[It’s been a while since I last updated the website with a new post. My intention is to write two or so new devotional posts per week. Thanks to all who read! The site registers an average of 30 readers per day.]
Over these past two weeks I have been teaching a new course at the Bible School, the “Life of Christ”, and while it has been a lot of work to prepare for on a daily basis, it has been a true blessing to understand and better appreciate our Savior. I thought I would share one of the passages that we studied this morning.
Reading: Luke 6:37-42
(Context: In the midst of the “Sermon on the Plain” – I title it that way for it teaches the same as the one in Matthew, but may be the same teaching in a different location – Christ teaches radically and impressively on the Kingdom of God in the future, and the Christian Character to be displayed until it comes.)
Have you ever heard the famous line, “Don’t judge me!”? We all have, either personally, in a movie, or in the news. It’s a basic self-defense mechanism that people use, a way of covering-up their short-comings without fessing-up. It is a way of coping with one’s weaknesses when confronted with them, and then protecting themselves so they don’t have to change anything. It also is a line that many people, including Christians, have a hard time getting around. After all, didn’t Jesus teach it? Well, yes, He did, but not in the way you might expect.
Let’s start with the phrase in question:
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned…” (Luke 6:37)
What about when a child disobeys? What about when a student is unruly? What about when a Christian is living openly in sin? I guess we have to just put up with it, right?
Context. Context. Context.
In teaching my students this morning, I pointed out this crucial rule, among others, as the format to the literal and natural interpretation of the Bible. Rule #1: If our interpretation of a small portion of Scripture seems to point to something that the immediate context counters, we must rethink the original interpretation. It is easy to take a verse out of context, far too easy.
Let’s refer also to Rule #2: If what a verse teaches is not repeated elsewhere, it has little backbone and an conclusion based on this alone is weak. The weight of an argument must be backed-up by multiple verses, in their own respective context. For example, there are a few verses in the Bible that teach that both baptism and faith are needed for salvation, but there are over a hundred verses that teach that only faith (many show marked exclusivity, like Gal. 2:16) is needed for salvation. There are also clear verses to contradict such teaching, showing baptism as a sign of a faith that is already present.
Let’s look at the context then, using Rule #1:
“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.” He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:37-42)
In the larger context, the message actually becomes quite clear. We cannot separate Jesus from the context of His message. We can’t read Jesus like we do most of Proverbs. Jesus is surprisingly linear in His arguments, and just when you think He has changed subjects, He actually is simply expanding and enriching the last argument. The themes change like a river changes course, it is only one river even if it is constantly moving in a different direction.
So, to who does Jesus say “Judge not”? To the “blind man” leading another into a pit. Who is a blind man? He is the “hypocrite” who accuses another of his error without seeing his own first. The way Christ organizes this teaching it becomes clear that these two are illustrations of the Pharisees, the “holier than thou” group that held the popular vote of Jews at the time.
The Pharisees were quick to critique, judge, and condemn others, even raising themselves up and “tooting their own horn”, as we would say. Well, Jesus judges them. Why? Because He was the one with whom God was “well pleased, listen to him”. Also, He was perfect, as Scripture predicted and His life showed. So, how can you teach against judging others and then go and judge others? The answer is simple, its found in verse 42:
1. “…First take the log out of your eye“, Jesus said. That means that those who listen to and obey Jesus, must first be self-critical, and judge their own lives, actions, and thoughts. It starts with you and with me. It leads to humiliation, transparency, and ultimately freedom. Once we judge ourselves, we realize how corrupted our minds are, how sinful our desires, and how detestable our behavior before God. Such a humbling act can only lead to our being entirely thankful for God’s eternal grace towards us.
2. “…then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye“, Jesus adds, completing the thought. It is vitally important that this step be second. If I first attempt to critique and judge another human being without testing my own thoughts and actions, I am a hypocrite – a laughably “blind”, ignorant, and “pius gas-bag”. Once I see my sins, then my judgement will not be clouded by envy, or self-righteousness, instead it will be cleared by thankfulness to God for His grace and led by compassion for my hurting and sinful fellow-man.
God is a God of compassion, love, second chances, and much mercy. Should we not be the same way? If Jesus could co-exist and even show Fatherly love towards publicans, prostitutes, and the “unclean” sick, should we not also?
This last paragraph is enough to show that the Rule #2 is also fulfilled in the broader context of Scripture, supporting mercy, not judgement. The day for judgement will come, and God will bring it, for vengeance is His. Yet even His wrath has been withheld, in love for us. If He were to judge us now, as we deserve, without Christ, we would all be condemned. Thus, when I judge, I must be careful to recognize that I am also judging myself before the only True Judge – Christ.
When I judge another, I must do it in humility, love, and compassion, intending to help, guide, and support my fellowman. I must realize that I am, before God, the same kind of sinner as a murderer, adulterer, or rapist. God’s beloved son, King David, was an adulterer, liar, and murderer. Would we give him a second chance in our churches today?
All have sinned. All fall far short of God’s perfection. Or did you get your salvation by being good? Because I didn’t, and no human ever can. Therefore, let’s not use the “Don’t judge me!” excuse again, if we ever have. Let’s be transparent instead, self-critiquing and open to outside constructive criticism. For if we judge ourselves truly, then we will find ourselves properly judge another with compassion and mercy.