The Lord's Day Morning

October 4, 2009

Luke 6:37-38

“Judge Not?”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 6 as we continue our way through the gospel of Luke together. We’re going to be reading from verses 37 and 38 today, but I want to go back up to verse 27 so that you have the context. In this whole passage, Jesus is teaching us how to love those who either don't love us at all or who haven't loved us well. And so the verse that is before us especially this morning with the famous phrase, “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” which is so often misunderstood and misapplied and misinterpreted, falls within the larger context of this section where Jesus is talking about how we can love those who don't love us or how we can love those who have failed us in some significant way or how we can love those who have not loved us well. And understanding that, in and of itself, will help disabuse us of some of the misapplications of that verse when it's extracted out of its context and applied to anything and absolutely everything.

As we look at this passage today I would remind you of a couple of things. One is, Jesus is here showing us that how we respond to and think about and speak to and behave toward those who have not loved us well, will often reveal much about whether we understand the Gospel and how much we have experienced of God's grace to us. If we are saved sinners, then we are those who are in the wrong that God has treated with compassion, mercy and grace. If we fully understand that, it will impact the way we treat those who are in the wrong. In other words, there will be a savor of compassion, mercy and grace even in our dealings with those who are in the wrong.

Does that mean that we will ignore the cause of justice? No. Does that mean that we will sweep all wickedness and evil doing under the carpet and pretend like it isn't there? No. Does it mean that we will forever forsake availing ourselves of the judicial instruments of government? No. It doesn't mean any of that. But it does mean in our dealing relationally with those who have done us wrong, who have not loved us, or who have not loved us well, there will always be, even when we are following the dictates of justice and meeting out the requirements of right and wrong, there will be a savor of compassion, mercy and grace in our dealings. And this is one of the default settings that the Lord Jesus is attempting to reset in His disciples in this passage as we saw last week.

Last week we said that one of the great emphases of the passage that surrounds the Golden Rule, is that we are to love and be merciful not only to those who love us, which Jesus says even pagans do, even sinners do, even worldlings do that, but He said the way people are going to know you’re different, is you’re not only going to love those who love you, you’re going to love those who don't love you. You are going to show mercy to those who don't show mercy to you, and you’re going to do it because that's what your heavenly Father did to you in the Gospel. So Jesus isn't asking us to do something that He has not already done. He's not asking us to do something our heavenly Father hasn't already done. And furthermore, you remember that He assures us that there will be a reward when we do. Though we may never ever see in the relationship that we're giving into, giving into, giving into, and not receiving anything from — at least receiving anything we want — even though we may never see a reward come out of that relationship that we're investing into, yet God will not leave us rewardless.

Now Jesus repeats this when He gets to the passage about not judging and you’ll see it as we read it today. Look especially for it at the end of verse 37 and at the end of verse 38. He's very clear about the reward that God promises to His children when they are faithful to do this very, very hard thing. This is a thing that can only be motivated by the Gospel, and thus it can only be deployed by those who are the beneficiaries of the Gospel, those who have believed the Gospel, those who have been changed by the Gospel, those who understand and have experienced God's Gospel grace. So be on the lookout for that as we read this passage today.

And before we do, let's pray.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and it is a clear Word, but a hard Word. We are not only sometimes confused as to when and how to apply it, but frankly Lord, our hearts don't want to apply it in so many cases where we have been deeply wounded and betrayed by others. But we know that it would please the Lord Jesus Christ and do our own souls and the souls of others everlasting good if we are to respond with a “yes and amen” to this great exhortation of Jesus Christ. So by the Holy Spirit, help us not only to understand it, but to want to do it and then to actually do it by Your grace. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear the Word of God beginning in Luke 6:27:

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

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.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

“Judge not, and you will not be judged” or its King James’ equivalent, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is among the most misunderstood and misapplied passages in all of the gospels. Matthew recounts this same part of the Sermon on the Mount in the first verses of Matthew chapter 7, Luke does so here, and yet it is constantly wrenched out of its’ context and misapplied and misemployed.

Let me ask you a question. Which of the following do you think reflects an accurate understanding of Jesus’ teaching in this passage?

