We Have Met the Enemy…

Soldiers Run

Galatians 5:16 “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

Since the day you became a Christian, you have been involved in a war. On one side we have our sinful flesh, our sinful nature. Some Christians seem surprised that they still have a sinful nature after coming to faith. They thought that sin would now be a thing of the past for them.

Actually, your sinful nature didn’t change at all when you became a Christian. It is the same rascal it has always been. It is 100%, undiluted, pure rebel, and that is the way it will be until the day you die. The only difference is: now it has some competition.

On the other side of this war is the Spirit within you. Whether you take Paul’s words to mean the Holy Spirit, or whether you take him to mean your own believing, converted, Christian, human spirit where the Holy Spirit lives, will make little difference for understanding his urgings to us here. These two are devoted allies. They fight the same battles. At the time we are fighting the urge to sin, we are not able to tell a difference between the impulses of the Holy Spirit and those of our Christian spirit, anyway.

These two, flesh and Spirit, are waging a war within us. They are locked in a battle to the death. Since they are opposites, “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.” There can be no compromises, no cease fires, and no surrender on either side. This war continues until either the sinful nature drives faith and the Spirit completely out, and we cease to be Christians; or until physical death delivers the final blow to our sinful nature, and we are free of it forever.

In the meantime, if we are going to live by the Spirit, it is important that we acknowledge this battle. It is the reason we continue to sin. “They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” Have you found that you can’t be as good as you want to be? Do you still find yourself slipping up? If that is not the case, check on one of three things: have you lost your faith altogether, giving the sinful nature total control? Do you find it difficult to be honest with yourself? Or, do you still have a pulse?

As we struggle, there is a temptation to look outside ourselves for the reason. “I would live a better life if only Satan didn’t press me so hard and single me out for such unique and difficult temptations.” “I would live a better life if the people around me weren’t always getting me into trouble.” But neither Satan nor our friends put a gun to our heads and force us into sin. They may tempt us, but they don’t force us. To win this war, we need to recognize where it is happening, and who the enemy is.

A second temptation in this battle gives too much credit to our corrupt hearts. Many voices tell us man is noble at his core. Our minds and thoughts may lead us down the wrong path if try to analyze things too carefully. But if we follow our feelings, they won’t steer us wrong. Follow your heart.

After all, God made me this way, and if I am physically attracted to some other person, why should I deny myself the pleasures of their body– no matter that I am already married to someone else, or that we have no marriage commitment to each other, or that we are of the same sex. It just “feels” right. People apply this same kind of thinking to how they vent their anger, rationalize drug use, or selfishly spend their money, to name a few examples.

The heart is not a safe guide. It is often allied with the wrong side. Winning the battle, Paul says, involves “living by the Spirit.” That is more than a matter of personal effort. It requires more than a rededication to Biblical standards of right and wrong. Earlier in this letter Paul asked the people, “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3). In other words, go back to the Spirit, where your Christian life started. And you don’t get the Spirit by performing moral acts. He comes to those who hear and believe God’s word.

Specifically, the Spirit comes to those who hear the good news. Listening to and believing the gospel, where we find Jesus dying for our guilt, forgiving every sin, rising to promise us life, seeking us out to claim us as his own by faith, and now ruling the universe for our benefit, is the big weapon for winning the spiritual war within. We can’t live by a Spirit we don’t have. But if the Spirit’s place in our hearts grows with faith in the gospel, his place in our behavior will grow as well. Then more of the spiritual battles will start to go our way.

Watch Out for Counterfeits

Monopoly Money

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

In Romans 10 the Apostle Paul tells us, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (vs. 9). The people Jesus is describing here have it half right. They call upon Jesus as their Lord. But the believe-in-your-heart part is missing. That is the most important part. Confessing that Jesus is Lord is valid only when it expresses a deeper and fuller faith in our heart.

