Luke 6:37-49, Instead of Judging Others, Pay Attention to Yourself!

[May 5, 2013] In chapter 4 of the Gospel according to Luke Jesus introduced Himself as the One sent and anointed (christened) to proclaim the “favorable year of the Lord,” the messianic Year of Jubilee, and to give notice of its consequences—liberation!—to the poor, the captive, the blind and the oppressed. He then began His work of anticipating those consequences in the lives of the people of Galilee, and of gathering disciples to Himself.

Now, in chapter 6, He gathers His disciples and says to them (and here I paraphrase), “Even though you are poor and hungry and weeping, you are blessèd because you are My disciples. Because you are My disciples, the kingdom of God is yours and you shall be satisfied and you will find yourself laughing with joy. But because you are My disciples, people will hate, ostracize, insult and scorn you; nevertheless, you are still blessèd—yes, your reward will be great!—for this only proves that you are My disciples. Pity the rich and well-fed and well-spoken-of, for they choose not to be My disciples.

“But when people do make themselves your enemies, hate, curse and mistreat you, this is how you should react: you shall love them, do them good, bless them, and pray for them! For since you are Mine (and therefore blessèd), they cannot hurt you; they cannot take away your dignity or what you need to live—for your reality is God (not them), His power, His view of you, and His generosity. You therefore have everything that matters: you can afford to be generous. You shall be as compassionate to them as God is, for the Most High God is your Father, and I will be grooming you to become like Him.

“But it is not your place to judge them. That role belongs to God alone.” Here is where we are today as we begin to consider the remainder of Jesus’ address to His disciples.

Do Not Judge (Luke 6:37-42)!

As we had three fourfold descriptions of how people will treat the disciples of Jesus: they will hate, ostracize, insult and scorn you (verse 22); they will make themselves your enemies, hate, curse and mistreat you (verses 27-28); and they will hit you on the cheek, take away your coat, ask of you, and take away what is yours (verses 29-30); and two fourfold descriptions of how His disciples should react: love them, do them good, bless and pray for them (verses 27-28); and offer them the other cheek, do not withhold your shirt, give to those who ask, and do not demand back what is taken (verses 29-30); so now we have another fourfold instruction: Do not judge or condemn them, but pardon them, and give generously (verses 37-38).

Jesus is using patterns of threes and fours in these verses. Three encloses, and so, for example, it speaks of a dwelling place, and holiness, and the divine Persons. Four evokes the four directions and the four elements, therefore the created earth and humanity, and the world of humanity.

Verse 37 begins with the word “and” (kai): “And do not judge.” Jesus begins a new instruction, yet what He says now is connected with what preceded. Do not judge or condemn your enemies, He means, for this is the temptation (we would not judge or condemn those who are being our friends): those who hate, ostracize, insult, scorn, curse and mistreat us, who hit us on the cheek (humiliating us), and take away our coat (what we need), and take away what is ours (our rights). Instead, we are to pardon them (release them from what they owe us) and give generously, even to them: love them, do them good, bless them and pray for them, offer them our other cheek, let them have our shirt, give to whoever of them asks, do not demand back what they have taken, and do good and lend to these from whom we expect nothing in return.

If we are to treat our enemies this way, we can extend this way of being to those who are kinder to us than our enemies—and therefore treat everyone according to the same principle. With those who are not our enemies, it is important that we act with genuine compassion (verse 36) and not do them “good” in a harmful way. If we treat Jesus’ words as a form of legalism, then we can use them to foster our self-righteousness rather than to do the other genuine good. If we do “good” out of a sense of guilt, it is still for our own sake, an attempt at self-justification. This is not true compassion. In the case of our enemy, our reaction to their mistreatment testifies to them about what they are opposing, and therefore it needs to take this particular form (offering, for example, the other cheek). Though what good in the other comes out of our reaction is up to God’s grace: we act before God, not as a strategy to change—or manipulate—the other. This is different than enabling an abuser by doing them “good.” To enable an abuser is defensive, or even vengeful; it is not compassion. For the abused, it takes greater courage, and hopefully genuine compassion, to stop enabling them. (This distinction, between the enemy of which Jesus speaks and the abuser in an abusive relationship, is important to maintain.)

