by Steven J. Cole
Luke 6:36-45 (Read Passage)
A young man was filling out a college questionnaire to help determine roommate compatibility. By the questions “Do you make your bed regularly?” and “Do you consider yourself a neat person?” he checked the box marked “Yes.”
His mother read his answers and, knowing they were far from the truth, asked why he had lied. “What?” he replied. “And have them stick me with some slob!”
We’re all prone to excuse our own faults and magnify the faults of others. You know how it goes: “I’m quiet, you’re unassertive; he’s a wimp.” “I’m concerned; you’re curious; he’s nosy.” “I’m thrifty; you’re a bit tight; he’s cheap.” “I drive with the flow of traffic; you go over the speed limit; he’s reckless.”
Jesus knew our common propensity to justify self and blame others. As He concluded the section of His sermon dealing with the requirement of loving even our enemies, He knew that we would try to dodge its demands by judging our enemies and excusing ourselves. So He gives a strong corrective by showing how we should focus on showing mercy, not judgment, even toward those who have wronged us (6:36-38). Then, to help us apply it, He goes on to show that we must focus on judging our own sins or we will be like blind men trying to lead the blind (6:39-40). Only when we have judged our sins can we then see clearly to help another person with his sins (6:41-42). In fact, we must judge ourselves down to the heart level, because only a good heart can produce good fruit (6:42-43). Thus Jesus is teaching us that …
To love as we ought, we should focus on showing mercy toward others but (also) on judging our own sins.
I often ask those who come to me for counsel: Do you want God’s blessing in your life? The Bible states that God’s ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8). If we want God’s blessing in our lives, we must go God’s way, which is usually counter to the ways of the natural man. Man’s way is to go easy on myself and to judge others more harshly than I judge myself. God’s way is to be merciful toward others and to judge my own sins. Since it goes against the flesh, it is something we must constantly work at if we want to please God and experience His blessing.
- To love as we ought, we should focus on showing mercy toward others (6:36-38).
A. TO SHOW MERCY TO OTHERS, WE MUST PERSONALLY KNOW THE MERCIFUL FATHER.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (6:36). Only those who have personally tasted of God’s great mercy can show such mercy toward others. Everyone who has received God’s mercy knows himself as a sinner who deserves God’s judgment. If you do not view yourself that way, you do not understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is not that I was a pretty good person who needed a little something extra in my life, and God provided that something extra. The gospel is that I was hopelessly alienated from God, guilty of violating His holy law. I could do nothing in myself to be reconciled with God. No amount of good works would qualify me for heaven, because they could never cancel out my sins. I was dead in my sins, living according to the desires of the flesh, ignorant of God and His holy ways. Then,
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), … (Eph. 2:4-5).
That’s the great news of the gospel! When you have personally tasted God’s great mercy in Christ, you can begin to show that mercy to others who, like you, do not deserve it. Mercy, like grace, is God’s undeserved favor, but with the added nuance of His compassion because of our helpless condition. Often when someone has wronged us, we want God’s justice for him. We want him to pay for what he did. But what if God had shown us justice, not mercy? We would be paying for our sins in hell! If we know God as our merciful Father, then we must, as His children, show His mercy toward those who have wronged us. Jesus goes on to show us what this means:
B. TO SHOW MERCY TO OTHERS MEANS NOT TO JUDGE THEM, TO PARDON THEM, AND TO BE GENEROUS TOWARD THEM.
To show mercy to others means not to judge them.