I have known people who “know the formula.” They can recite, “Jesus is my Lord,” or “Jesus is my Savior,” or “Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins.” But they do so like a trained parrot. There is nothing behind it. Words like these are not a secret password to tell the angel at heaven’s gate so that he will let you in. When we get there, no one will open a little peephole and whisper, “Hey, buddy, what’s the password?” Claiming Jesus as Lord is meaningful only when it reflects the faith of our hearts.

Nor does Jesus mean to suggest that good works will lead him to recognize us when he says, “…but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” The false Christians have impressive works on their resumes: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Doesn’t God want people to prophesy in Jesus’ name? Doesn’t he want them to drive out demons? Is there anything wrong with performing miracles? On the surface, all of these things line up with doing the will of the Father in heaven. What’s wrong?

First, these people are not lying. Jesus does not accuse them of making any of this up, even where they require supernatural powers. God once used the unbelieving prophet Balaam to deliver his message. The book of Acts mentions the seven sons of Sceva who were unbelievers, yet drove out demons in Jesus’ name. Numerous people, from Bible times to the present, have claimed to do miracles in Jesus’ name. Still, in the case of many it is hard to imagine they had any real connection to him.

Second, it appears these people are completely sincere about their religion, whatever it is. They didn’t think of themselves as deceivers. They fully expect Jesus to accept their argument, even on the day of judgment.

What, then, is missing? The main thing is true, saving faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” Hebrews tells us. That is true even if you are preaching, healing people, and driving out demons. In the absence of faith, even those apparently good works become sins, because Paul tells us, “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

You see, where there is no true faith, there can be no true love, and love is the fulfillment of the law. We are never doing the will of the Father in heaven when unselfish love does not stand behind what we are doing, however helpful it might be to someone else.

Paul furnishes some great examples in his great love chapter of 1 Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

The false Christians standing before Jesus on the day of judgment cannot work their way into heaven any more than we can. But a heart that grasps God’s gift of forgiveness by faith does save us. This faith makes itself known in a life that does the will of the Father: repenting of our sins, trusting solely in Jesus for our salvation, and striving, however imperfectly, to live a life of love. As for the false prophets, Jesus won’t recognize them as his own. “Away from me, you evildoers!”

Jesus speaks some strong words about a “spiritual” life devoid of faith, but he does so because he loves us. You are the dearest thing he owns. You are the costliest purchase he has ever made. You are the one thing that he would do anything, and has done everything, to keep. Don’t fall for a counterfeit faith.

Watch Out!

Wolf

Matthew 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

False prophets come dressed in deceptive camouflage. Jesus’ picture of sheep’s clothing suggests a couple of things. First of all, Scripture often refers to us, God’s people, as his sheep. False prophets try to make themselves look they are part of main stream Christianity. They want us to believe that they are just one of us.

Sometimes people have the idea that Jesus means to warn us about the prophets of some obvious, far out false god. And it’s true that the message of such people would be false. But Scripture usually uses this term to refer to prophets who claim to be representing the true God, the God of the Bible. For example, in the Old Testament, the prophets of the false god Baal aren’t called false prophets. They are called prophets of Baal. There was no “sheep’s clothing” covering them.

The false prophets were men who claimed to speak for the Lord, but who made up their own messages. They were the kind of men Jeremiah once described: “I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The LORD declares’” (Jeremiah 23:31). They were the kind of men the Apostle Paul had in mind when he warned the elders of the church in Ephesus, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29-31).

When we are watching out for false prophets, we need to keep our eyes trained on the Christian church, and even our own congregations! In fact, I don’t take offense when people keep a close eye on me to see whether I am a sheep, or merely dressed in sheep’s clothing. It’s what Jesus tells us to do.

The second thing to note about Jesus’ “sheep’s clothing” picture is that sheep are rather harmless animals. When I was a little boy and visited my grandparents’ farm, they always warned me to watch out for the buck if I visited the sheep pen, because he might knock you down. But by and large, sheep are not dangerous, and false prophets do their best to look as safe and harmless as they can, too.

Maybe that’s why we are tempted not to take Jesus’ warning too seriously. All the religious leaders we know seem like nice guys. They are people persons. They are warm, sincere, and caring. They are interesting to listen to. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with those traits in and of themselves. But they can lead us to lack a proper dread of what is false. We are sinfully lackadaisical when we ignore the danger to our own souls.