To judge and condemn puts us in God’s place. Though God is compassionate to all, and in this way we aspire to be the “sons” of our Father (or daughters of our Mother), God is also our Judge. Both God’s compassion and righteousness are perfections of God’s nature, but the first speaks of God’s natural longing for those whom God has created (the longing of a mother for the child of her womb), and the second speaks of the moral affect of God’s claim on us, the affect of God’s nature on how we choose to relate to God. If we love God in response to God’s love, God is pleased with us. If we turn away from God and attempt to insulate ourselves from God, God is angry at us. These are anthropomorphic descriptions of God’s righteousness. In fact, if we turn ourselves from life, from goodness and truth and beauty (each of which describes God’s being and the reflection of God in creation), then we condemn ourselves to the absence or antithesis of these: this is God’s “anger” as we experience it now. It is the apparent passive result. Yet insofar as God is not passively life, or goodness, truth and beauty, but is personally these things in the free act of God’s love, the consequences are likewise free and therefore active.

Yet we are not these things—good, true or beautiful—except by God’s grace. (Sorry. We may have originally been, but we ruined that!) We are invited to be participants in God’s goodness (etc.), but we do not own it as inherent (not anymore). We are the rebels whom God has subdued. If we have responded to the call of Christ, it is because He has conquered our resistance. In ourselves we are under God’s judgment. By the gift of God we are forgiven and made God’s children. So we are not in any position to act as judges of others. (Ironically, the superabundance of God’s grace awakens in us the beauty, goodness and authenticity of our original creation, but only after we have passed through the judgment of death. So it was inherently ours and we lost it, but then after judgment we get what was inherent back, but as a gift, with the richness of Christ added. Thus in Christ, through the cross, we really do discover our original face.)

To judge (krinō) is to divide or distinguish, and therefore to evaluate someone, to prefer or find fault with them, to criticize them, or determine their guilt or innocence. To condemn (kata-dikazō) is to pass sentence on them, to declare them guilty. So the first is to criticize someone and the second is to make up your mind about them. To pardon (apo-luō), in this context, is to release or set free a debtor. If I release a debtor, that means they do not owe me anything, they have no obligation towards me. I forgive them.

If I do not judge or condemn someone, however, this does not mean that God does not judge or condemn them. If I pardon someone (and thus release them from what they owe me) this does not mean that God pardons them (from what they owe God). I leave them in God’s hands.

The principle that Jesus teaches here is that if I do not judge others, God will not judge me. If I do not condemn others, God will not condemn me. If I pardon another, God will pardon me. God will treat me as I have treated others. This non-judgment, non-condemnation, and pardon already assume that one is a disciple. Jesus is not talking about redemption. We do not redeem ourselves by these generous acts. We do not become children of the Father by these generous acts (though they do help us attain our majority as “sons and daughters”). If we are disciples of Jesus, that is, if we have turned to Him and given Him our allegiance, fealty, loyalty and fidelity, that is, our faith, then we are redeemed in Him, our sins have been forgiven (in terms of our access to the Father), we are justified and given the gift of eternal life, we are God’s children, Jesus’ Father is our Father and the Father claims us as His sons and daughters (a role into which we need to grow). This is done. What Jesus is talking about in these verses is governmental. It is how the Father will act towards us as His eventual heirs. It is disciplinary. How the Father disciplines us depends on how we treat others. He will treat us in kind. This governmental treatment continues after death, when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ. It is not over with, however, even then. When we appear before His judgment seat, there is not only one declaration of pardon that is pronounced over all His believers. We believers will each be judged according to what we have done (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15). It will not be over, not even then.

