whenever I want? Why not get everything I can for myself, and live as comfortably as possible, no matter what that does to others around me? Why pay attention to anything except what I really want?

The problem with the lawless ditch is that it does not recognize that receiving Jesus Christ changes a person. The life of Christ that is in you through the Holy Spirit does not want to get drunk. It does not want to indulge the desires of the flesh. The Holy Spirit is God, and the character of God is holy, not lawless or self-indulgent. Sinning is like throwing pig-manure on the person who saved your life. If you really believe he saved you, you won’t want to do that; certainly, at least, a significant part of you will not want to.

The middle, the safe and good road, I call love. It is love for Jesus for who he is, and what he has done, and love for other people because Jesus loves them too. Love is other focused, not self-focused. Love manifests the character of God. Love puts the desires of Jesus above my own, and the good of others equal to my own.

Starting here, Paul is going to warn the Colossians about the two ditches. He begins with a warning about the ditch of legalism. In Colossae, at the time Paul wrote, the legalists typically felt that everyone should follow Jewish laws. They thought Christians should observe the kosher laws of the Old Testament (what you eat and drink) and also observe the Jewish festivals, the sabbath regulations and so on. These laws are found in various places in the Old Testament, but 2 Chronicles gives us a summary:

At that time Solomon offered burnt offerings to the LORD on the LORD’s altar he had made in front of the portico. He followed the daily requirement for offerings according to the commandment of Moses for Sabbaths, New Moons, and the three annual appointed festivals: the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Shelters.(CSB 2 Chronicles 8:12-14)

The disadvantage of taking the scripture verse by verse is that we might forget the context we are in. Paul has been talking about walking in Christ. He reminded us that all the fullness of God dwells in Christ, and Christ dwells inside of us, through the Holy Spirit. When we were still dead in our sins, when our flesh was still in control of us, Jesus died for us. One consequence of his death was that the law that rightly condemned us was fulfilled, and so made irrelevant to those who are in Christ. It is no longer a basis for judging personal righteousness. We no longer have to live by it.

“Therefore,” says Paul, “let no one pass judgment you…” The first things he mentions are parts of the Jewish law. These things, along with kosher regulations, and laws about ancient Israel, are just a shadow, pointing to Jesus. The reality of them is fulfilled and found in Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews agrees:

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. (NLT, Hebrews 10:1)

Unfortunately, some people are strangely confused about this. I think it is because they are inclined to listen to human beings more than actually reading the Bible. I know a few Christian families who think it is wrong to eat pork, for instance. What puzzles me is that they don’t follow all of the other kosher regulations. They don’t have two sinks, or two refrigerators, or avoid cheeseburgers. Perhaps I am in danger of judging them, but it is very clear here that what we eat or drink has nothing to do with salvation. Trying to follow one small part of the Jewish food laws, as a requirement of following Jesus, is nonsensical.

2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. 4 For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. (NLT, Galatians 5:2-4)

Paul said this about circumcision, but it applies to any part of the Jewish law. We are saved by Jesus, by God’s grace through faith alone. If you think avoiding pork contributes in any way to your salvation, then you must obey every single part of the law perfectly. If you think observing the sabbath or Jewish festivals is necessary for true Christians, then you are obligated to follow the whole law perfectly. No. Paul is clear: these things are a shadow of the good reality. Jesus Christ is the actual good reality.

Now, what all is contained in this? What I mean is, most Christians eat pork, but we still think that committing adultery is a sin. The command about adultery was originally in the Old Testament. So how do we know what we are supposed to follow literally, and what we aren’t? Let’s look at important concept #2: How we handle the “law parts” of the Bible.

If we actually read our Bibles, it isn’t as difficult as it might seem. The New Testament makes it clear that the food laws are not necessary – in fact, it does so in our verses for today, as well as several other places (Mark 7:14-18; Acts 15:1-29; Romans 14:14 & 20). Our verses today also make it clear that we don’t have to follow the Jewish festivals, or sabbath day regulations – these were fulfilled in Christ. All of the Jewish worship regulations are just shadows of the reality in Jesus – the temple, the sacrifices, the priests’ clothing and everything to do with temple or tabernacle worship (Hebrews 8:5; 10:1). All of the regulations that were about ancient Israel no longer apply literally. Things about the types of clothing to wear, or stoning adulterers, and so on – these were all given for a particular nation at a particular time in history. They can still tell us about God and point us to Jesus, but we are not supposed to follow them literally.

