Do you know what a sound-bite is? Here is one definition I came across:
"A sound-bite is a short pithy sentence or phrase extracted from a longer speech for use on radio or television"
We live in a world where this idea of the sound bite has become very important. With another general election coming our way in May we will be increasingly bombarded with sound-bites. People listening to the radio or watching TV simply can't (or won't) put up with a carefully reasoned argument and so the media has come up with the sound bite as its alternative. But there is a problem with the sound-bite and it is this:
A sound-bite can often be misinterpreted because of the lack of contextualizing material.
The sound-bite mentality has affected our lives in other spheres too. The Bible is not as well known in our country as it once was and the numbers of those who know it first hand are declining. For many their knowledge will be limited to a succession of Bible sound-bites that they have picked up here and there. Just as sound-bites can be misleading in politics they can be very unhelpful when it comes to thinking about Jesus Christ, his life and teaching.
The verse that we have to think about this morning, at least the first part of it, is probably one of the widely known sound-bites of the Bible and as such it is often quoted at religiously minded folk.
The words are these:
A person will typically quote these words to rebuff a challenge. Someone has had the audacity to call them into question over what they have done or would like to do. What a cheek! And then pretending to take some high moral ground they ask: "Don't you know the Bible says "Judge not?" It's so clever and how pleased they are with themselves. What a wonderful way to put down the moralist and to tell him or her to mind their own business!
These words do however come straight from the Lord Jesus Christ and that is the reason why we are going to take a look at them this morning. We need to understand not only what Jesus meant when he used these words but we also need to understand what he didn't mean by them.
The Wider Principle
When Jesus uttered these words "Judge not..." he was not stating a general principle that is to be applied in each and every circumstance we can ever think of. We must take care to avoid choosing a verse at random and of trying to absolutize it, to try to make it say more than it was ever intended to say. No, the true principle that undergirds Jesus' teaching about judging can be found in John's Gospel:
Jn.7:24 "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment."
Why do I say that?
Well a quick glance down to Lk.6:45 proves that Jesus is not against judgment as such because there he spoke about the difference between a good and an evil person - to make such a distinction a judgment is called for!
Indeed if we were to investigate all that Jesus had to say about judging we would indeed find that he fully expected his followers to exercise such judgment in several areas of life.
Jesus supported for example the type of judging that is appropriate to the civil or criminal courts. Similarly, he authorised his followers to exercise church discipline. Such discipline could only ever be carried out if the necessary preliminary judgments were made. In addition his followers were to exercise private judgment as they assessed the deeds and behaviour of wrong-doers.
If some judging then is not only condoned but actively encouraged by Jesus then unless we are to assume that Jesus regularly contradicted himself – something that would be highly unlikely for such a great teacher to do – we can readily understand that the general principle can't be "judge not..." but must be "judge with right judgment".
But that then leaves us with the question what did Jesus mean when he spoke the words recorded here in Lk.6:37?
""Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;"
If we consider the context of these words we immediately see that Jesus was talking about inter-personal relationships. He has just been speaking about the fact that his followers must love not just their friends and neighbours but they must extend that love to their enemies too. That love, as we saw last week, was to be practical and it was to include doing good to our enemies.
Then Jesus went on to explain a bit more about just how his followers were to relate to others. This is the context in which he said "Judge not...".
In fact Jesus was to give a series of instructions: 2 negative commands and 2 as positive commands:
Judge not... condemn not... forgive... give...
When we take these together we discover that what Jesus is calling for amongst his followers is a certain attitude of heart that is marked by a generosity of spirit. Such an attitude in the heart will make itself known as it leads to a certain type of behaviour.
Let's look at this a little more closely.
"Judge not..." "condemn not..."
If you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ then this is the type of attitude and behaviour that must become yours. It is not a matter merely doing certain things because without the right attitude these actions will merely be an expression of hypocrisy and a disciple who plays acts is no disciple at all!
What Jesus is saying is this: Your life and behaviour is not to be dominated and directed by a picky negative criticism. You are not to be an eager fault-finder. You are not to be ever ready to think evil whenever you can. You are not to assume guilt as soon as a suspicion is raised.
Yes, I know that the wisdom of the world tells us that there is no smoke without fire but Christian love is not dominated by this cynicism:
1Cor.13:7 "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
Jesus' command is not a call to be blind but it is a plea to be generous and as such it is directed against rash, censorious behaviour; it is directed against the spirit of the interfering busybody.
How important such a command is! The hyper-critical person who is always looking for an opportunity of putting everyone else down has simply found another way of elevating himself. We must be on the look-out so that we don't think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think! (Rom.12:3).
You probably don't like to think of yourself as hypercritical, I know I don't, but have you never jumped too quickly to arrive at your conclusions about another person and their actions only to find out later that your conclusions have been totally unwarranted?
The very fact that we are never in possession of all the facts or all of the relevant information should alone cause us to hesitate before passing judgment. There may be mitigating factors that we know nothing of, there may be a better interpretation of the known facts:
Eve listened to the serpent and decided that the attractiveness and apparent benefits of the forbidden fruit were worth more than obedience to a Loving God! Oh if only she had not been so rash and so foolish! (Gen.3)
Samuel was charged by the LORD with anointing one of Jesse's sons to be King in the place of Saul who ruled over Israel. When Samuel caught sight of Jesse's eldest son he was blown away by the physical prowess of Eliab – but the LORD had to intervene and teach him that God looks on the heart and is not swayed by outward appearances. (1Sam.16)
On the morning of the resurrection the band of apostles listened to the report their women brought back about an empty tomb. They didn't believe and instead thought the women were simply telling "idle tales." Yet the tomb was empty and Jesus had risen from the dead. (Lk.24)
How we need to take care that the important conclusions we draw are founded upon the truth and are not the result of seriously deficient information!
