It may be the most misunderstood statement that Jesus ever made: “Judge not, and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37). In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition of Luke’s gospel with an explanation of what this command means, what it doesn’t mean, and how we can put it into practice.
This morning, I will be reading Luke 6:37–42:
“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”
The series of aphorisms and admonitions you have just heard comes from the lips of Jesus Himself. It was preserved for our hearing by the superintendence and inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. You have just heard the very Word of God. Receive it as such. Let us pray.
Our Father, we look to You as the fountainhead and source of all that is true. We would be those who are of the truth, and so we ask that this day that we might hear Your voice, embrace it, and love it. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Only Verse Every Pagan Knows
In a certain sense, you have the relief this morning of not having to listen to a sermon from me. Instead, we have the opportunity today to eavesdrop, as it were, on a sermon preached by Jesus Himself. It matters not this day whether you hear or listen to me, but it matters eternally that you hear and listen to Jesus.
The passage you have just heard is a small portion of a longer discourse proclaimed by Jesus known as the Sermon on the Mount. Our text begins with these words: “Judge not, and you shall not be judged.” Other versions record it this way: “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Remember, you’re not listening to me. In your imagination, I want you to be there on the plain or mount where this sermon was first preached. You’re hearing Jesus utter these words, and you listen to your Lord say to you, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”
I’ve often said that this verse is probably the only verse that every pagan in America knows is in the Bible. They may miss the recitation of John 3:16 in bold letters at sporting events, but they know, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Any time the church makes a comment about a practice the church deems sinful, the pagan is quick to quote the Scriptures by saying: “Don’t judge. You’re not supposed to judge us.”
While this statement is so well known, it has been treated with lots of confusion and misunderstanding. What was Jesus saying when He uttered these words, “Judge not, that you may not be judged”?
Do Not Abandon Discernment
First, let’s look at what Jesus was not saying. Our Lord was not saying to us and to His disciples that we are to do away with discernment between good and evil. It often requires a discerning mind to determine what is the right, ethical thing to do. Determining the ethical thing to do often requires keen judgment and intellectual ability to analyze issues and come to the correct conclusion regarding what is right or wrong.
Throughout sacred Scripture, from the first pages of Genesis to the very end of the book of Revelation, God’s Word calls us to be mature and knowledgeable in our discernment so that we might recognize evil when it appears, flee from it, and know the good and righteous thing to do. Jesus did not prohibit the judgment of discernment or ethical evaluation in this text. Rather, He was speaking of a different kind of judgment—the judgment of condemnation. Even at that point, He was not prescribing apodictic law, but casuistic law. In other words, Jesus gave examples of moral axioms that are generally good things to observe, like in Proverbs. They are not moral absolutes.
There are times when we are to sit in judgment on our brothers. An example is in the case of church discipline. When a person is brought to trial before the church authorities, just as when a person is brought to trial in a criminal case in the civil world, the jury or judges are to determine guilt and pass the sentence of judgment upon those who are guilty. Jesus did not eliminate civil courts or church courts when He said, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Well then, what was Jesus saying?
The Judgment of Charity
When He said, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged,” our Lord was addressing a personality trait that we sometimes find in people. Sometimes, sadly, we even find it in ourselves. We become judgmental in our spirit, censorious of others, or hypercritical of people around us. I think you understand what that is like. It has to do with how we pass judgment upon other people.
We make a distinction between different kinds of judgment. There can be harsh and severe judgment of other people’s behavior, or we can render what is often called the judgment of charity. Let’s take a moment to explore that. What is the judgment of charity, or the judgment of love?
The judgment of charity is what we call “the best-case analysis.” It is giving our neighbor the benefit of the doubt. We’re not always sure whether a person is as guilty of a particular sin as it may appear to be.
In our law courts, we are careful to weigh evidence and make sure that, before anyone is convicted and subjected to penalties such as imprisonment or execution, the bar is high enough that we would rather let ten guilty people free than convict one innocent person. That is why we have the principle of the preponderance of evidence in civil courts. In the criminal courts, we must convict beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt is not the same thing as being beyond a shadow of a doubt. If the criterion were such that we had to make a judgment of guilt or innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt, nobody would ever be convicted of a crime. Even in the civil courts, the burden of proof is on those making the charge. That is for a reason, lest in our hostility, sinful hearts, and desire for vengeance, we become guilty of judging beyond a sober and serious measure.
A Judgment We Give Ourselves
Our Lord tells us to be careful that we are ready at any moment to give our neighbor the benefit of the doubt if there is doubt and to give the charitable judgment where it is possible, but there is a problem.