You've turned on the television. You’re watching a talk show in which the host is discussing the sad and sordid tale of Roman Polanski. There is an evangelical minister on the program and his role is to play the predictable one of the media's angry cartoon. He is to pronounce judgment on this situation and he plays that role. And then immediately, the host turns to a well-known media pundit and he says, “Well is that the way that Christians really ought to think about this?” And the well-known media pundit responds immediately and instinctively, “Well Jesus said, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’” Is that the right application of this passage? Certainly not.

Let me change the scene. There's a Christian woman — we’ll call her Mary. She's been friends with Sally for twenty-five years. They've been through thick and thin together, but in the last few years, with all the busyness of life and especially with children and their activities, they've grown a little apart. But very recently, Sally did something to Mary that deeply wounded her, and Mary was absolutely torn up about this. After all, they have known one another for a quarter century. “How could Sally have done this to me?” She talked with her husband about it for two hours. She couldn't sleep that night, running through every scenario in her mind as to why Sally would possibly have done that. She imagined all sorts of horrible motives. She couldn't believe that her friend could have done this for those reasons. And yet, when the morning came, Mary decided, “I cannot guess what Sally's motives in doing this are. I don't know. I haven't talked to Sally, and so I must talk to Sally, and until that time, I must give her the benefit of the doubt in what motivated her to do this.” Is that a proper application of the principles, especially of Luke 6:37? Almost certainly, yes.

Let me change the scene again. It's a presbytery meeting and it's a sad presbytery meeting. It's a called presbytery meeting and the minister and elders from an entire geographical area have gotten together, and the occasion is one of the ministers in the churches in that presbytery has been accused of immorality. The question is – will we proceed to a trial of this brother? One of the first men who stands up is a kindly and respected man in the presbytery and he says this – “The Bible tells us, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’ We cannot pronounce judgment on this our brother.” Is that an appropriate application of Jesus’ words here? Certainly not. Then, another man stands up in the presbytery. He happens to be the best friend of the accused minister and he says this – “There is no one in this room that loves my friend more than I do. He is to me as a brother, but for the honor of Christ, the well-being of the church, the interest of the victim, and even for the soul of my friend, we must proceed to trial.” Is that a faithful application of Jesus’ words in this passage? Almost certainly, yes.

One more scene. She's a junior in high school. For four years, she has been tormented by one of her classmates and her group of friends. Nothing illegal, just unkind, and she feels excluded and she feels wronged. And now, she and her classmate are in front of an administrator on another matter and it is the question of character to which she has been asked to render her own judgment on her classmate and tormenter. Without being untruthful, she decides to give as good of an account of her classmate as she can possibly give, in spite of the fact that this classmate has been the source of much, much discouragement for her in her high school experience. Is that kind of forbearance an example of the faithful application of what Jesus is saying here? Almost certainly so.

My friends, what Jesus is talking about in this passage is about less than perfect relationships and how Christians are to respond and react and speak and behave in response to those who do not love us or who do not love us well. Jesus is not asking us to suspend the normal rules of justice. Jesus is not asking us to suspend our critical faculties and never ever make judgments about right and wrong or about the behavior of others. Jesus is not telling us that Christians can have no recourse to the court of law. Jesus Himself acknowledged the authority of courts of law. Paul himself appealed to courts of law in his case in the book of Acts. It's why he ended up in Rome as he was passed on from one court to another. Jesus’ words do not mean that we can never ever go to court. Jesus’ words to not mean that we have to cease being discerning about those who are harming us. Jesus’ words do not mean that we can never ever make an assessment of a person's character. After all, Jesus Himself is the one that gives us the word, “By your fruits you shall know them.” So Jesus’ own word of character assessment is, “Don't look at what they say, look at what they do.” Jesus Himself gives us these things and He expects us to put them into place.

So what is He saying to us in these verses when He says, “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. For with the measure used, it will be given back to you”? He is saying five things and I want to run through them quickly with you and spend most of our time on applying these, because this is hard to do in practical situations when you've been wounded.