When Jesus commands us not to judge others, He does not mean that we should not evaluate others’ actions, beliefs, or teachings. This is often carried to ridiculous extremes in our tolerant culture. I once served on a jury with a woman who told us after hours of deliberation that she could never vote to convict the woman on trial, even though she was clearly guilty, because the Bible says, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” If people who think like that would read their Bibles, they would see that immediately after that command in Matthew 7:1, Jesus said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6). Just a few verses later, He warned about “false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). In order to obey these commands, we must make some judgments: “This person is a dog or swine; this guy is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Neither did Jesus mean by not judging that as a church and as individual Christians we should overlook or tolerate serious sin or doctrinal error in other professing believers. Both Jesus (Matt. 18:15-17) and Paul (1 Cor. 5:9-13) made it clear that we must confront a sinning Christian and, if he does not repent, eventually we must put him out of the church. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their wrong behavior and teaching (Matt. 23). Paul condemned the Judaizers for adding works to the gospel of grace (Gal. 1:8, 9). John, the apostle of love, exposed and condemned those who denied apostolic teaching and told the believers not even to receive such people into their house or give them a greeting (1 John 2:18-26; 2 John 10, 11). None of these men violated Jesus’ command not to pass judgment. We must be discerning people.
So, what does Jesus mean by “do not pass judgment”? He further explains it by “do not condemn.” To judge others is to look down on them with a condemning spirit, presuming that we know their heart motives. It stems from a self-righteous spirit on our part. To judge someone stems from a desire to get even or to make the person pay for what he did. We don’t want God to pardon him; we want God to zap him! We would be gratified to hear that the guy got into major trials: “It serves him right after what he did to me!” If we heard that he repented and God saved him, we would think, “That’s not fair!” All of this reflects a spirit of judgment on our part, not a spirit of mercy.
Jesus illustrates a judgmental spirit in His story of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:11-14). The Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people, swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” He was self-righteous and proud, looking down on others as being not as good as himself. But a non-judgmental person is humble. He sees himself as a sinner, no better than any other sinner. This proper view of himself frees him to show mercy, not judgment, to fellow sinners.
To show mercy to others means to pardon them.
To pardon a sinner is to release him from the guilt and penalty of his sin. Christians know that God has forgiven them much; thus they must forgive others much. Jesus illustrated this in the parable He told about the two slaves who owed a king different amounts of money (Matt. 18:23-35). The first slave owed the equivalent of $10 million. His wife, children, and all that he had would have to be sold in order to settle the debt. When he entreated the king to be patient with him, the king was moved with compassion and forgave the whole debt.
But then that slave went out and grabbed a fellow slave who owed him a few thousand dollars (a hundred days’ wages). It was not a small amount, but neither did it compare to the debt he had owed the king. The forgiven slave demanded that his fellow slave pay back every cent, and he would not show him mercy. He had him thrown into prison. When the king heard of how he had treated his fellow slave, he threw the first slave into prison and demanded that he repay everything he owed him. Then Jesus applied it, “So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:35).
Pardoning those who have sinned against us is not optional! We should not extend forgiveness verbally to the one who wronged us until he repents, since God does not grant forgiveness to sinners until they repent. But we must forgive the person in our hearts and be ready to forgive the instant he repents, just as God is ready to pardon every sinner who turns to Him in repentance. An unforgiving spirit is a judgmental spirit, opposed to God’s mercy.
To show mercy to others means to be generous toward them.
Verse 38 is often taken out of context by fund-raising preachers who use it to promise, “If you give to this ministry, God will give you back more.” While it’s true that God will bless generous givers, it is not true that He will give them back more than they give. In its context this verse means that even if we have been burned by people we have helped, we must continue to be generous to those in need, just as God generously showered His mercy on us.
The description “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap” comes from the grain markets of that day. A good merchant would pour grain into his measure. Then he would press it down and shake it so that it would settle. Then he would pour in more grain until it ran over. He would take that overflowing measure and pour it into the lap of your robe, which could be pulled up to serve as a big pocket. That’s how God poured out His generous mercy on us! That’s how we should respond to needy people. To show mercy to others means not to judge them, to pardon them, and to be generous toward them. Children of the merciful heavenly Father should be marked by such mercy, even toward those who have wronged us.