So “give and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” The image is of the loose upper garment being held out to form a pouch overlapping the girdle (Ruth 3:15?). The “they” is not those to whom you give but simply an anonymous “they,” for it is God who is generous to you when you are generous to others. When we give a little, God gives a little (God can even outdo our stinginess). If we give an abundance, then God gives a superabundance. See Luke 8:18 and 19:25-26. (For the opposite, see Psalm 79:12; Isaiah 65:7; Jeremiah 32:18.) In Luke 6:29-30 people take from the disciples and Jesus said we should react by giving more—on account of the abundance of God who takes care of us. So here in verse 38, we should not only judge and condemn and pardon others as if we were the ones being judged, condemned and pardoned (see the “Golden Rule” in verse 31)—for God will in fact treat us the same as we treat others—but we should give to others generously for God will be even more generous to us.

We should give, moreover, without judgment. By this I do not mean that we should give recklessly or without intelligence. We still need to be good stewards and contribute to good work. I think Jesus is talking about personal giving (as in verses 30-31 and 34-35), giving to another person, either our enemy or a neighbor in need. We do not give as if we are judges, and therefore according to our criticism and fault finding (for God alone is their Judge), nor do not give according to what we expect to receive in return or how well we think the other will use what we give them. We leave everything to God. Again, this is not about foolishness or self-righteousness, but about being abundantly compassionate—for God will measure His governmental reactions to us according to the measure of our actions (and reactions) to others. If, however (again I qualify), we give freely our of God’s abundance, without self-consciousness—as we should—let it be in such a way that it does not cause harm to another or be self-serving in intention (say, by inadvertently congratulating ourselves or advertising our cause).

Let God be the judge of others; you treat others the way you want God to treat you (do what you do before God).

Verses 37-42 fall into about four pieces: Verses 37-38 which we have just considered; verse 39 about blind guides; verse 40 about disciples and their teachers; and verses 41-42 about fault-finding.

Verse 39 warns that a blind man cannot guide a blind man for they will both fall into a pit. Luke took this from Matthew 15:14 where it refers to the Pharisees who were judging Jesus according to their traditions (“teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” while their heart was far God). This kind of judgmental and intolerant Pharisee has already made an appearance in Luke’s gospel in 5:17-26, 29-32, 33-39; 6:1-5, and 6-11. They are Jesus’ enemy and by 6:11 they are out to get Him.

These Pharisees took it upon themselves to judge, evaluate and correct others. But people who judge others tend to be blind to their own faults (verses 41-42), and people who are blind to their own faults cannot guide others. The word “to guide” (hodēgein) used here is used in Acts 8:31 for a teacher: “Do you understand what you are reading?” “How can I, unless someone guides me?” In verses 37-38 the disciple is to be “blind” to others and their faults but “seeing” when it comes to God. In verse 39 the blind man is blind when it comes to their own faults and blind with respect to God. Jesus warns us to watch out for teachers who are like this. See Jesus’ diatribe against the Pharisees as blind guides in Matthew 23, noting verses 16, 17, 24, and 26.

Verse 40 shows why it is essential that the teacher (didaskalos) be able to see, for the disciple can do no better than his or her teacher.

Verse 40 warns against His disciples judging Him, their Teacher. That too would be a form of blindness, for a disciple is not above his or her teacher. They can aspire, after they have been fully trained, to become like their teacher. Luke took this from Matthew 10:24-25 where Jesus is also comparing His disciples to Himself, though in that context He is speaking about the abusive treatment He was receiving and from which His disciples cannot expect to escape.

The theme of seeing and blindness continues in verses 41-42. This also has to do with criticizing and fault-finding, but also with attempting to teach or guide another (by removing the speck in her or his eye). If I have a log in my own eye, then I am blinded by it, or at least I cannot see clearly. If I go ahead and teach anyway, then I am imaging that I can see the specks in the eyes of my siblings, even while I do not see the log in my own eye. The log in my own eye actually blinds me and makes me unable to see the specks in my siblings’ eyes. Nevertheless, I think I see the specks in my siblings’ eyes and take it upon myself to remove them, even though the log makes me blind, for it is still in my own eye.

 What is obvious is that there is a log in my own eye. It blinds me. Because of it, I cannot help my sibling. But if I remove the log from my own eye, then I will be able to see clearly, and then I will be able to help my sibling with the speck that is in their eye.