I. Slow to condemn.

The first thing Jesus is telling us here is that we are to be slow to condemn. That is what He says when He says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned.” He is saying be very careful about rushing to judgment and condemnation. And how practical is that? When you have been wounded by another person, when you have not been loved well by another person, and you are called upon in your heart to make an assessment of them, what is the first thing you want to do? You want to come with thunderbolts and lightening and you want to send down condemnation on that person, and Jesus is saying, “In the circumstance of you not being loved well, in the circumstance of you being mistreated, be slow to condemn.” He is asking you to operate in the opposite direction of your instincts. What are your instincts? Self protection. What are your instincts? I want vengeance meted out on this person because this person has hurt me and has done me wrong. And Jesus says, “Here's the instinct that I want to be operative — be slow to condemn.”

II. Quick to forgive.

Second, be quick, He says, to forgive. Look at His words — “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” What's your instinct? What's your tendency? It's to condemn. What's your tendency? What's your instinct? It's to say, “You were wrong! You caused all this!” What does Jesus say? “Be quick to forgive. Be slow to condemn, but be quick to forgive.” And it's the opposite of how we operate, isn't it? We went to be quick to forgive those who have spoken softly to us. After all, the Proverbs tell us that “a soft answer turns away wrath.” But when somebody's betrayed us, wounded us, or let us down, we are quick to condemn. Jesus says, “No, you be quick to forgive instead. Let that be your default setting.”

III. Be ready to give.

Third, notice what else He says — “Be ready to give.” Verse 38 — “Give, and it will be given back to you.” Don't be a getter. Don't be looking for what you’re going to get from this situation. In fact, you might get nothing out of this situation, but in fact, you need to be ready to give into a situation that you do not expect to get anything back out of. In fact, Jesus is asking you to be on the lookout for circumstances where your good behavior is not going to be rewarded or is unlikely to be rewarded. And He says, “Yes, right there — you be ready to give into that situation and you wait to be given to, not from that situation or that person, but from your heavenly Father.”

IV. Be assured of God's reward.

That leads us to the fourth thing Jesus says, and that is “Be assured of God's reward.” Notice what He says, “Good measure will be put in your lap.” If you are slow to condemn, quick to forgive, ready to give rather than to get, then here's what you’re going to find out. Once you have given up any idea of getting out of that relationship, receiving out of that relationship, what are you going to find? God is going to put good measure into your lap. In fact, it's going to be so much that it will have to be pressed down and shaken together because it's going to be running over. So be assured of God's reward. Be slow to condemn, be quick to forgive, be ready to give, be assured of God's reward.

V. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

And then, this fascinating word at the end of verse 38 — “For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Do you see what Jesus is saying? Is Jesus saying that if you will only forgive those who have wronged you, even though they don't deserve it, and act lovingly towards those who are unloving to you, if you will be slow to condemn those who have harmed you, then always in this life you will receive back with the same measure in which you have conducted yourself? Is He saying that? No. No, because very often, the good in this life are rewarded by disappointment. But He is saying this — it is God's normal principle of providence over His children, that as they measure out in these circumstances, so He will measure back to them.

In other words, His default setting in providence is to deal with us, because He is a kindly heavenly Father, in the way that we have learned by grace to deal with others. It's an amazing statement about the default setting of God's providence to us. And all five of these things Jesus says to us in the course of this very short passage.

VI. Application.

But how do we apply this concretely in relationships in which we have been wounded? Well, let me say several things.

First, if we are going to follow Jesus’ dictum not to judge and not to condemn, we are going to have to learn not to judge others for small faults, while allowing ourselves great ones. We’re going to have to learn not to judge others for small injuries while we allow ourselves great ones. You know it's interesting isn't it, that very often the things we see others do to us and which seem big and significant to us, if we do them ourselves, they don't seem that big and significant. Have you ever been in a verbal discussion and you say something that offends someone else and they take issue with it? “Well, you hurt my feelings.” And have you ever heard yourself excusing yourself in that? “Well, I didn't intend to hurt your feelings. You’re being unreasonable. I didn't say anything to hurt your feelings.” But if they say something back to you that hurts your feelings, suddenly, it's very significant. You’re dismissive of your wounds of that person, but you take their wounds of you very seriously. Well, if we're going to have any success of responding in this area, we will have to learn the principle of not judging others for small faults while allowing ourselves great ones.

