Oh boy, we get to a fun passage here. “Don’t judge others, or you’ll be judged too.” This is a verse that gets shoved in the face of anyone who tries to tell someone else that they’re screwing up. The problem is, Jesus isn’t referring to legitimate discussions about right and wrong, and helping to correct negative behavior. We’re supposed to do that to help each other. This text is about finding fault in others based on our own sense of pride, prejudice, or meanness. It’s about when you try to shove faults in other people’s faces. It condemns attitudes and actions like this, and teaches you that such behavior will come back to bite you because your pride or meanness will be perceived, and eventually you too will be weighed in the balances and found wanting. None of us is perfect, so all judgments will be found to be rooted in foibles and flaws of our own design, and our weaknesses and evils will become evident also. He didn’t mean that we’re not allowed to form opinions of others, or that we shouldn’t condemn what we know to be wrong. What he condemns is the spirit of fault-finding. That’s what’s going on here. That kind of attitude will be judged by other people and by God. But it certainly doesn’t mean that we are to become indifferent to evil, or not address it when we see it. It’s certainly proper to judge in terms of what Christ wants or what is taught in his word. It’s also proper to evaluate truth or error. It’s OK to point out where others have made errors if we are perceiving others as persons of value, and it’s OK if we are looking for the good. To me that’s a whole different approach than “you can never say anything bad about someone else.”
“Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Here’s my take on forgiveness: Forgiveness is choosing to live an injustice, even when the other person repents. A wrong has been committed, and the forgiver chooses to place another injustice on top of it and brush it aside, absorbing the pain—again. Whether or not the offending person sees the wrong and apologizes, the forgiver is offering a gift that is undeserved.
I have come to the conclusion that there are many different kinds of forgiveness, just as there are many kinds of love, peace, power, etc. It’s like a continuum, and forgivenesses of sorts can be found all along the way. For instance, there are many different motives to forgive: fatigue, forgetfulness, apathy, expedience, escape, and love, to name several. Obviously the one motivated by love is the most sublime, and it’s the one the Bible speaks of, just as it often speaks of agape love. But we all know that in real life we don’t love with agape all the time, even though agape is the ideal and the goal. Forgiveness in the Bible is almost always contingent on confession and repentance, but not always so. Sometimes, and again, from various motives, we choose to forgive despite a lack of repentance. There are high and low forms, noble and expedient forms, and even begrudging forms of forgiveness.
I think it’s a mistaken notion that forgiveness means forgetting. The forgetting almost never happens. Forgiving, in contrast, is absorbing the pain into ourselves and by doing that saying, “It has no power any more.”
Almost all references to forgiveness in the Bible are of God forgiving us for our sins. Those are the sublime kind: that God, out of love, will wipe our slate clean if we repent and turn to Him. The few (maybe a dozen total) texts about us forgiving each other almost always trace back to “forgive the way God forgave you,” or “as you forgive others, so also you will be forgiven.” They all encourage us to take the high road, but as we know from other situations, God makes allowances for our inadequacies and the hardness of our hearts. It doesn’t make it OK not to forgive, but it does give grace where the high road is not taken.
Then he explains it will a small example: “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.” The Old Testament often speaks of God judging people according to their ways. So that’s what this means. Don’t approach each other looking for bad or for fault. Instead, “a good measure.” When we judge someone, we measure him with a set of standards that are both superficial and arbitrary. They are superficial because we cannot completely understand the inner motives and struggles of another person. We can never be sure that we will not express the very failings we condemn, if placed under similar circumstances. They are arbitrary because one set of observations, one viewpoint, cannot be used to determine a person’s worth before God.
But the same standards we use to censure others will be held up to measure us. People will expect us to keep the rules we set for them. In our preoccupation with other people’s faults, we can become blind to our own. So judging is dangerously retroactive: when we point fingers at others, we do more harm to ourselves than those we criticize.
Then he talks about the blond leading the blond, er, the blind leading the blind. Sorry. It’s the same point as the judging, and the good measure. Get your own house in order before you try to order someone else’s house. (Mt. 7: don’t take the splinter out of someone’s else’s eye when you have one in your own; Airlines: put your own mask on first, then help someone else.) It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, flawless, and blameless before you can speak to someone else, but if your personality and behavior are a magnet for criticism, your admonitions will not be respected, and you will be judged rather than followed.
“A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Here’s the point, and it’s consistent with all the previous thoughts and verses: Life is more caught than taught, but the teaching, and especially teaching corroborated by life, helps more be caught.
One youth group kid wrote this letter to me once: “As a kid who always struggled to secure something like loyalty in a group of friends, and whose questions and insecurities usually got in the way of fun, I remember leaving youth group more often than not feeling better about myself, more optimistic, a little lighter. It’s almost 15 years now since I stopped attending youth group, and so my memory is a little foggy, but I remember the youth pastor’s laugh quite clearly, and his uncannily persistent youthful energy.
Like all the good teachers I had growing up, the thing I remember more than the teachings or the grades is a confidence that he found me worth knowing, and that he was invested in me no matter what I got myself into. His whole family exuded this too.
Anyway, thanks for helping me to feel wanted and worth knowing.” That’s what Jesus is saying: everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.
Then Jesus goes into the “Take the plank out of your own eye before you try to take the speck out of your brother’s.” Same point again. This whole text is about the same point. Jesus is warning people against heaping criticism and condemnation on others without being willing to examine one’s own behavior.
Otherwise, it’s just hypocrisy. The real problem here? People slapping each other with religion. They are using God to put other people down and to make themselves “higher.” That’s what was insidious about the Pharisee’s example, and frankly is too true of all of us: their first priority was social status, and the feeling that others were lesser, and they used God as a weapon to put others down. What greater affront to God could there be?