Every one of us has had the experience of giving somebody the benefit of the doubt. Every one of us has had the experience of giving a judgment of charity to somebody. The problem is, sadly, the person to whom we most frequently give a charitable judgment is ourselves. We usually reserve best-case analysis to evaluate our own activity. We can spin our indiscretions and sins to make them appear virtuous, which is exactly the problem we face as fallen human beings.
Beloved, we fail to really understand the sinfulness of sin. If God the Holy Spirit were to convict you right now of the full measure of your sin, you wouldn’t be able to stand it. If the Spirit revealed to me right now the full measure of my sin, I would probably run from this pulpit screaming in anguish. However, the conviction of sin laid upon us by the Spirit of truth is often powerful, yet gentle and sweet. Even when He convicts us of our guilt, He leads us not to despair, but to the Savior and His forgiveness that gives us freedom.
Details of the Golden Rule
What Jesus says in our text is not isolated from what He said just a few sentences earlier, where He set forth the golden rule and told us to love our enemies. When He asks us to be quick with the judgment of charity and to flee from a censorious spirit, He is simply filling out the details of the golden rule—do to others what we would have others do for us.
If we want other people to give us the benefit of the doubt, if we want other people to make charitable judgments about our behavior, then manifestly, we must stand ready to give judgments of charity to them. We have all been hurt by the sins of other people, but it’s rare that the people who have hurt us by sinning against us ever intended with malice or forethought the full measure of pain they created in our hearts. That person who hurt you probably didn’t stay up late at night devising a plan by which they could injure you as deeply as they did. We reserve that same judgment of charity for ourselves.
When we find out that we hurt somebody deeply, we’ll say: “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to bring that much pain into your life. I didn’t think before I spoke. I didn’t think before I acted. It was a spontaneous thing, a sinful thing to be sure, but it wasn’t a carefully planned offense against you.” When we ask for somebody’s forgiveness, we’re asking them to give us the judgment of charity, not to condemn us, not to write us off permanently as people with no redeeming qualities at all. This is what Jesus was talking about here. That same merciful judgment that you would like to receive from your neighbor, you need to be quick to give to your neighbor.
Judgements of Naïveté
While we should be quick to forgive, at the same time, the judgment of charity cannot be the judgment of naïveté. I know some people who have such an exalted view of the basic goodness of human beings that they can’t believe for a moment anybody ever intends to do evil.
We can’t read the Bible without being clearly made aware that the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things. We do gross and heinous evil, and the machinations of our sins can be so wicked and destructive that they bring harm to multitudes of people. We should not look at the world through rose-colored glasses and assume the good intent of everybody’s behavior.
I talk about abortion all the time. I just can’t imagine that any pregnant woman, or her mother who takes her to an abortion agency, or her boyfriend or husband who takes her to an abortion mill, is unaware of what they’re doing. On the other hand, I think, How can they be that cruel? How can they be that heartless? How is it possible for them to be so selfish that they would destroy another life for their own convenience? Maybe it’s because they have been living in a culture that tells them, “It’s okay, this is the proper way to do it.” Their consciences have been so seared that they’ve concluded they can do this without any pangs of conscience.
I know enough about the fallenness of the human heart to see how something along those lines can be possible, but it’s still extremely hard to imagine how anybody can be so hardhearted that they don’t know full well what they’re doing. I can be way too charitable at that point and end up giving the judgment of naïveté. Abortion is not just a small sin. It’s not a peccadillo. It’s not a minor transgression. It’s a monstrous crime, a crime worthy of eternal damnation. Yet, people commit it day after day, all around us, and they do it not in the name of “pro-death” but “pro-choice.”
Just think about what would happen if we had a union of car thieves, the “International Federation of Automobile Thieves,” and they brought to the political convention a platform asking for freedom of choice to steal your car. What if “Murder Incorporated” got together and said: “We want free choice. We’re pro-choice, and our choice is to murder people.” All in the name of liberty. You would laugh them to scorn. Yet the whole country has been hoodwinked by an ethic of death propagated on the basis of liberty. The new cry is, “Give me liberty, so I can dish out death.” When I say that, am I being judgmental? Yes. I’m saying to you that we must discern the evilness of evil.
The Reciprocity of Forgiveness
Jesus goes on and says: “Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” What if you offend somebody, and they apologize and ask for your forgiveness, but you say, “No, not now, not ever”? When we refuse to forgive those who repent of their sins, we expose ourselves to God’s eternal justice rather than His mercy.