We also are going to need to remember that there are degrees in sin. There are specks and there are logs, but here's the trick — the speck in others’ eye will always look like a log to you, which the log in your own eye, will always look like a speck to you. And so as we remember, in dealing with the sins of others, that we are not to judge them for small faults while allowing ourselves great ones, we also must remember that there are degrees to sin. And if we are hard on them for something small while allowing ourselves leniency for something large, then it is certain that we have violated the principle of this passage.

Third, we ought to be more exercised about our own sins than we are about the sins of our brethren. We ought to be more exercised about our own sins than we are about the sins of our brethren. If you find yourself constantly critical of others but rarely critical of yourself, constantly concerned about others who ought to be repenting but who are not, but not spending as much time thinking about the repentance you need to do, then you have almost certainly violated this passage in Jesus’ teaching. We ought to be more exercised about our own sins than the sins of our brothers and sisters.

Fourth, we need to be wary of the tendency to justify ourselves or any lack of a sense of personal need for repentance and reformation. You know it's interesting. Have you ever been in a circumstance where you have come to a person with a concern — they've harmed you – and in your conversation with that person you've seen their defenses fall and they've said, “You’re right. I've done this. I'm completely wrong.” They've made no excuses. What does it do to you? You've come there ready to throttle up. They've responded by saying, “You’re right. I have no excuse for what I've done. What I've done is wrong.” What do you tend to do? You throttle back. But if you come to them and immediately they begin to downplay what they've done and excuse what they've done, what do you do? You throttle up! If you tend, in those circumstances, to justify yourself and to excuse yourself, you are certainly not following the teaching of Jesus. But even if you go into a situation and find the other person doing that, Jesus expects you to make sure that you do not ignore your own personal need for repentance and reformation when you’re dealing with a hard hearted sinner.

And fifth, as we attempt to apply Jesus’ dictates here, we must remember our own sins and seek to correct in the same way that we would want to be corrected for our sins.

And so to that end, let me suggest that there is a five-fold pattern that we need to follow if we are going to put into practice Jesus’ words, “Judge not, condemn not; forgive, give; and it will be measured to you as you measure it out.” And they all begin with R: Reexamine, Repent, Remember, Review, and Reprove. Here they are.

1. The first thing we must do in this circumstance if we are going to seek not to quickly condemn those who have done us wrong, we're going to reexamine ourselves. Reexamine ourselves of what? We’re going to reexamine our motives. Why am I talking with this person? What methods am I using in talking with this person? What are my intentions here? Am I just looking to settle a score? Get even? Get this off my chest? And what is my personal sin in this circumstance? There are almost no situations in life where the fault is all on one side and none on the other. Even Job had his moments in the book of Job. So there is almost always something that we need to repent of in any relational breakdown.

2. Secondly — and that leads us to this second point — repent. We reexamine ourselves for our motives, our methods, or intentions and our own personal sin, but we also repent. First of all, we repent of our own sins. “Lord, as I go to correct my brother, I believe that my brother has wronged me — I believe that my sister has wronged me — but I also recognize that I have things to repent of as well.”

So we seriously repent of our own sin and then we seek to have a broken heart about our brother or our sister's sin. What do I mean by that? We go, not only angry about that sin and its effects on us, but we go with a broken heart about that sin, because we know that in the end, sin never ever pays. It always gets back, even at the one who has perpetrated it, even when we are ones who have been wounded by it. And so we seek to have a broken heart about that sin. “Lord, how difficult it would be to be dominated by that sin. How horrible are the consequences of that sin. Lord, break my heart about my brother or my sister's sin as well as my own.”

3. Third, we remember. What do we remember? We remember God's Gospel mercies to us. We remember how God dealt with us. He could have condemned us, rightly. He could have judged us and found us lacking, rightly. But in His kindness and grace, He drew us to Himself. He showed us compassion and mercy and grace, and if we remember how God has dealt with us, surely that Gospel remembrance will enable us to show love where we have not been loved, to show mercy where we have been shown none, to show compassion where we have been shown none.