That’s why Jesus’ picture illustrates the need to recognize them. “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Even city slickers know that sheep and wolves are natural enemies. Wolves don’t just hurt sheep. They are more than an annoyance. They want to have them for dinner. Wolves kill.

And so do false prophets. They are spiritual murderers. Not everyone who hears their messages may be lost. Wolves don’t catch every sheep they stalk, either. But Jesus’ picture makes it clear that watching out for false prophets could be a matter of spiritual life and death.

Jesus didn’t give up his life to pay for the sins of the world just to let false prophets keep us from enjoying that gift. He freely gave us spiritual life to spare us from the spiritual murderers. He invested himself in doing everything necessary to make us members of God’s flock to protect us from the wolves who want to chase us back out again. He warns us about false prophets not to make us judgmental, but to make us safe. His words are no idle warning. They are a necessary consequence of his seeking love. Watch out!

His Weightless Burden

Burden

Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Have you ever worked on a project on which you made absolutely no progress? A number of years ago I went camping with my dad. As we sat around the camp fire, he blew up his air mattress by mouth. He would puff and puff, and then talk a little, and puff and puff some more. After an hour he was exhausted from blowing, and the mattress was no further along than when he started. We discovered it was full of leaks. That’s what it is like for the person trying to save himself. He works and works, but all he gets is tired. Jesus says to such a person, “I will do all the work of saving you. You come and get some rest.”

Sometimes even we who know that Jesus has paid for all our sins have trouble shaking the guilt when we have committed a real “doosie.” We feel so disappointed in ourselves. Maybe that’s because we haven’t wanted to accept the depths of our own personal corruption. We haven’t understood the full significance of what Paul was saying when he said, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is no difference. We knew that we needed a Savior just like everyone else, but deep down inside we still believed there was a difference. I was just a little bit better than your common sinner.

Somewhere Luther warns about not being a painted sinner, because then we will find only a painted Savior. Instead, understand that we are real sinners, who in turn have a real Savior. Sin is nothing we should ever pursue or embrace. But there is great relief that comes when we admit that ours is just as real and terrible as anyone else’s. Denying our guilt, hiding our guilt, or minimizing our guilt are just ways by which we force ourselves to carry that guilt. Jesus invites us, “Come to me with the whole thing, as real and as bad as it is, and I will take it to the cross for you, and forgive you, and you will find rest for your souls.” When you know Jesus, then you know your soul’s rest.

But doesn’t Jesus’ method for giving us rest sound strange? “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Doesn’t a yoke sound like more work, like trading one source of weariness for another?

Understand the picture. The rabbi’s used the word “yoke” as a picture of belonging to one of their schools. To be under Jesus’ yoke, then, is to have him as our Master and Teacher and learn from him.

And what kind of Master do we find? “I am gentle and humble in heart…” Jesus is no drill sergeant screaming at us to shape up, driving us to hurry up to do better. “You’re not there yet! You’re not there yet! You’re not there yet!” No, he is gentle, and mild. He recognizes that even when we try to look tough, we are fragile. He handles us in a way that convinces us he cares and expresses his love.

He is humble in heart. He doesn’t issue decrees from his ivory tower, but he stoops down to help us. He is not too great to put on flesh and blood and become part of the human family, experience our misery first hand, suffer our temptations, or even be accused of our sins and die for them. Everything about the way he treats us in inviting. We know that we can approach him safely and confidently.

“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Under our Master and Teacher, what do we learn? What does he “lay on us?” A promise of God’s grace, access to the Father, forgiveness of sins, life after death, comfort for our sorrows, strength under our crosses. As Luther once said, this a yoke that bears its bearer. It doesn’t weigh us down. It picks us up and carries us. So Jesus invites us to take the yoke and carry the burden that gives our souls rest.

