Thursday, April 27, 2017

Luke 6:37–42

Luke 6:37–42 (ESV): Judging Others


This is a famous passage, and starts off with Jesus telling his listeners not to be judgemental:
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (verses 37–38 (ESV), Jesus speaking)
Verse 39 (ESV) says, “And then he told them a parable,” but it’s really a parable plus a couple of metaphors:
  1. I’m very much paraphrasing, but Jesus starts off by saying that it would be silly for a blind man to act as a guide for another blind man. If they try it, they’re both going to end up falling into a pit.
  2. He then says that a disciple is not above his teacher, though he will be like his teacher once he is fully trained
  3. And finally, in a very familiar passage, he tells us that we should not be going around telling people that, hey, you’ve got a speck in your eye, let me get that for you, when all the while we’ve got a log in our own eye. If you want to help someone, you hypocrite—Jesus’ word!—you should first remove the log from your eye, then try to help your brother with the speck in his.


Above I said that Jesus is telling his listeners not to be judgemental, but the actual words he uses are “judge not,” and “condemn not,” and “forgive.” But I stand by my phrasing, because that’s what Jesus is talking about. Too many people will quote this passage, and claim that it means Christians should never tell anyone what to do (or, more specifically, what not to do), because that would be “judging.” (There is a fair point to be made about Christians judging non-Christians—we shouldn’t expect saved behaviour from unsaved people—but that’s a topic for another day.) However, this is not the only passage in the Bible, there’s a lot of other stuff in there too, and there are large parts of the Scriptures devoted to telling people how to live. To take an easy example, the Bible says that we’re not supposed to kill people, so if I kill someone and you point out to me that what I did was wrong—that it was a sin—you’re not breaking Jesus’ message from this passage by “judging” me. You’re pointing out a fact: murder is wrong, so if I commit murder I’ve done something wrong. What Jesus is talking about in Luke 6 is much more about your own attitude and heart: if I commit murder and you tell me that I’ve committed a sin by doing so, that’s fine; if I commit murder and you tell me that you’re better than me because I committed that sin, then you’re off from Jesus’ message here. It’s not your place to condemn me, it’s God’s. (And He can do it better than you can anyway.) Clearly, if I commit murder I’ve committed a sin; clearly, I’ve done wrong; but it’s up to God to decide who’s better than whom, and, frankly, in His judgement, we’re all terrible.

But, of course, you won’t often be meeting people who’ve committed murder, and having to tell them that they’ve committed a sin by doing so. Most of the “judging” we do on a day to day basis is for much smaller crimes. It’s more like, “that guy cut me off in traffic—I hope he crashes!” And it’s especially cases where I judge someone for cutting me off in traffic, but when I cut someone else off, it’s because I had a good reason, and they shouldn’t have been driving so slow in the first place. Just as important as the first part of that passage is the last part, when Jesus says, “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” I heard a preacher once—I think it was Tim Keller but I might be mistaken, and might be misquoting him anyway—talking about the fact that even if you were to ignore God for a moment, and purely judge someone by their own, internal set of rules, even then we wouldn’t pass the test. “I believe that people shouldn’t cut each other off in traffic.” But have you ever cut someone off? “I believe people should be nice to each other.” But has there ever been a time when you weren’t nice to someone?

I don’t for a second think that this passage means Jesus is going to throw out the Scriptures and start judging everyone based on their own personal, individual beliefs—God still demands sinless perfection, regardless of what you believe on a personal level—but what he’s saying in this passage is that we have to be hypervigilant that we not use one ruler for ourselves and a different ruler when it comes to judging others. It’s very easy for us to let ourselves off the hook, to say that, sure I shouldn’t have done that but I had a good reason, while never allowing that anyone else might have also had a “good reason” for the things they did. Again, recognize that, when someone does something wrong, they’ve actually done something wrong, but don’t put yourself in the place of God and start trying to decide how wrong it is.

It’s not accidental that a teaching about not being judgemental is immediately followed by a teaching about not seeing clearly, and trying to “help” others in the midst of our own blindness:
  • Why does Jesus talk about the blind leading the blind? (Yes, this is where that phrase comes from.) Because most of us—the vast majority of us—all of us—have our own lack of understanding to deal with. How am I supposed to lead you out of your sin when I’m busy dealing with my own? Someone without such a fundamental vision problem should do that: Jesus.
  • And why are we so blind? Because we’re not the teacher, we’re only the disciples; Jesus teaches us, and the longer we follow Him the more we’ll be like Him, but we will never, in this life, be above him, or even as good as Him.
  • With these points in mind, isn’t it overly arrogant for me to approach anyone and offer to help them deal with their sin? I have my own sin to deal with. This is the point of Grace; the only one who can take my (or your) sin away is someone who doesn’t have his own sin to deal with: Jesus.
I’m phrasing things a bit too strongly, though. I can offer to help someone deal with their sin, if I have something to offer. Maybe it’s a sin I’ve dealt with, and have some tips and tricks, or maybe it’s a sin I haven’t dealt with and I have an unbiased opinion. Again, it’s an attitudinal thing: knowing that I, myself, am also a sinner, I can, perhaps, help you to deal with yours, but only as a fellow sinner, not as a saviour. Going back to the points raised above, the problem is that our tendency is to see someone else’s particular sin, and judge them for being a terrible person for committing that one particular sin, all the while forgetting that our own lives are a steaming pile of sin, screaming up to God. When I see someone cutting me off in traffic, and think to myself that he’s the worst person in the world, I’m completely forgetting about the thousand sins I’ve already committed that day. I’m judging him overly harshly for one particular thing, while letting myself off the hook for a million sins of my own. I’m being a hypocrite, ignoring the log in my own eye while I focus on the speck in his.

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