4. So we reexamine, we repent, we remember, and then what do we do? We review. Review what? We review the circumstances so that as we go to our brother and sister, we are reviewing only what is truly the facts of the offense and not our assumption about the offense. You know, in almost every relational problem between individuals or groups that I have ever seen in the last quarter century, both sides make assumptions about the motives of the other that are wrong. Because what happens? An act wounds you, a friendship is fractured, a relationship is compromised, and the hurt is so great that you begin to think that the fact of the offense alone could not account for the greatness of this hurt. And what do you start looking for? You start looking for the worst possible motives in the other person for what they've done. And every misstep along the way that occurs after the offense occurs in the first place is what? It's proof to you of the worst possible motives.

I mentioned a sad church case last week, and I want to say, I have friends and enemies on both sides of that particular church case, so I have no dog in that hunt. But in that case, like so many other cases, because of personal conversations I have had, I have seen folks assume the worst possible motives of the offending party and vice versa. So what do you review? You review this — so what do I really know about this offense? You strip away all of your assumptions about the motives and when you meet with the person, you ask them about their motives. You let them tell you in their own words their motives. Now do you have to cease being discerning in the conversation? No, because people have been known to lie. I know it's incredible to say, but they have been. You still have to be discerning. But what do you do? You give the benefit of the doubt. You hear them out and you don't ascribe motivation that you can't prove, that you don't know. You review the case. The offense itself is big enough without adding to it that which you don't know.

5. So you reexamine, you repent, you remember, you review, and then what do you do? You reprove with love. You correct with love. Then, and only then, after you've reexamined yourself, after you've repented yourself, after you've remembered God's mercies to you, after you've reviewed the facts of the case, then and only then, do you correct your brother or your sister, and you do it with a view to what? Upbuilding him. Upbuilding her. Your goal is not to tear down. You’re not licking your chops going into that meeting saying, “Lord, please let me be able to condemn this brother. Please let me be able to condemn this sister.” No, you’re going into the circumstance hoping for what? “Lord, I want this person to repent. Lord, I want this relationship to be restored. Lord, I want there to be reconciliation that comes out of this. I want the good of another person to be done. I want the welfare of the church to be served.” You do it with a view to upbuilding the person or the party. You reprove with love.

I love what John Chrysostom says – When we're in this kind of a circumstance, we've been harmed by a person who doesn't love us or who doesn't love us well — well then we correct, not as a foe or as an adversary exacting a penalty, but like a physician providing medicine. Don't you love that illustration? The way we go about this is not as a foe or as an adversary exacting a penalty, but as a physician prescribing medicine. Now very frankly, sometimes our physicians prescribe stuff to us that taste horrible! Have you ever had a colonoscopy? But they’re not doing it because they want to harm us, even though it tastes really, really bad. They’re doing it for our wellbeing. It may need more than a spoonful of sugar going down, but the bad taste is not there because it's a foe or an adversary. It's there because it's a friend administering a kind wound for our wellbeing.

And Jesus is saying this is the attitude that we are to have — be slow to condemn, be quick to forgive, be ready to give, be assured that as you do, God will reward you and this is how He will normally work with you in His providence. He will measure it out to you in the way you have measured it out to others. Why? Well, it's very simple, isn't it? Those of us who have learned much of God's grace and who are tender to His mercy to us, tend to find it a little easier to be merciful to those who are not merciful to us. Those who have not, those of us who have not advanced so far in our understanding and experience of God's grace, tend to be a little stingy in the way we mete out mercy. So what does our loving heavenly Father do? He presses down on us just a little bit harder. Now, as my father would say, you can do this the easy way or the hard way. Now your heavenly Father loves you too much to let you off the hook. He didn't save you so that you could continue acting like a worldling. He saved you so that you would act like His Son.

Let's pray.

Our heavenly Father, these things are so hard to do in relationships, and we must admit, even relationships within the church, that we often just don't even try. So we stop and acknowledge right now that it's not just understanding the Gospel, it's the Holy Spirit we need. We need the Holy Spirit to give us a new heart and a new frame so that we become self-giving, self-denying, forgiving, compassionate followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, who deal with those who have dealt with us wrongly in a way that, if the world is watching, it can't deny the power of the Gospel. So work that in us we pray, for our good as families and as a congregation, and for Your glory. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Grace, mercy and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.