I would hate to stand before God, asking Him to forgive me for my lifetime of sin, and have Him say to me: “Don’t you remember that day when somebody sinned against you, and they repented, apologized, and asked for your forgiveness, and you refused to give it? Now you want Me to forgive you?” Jesus was talking about reciprocity. He was saying that if I want to be forgiven, I must be forgiving. The more forgiving I am, the more forgiveness I will receive.
A Bushel Basket Full of Air?
As Jesus preached, He went on to say: “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
I love that verse. Isn’t that wonderful? It’s a description Jesus gave that comes from the ancient marketplace. In the Old Testament, when God gave His laws for the operation of a nation like Israel, He prohibited false weights and measures. Oh, that the federal government of the United States would follow that and stop debasing the currency with which we live.
Recently, my great-granddaughter lost her first tooth. I saw her picture on Facebook, and she was beaming with that gap in her lower jaw. What was making her so happy was not the loss of her tooth but the dollar bill she was holding up for the world to see that she received from the tooth fairy. I thought it was great, but it was also a commentary on runaway inflation. When I was a child and I lost a tooth, that same tooth fairy put a dime under my pillow, not a dollar. I’m not going to blame the tooth fairy for runaway inflation. God holds people, nations, and businesses accountable for just weights and measure.
In the ancient world, when you went to the marketplace to buy a bushel of grain or corn, there were ways to stack those ears of corn in the bushel. You could fill a bushel up with a lot of empty air, or you could shake the bushel and pack the corn or grain until the bushel was filled to its utter capacity. “Pressed down,” Jesus said, “shaken together, running over.” If you give like that, that’s what you’ll get back, not a bushel basket full of air.
Jesus was talking about the practical applications of the Christian faith. He was talking about how to live. He was saying, “My people are to be generous people.” The most generous person I ever met was my father. I can remember as a boy being overwhelmed by his sense of generosity, and I never saw him complain or be bitter about giving to someone else. I loved that spirit of generosity.
The Bible says, “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.” He doesn’t love a stingy giver. In fact, stinginess is something that should never be part of our lives. Let me ask you this: How many times have people in your life called you generous? How many times have they called you stingy? Add them up, and you’ll probably find the truth in the math as to whether you are a generous person or a stingy person. Jesus said: “I want you to be generous. I want you to give in great measure, and the more you give the more you’ll get because our God is a generous God, not a stingy God.”
Live Like the Master
Jesus went on with a brief parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Don’t you see what I’m talking about? Are you going to be leaders of other people while you’re blind to the things of God?” He is not talking simply about physical blindness, but spiritual blindness.
He said: “Let’s take a person who is physically blind. Do we appoint them to escort another blind person down the street? Can the blind lead the blind? If the blind leads the blind, what happens? Both of them fall into the ditch.” We need to be led by those with keen sight into the truth of God if we want to stay out of the ditch.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who’s perfectly or completely trained will be like his teacher.” Who is our teacher? Jesus is the Master. Jesus is our Rabbi. We’re His disciples. We’re His students. We’re not above our Master, but He wants us to be like our Master. He wants us to learn from our Master. He wants us to pursue and seek the very mind of Jesus.
Do you think like Jesus? We went through a fad a few years ago with ten billion bracelets sold: WWJD, “What would Jesus do?” I want to know what Jesus would think, because if I’m going to be Christlike, I must think like Jesus. I must love what He loves. I must hate what He hates. He is teaching us in this text how to be like Him. Was any man ever more generous? Was any man ever more merciful?
Blind to a Wooden Plank
Finally, Jesus continued with this: “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and don’t perceive the plank in your own eye?”
A speck of dust in contrast to a wooden plank—we would draw a cartoon about this. We would see two people walking down the street, one man with a totally indiscernible speck of dust in his eye that would take a microscope to detect, and another man with a wooden plank sticking out of his eye. The man with the wooden plank comes up to the man with the speck and says: “Brother, you’ve got a speck in your eye. You need to take it out.” The other man responds saying, “How can you even see in my eye with that plank sticking out of your own eye?”
Jesus that said this is how foolish we are. We are quick to see the imperfections in everybody else but we’re blind to our own myopia. We’re blind to the plank that in our own eye: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”
Jesus was not teaching us anything more than to do unto others as we would have others do unto us. He was not teaching us any more than the Apostles taught us when they said that there is a love that covers a multitude of sins. Keep your handkerchief in your own pocket, and let your brother or sister take the speck out of her or his own eye. This is the teaching of Jesus for His people. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You that You have so far exceeded our generosity with Your own, our mercy with Your own, our love with Your own. We ask that You make us imitators of You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.