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

Fifth Grader

Matthew 11:25 “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

In the previous verses Jesus pronounced woes upon the towns and villages of Galilee that had received his ministry, seen his miracles, and yet the majority of people had not put their faith in him. They saw Jesus, saw him with their own eyes, but they didn’t see God’s Son. They didn’t see their Savior. The truth about Jesus was hidden from many. They failed to understand the true meaning of Jesus.

Nor was it necessarily an advantage to be “wise and learned” to understand these things. They were the very people from whom Jesus’ person and purpose were hidden. It’s not that God the Father was trying to prevent them from knowing Jesus. The problem was that they would accept Jesus as Savior only if he met their criteria. And by nature anyone who knows anything believes that the only way to be saved is by your good works, and that the only reason for a Savior would be to show you how. All the world’s great minds have thought that way. In order for these people to see Jesus as Savior, then, God would have to change his plan of salvation. He would have to abandon grace, and that wasn’t going to happen. So Jesus’ real identity and purpose were hidden from them.

There is nothing wrong with great learning in and of itself. Ignorance certainly doesn’t serve the purposes of Christianity. But man’s pride turns his great learning against God. He starts to think he has it all figured out. You often hear people promote “thinking outside the box.” Spiritually, the “wise and learned” create a box for themselves out of all their knowledge. They think they know more than they do. They can’t think outside a box of their own making, and they end up imprisoning themselves in there. When God’s word comes along with a different idea, they can’t accept it. When Jesus comes along as God’s Son and Savior, they can’t see it.

But the Father has revealed Jesus to little children. Their minds aren’t so cluttered with skeptical ideas, or so full of pride in their own opinions. Have you ever seen the musical You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown? There is a scene in which Lucy is teaching her little brother Linus “little known facts” about the world, and Linus is just soaking it all in. She tells him that fir trees give us fur for coats, hydrants grow out of the ground on their own, the stars and planets make the rain, and the snow comes up out of the ground like the grass, then it blows around to make it look like its falling. Linus doesn’t question her. He believes every word just because she says so. He takes it all with a child-like faith.

Of course, our God would never deceive us like that. But he reveals Jesus to little children, and the child-like who believe every word just because he says so. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” is not a theology of which they feel a need to be ashamed, nor a theology on which they feel a need to improve. They know Jesus because of God’s revelation.

Are we the wise and learned, or are we the little children? Does it offend us to be thought of as simple? Does it embarrass us if others suggest that we have an “unsophisticated” approach to the Bible because we simply believe what it says? When one of our African missionaries took a call back to the United States, and he got some of his first experiences with counseling here, he was shocked by the reaction of some he counseled. In Africa if he quoted Scripture, that counsel was taken with unquestioning acceptance. Some of those with whom he counseled here just looked at him as though those words meant nothing at all.

None of us wants others to think of us as simple or unsophisticated. We certainly don’t want to believe that we are evil to the core and need God’s grace.  “Wise and learned” sounds more like a compliment to us. It makes us sound good. “Little children” sounds more like an insult.

But if we know Jesus, it is not because we are so smart. The world’s kind of wisdom and learning lead us in a hellish direction away from knowing Jesus. You know Jesus because God’s word convinced you that you need a Savior from sin, and that Jesus is just the Savior you need.

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy has exposed the ignorance of many adults on his quiz show Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?. Jesus exposed the spiritual ignorance of many learned adults throughout his ministry. But the little children know. Don’t try to be smarter, because “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Fulfill Your Destiny

Yoda

Jeremiah 1:6-8 “‘Ah, Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, I am only a child. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”

Public speaking is said to be the greatest fear people feel, greater even than their fear of death. Jerry Seinfeld has quipped that, if that’s true, the majority of people at a funeral would rather be the man in the coffin than the man giving the eulogy. Jeremiah isn’t the only prophet who ever tried to excuse himself from serving because he couldn’t speak well. Eight hundred years earlier Moses had used the same excuse.

