Sermon on the Plain: Seeing Clearly

Sermon preached on Luke 6: 37-42 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/17/2021 in Novato, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

We continue today working through the Sermon on the Plain which runs through the end of this chapter in Luke. And I’m summarizing today’s message from it with the title of “Seeing Clearly”. That’s language Jesus used in verse 42. That idea of seeing clearly is useful for all the parts of today’s passage. We need to see clearly when it comes to the attitude we have toward others, especially in matters where we are wanting to find fault with them. We need to see clearly with regard to the teachers we have, even as we want our teachers to be able to see clearly themselves. We need to see clearly about our own sins and faults, so that we can see that we need the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Let us then dig into our passage and see how God’s Word will minster today again on our spiritual eyesight.

Let’s begin in our first point in verses 37-38 dealing with the measure we use with others. Here we find four parallel admonitions that Jesus gives. First, he speaks negatively against two things, regarding judging and condemning. Then, he speaks positively for two things, regarding forgiving and giving. The parallelism he uses is along the lines of what you find in Hebrew poetry. Indeed, the prophets often would speak in poetic ways, and Jesus’ rhetoric here shows such.

Let me begin by noting that verse 37 is one of the most commonly misused verses in the whole Bible. I have seen so many people quote Jesus here and think that he is saying we should not judge others, ever. To be fair, he does in fact say, “judge not, and you will not be judged.” But as I’ve been pointing out as we work through the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus often uses gives rather absolute-sounding declarations that need to be rightly understood and applied. It really is part of the poetic rhetoric and preaching style Jesus uses here. And so, taken on its own, in isolation, you might simplistically conclude that Jesus is commanding that we should never make judgments about others. But Scripture has to interpret Scripture. The Bible repeatedly calls us to make all sorts of judgments throughout life. That is even right here in our own passage. As we’ll consider in our third point, Jesus calls to consider who is and isn’t a worthy spiritual leader in our life. We need to discern that some would-be leaders in your life would just be blind guides. You can’t make such a determination unless you make some judgments.

So then, what is Jesus getting at when he gives these four admonitions against judging and condemning and for forgiving and giving? Well, we need to see it in the context of last week’s passage that called us to love our enemies and to give them good even if they give us bad. Last week we saw Jesus teach us to not reciprocate evil for evil, but instead to give good to those who give us evil. He summarized this with that golden rule principle in verse 31, that we should do to others, what we wish they would do to us. So, the context is dealing with matters of reciprocity. Jesus taught us to go beyond what the heathen do in terms of reciprocity. Don’t just give them what they give you. Do better than them. So then, Jesus continues to deal with this concept here. Do you want someone to always be finding fault with you? Do you want someone to always coming to you criticizing you and saying how wrong you are? Do you want someone to treating you with a censorious spirit and hyper-critical with you and harsh in their judgments and holding every little thing against you? Do you want someone to always go around acting like they are more righteous than you and that you always fall short in their eyes of the righteousness they demand of you? Or, would you prefer people to be gracious and merciful to you, that even when you make a mistake, they are quick to overlook it and cover it in love? That they lead their relationship with you with kindness not correction, and forbearance not confrontation? Just imagine how your interactions with someone could go in these categories. Yes, there is a time and a place where you need a true friend to lovingly confront you on something, to help you see the error in your ways. But on the other hand, we can imagine some people who are just going around and constantly judging and condemning you about this, that, and everything, with no forgiveness, no mercy, no grace, and never any help but their rebukes. That is the sort of thing Jesus is dealing with here. In the matter of reciprocity, we know we wouldn’t want to be treated like that. So, don’t treat others like that. Treat them as you would want.

Let’s briefly address each of the four specific admonitions, then. Verse 37 speaks against judging and condemning. The language of judging is about making determinations about right or wrong. It is deciding if something is good or bad. One can think of a judge in a courtroom setting who needs to determine if one is guilty or not of a charge. Of course, in a courtroom, a judge might not always be able to determine such, because human judges are not omniscient and they are fallible. They don’t always have all the evidence, and there are certain things which can be really hard to determine, like one’s motivations of the heart. A wise judge will have to be careful to not determine someone to be guilty if there is not the evidence to support the charge. The language then of condemning is the next step of a judge after they determine their judgment. If they decide the person is guilty, then they will officially condemn the person. So this word of condemning is about officially passing sentence on someone. It’s to declare some censure or some form of punishment. Again, this is what judges are supposed to do.