So when I criticize my brothers and sisters, it means that I think I see a speck in my sibling’s eye. But why do I not see the log in my own eye? I am in denial of my log. Why? I am horrified about the log in my own eye. A log is far worse than a speck. Indeed, the specks I see in the eyes of others may simply be a reflection of the log in my own eye when I look into my sibling’s eye. When I find fault in others, when the faults of others really irritate me, usually I am finding in them what I subconsciously recognize in myself but am repulsed by. What manifests in them may not be the same as in me, but I associate them. Usually I misunderstand what is going on in the other; it may not even be a fault. But because I see in them what horrifies me within myself, I project my horror onto them. I cannot tolerate them; I demonize them. For they represent the thing in me that I cannot accept.

If however I can acknowledge my guilt and, instead of fleeing from the wrath of God, take it to God for judgment, then I can begin to see it in its true light. It may not be what I thought it was (for I may be seeing it through the eyes of others, say, my parents or teachers). Instead of God’s wrath, I may meet God’s compassion. Or I may discover God’s forgiveness, when it is my fault. In either case, I become capable of looking at myself and seeing the log for what it is and accepting that it is there. I cannot remove it until I face it. And when I remove it, or by God’s grace I am able to transcend it, then I am humbled by the experience. I know how blind I can be, and how badly I have misjudged others. Only when I am able thus to judge myself can I then be of any helpfulness to my siblings. I can begin to see clearly. Only then can I be any sort of guide. Of course, I may still have a lot of apologizing and reparation to do first!

We cannot judge others because we ourselves are under judgment. If Jesus called His disciples blessèd in verses 20-26 because of the reality of their relationship to Him in the sight of God, and tells them in verses 27-36 to react with love when they are mistreated because of the reality of God in Whose presence and providence they live—Who is kind to those who are evil—then He now tells them to live under the reality of God’s judgment and governance. When I see myself in the light of God’s judgment, how can I judge another? With humility I become aware of my own faults and live with the consciousness that my actions have a direct consequence from God, albeit, unseen (in the heaven).

More About Teachers (6:43-45)

When Jesus goes on to speak of good and bad trees and their fruit, Luke has drawn this from Matthew 7:15-20 where Jesus is speaking about false prophets (the previous verses in Luke were likewise taken from Matthew 7:1-5). Also Jesus’ conclusion in Luke 6:45c is this: “for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” This inclines me to think that the fruit of which Jesus is speaking has to do with teachings, and therefore a continuation of the thought in verses 39-42. On the one hand there are the Pharisees, Jesus’ enemy, and on the other hand there is Jesus. The mouth of a good teacher brings forth what is good. The mouth of a bad teacher brings forth what is evil, for what comes forth is from the heart.

If we compare this to verses 39-42, then we see that the Pharisees are attempting to lead others while they themselves are blind. They point out to others what they are doing wrong (thus supposedly helping them with little splinters) while they are blinded by a great log in their own eye. Jesus says to them, “You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Torah: justice and mercy and faithfulness … You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24).

So their blindness is not a matter of correcting minor things. There is a flaw in their heart. They need a new heart of flesh to replace their heart of stone; they need the regeneration of their heart of which the prophets spoke. For a bad tree cannot produce good fruit, nor can a tree like Jesus produce bad fruit. A tree produces what is consistent with its nature. If it attempts to produce something else, what is produced is manufactured and artificial; it is not fruit, which is something living.

Hear My Words and Act on Them (6:46-49)!

Having directed His disciples away from His enemy, the particular Pharisees who were attacking Him (these would not have been all the Pharisees, but a particular school of Pharisees who were intolerant of non-practicing Jews and Gentiles, and intolerant of anyone else’s tolerance of them—probably the school of Rabbi Shammai), Jesus turns back to the people who have come to Him, the crowd of “disciples.”

He says that it is not enough that they love to listen to Him. There are others who come to Him simply out of great neediness, who have come to Him for healing, for instance. He is not speaking to them but to those who want to consider themselves His followers. They call Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” and listen to His teachings and think they are simply marvelous. How wise Jesus is! (Or whatever.) How smart I can become by listening to Him.