The moral laws of the Old Testament are different. Jesus, and his apostles, affirmed the moral truth of the ten commandments. These still serve two purposes: 1) To show us that we can’t be good enough, therefore we need Jesus. 2) To show us the kind of character we should be developing as we follow Jesus. In other words, we still ought to do our best to live by these moral laws, because that is what the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of us, wants to do. These moral laws are a reflection of the character of God. When we fail, we fall back on the forgiveness of Jesus, but we continue on away from sin, toward God. We’ll talk more about this when we get to the lawlessness ditch.

So, let’s think about some application of this “let no one pass judgment on you…”While most of us don’t worry about how Jewish we are, there are some of us who became Christians later on in life. We’ve done things in the past that we regret; things we might even feel ashamed of. Sometimes, we encounter Christians who seem to have together, people who have been following Jesus all their lives. These folks should not make you feel inferior, or second class. We all stand on the same ground at the foot of the cross. Let no one pass judgment on you for your past – it is past. You might also make sure that you are not passing judgment upon yourself for your past.

Certain groups of believers say that we must not use musical instruments as part of worship. Others say we must follow certain liturgies and prayers when we worship. Some say we must not drink a single drop of alcohol. Others insist that true Christians worship on Saturdays, not Sundays. Others claim we must celebrate the traditional seasons, fasts and feasts of the historic church.

Paul says none of these things can be an occasion for passing judgment upon Christians. These things are not the substance that is Christ. They are external. They don’t affect a person’s heart. They may be useful, or they may not.

Let’s make sure we understand. So for example, if someone does not want to use instruments in worship, we should not pass judgment upon them. If someone wants to use traditional liturgies and church festivals, or even ancient Jewish festivals, we should not judge them for it. By the way, those of us in the House Church movement should be careful not to become judgmental of others. We know that House Church is Biblical, and we know how many tremendous advantages it has. But it is not commanded by scripture (nor, of course, forbidden). I might think you’re missing out if you don’t do house church, but I can’t say it is the only right way to do church. I cannot pass judgment on you if you don’t want to do church that way.

I want to add another thing. If someone says: “No one must use musical instruments in worship” or, “no one should eat pork,” or “Everyone should use this kind of liturgy,” we can judge their words. We aren’t passing judgment on them as people, but we can say: “No, that isn’t what the Bible says. You can choose to be that way if you like, but the Bible does not say you have to. It certainly does not say I have to.” We should not allow someone to judge us for such things.

One reason I love Lutheran theology is that it is very Biblical. Many centuries ago, the first Lutherans put forth this teaching in their own words:

“We believe, teach and confess unanimously that the ceremonies or church usages which are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God, but which have been introduced solely for the sake of good order and the general welfare, are in and for themselves no divine worship or even a part of it…

We believe, teach and confess that the community of God in every locality and every age has authority to change such ceremonies according to circumstances as it may be most profitable and edifying to the community of God.” Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article X, paragraphs 1 & 2).

This verse is supposed to be freeing. The Gentile believers in Colossae felt second class, and Jewish folks didn’t mind them feeling that way. But they (and we) have all the fullness of Christ living in us, and in Christ lives all the fullness of God. All basis for judgment against us has been taken away and nailed to the cross. There are no second class citizens in the kingdom of God.

Some Questions for reflection:

  • What things make you feel like a second class Christian? Why do you think you feel that way?
  • What unimportant things are you tempted to use as a basis for judging other Christians?
  • What unimportant things have been used to judge you?
  • Which “ditch” are you tempted to veer towards: that of legalism, or lawlessness? Why do you think that is?

“DO NOT JUDGE”: ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST MISUSED BIBLE VERSES.

I don't Want to Judge

It has never made sense to me to try and get people who do not trust Jesus to live according to His teachings. Many Christians condemn where they should not, and fail to correct where they should.

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Matthew #21 . Matthew 7:1-6

“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them with their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces. (Matt 7:1-6, HCSB)

Matthew 7:1-5 has probably been one of the most misused, misunderstood passages in the Bible during my lifetime. Let me give you a few examples of how it is used wrongly.

· Suppose a friend of mine claims to be a Christian, but he watches pornographic movies and visits nude-bars. He sees nothing wrong with doing these things. I might say to him, “You claim to follow Jesus. But the lust in your heart is something wrong, Jesus died to make it right. You shouldn’t continue to feed your lust that way. Jesus is calling you to repent.” He replies to me (quoting the bible) “Jesus said, ‘Don’t judge others!’”

· Suppose someone else says, “I’m a Christian, and I don’t believe sex is wrong for gay people or unmarried people.” I might direct the person to Ephesians 5:1-5; Colossians 3:5-7; Galatians 5:19; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 7:8-9; 1 Timothy 1:10 and Romans 1:26-27. Their response is “Well, Jesus said, ‘Don’t Judge!’”