But then apply to that normal human relationships that you will have with others. Do you go around acting like their judge? If so, are you even judging them fairly, in only making determinations that keep with the evidence and what can be known as a non-omniscient, fallible, human being? Or are you making assumptions and presumptions in your judgments? Too often us humans can make incorrect and thus sinful judgements about others. And yet what is more fundamentally the issue is that we often can be judging and even condemning others when it is not our place to be their judge. In my courtroom example, the judge is the actual official person in authority to make such judgments concerning others. But too often in relationships we can act like we are a judge over someone when we are not. We can confront them and declare to them all the wrong they are doing and censure them and reproach them. Frankly, we all have enough authorities over us telling us what to do everyday, that we really don’t need to have someone who is not an authority over us to be acting like they are. Again, you wouldn’t want to be treated like that from someone, so don’t treat them like that.

So then, the other two admonitions Jesus gives here are to contrast the judging and condemning. Instead, he advocates forgiveness and giving. To forgive someone, is to let go of their sin, flaw, fault, or offense. Stop being upset about it. Stop being resentful about it. Stop trying to get them to make amends for it. Let it go. Go back to the courtroom analogy. If a judge finds someone guilty, but then a pardon comes to that person from the governor or president, for whatever the reason, then the matter is finished. Jesus calls us to be people who are quick to forgive. Let us be one who leads with grace and mercy in forgiving others. Again, yes, there are various situations where we ought not to simply forgive someone in the sense of just overlooking their sin. For example, if someone is doing something majorly destructive to you or themselves, simply forgiving them may not be what is best for them or you. The matter may need to be addressed and worked through. You might need to get others involved to help, including church courts or civil courts who are their judge. But the point Jesus is making here is that in general you should treat others the way you would want to be treated, and that is with a gracious measure, not a harsh measure.

That fourth admonition uses that language of measure in the context of Jesus calling us to give to others. Not only are we to forgive, but Jesus says to go beyond just forgiving them but to give to them. This contrasts the condemning idea, because that has in mind how you might want to exact some punishment on them. You might want to take from them in your condemning them. But Jesus says to instead to give them. I remind you here that in light of last week’s passage about loving enemies, Jesus doesn’t say they deserve your gifts. But regardless Jesus says to have a spirit that gives to others, even others who may have wronged you or been in some sort of fault. Notice that the imagery of a measure, like a dry measuring cup, is used to consider how we would want someone to give to us. Imagine you are at a market and they were selling say flour by the cup. You want a “good measure”, one that is generous not stingy to you. So, if they pour in flour and then shake it, that will allow the flour to settle and you will get more in that cup. But then if after shaking it, they then pour more than the cup can fit and it is overflowing the sides and that is what they give you for the price of a cup, you are well pleased. That’s a good measure.

So then, it’s this last imagery of a good measure that really sums up Jesus’ entire point with these four admonitions. Do you treat others with the measure that you would want to be treated? When thinking of what you might give to someone else, that means you are generous and liberal in your measure. And when thinking about how you might you judge or even condemn someone, it means we should be gracious and merciful in our measuring of them, not harsh and critical and strict in our measure of them. Again, treat them the way that you would want them to treat you. Or think of it this way. Treat them the way God has treated you in such matters. God has graciously and merciful forgiven us time and time again in Christ Jesus.

Let’s turn now to briefly consider verses 41-42 and talk about taking the log out of your own eye. In addressing this spirit of being censorious and judgmental, he says we need to look first at ourselves. He uses this analogy of a log in our own eye versus the speck in someone else’s eye. The analogy is simple enough. You can’t see to help someone else if you can’t see clearly yourself. You don’t want a surgeon who can’t see well to perform an operation on you that requires precision. Jesus says here that you might be that surgeon who can’t see well. You might be trying to fix someone else but aren’t seeing clearly enough to be able to actually help them. Note the application here. Jesus is talking about sin and spiritually having eyes that see. The analogy of a log and a speck is not for purposes of carpentry and physical eyesight. No, he’s talking about spiritual matters. In context, we shouldn’t go around judging and condemning others if we can’t see clearly to be able to do so.