“I don’t know what to say,” “I don’t feel comfortable talking to other people about my faith” are still common excuses for not speaking up about our faith. Is that true? Do we really not know what other people need to hear from us? We know that it all boils down to man’s sin and God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Have any of God’s messengers ever felt completely comfortable telling others what the Lord has to say? Isn’t this another way of saying, “I don’t want to suffer the negative reaction people often have to talk about Jesus?” But isn’t a willingness to suffer just that reaction one of the crosses he expects his disciples to bear?

Jeremiah’s other excuse, “I am only a child,” also finds its way into the thinking of Christians. Jeremiah did not mean that he was an immature little boy still living at home with his parents. The Hebrew word translated “child” here can refer to a young person all the way until age 30. Jeremiah’s point was, “I don’t have years of experience. I don’t have the trust of older people. I’m still relatively young.”

Is the absence of many young adults from the active life of Christian churches evidence of the same kind of thinking today? Is the difficulty in getting younger men and women to accept positions of responsibility and leadership in part because they think that their youth excuses them?

Note that God didn’t excuse Jeremiah from service. He doesn’t accept our excuses, either. Instead, he confronts our attempts to escape the purposes for which he has made us. “But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you and say whatever I command you.’”

Note that he doesn’t simply give up on the hesitant and write them off for unwillingness. Whether excuses come from laziness, fear, or a simple lack of faith, he forgives. He removes our sin for Jesus’ sake. And then he makes us confident, because he sends us with his promises: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”

Little David understood who was with him when he took on the giant Goliath. We have an infinitely larger giant backing us up. What perceived lack of skill will trip you up when God is present with all this power and gifts? Paul promises, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). As long as God is on our side, we have an unlimited source of confidence for our tasks.

And if we find ourselves in trouble of some sort, he promises to rescue us. Rescuing his people is our God’s specialty. He has driven the entire course of world history in order to save us from our sins and death. In a hundred little ways he has rescued his people from the forces of nature, from sickness and disease, from hunger and need, from temptation to sin, from personal enemies, and from their own foolishness. His rescue may not always look the way we envisioned it. Ultimately it may mean leading us through death to life in heaven. But the Lord will not leave the people who serve him in a jam. That makes us confident to serve, confident that his promises make it possible to fulfill our purposes.

Are you a fan of the Star Wars movie series? Throughout, there is a lot of talk about characters fulfilling their destinies. Each one has a purpose in a mission to save the universe. God has given each of us a destiny, a real one. We play an important role in his mission to save the universe. Our part may not look glamorous or glorious. But somehow or another we have a part in passing salvation along to others. Let God’s promises make you certain and confident to fulfill your destinies.

Life with a Purpose

baby on arm

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before you were born I set you apart.”

A comfortable life that can afford some of the finer things the world has to offer appeals to many. We don’t want to struggle just to survive. But a new generation for whom survival has never been much of a question longs for something more than material support. They what their lives to be meaningful. They want to make a difference. They are searching for a purpose.

The Lord assures everyone who belongs to him by faith that they are truly special. He set them apart for his unique purposes even before he formed their bodies to meet those purposes. But what is that purpose?

For Jeremiah it was “prophet to the nations.” That was God’s word to him. He also has a word for us: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” We, too, have a role in declaring God’s praises to the world around us. It’s just that, for most of us, it isn’t as a full time prophet.

If not as a full time prophet like Jeremiah, then how? It may be through the unique gifts God has given you as a part of the body of Christ. In Romans 12 Paul reminds us that, just as the members of our body don’t all have the same function, so God has given us different gifts for working together and serving his kingdom. If you don’t have a gift for prophesying, or preaching, you might have one for serving, teaching, encouraging others, contributing monetary gifts, leadership and administration, or showing mercy. All these support ministries are important and necessary for spreading the gospel.

Or maybe God’s purpose for you in spreading the word will have more to do with your earthly vocations. You remember that Jesus told his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” I know Christians who have shared their faith because they were parents watching their children at swimming lessons and conversations with other parents led to talk about church and values; because they were post-graduate students, and their demeanor in the classroom led other students to ask what was different about them; because they were serving as election judges and some who voted stayed around to talk about the important things in life; because they were passengers on an airplane and the person sitting next to them had questions; because they were customers getting repairs at a car dealership, and their common problem led them to talk about a common Savior.