“Don’t Judge” has become a kind of rallying cry for many Christians who are ignorant about what the Bible teaches. They use it against anyone who ever dares to suggest that their actions might not be what Jesus wants from them.

It has also become a stock-response for people who are not Christians at all. If a Christian suggests in a public forum that any activity is immoral, or even harmful, we are quickly silenced with “Jesus said, ‘do not judge.’” In fact “judging” or “intolerance” has become one of the only things that our society as a whole is willing to call an evil thing. Why non-Christians care that Jesus said ‘do not judge,’ I have no idea. I suspect they don’t, and are only looking for a chance to accuse us of hypocrisy.

So how do we respond to these things? Remember, the entire New Testament – including the words of Jesus – comes to us through the teaching and writing of the apostles. We Christians believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to remember and record the words of Jesus. We believe equally that the Spirit inspired them to write down the other teachings found in the New Testament also. To put it another way, the teaching of Jesus is the teaching of the apostles, as the Holy Spirit inspired them to remember and write. So let’s look at what the Holy Spirit has to say about holding on to the truth, and telling others the truth:

“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. (Matt 18:15-17, HCSB) [This one was said by Jesus, by the way, later on in this very same book written by Matthew]

Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will also be afraid. I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels to observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing out of favoritism. (1Tim 5:19-21, HCSB)

I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of His appearing and His kingdom: Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. (2Tim 4:1-2, HCSB)

There are many more verses like those I have listed here. Jesus Himself, just a few minutes before saying this, was telling his disciples to avoid being like the Pagans and the Pharisees. Before that, he told them to avoid all kinds of different sins. Obviously then, “do not judge” should not prevent us from speaking the truth in love and gently correcting Christians who stray. It does not mean we cannot call something “sin” when the Bible calls it sin. It should not prevent us from having moral standards, or believing in certain absolute truths. It doesn’t mean we should never be discerning, or use our critical thinking. Paul describes it like this:

For the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession, eager to do good works. Say these things, and encourage and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. (Titus 2:11-15, HCSB)

But also obviously, Jesus did mean something by his statement. What was it? For “judge,” Jesus uses the word “krino.” It is a common word, used in ninety-seven different verses of the New Testament. Sometimes it simply means “to firmly decide.” More often it means something like “official judgment.” It is used frequently to describe God judging the world, or Jesus judging at the end-times. In these contexts, it might equally suggest condemnation. It is used many times for “sitting in judgment” as an official government magistrate does, or a court of law. At times, this words is clearly used to mean “condemn.”

I think when we consider all that New Testament has to say on this matter, I think there are three important aspects of Jesus’ command: “do not judge.” First, we should not condemn other people. We can say that something is wrong without condemning the person who is doing it. The approach I usually take is something like this: “Look, I want to make sure you know what the Bible says about this. What you do about what the Bible says is not my call. I’m telling you what I know of the Bible, and the rest is between you and God.”

The second aspect of not judging is that we should not set ourselves up in the place of God. It isn’t our place to decide someone’s eternal fate. It is our place to say what the Bible says. But we need to stop there. Saying what the Bible says is not the same as condemning someone. The Bible may say a particular behavior is sinful. If we pass that information along – with the goal of helping our fellow Christians – then we have not set ourselves up as judges. We are only saying what the Bible already says. What the other person does about it is between them and God. We need to bear in mind that we are not the authorities here – God is the one true judge.

Third, Jesus was talking to people in culture of First Century Judaism. The people in that culture, particularly the religious leaders, were prone to call out others and sit in judgment over them for things that were not even sins in the eyes of God. For example, they made up their own rules about the Sabbath, and then judged people for not obeying them. Understanding that context, I think we can safely say that Jesus is also telling us not to judge one another over things that are not in the Bible, or over man-man regulations. Once again, we have other passages in the New Testament that explain this:

Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. One person believes he may eat anything, but one who is weak eats only vegetables. One who eats must not look down on one who does not eat, and one who does not eat must not criticize one who does, because God has accepted him.

Who are you to criticize another’s household slave? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And he will stand. For the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, yet he thanks God.

For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living.

But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God. For it is written: As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way. (Rom 14:1-13, HCSB)

So the Holy Spirit is saying, through Jesus and through Paul, “There are some issues that should not be issues. Don’t sit in judgment or condemnation over each other. Especially, don’t get into fights about things that are not actually commanded or forbidden in scripture.”

I know someone who was in a church where they condemned you for wearing blue jeans. I’ve been judged and criticized for not being the kind of pastor that some people expected me to be. When I sat down with my critics, I learned that what they were upset about had nothing to do with what the Bible says pastors should be like, or do. Sometimes people are judged for the music they like, or what they wear, or for drinking a glass of wine with dinner.

