The Most Abused Verse in Scripture
Judging, Judgmental, Forgiveness, Generosity, Stewardship
It is fun to watch children as they freely imitate those whom they admire. Watch a young boy or girl on the athletic field and you may seem them mimicking the batting stance or free throw regiment of their favorite hero. Watch a young boy as he imitates a soldier or a young girl as they dress to look like a celebrity they admire.
Adults are not nearly as transparent but they still imitate those they admire. Many preachers mimic a Pastor who influenced them. You may imitate the business practices or leadership style of someone you admire. We tend to pick up the vocabulary (good and bad) of the people around us. We even tailor our values to the people around us. All you have to do is spend a little while in the south and you will start picking up the hint of a drawl. Learning through imitation is a part of life.
It is important in our imitation to remember that imitation and duplication are not the same thing. Just because someone can imitate Jay Leno doesn’t mean they have a good sense of humor. Just because you can mimic the stance of Albert Pujols doesn’t mean you are going to be a good hitter. You can copy the moves of your favorite singer but that doesn’t make you a star (or even mean you can sing on key).
It is not what we do outwardly that makes us who we are, it is what people are on the inside. This is certainly true when it comes to following Jesus Christ. We can imitate other believers (carry a Bible, attend church, sing choruses, spout platitudes) but still not know His transforming power in our lives. God’s place of business is in the heart.
As we move into the next section of the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:37-42 Jesus addresses our attitudes or our “inner person”. The previous commands regarding love are powerful and challenging. The commands we look at today are just as difficult. There are four commands but the first two are similar so I have put them under three positive headings that point to the kind of character the Lord wants from His people.
Christ-Followers Have an Embracing Attitude
In verse 37 we read,
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” The more familiar passage is from the gospel of Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
It is amazing that even people who have never read the Bible seem to know this verse. It is certainly the most quoted verse in the Bible. You may have had these verses quoted to you on some occasion when you said something was “right” or “wrong”. The message seems to be: you shouldn’t make judgments about another person’s behavior. The popular conclusion is that we should let everyone do “their own thing” and accept differences as personal choices that are between the person and God.
In the very next section however Jesus is going to tell us that we must look at the “fruit” and evaluate the lifestyle of teachers to judge whether or not they are worth following. The Bible tells us to “flee from evil” which requires that we make judgments about what is evil and what is not. We are told that a true follower obeys what Jesus says which naturally means there are some things we should not do. We are constantly and necessarily making judgments about behaviors and ideas.
Suppose you worked in a plant and were not following the procedures. When the supervisor tries to correct the problem you say, “Judge not, lest you be judged”, how do you think the supervisor will respond?
Imagine a football team in the film room and on a busted play the coach says to you, “Hey, you were in the wrong spot! On this play you are supposed to be doing this . . . “ What do you think would happen if you said, “Coach, don’t forget, Jesus said, ‘Judge Not, lest you be judged!’
Suppose you are a surgical intern operating on a patient and the resident sayid, “Don’t cut there!” and you calmly said, “Doctor, judge not or you will be judged.” Or a teacher hands back a test and you complain about your grade saying, “Hey, who are you to Judge?”
In each case we see the absurdity of the argument. Judgments have to be made all the time to correct what is wrong, and to be able to determine the right course of life. What Jesus is condemning is not making judgments; He is condemning a judgmental or condemning spirit. We must conclude that some behavior and ideas are wrong but we should not conclude that people are worthless. We must make judgments but we…
- Should not draw conclusions before we have the facts. We are to be careful and cautious to check out things we see and even the things we hear, because we know how easy it is to misunderstand.
- Should not judge the motives of another person. When we say things like, “they meant to cause trouble” or they “intended to hurt me” we are making judgments on things we cannot possibly know for sure
- Should work hard to be fair. This means we work to understand. We talk TO people rather than ABOUT them.
- Should never conclude that someone is beyond hope. Even in the worst situations we should continue to try to love and point people to the grace of God.
- We should not treat unbelievers like they are believers. In other words we must not expect non-Christian people to live like Christian people. Trying to hold someone to God’s standard when they reject God is counterproductive. It is better to be friendly, speak the truth in love, and continue to look for opportunities to introduce people to the saving love of Christ. Once they turn to Christ we can encourage them to live the way He wants us to live.
People sometimes in counseling will, in effect, ask me to approve of the sinful things they are doing. In these situations I tell people, “I can’t tell you that what you are doing is right, because it is not. However, I can tell you that if you turn to Christ, you can be forgiven.”
As believers we have no choice but to say that those who do not trust Jesus Christ as their Savior will not be saved. However, we don’t have to say it like we are happy about it! We must tell the truth to people in the hope that those who have spurned Him will be brought to conviction by the Holy Spirit and turn and be saved. We are not given the option to negotiate what God has declared to be true. However, we must be people who relate to others with our arms open in love rather than with our arms crossed in anger.
Christ- Followers Have a Forgiving Disposition
The second command from the Lord may be even more difficult: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” In the Gospel of Matthew we read these words following the Lord’s prayer,
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Mt. 6:14-15)
In Ephesians 4;32 and in Colossians 3:13 Paul writes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Paul appealed to the example of Christ. In other words, since we have been forgiven by God for our persistent rebellion, we should be willing to “pay it forward” by forgiving others.
Let that sink in. The Bible teaches us that we if really understand the depth of our own sinfulness; if we truly grasp the nature of our offense to God; if we really understand the magnitude of the gift of God’s grace that has been given to us, we will forgive others. We will forgive because we have been forgiven much worse than anything someone can do to us. In a sense, we will pay that blessing forward.