Whether you are declaring God’s praises through your service to your congregation, or whether you are inspiring the Father’s praises through the way you live and talk in your daily lives, your purpose comes with his promise. His word gives you certainty that he made you and saved you for this very purpose.

Help With Blindness and Beams

blind healed

Luke 6:39-42 “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

What is the difference between the two men in the first little parable Jesus tells here? There isn’t any! Both of them suffer the same handicap. Both of them are blind. There is this possible difference to note: one of them has appointed himself a leader over the other, though he has no qualifications to do so. He can only get them into trouble.

Blindness is a picture for our natural spiritual ignorance. It is a condition into which every human is born. We are all in this boat together. We are fellow strugglers. No one is naturally enlightened and in a position to lead others under their own natural powers.

Jesus tells these parables in connection with his command, “Do not judge.” Spiritually, none of us sits in an ivory tower, far superior to all the others. There is no basis for us to conclude that, by ourselves, we are in a position to hand down judgments to our inferiors. That kind of condescending judgment of others is simply out of place for people who share the same spiritual blindness as everyone else.

Only if a blind man was himself being led by someone who could see would he be in a position to lead another blind person. Spiritually, then, we need to be students of the one who can see. So Jesus continues to the next illustration, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

When we are students of Jesus, then we have found safe spiritual leadership. But Jesus doesn’t lead us to spiritual pride and condescending judgment. Knowing Jesus is not an excuse for me to complain, “I am surrounded by idiots.” I am still one of the idiots, completely dependent on Jesus’ wisdom. We become something like our teacher only when Jesus’ wisdom keeps leading us back to the mercy of a heavenly Father who prefers forgiveness to judgment.

Jesus’ third illustration also puts us in our place. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

It hurts to get something in your eye. Even little things can threaten our vision. When I have something in my eye, I often find someone and ask them for help.

In the same way, Jesus is not saying we should not help others with their sinful shortcomings, the speck in their eye. But how can we do that properly if we don’t recognize our own sinful shortcomings? All sin is sin in God’s eyes, but not acknowledging that we have sin is like having a huge beam in our eyes. It makes it impossible for us to judge anything else correctly. There is no way we could see properly to help someone else with their sin if we don’t even understand our own. So long as we believe we are better than others Jesus warns, “Do not judge.”

So what do we do with the prideful, self-righteous beam in our eye? Removing it requires supernatural help, and Jesus is just the divine doctor to do so. He extracts the beam with his law, as his words have just been doing. He heals the wound with his forgiveness, which is always big enough to cover any job. In the process he teaches us humility, and makes us qualified to help others, now that we know our place.

The Measure You Use

Measures

Luke 6:37-38 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 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.”

That last statement explains the significance of each of the little promises Jesus attaches to his commands. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “Not only is it better for others that you not judge them in a loveless and hurtful way. It is really better for you. It will bring you blessing by keeping this command. You will avoid trouble if you do what I say.”

Isn’t it true that loveless judging on one side tends to inspire loveless judging in return? Whether your political leanings are conservative or liberal, isn’t this the kind of thing that feeds the fires of passion that make reasoned discussion and debate so difficult? On a personal level, do you want to live your life under constant criticism and derision from people whom you have looked down upon? Isn’t life more pleasant when others treat you with respect and forgiveness?

Of course it is. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

These same promises can be applied to the way that God himself treats us. If we could truly live such a life of love that we never judged or condemned anyone in a selfish or hurtful way, then God would have no reason to judge or condemn us. We would actually deserve his forgiveness, though forgiveness itself would be unnecessary.

But you know how often that has happened! Our sin prevents us from uninterrupted and unending enjoyment of these promises Jesus makes here. Here, too, we need God’s mercy, and he gives it. Here, too, God’s forgiving mercy changes us into less judgmental people. Then the promises Jesus attaches to these commands teach us how good and right he is to tell us, “Do not judge.”