Notice some of the nuance here. Jesus is saying that your own problems might be bigger than the problems of the person you are concerned about. Yet, in such an instance, we can imagine how we could get so concerned and upset and bothered about someone else’s issues, while downplaying your own issues. If we are treating our big faults as if they are not a big deal, and someone else’s small faults like they are a big deal, then we are a hypocrite to say the least. We also are not treating them the way we want others to treat us, if we treat our bigger sin lighter than how we are treating their smaller sin.

Notice the other nuance here. Jesus is also saying that if you’ve not dealt with your own problems, you aren’t in any place to start making judgments about someone else’s problems. If our own house is not in order, how can we think we can be much help to others in getting their house in order? In that kind of situation, we are essentially presuming to be a leader and a guide to others, when we aren’t in a place to be such because we have big issues personally we need to deal with first.

Let’s now turn lastly to address verses 39-40 to think about Jesus’ comments about the blind leading the blind. In the context of a larger passage about loving our enemies and not being judgmental and critical but being forgiving and giving to others, we might wonder how these verses fit. But I think the solution is rather simple. When Jesus describes someone who is judgmental and condemning and frankly self-righteous along the lines described here today, who comes to mind at that time? The first people I think about are the scribes and the Pharisees. In other words, the most popular religious leaders of the day are illustration number one of the kind of spirit Jesus is speaking against. Jesus would later tell the parable in Luke 18 about a Pharisee and a tax collector that both went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee thanked God that he was not a sinner, and specifically that he wasn’t like that tax collector who was there at the same time. In contrast, the tax collector prayed acknowledging his great sin and asking for God’s mercy. Jesus says that the tax collector and not Pharisee went home justified in God’s sight. You see, that’s the Pharisaical kind of spirit Jesus has been addressing in today’s passage. Someone who goes around judging and condemning others while justifying themselves and exalting themselves over and above others.

So then, these religious leaders suffer from the very problem that Jesus confronts in today’s passage. Jesus says that there not going to be able to help others in this area, because they themselves don’t see clearly. They have a big log in their eyes and aren’t going to be able to be a spiritual leader of others until it gets addressed. These scribes and Pharisees are just blind guides. But Jesus says you don’t want a blind man to lead another blind man. They will just both fall into a pit. Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount is more explicit to this point when he is recorded saying that we need a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. In their legalism, they acted like they were perfect for others to see, and they let everyone know it. But in actuality, Jesus says their form of righteousness fell far short of God’s standards. I again point out that here we see Jesus was not against making judgments of others when appropriate.

Jesus then turns in verse 40 to affirm there is yet a value in having a spiritual teacher. But he acknowledges that the outcome of following a teacher and spiritual guide is that you will end up like them. They are going to teach you what they know. They are going to teach you to think about things like they think about things. They are going to model how to live and that will be the example commended to you by their actions. None of this is wrong for a teacher, but it is the inherent dynamics of having a teacher, guide, and role model.

So then, we should want to be trained to be like our teacher, but we need to have the right teacher. The scribes and the Pharisees were not the kind of teachers the people needed. Ultimately, we want Jesus to be our teacher. And if Jesus is our teacher, we won’t be ashamed if we turn out like him! So then, take Jesus’s leading that he shows even in this area of judging and condemning and forgiving and giving. Yes, there will come a time when Jesus returns to serve in the official capacity of judge of all the earth. And yes, there were various judgments and even condemnations that Jesus as a prophet issued in his earthly ministry. But, this whole general spirit that he commends here today, he led by example. His was not one going around in a Pharisaical attitude of critical judging and condemning of everybody all the time. His was one that especially led in forgiveness and grace. Just think of the example of the woman caught in adultery found in John 8. That episode ended with Jesus confronting her accusers essentially for their own logs in their own eyes before finally telling her that he doesn’t condemn her and calls her to go and sin no more. He holds out to her forgiveness and gives her a new life from death.

So then, not only have we known Jesus’ forgiveness and grace ourselves, but as our teacher, we are being discipled to be like him. As Romans 8:29 says, God is working to conform us to the image of Christ. And as our teacher, we will growing to be like him. But as a final application, I point out that in verse 40 it says that a disciple is like his teacher when he is “fully trained”. We are still being trained by Jesus. We are works in progress. But let us seek to finish our training so that we can be like Jesus.


Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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