The Bible does have certain standards of Christ-like behavior, including moral standards. Jesus is not telling us to ignore those, or throw them out, but rather to approach each other in gentleness and humility about those things. And there is also lot of freedom in how we live out and express our faith. Jesus is telling us not to judge each other at all in these areas of freedom.

Jesus did not only say: “do not judge.” He had more to say on the whole subject. Jesus actually says we should examine ourselves first, and then we will be able to help someone else who has a problem. He says we should recognize that the same standards apply to us, as well as the other person. In other words, when there is an issue of Biblical morality or false teaching, we need to be humble, and recognize our own faults before we approach someone else to help them with their problem. But Jesus’ words here (in context) assume that we should still approach the person, once we are appropriately humble. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to flesh it out like this:

Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:1-2, HCSB)

We are not to approach each other in condemnation. We are not to set ourselves up as judge in God’s place. We are to be humble, to let our own lives be under the authority of God’s Word (the Bible) and then – only then – in gentleness, with the goal of helping fellow-Christians, we can approach someone else about a sin.

Jesus’ last sentence in this section seems a little strange. He says:

Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them with their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces.

Make no mistake, this is also about judging others. I think what he is saying is that we should not waste time trying to bring grace-filled correction to people who are not humble or open enough to receive it. Proverbs says:

The one who corrects a mocker will bring dishonor on himself; the one who rebukes a wicked man will get hurt. Don’t rebuke a mocker, or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. (Prov 9:7-8, HCSB)

In other words, we don’t take the log out of our own eye, and then graciously approach someone who isn’t even a follower of Jesus and try to help them stop sinning. When we share the truth about Jesus, the good news, of course we talk about how our sins have separated us from God and from each other. But our goal in sharing the good news is not really to get people to just quit sinning. It is to exhort people turn to Jesus for grace, forgiveness and help.

Look at it this way. Suppose you have a friend who is not a Christian, who gets drunk all the time. Your friend is sinning, and, according to the bible she will go to hell because she has not trusted in Jesus who call Himself the only Way, Truth and Life. Now, suppose you convince her that it is a sin to get drunk, and she stops doing it. She is now not sinning in that way, and yet she will still go to hell because she still isn’t trusting in Jesus. All your efforts to get her to stop sinning have not helped her at all spiritually.

Not only that, but it has never made sense to me to try and get people who do not trust Jesus to live according to Jesus’ teaching. Suppose one of my Muslim friends came to me and said, “Tom, you need to stop eating pork. According to the Koran, it is a sin to eat pork.”

I would say, politely, “I don’t follow the Koran. I don’t believe what it says. It doesn’t matter to me what it says about pork.”

But too many Christians try to get people who don’t even trust Jesus to follow what the Bible teaches. Jesus is saying here, “Don’t bother. There’s no point to it. It’s like feeding dogs a gourmet meal, or dressing pigs up with pearls. It’s a waste of time and effort, and the precious truth of God’s word will be trampled in the mud.”

I don’t think he means that we should view unbelievers like dogs or pigs. He’s just saying, trying to bring correction to people who do not believe is silly and pointless.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians about this subject:

I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? But God judges outsiders. Put away the evil person from among yourselves. (1Cor 5:9-13, HCSB emphasis mine)

So, I actually have no moral problem with people who do not claim to be Christians, and live in sin. They are morally consistent. In fact, I would find it surprising if they refrained from sin even while they do not trust Jesus. Now, of course, I pray for such people to turn to Jesus. I pray that they see the futility of their lives without him. I pray that they fully experience how their sin separates them from God and from each other, and become desperate for the forgiveness and grace they can have in Him alone. But I’m not interested in making them clean up their lives first. I’ll let the Holy Spirit do that, once they have put their trust in Jesus.

On the other hand, if someone claims to be a believer, and yet persists in an ongoing pattern of sin, I will examine myself, and then humbly, gently try to remind them what the Bible says. Paul says (inspired by the Holy Spirit) to let them know they are no longer acting like believers. Even so we are supposed to do this without condemning, and without putting ourselves in God’s place, as if we are the ones who get to decide their fate.

This is a nuanced teaching. We are to try and bring correction to fellow believers (not outsiders) when they stray from what the Bible teaches. But we do so humbly and gently, and not judgmentally. We bring correction by reminding them what the Bible says; we are not supposed to bring judgment and condemnation. And we don’t even do that with those who are not Christians. In addition, we are not to bring any kind of judgment at all in areas where the Bible gives us freedom.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you about this subject right now.

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