Make no mistake, forgiveness is hard. When the hurt is deep it is difficult to let it go. To fully understand forgiveness we need to clear up some misconceptions,
- Forgiveness takes time. We should surrender a hurt to God immediately but sometimes it takes a while before we can fully let it go. It is a decision we need to make again and again.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean we let someone hurt us in the same way over and over again. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we must pretend that no wrong happened. When we truly overlook a fault we should still be sensitive to where a person is weak so we can keep them from being in that tempting situation again. In other words, it is unwise and unloving to put a person who is tempted to steal in a situation where they may be tempted to steal again. We should not move back into an abusive situation until a person has gotten help with their anger issues otherwise we are only putting that person in a situation where they may fail and do irreparable harm. Forgiveness does not mean that we ignore the fact that a wrong has been done. It means we do not let that wrong remain a barrier in our relationship.
- Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. I do believe that over time things that have been forgiven can be forgotten. R.T. Kendall writes,
Love is a choice. Total forgiveness is a choice. It is not a feeling-at least at first-but is rather an act of the will. It is the choice to tear up the record of wrongs we have been keeping.”
How do we do this? There are several steps. First, we start by reminding ourselves that we too are sinful people. We have been in need of forgiveness from God and from others many times in life. People stumble. They fall. They fail. The person who is most compassionate is the one who is most aware of his own weaknesses.
Second, even in the most horrible of situations (the murder of a child, abuse, infidelity and so on) we must entrust the situation to the Judge of all the earth who always does what is right. Only God knows the motives of a heart. Only God has all the information about why something happened and what the circumstances were. He is the only One who can truly bring “justice”. It is not that forgiveness means that we are “letting someone get away with something”; it is that we are entrusting the matter to the Judge of all the earth who always does what is right.
Third, we must remind ourselves that the only people who are punished by an unforgiving heart is the one who will not forgive, and those who are friends and family of the one who will not forgive. The lack of forgiveness poisons our soul and as a result negatively impacts everyone around us.
Fourth, we remind ourselves that true forgiveness extends even to the way we talk about another person. Have you ever said, “I forgive that person but . . . “? Generally what follows that “but” is some kind of verbal “punishment” for what that person did to us. True forgiveness means we continue to honor another in our words, deeds, and thoughts, even though they have hurt us.
Our willingness to forgive another person is a sign that we have understood what it means to be forgiven. Forgiveness is the opposite of the condemning spirit. I think it is true that we reveal the heart of Jesus most clearly when we are willing to forgive someone for a wrong done to us.
Christ Followers Have A Generous Heart
The third thing Jesus says is: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Jesus calls us to a spirit of generosity. Throughout the Bible we are urged to use what we have been given to honor the Lord and to help each other.
This is a radical command in a society that is focused on hoarding and amassing quantities of stuff. We tend to equate material possessions with spiritual blessing. In truth it is how we use the material blessings of life that reveal the heart of a believer.
In Proverbs 3:9-10 we are told,
Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul takes up the same refrain,
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Jesus says that when we are generous, God will be generous with us. In this way God encourages generosity. He uses the image of a good measure pressed down, shaken together and running over. Think of your garbage can in the kitchen. When the bag is taken out of the can you find that when you shake the contents you can make room for more. Then if you push the garbage down you can make even more room. Jesus is saying God will not only fill the heart and life of the person who is generous, he will shake the blessing and press it down so he can fill it to overflowing. In other words we will have more blessing than we can handle. That’s quite a promise.
This is not about putting more money in the offering plate. God wants us to treat others with the kindness and grace of God. When we give generously to others, when we act unselfishly, when we show compassion, we are relating to others with the heart of Christ. This time of economic stress in our country is actually a great opportunity. We have the opportunity to demonstrate faith in very tangible ways through our generosity.
These commands are challenging. In a world of rash judgments Jesus calls us to be compassionate. In a world that justifies wrong Jesus calls us to hold to the truth. In a world that loves stories that involve revenge and people “getting what they deserve”, Jesus calls us to be people who forgive. In a world that hoards Jesus calls us to be generous.
Let’s get concrete. Are you excusing sinful behavior by hiding behind the verse “Judge not, lest you be judged”? Sin is still sin – even if we can make it socially acceptable. If you are justifying wrong confess your sin to God and take steps to make things right.
Do you have a judgmental spirit? Have you ever watched a couple of chimpanzees interacting with each other? They pick at each other. It looks like they are picking lint off of someone’s clothes. We can be like those chimps, constantly picking at each other. We draw attention to every fault, feel compelled to correct any mis-statement, and underscore any sin. We become experts at making minor things into major issues.
The challenge from Jesus is not to ignore wrong behavior. It is to adopt a more compassionate attitude. Before we criticize we need to ask: Will this be helpful? Is this necessary? Is it loving? If we stop and ask these questions we will be much less critical and much more enjoyable to be around.
Is there some wound you need to forgive? Are you making yourself and those around you miserable because you insist on holding on to an offense rather than release it to the Righteous Judge? I encourage you to take a practical step of faith. Give the situation and the hurt to God (you may have to do it again and again). Let Him set you free.
Finally, have the stresses of the economy made you stingy? Are you generous or are you beginning to hoard? Once again this is a practical test of faith: Are you willing to believe God when He says that if we are generous He will be generous in return? I know it sounds counter-intuitive. If doesn’t seem to make good financial sense to give what we have away. However, you aren’t really giving it away – you are investing it in the Lord of the Universe. The Lord is better with investments than even a room full of the best financial planners.
It is easy to imitate a follower of Jesus Christ. It’s easy to look the part. God is concerned about the heart. Genuine discipleship will impact our everyday decisions and interactions with each other. Jesus calls us to stop pretending and begin to truly follow Him.