C. TO SHOW MERCY TO OTHERS, WE MUST REMEMBER THAT WHAT WE SOW IN RELATIONSHIPS IS WHAT WE WILL REAP.
If we do not judge others, we will not be judged. If we pardon, we will be pardoned. If we are generous, we will be treated generously. Does our Lord mean that people will treat us that way? Or, does He mean that God will treat us that way? I take it to mean both. On the human plane, the statements are proverbial in the sense that they are generally true, not absolutely true in every case. It is generally true that if you are a merciful person, not condemning others for their faults, others will be gracious toward you. If you are quick to forgive, others will be prone to forgive you. If you are generous, others will be generous toward you. On the other hand, if you condemn people, if you refuse to forgive, if you are stingy, it will come back to you.
This is illustrated by an incident in the childhood of Louis Mayer, the founder of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie studio. He had a fight with another boy and lost. While his mother was bathing his black eye, he told her how the fight was entirely the other boy’s fault. His mother said nothing, but after dressing his eye, she took Louis to the back door of their home. Nearby were several hills that created a fine echo. She told him to call those hills all the bad names he could think of. He did so and the bad names all came back to him. “Now,” she said, “call out, ‘God bless you.’” He did so and back came “God bless you.” Mayer said he never forgot that lesson. How you treat others comes back to you.
But Jesus’ words also apply to God’s treatment of us, both now (through other people, as just mentioned) and in the future judgment when we stand before Him. If we truly are in Christ through faith in His shed blood, there is no eternal condemnation (Rom. 8:1). But our deeds will be judged and those that are wood, hay, and stubble will be burned and we will suffer loss. We will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor. 3:15; 2 Cor. 5:10). The Bible says that God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). As we’ve seen, a judgmental person who refuses to forgive others is self-righteous and proud. We put ourselves in opposition to God if we condemn and refuse to forgive those who have wronged us. If we persist in our stubborn refusal to obey the merciful Father, it may reveal that He is not our Father, in which case we are under His judgment and wrath.
General Oglethorpe once said to John Wesley, “I never forgive and I never forget.” Wesley replied, “Then, sir, I hope you never sin.” If we are sinners who need mercy, we must show God’s mercy to those who have wronged us. Jesus goes on to show us that rather than judging others, our focus should be on judging ourselves:
- To love as we ought, we must judge our own sins, down to the heart level (6:39-45).
Some commentators struggle with the flow of thought here, but I think there is a logical flow. Jesus was speaking primarily to His disciples, whom He was training to be leaders. Rather than judging others (6:36-38), they must judge themselves or they will be like blind guides of the blind, whose followers would be just like them (6:39-40). Thus they must take the log out of their own eye before they try to help others with the speck in their eye (6:41-42). As they examine themselves, they should look at their fruit (6:43-45). If their words are judgmental, bitter, and evil, it indicates that their hearts are evil. But if they are merciful, forgiving, and generous, it indicates that God has truly done a work of grace in their hearts. That is the flow of thought here.
A. WE MUST JUDGE OUR OWN SINS, OR WE ARE LIKE THE BLIND LEADING THE BLIND (6:39-40).
Jesus is pushing His disciples to examine themselves. If they are blind to their own sins, how can they help others deal with their sins? Although Luke does not mention it here, the backdrop for Jesus’ illustration was the Pharisees, whom He called blind guides of the blind (Matt. 15:14; 23:16, 24). These men were marked by spiritual pride. They did not confront their own sins and acknowledge their constant need of God’s grace. If the disciples followed them, they would become like them, falling into the pit of self-righteousness. But if they will follow the merciful Lord Jesus, they will become like Him. It’s a warning to be careful to follow spiritual leaders who confront their own sins and to avoid leaders who are self-righteous. If we want God to use us to disciple others, …
B. WE MUST JUDGE OUR OWN SINS AS THE PREREQUISITE TO HELPING OTHERS WITH THEIR SINS (6:41-42).
Note that Jesus does not say that we should not help a brother with the speck in his eye, but rather, we should first take the log out of our own eye so that we can see clearly to help him with his speck. The word for “log” refers to the main supporting beam of a house. Your fellow worker has a speck of sawdust in his eye that he needs help removing. But how ridiculous for you to try to help when you have a beam in your own eye!