But not being rash in coming to their conclusions is not the only thing that Jesus warns his disciples about. How will the disciple continue to relate to the person he has been thinking about?
The judgmental spirit is closely linked to that condemnatory attitude which will lead you to write off the other person as a hopeless case or as a lost cause. You won't expect anything from such a no-hoper and will never make any provision for such a person to change.
But what right have you to make such a definitive judgment? Absolutely none whatsoever!
This kind of final judgment and pronouncement of sentence is something that belongs to God and to God alone. As the Scripture tells us in three separate places "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, say the Lord."
Rather than condemning and writing some people off the way forward for the Christian disciple is to forgive. (Interesting that the very notion of forgiveness includes the idea of an assessment or a judgment that wrong has been done – no-one ever needs to forgive a good deed!)
Forgiveness may well be costly, it may well not be deserved but it is the Christian way. Yes, the offender may have offended against me multiple times, yes the offender may have failed big-time, but it is still not our place to proclaim final judgment, rather it is up to us to forgive.
Do you remember how Peter thought he was being very generous indeed when he asked Jesus whether 7 times was sufficient? He was probably going well beyond what many others thought was more than enough. But do you remember Jesus' answer that called for a complete end to al such calculations?
"Not 7 times but 70 x 7" (Mt.18:22)
I wonder where some of us would be if God had been niggardly towards us when it comes to forgiveness? I wonder how many times he forgave us before we finally saw the light and believed in his promises.
Of course this was exactly the way that Jesus was to follow as he led his life showing us just what the Father is really like.
He came to his own people who refused him – yet he kept on speaking to them even though they grieved him with the hardness of their own hearts – he laid down his life for the lost sheep of the house of Israel and as he was being crucified prayed: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. (Lk.23:24)
He was patient and forgiving with Judas Iscariot. He knew from the outset that Judas would betray him but he never shut the door on this man. If Judas was to be shut out he couldn't turn round and complain that it was because Jesus had been nasty to him. Do you remember how Jesus spoke to Judas even in the Garden of Gethsemane as Judas came to betray him with that hypocritical kiss? He addressed him as "Friend"! (Mt.26:50)
Or think too of the example of that fanatical Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus. Saul had been vigorous in his opposition to towards the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ – he travelled extensively in order to persecute the church and in so doing he persecuted Jesus himself. And just how did Jesus deal with him? He pursued him with love. He wouldn't give up on Saul and as he got closer and closer Saul reacted with hostility – he kicked against those goads that were designed to direct him in the way he should go. How ungrateful Saul was! Surely there's no reason to continue with such a man – that is what the Christian community seemed to think – but not Jesus, he wouldn't give up. And so one day the risen ascended Lord Jesus had to meet Saul of Tarsus on a road that led northwards towards Damascus. And Saul was never the same again! He knew that Jesus had not written him off as a lost cause or as a hopeless case but had saved him even though he was the worst of sinners! And so the old Saul was no more, he had been replaced by that new man Paul who would spend his life preaching the good news of the salvation that he had found in Jesus Christ. He would even do so with humour in his voice as he stood bound before hostile unbelieving but bemused authorities.
Why Live this Way?
It should be more enough for the saved disciple to be able to answer that he must live this way because Jesus his Saviour has told him to. But that is not all that the Christian has as motivation – the Saviour goes further and promises rewards for living this kind of life.
Don't be judgmental and hypercritical with men and they generally won't treat you so harshly either.
This of course is no absolute promise but a general tendency. The disciple will often be treated no better than his Master and you know how he was treated.
Don't be judgmental, don't give up on men, and God will be generous towards you, he won't give up on you! Why should God reward his children with yet more blessings when they don't deserve what they have already? Who can answer such a question but our God is generous and his thoughts are not our thoughts!
Forgive and give and do so generously. Again those who are kind and generous and forgiving towards their fellows will often find favour amongst them. The reverse is also true.
The image of a full return is the image of completeness and the very antithesis of niggardliness. Here is no attempt to get away with the bare minimum. The picture is that of filling a measuring jar with grain – you pour the grain in and the jar becomes full, or does it? Shake it about a bit and the grain settles, it wasn't really full after all. So more grain is added and such is the generosity that the grain keeps on being poured until it overflows the jar and begins to fill the folds of your clothes in which you're holding the jar.
Blessing, blessing, blessing is promised and God will be no man's debtor.
But there are also warning illustrations in the Bible that tell us that the reverse is also true.
In the opening chapter of the Book of Judges there is a brief account of the foreign King Adoni-Bezek. He found himself being on the losing side of a war with the people of Israel. When he was caught his thumbs and big toes were cut off – he would never be able to fight again. Sounds cruel to you does it? Adoni-Bezek recognised the justness of it all – he had done exactly the same to some 70 other Kings that he had defeated in times gone by. He had shown no mercy, he had used a certain measure as he dealt with others and now he was being treated in just the same way.
We are warned are we not that we will reap what we sow. Jesus later would tell a parable in which right behaviour is rewarded with great generosity but where the one who does not respond properly finds that instead of receiving a reward he loses even that which he thought he had.
May God fill us with his gracious Spirit so that we might live Jesus way!