Here is another amazing thing about us. We think that because we hear and understand something that that means that we possess the thing that we grasp with our minds or our hearts long for. We think that knowing is the same as being. So we hear a sermon and then go out and criticize others who do not measure up to it. Our knowledge makes us judgmental! So we are still on this same line of thought. Paul says in Romans, “You have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things … But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?” My own circumstances may be great, for the time being, but the one whom I criticize may be suffering, and I draw a connection. But Paul says to me, “Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds” (Romans 2:1,3-6). Things may be going well for me for the time being (let’s say I am the wealthy Protestant entrepreneur), but I am only saving (storing up) God’s judgment for later, for the Day of Judgment.

Knowing is not the same as doing. “If you bear the name of Jew and rely upon the Torah and boast in God and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Torah, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Torah the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” (Romans 2:17-21a) Because we are familiar with the words of Jesus and are able to teach them to the ignorant, we can still be blind leaders of the blind; we may still have the log in our own eye!

Sometimes understanding too much can be an impediment, for we are so smart we can begin to rationalize our own limitations, our own shortcomings. We apply a high standard to others but do not even know how to apply the same standard to ourselves.

In seminary we learned all about the “new” Hermeneutics of Suspicion, in which we learned to question the motives of the Biblical writers, imagining that they are like us, always subservient to their social context and trying to gain, or maintain, the upper hand in it. Jesus reads the Scriptures with an eye on a different context, the context of the reality of God and the revelation of God. So His was a Hermeneutics of Obedience, in which He subordinated Himself to the Biblical text within the context of the whole as God’s revelation of Himself. (This does not mean that we can do away with a critical reading of the text, “but these things you should have done without neglecting the others,” Matthew 23:23c).

If we become little scholars and perhaps even imagine that we are teachers of others, having heard Jesus but not acting accordingly, we are “like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation.” The torrent that bursts against the house and collapsed it, bringing it to great ruin is the judgment of God. It is similar to the man who builds with wood, hay and straw in 1 Corinthians 3:12. “Each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work … If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” We may succeed in making a good living for ourselves as a Bible teacher or pastor or broadcaster. But when we appear before Christ when His revelation becomes manifest, a torrent will destroy the house which we have built and we will see it in ruins.

By identifying with our knowledge, and turning our attention to others (judging them, teaching them, or whatever), we have managed to get our attention off ourselves. We may even be in denial of the moral condition (to say nothing yet of the spiritual condition) of our life. We have avoided the most painful aspect of discipleship while expecting it of others—self-knowledge.

If, however, we want to build our house on a foundation of rock, we have to open our eyes and see ourselves; we have to have self-knowledge in the light of the revelation of Christ, and measure His words to us in that light. We have to deny our own willfulness, the willfulness of our delusion, and surrender to reality. It is painful to realize that our idols are idols, and to let go of them. But when we have surrendered to God’s judgment and judged ourselves in its light, then we can know a great sense of relief. We do not surrender to an affirmation that we impose on ourselves but to the reality that precedes thought, to Jesus’ own presence before us as He addresses us and lays claim to us by that address. We are already His before we respond, and if we recognize the relation that He has put us in by His addressing us, to obey His word is the greatest freedom we can ever know, for we are responding to Him as a person to a Person, with love. Within that address, His word is life-giving to us. To hear it and objectify it as knowledge, however, is to turn His words into the letter of a law and to make it fall on the deaf ears of our heart.

It is not simply obedience for which Jesus asks. It is the love for Him of a disciple. To hear Him calls forth our obedience. If however we only hear a moral or so-called “spiritual” message, we may become a Pharisee to ourselves (instead of a hypocritical one to others), beating ourselves up for every failure, but we still are not—we certainly are not—tasting the life that He offers His own. To be in relationship to Him, a relationship of mutual that He has created, to be in the energy of it through the Holy Spirit, this is to hear His words and to act on them, this is to lay our foundation on rock, this is to be grounded in original goodness, and authenticity, and beauty, the goodness, authenticity and beauty of God.

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