Jesus is humorously pointing out how prone we all are to focus on and exaggerate the faults of others but to minimize or even ignore our own glaring faults. We’re quick to blame others, but we’re slow to blame ourselves. If someone else is late for an appointment with me, I think, “How inconsiderate! Doesn’t he know that I’m busy?” But if I’m late for an appointment, I think, “He’ll just have to realize that I’m a busy man. I couldn’t help being late.” If I’m in a hurry, I ride the tail of the guy in front of me, muttering, “Step on it! I don’t have all day!” But if a guy is riding my tail, I say, “Back off! What’s the big rush, man?”
I see this often when I counsel couples with marriage problems. I ask her what their main problem is and she says, “I have my faults, but I could be a good wife if my husband wasn’t so inconsiderate and selfish!” And off she goes! Then I ask him what the problem is and he says, “I’m not perfect, but that woman is impossible to please!” Off he goes listing all of her faults.
But you won’t begin to love the other person as you should and you won’t grow spiritually until you begin to confront your own sins with God’s Word. The Word is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, exposing us before God’s holy standards (Heb. 4:12-13). Have you ever been working outside until dark? You thought you were not very dirty. Then you went into the bathroom, flipped on the light, and looked in the mirror. The light and the mirror showed you that you were filthy! God’s Word is like that. You think you’re a pretty loving person until you read Luke 6:27-38 or 1 Corinthians 13! Then you realize that you’ve got a lot of growing to do. If you want to please God by loving others as you should, you must be in God’s Word, applying it to your heart, not to the heart of the person that you’re having difficulty with.
Once God’s Word helps you get the log out of your eye, you will be much more compassionate in helping a brother with his speck. You’ll say, “Brother, I sympathize with you, because I used to have far more than a speck in my eye. Let me share how God can help you get your speck out.” Rather than being proud, you will be humble. Rather than being judgmental, you will be merciful. Rather than being insensitive, you’ll be understanding.
Then Jesus gives another illustration to show that we must examine the fruit that comes from our lives. Such fruit reveals our hearts, because we produce according to what we are. Our words reveal what fills our hearts.
C. WE MUST JUDGE OUR OWN SINS DOWN TO THE HEART LEVEL (6:43-45).
Jesus’ point is obvious: A tree produces after its nature. The fruit primarily refers to our words which reveal that which fills our hearts (6:45). What is inside comes out of our mouths. If you are often spewing out angry, bitter words that tear down others, that blame them for all your problems, then your heart is not right before God. Jesus is not teaching here that some people are inherently good, while others are not. The only way you can get a good heart is to be born again through the power of God’s Spirit. Once you are born again, it is not automatic to live by the new man or heart. There will be a struggle between the old and the new. But those who truly have tasted the Father’s mercy will strive to put off the old man and put on the new. They will seek to please God, beginning on the thought level. As those who have received mercy, they will focus on showing God’s mercy toward others.
Note that the good man has a good treasure or storehouse in his heart (6:45). Where does this come from? It comes from meditating often on God’s great mercy in Christ toward you. As Paul said, “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Let God’s great mercy fill your thoughts and you will have a storehouse of mercy to serve to others.
Ask yourself these questions: Am I marked more by a merciful spirit or by a critical, judgmental spirit? Am I blaming God or others for my problems, or am I working on removing the log in my own eye? Am I frequently judging my own life, down to the thought level, by God’s Word? Am I truly born again? Is pleasing Christ the focus of my life? To love others, especially those who have wronged us, as Jesus commands, we must focus on showing mercy to others, but on judging our own sins.
What is the difference between being judgmental and being discerning? Why is this distinction important?
How can we know when to show mercy to someone who has wronged us and when to confront? Are these in opposition?
How can a bitter person who was terribly mistreated overcome his or her feelings? What counsel would you give?
How can we forgive when we don’t feel forgiving? What does biblical forgiveness mean?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1998, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation