The Fourth Sunday after Trinity
July 5, 2020
St. Luke 6:36-42
"Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you." And He spoke a parable to them: "Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother's eye." St. Luke 6:36-42
"Judge not, and you shall not be judged." This is one of the best-known things Jesus ever said. Judge not. Don't stand in judgment of your brother. Don't condemn him. Don't play God. Before you presume to take the speck out of your brother's eye, take the log out of your own eye.
Before we consider what these words mean, let us first consider what they don't mean. Jesus is obviously not rejecting the kind of judging which must take place by those in positions of authority in the government, in the home, in the classroom, at the workplace. Nobody in a position of authority could do his duty without judging other people's behavior. "Don't do that." "Why not?" "Because I said so." "Why?" "I'm your mother, that's why." Case closed. Try raising a family without judging anyone's conduct.
Second, these words may not be used to reject God’s permanent standards of right and wrong. When Jesus says, Judge not, this does not mean that we may not judge between what is right and wrong, good and evil. Our text for today is taken from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, which includes the strictest law found anywhere in the Bible. Christ's command, Judge not, is God's law. It sets down the standard of God's immutable will that applies to our lives: our hearts, and our behavior. Yet, these words of law are used to reject other words of God's law. Nominal Christians reject the fifth commandment by defending legal abortion. They attack the sixth commandment by defending sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, and other sins against marriage. Then they appeal to Jesus’s words: “Judge not.” They twist God’s law for their own lawless purposes.
You don’t want to be labeled as judgmental. Don’t worry about the slander of the world. Listen to God’s word. Isaiah wrote, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."
Third, these words do not mean that we may not judge between true and false teaching. God forgives sinners. He gives forgiveness in the pure preaching of the gospel and the right administration of Christ's sacraments. We must oppose all false doctrine that undercuts the gospel. When the words of Jesus, “Judge not,” are used to forbid us from judging false teaching, and when we cave in to this human law, we forsake the source of the forgiveness we need and we place ourselves under God's judgment. Be merciful, Jesus says, even as your Father is merciful. We find the Father's mercy in the gospel! Not in a watered down gospel that mutters generalities about God's love, but in the biblical gospel that is centered in the crucifixion of the Son of God. We must judge all false gospels. Without the true gospel we have no mercy from God, no forgiveness, no life. The words of Jesus, Judge not, are used to forbid us from judging false gospels that would deprive us sinners of the forgiveness of sins. It is for the sake of sinners who suffer under the burden of sin that we must judge between true and false doctrine.
There is no greater distortion of the Holy Scriptures than the popular claim that Jesus’ words against judging forbid us from judging false doctrine. Thank God that in the Fourth Century Athanasius judged the false doctrine of the Arians who denied the true deity of Christ! If Jesus were not true God and true man, he could not be our Savior and we would remain under God’s judgment. Thank God that in the Sixteenth Century Martin Luther judged the false doctrine of the pope who taught that good works are necessary for salvation. If our good works helped to save us then Jesus did not actually suffer fully for all of our sins and God did not really forgive us when Jesus died. Our faith would then be uncertain and we would remain under God’s judgment. All false teaching leads us away from simple trust in the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation given to us in the gospel and sacraments of Christ. All false teaching leads us under judgment.
This is why we must judge and condemn any teaching that attacks the gospel on any point. Jesus warns us about false prophets and false teachers. St. Paul tells us to mark and avoid them. Why? Because there is truth and there is falsehood. The true gospel brings us out from under God's judgment and sets us free. False gospels leave us under God's judgment. The true gospel reveals pure and powerful mercy from a loving Father who saw us in our sin and laid it on his beloved Son, who willingly bore the judgment and the condemnation in our place. The true gospel tells us that in our baptism God has graciously adopted us as his children. In the true gospel, God brings us to repentance by speaking words of pure and boundless love to us in our deepest guilt and shame. We must, and by God's grace we will judge and condemn every false gospel we hear, because we need God's mercy and we live alone by God's mercy. It is only when we have received it that we can begin to understand our Lord's command, “Be merciful, Judge not, condemn not, forgive.” I just observed the forty first anniversary of my ordination. I have learned a few things. One thing I have learned is that people who refuse to judge false teaching have no problem judging their neighbors. They tolerate errors in doctrine but are intolerant of their neighbor’s errors.
Why do we find such pleasure in judging one another? What compels us to condemn each other, to withhold forgiveness from one another? Is it not our own sense of guilt and our own fear of judgment? But we don't remove God's judgment from us when we impute evil motives to our brothers and sisters. We don’t become good when we explain the actions of others in such a way as to make them look bad. The opposite is true. When we stand in judgment of our brothers, when we delight in exposing their sins, we deny the mercy of God. We deny the faith and bring God's judgment on ourselves. The essence of our Christian faith is the mercy of our heavenly Father who, for Christ's sake, has blotted out all our sins. Therefore, the essence of Christian love is to cover up the wrongs of our neighbor, just as God has covered our wrongs by the blood of his Son. What are we doing when we hold grudges, seek out faults, and use ourselves as the standard by which to condemn others? We are rejecting the faith that receives God's mercy. We are rejecting the life that is lived under God's mercy. We are embracing judgment and condemnation.
Are we so concerned about our own good names that we get hot with anger at the thought that people run us down behind our backs, judging, condemning, and putting the worst construction on everything we do? Our reputations are no more valuable than the reputations of those we choose to judge. Or have we forgotten that our only glory is in the crucifixion of the Son of God where Mercy incarnate met and satisfied the demands of divine Justice and brought God’s mercy to this sinful human race?
When the blind leads the blind they both fall into the ditch. You cannot see to judge another when you have a plank in your eye. You must repent. God forgives you for Christ’s sake. By forgiving you he enlightens you. Now you can see. You see your life in light of the light who is Christ. You see mercy. You see forgiveness. You see love. Love does not rejoice in evil. It does not enjoy finding fault. It rejoices in the truth. It finds its greatest joy in the forgiveness of sins.
Do you find yourself judging, condemning, criticizing, blaming, and finding fault? You need a clear conscience. Only God can give it to you. Does your conscience condemn you this morning? Do you feel God's judgment against you? Are you living in sin without repentance, afraid to admit to God that what you are doing is wrong? Do you try to use Jesus' words, “Judge not,” as permission to persist in what you know is wrong? Do you try to appease your accusing conscience by laying judgment on those you think are standing in judgment of you? Look to where all judgment is silenced. See Jesus hanging on the cross bearing God's judgment against you. See God's mercy for you. You cannot turn away God's judgment by standing in judgment of others. But Christ can turn it away. In fact, he has already done so. That is mercy. God gives it to you. You won't lose it when you give it away. You won't expose your own sin when you cover up the faults of your brothers and sisters.
We don't lose by giving. When we give to support the proclamation of the gospel, do we lose what we have given? Never! It is never a loss. How can imitating the mercy of our Father in heaven ever be a loss for us? What do we have that we have not received? And who gave it to us? How could the God who loved us when we were dead in sin and chose in his boundless mercy to erase that sin by the sacrifice of his only begotten Son, leave us destitute when we choose to imitate his mercy? Won't the God who gave us life from death give us everything we need in this life? When his mercy has made us fit for heaven by clothing us in the priceless garments of Christ's righteousness?
Brothers and sisters: we live under mercy. We received mercy when Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, was given to us, making us children of the Father. For Christ's sake we offer forgiveness in the place of judgment and give to our neighbor’s need without considering any loss. This is how our Father in heaven has dealt with us, and we are his children.
Rolf D. Preus