Hazards of Woodworking

Third in a Series on Jesus’ Other Sermon,
Delivered August 15, 1999 by Rev. Jerome D. Cooper

Sermon Text:
Luke 6:37-42
37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will
not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
38 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.”
39 He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will
they not both fall into a pit?
40 A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained
will be like his teacher.
41 “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?
42 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.

I have already been able to share with many of you about my recent trip to Europe, both vacation and study leave. This morning I would like to share one specific incident, probably the most difficult or disturbing incident during my trip. It happened during my week of study leave at L’Abri.

In the second half of my week there, I inherited a new roommate. A middle-aged gentleman, probably in his mid-fifties, approaching sixty. A scientist from the United States. I was in the room for short-term students since I was only there for a week, and he was one of three roommates.

The problem is that right from the start he began to offend and alienate people: by the way he communicated, the way he would tend to monopolize conversations and control them, and always lead them around to where he could talk about how good, successful or talented he was. In many different ways, both in conversation as well as action, he was pushing people away. Alienating them. Even hurting people by rolling right over them.

Soon people began to come to me because L’Abri is mostly young people. People in their early twenties, in college, or right out of high school. And many of them were looking to me as the “old guy” that could possibly do something. Well I didn’t want to do anything for a couple of different reasons, some good, some bad.

First of all, I just didn’t want to get involved. That was probably the bad reason. But you know, on study leave I am not supposed to be a pastor. Now I get to be a student. I am supposed to relax and become renewed as I study. But that wasn’t a good reason.

Another reason why I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved was because whenever you confront somebody about something, you seldom see the whole picture before you go to them. And I didn’t want to go to him in a way that was not right. I wanted to be able to speak the truth before I went to him. That was a good reason.

But there were other motives in there as well. There was, unfortunately, the negative motive or feeling, that it felt good that people thought I was important and that I should be the one to talk to him. There was just a portion of that in me, and I had to recognize it and try to deal with it. But at the same time, I truly wanted to love this person. And I felt that maybe the Lord has placed me as his roommate in this time and this place for me to be able to speak with him.

Well, I ended up speaking with him. But the mix of motives that I experienced shows just how dangerous it is for us to put ourselves in the position of judging or confronting another person. Because even though it might have seemed so clear-cut – although it might have seemed as though “of course, it is the righteous thing to do” – at the same time, I know that my heart is not always pure. And that is part of the problem. When we set ourselves in the place of judging others, we put ourselves in a very dangerous place where it becomes very easy for ourselves to fall into sin as well.

That is the topic of this portion of Jesus’ sermon to his disciples. It is a good warning, because in John it tells us, right after that wonderful verse about how, ‘God so loved that world that he gave his only son, that whoever would believe in him might not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Right after that wonderful promise, it goes on to say in the very next verse that ‘God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.’ So if the modus operandi of Jesus Christ is not to condemn, but to save, how much more should we as his disciples find it difficult, and shy away as much as possible from judging others and condemning them.

If you would, please turn with me to the words of Jesus as we find them in Luke, chapter 6. You can find them on page 729 of your red pew bibles. Beginning at verse 37. Hear the word of the Lord:

“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.”

He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into the 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 not 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 own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

May the Lord add his blessing to this reading from his word. Please join me as we pray:

Lord, we do thank you again for these words of Jesus recorded for us by Luke. And we pray now that by the power of your Holy Spirit at work within us, that we would both understand these words, as well as have the courage to live them. And to allow you to change us more and more into the image of your son. For it is in his name that we pray, Amen.

Let’s begin by looking at the context, and trying to understand the flow of these words of Jesus as the come to us. The first thing we need to remember is what happened last week, in the previous verses. Specifically, the immediate verse right before this. Do you remember the final verse of last week’s passage? “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

We are to be like our Father. And so now in the continuing passage this morning, Jesus gives us more insight into what it means to look, to act, to have a heart like our Father in heaven. And so he begins, “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned.” Remember last week, Jesus overturned reciprocity in the sense of, ‘Don’t love those who love you, anybody does that. Don’t do good to those who do good to you, everybody does that. Don’t lend to someone when you know you are going to get it back.’ He got rid of reciprocity. But here, he re-institutes it, but in a different way. ‘If you judge, you will be judged. If you do not judge, then you will not be judged. ‘If you forgive,’ he says, ‘Then you will be forgiven. If you give, it will be given to you.’ Now what is Jesus saying here?

First of all, who is it that is going to judge me if I judge? Who is going to forgive me if I forgive? Actually, commentators are divided on that. Some people say, it is other people. If you judge other people, they will end up judging you back. And if you forgive others, then they will be more likely to forgive you. And there is some truth to that, isn’t there?

Other commentators say, ‘No, this is something that God does. If we judge others, then we invite God’s judgment upon ourselves. But as we forgive others, we also ask for God’s forgiveness upon ourselves.’ Well actually, the verse right after the phrase about giving shows us who it is that is going to do this for us. It goes on to say, “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.”

The image here is of being in the market, with the merchant weighing out the produce that he is going to give you. Say the grain or the flour – rather than having this fluffy flour that is full of air – is pressed down, shaken together, getting the air out. In fact, running over the top of the measuring cup. In other words, he is giving you far more than you deserve. An abundant extravagance of giving comes to the person who gives. And really, that is the way that God works, isn’t it? Not so often the way that we as people work. And so, I believe that it is God who will pay us back. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. It is God who will do the judging, the condemning, the forgiving, and the giving. But I think that we also need to see that sometimes to do that God will use human agents won’t he? Human instruments. And so in effect although it may be God who gives us back what is coming to us, he might accomplish that in many different ways and many different forms.

Do not judge. Do not condemn. What does that really mean? Actually in the next passage which we will get to next week, Jesus tells us to judge, because he says, “No good tree bears bad fruit. Nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.” So the very first verse of next week’s passage tells us that we are to, in a sense, judge good fruit from bad fruit. Maybe the better word that we might use for that would be that we are to be discerning. We are to discern good from bad. Truth from falsehood. That is part of our calling as Christians.

But what Jesus is speaking against here is judging or condemning, which what that really does is sets us above other people. ‘I see your sin or your faults clearly, so I take it upon myself as the wiser, the more mature, to set you straight.’ That is what it means to be a judge. To condemn. As opposed to forgiving. And actually, the word here isn’t even forgive. The word in Greek that is used for forgive is actually a different word than is normally used. This word means “to release.” In other words, we might translate it, “release others and you will be released.” Now the connotation here is forgiveness. But it has a fuller meaning. Because what do we do when we judge or condemn someone? Don’t we put them in a box? We say, ‘This is you. You are your sin. I condemn you.’ But to release is to say to a person, ‘You are in a box, and I want to help you to be free of that box. I want you to be freed from your prison. And so out of love, I want to do whatever I can to help you be free.’

It means that when we interact with another person, we may recognize something they do as sin, but we need to release people of their past, and even their present. How often do we keep people boxed in by their sin, rather than releasing them to be something new in the future. Releasing them to be all that God desires for them to be. Judgment and condemnation does not release people. They do not help people become all God has created them to be. More often, they just hold people back, because we hold them back.

Moving on through the words of Jesus, Luke says that he told his disciples this parable. “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall in a pit?” You know what I think of when I read this? I think of the time that I was walking beside Bob Summers in Romania. We were strolling down the street and suddenly I saw this hole in the ground. It was just right there. There wasn’t anything covering it. There weren’t barricades or tapes saying construction area. It was just a hole in the ground waiting for somebody to fall in. The point is that they expected you to be looking. To keep your eyes open. In many third world countries today as well as Palestine in the first century, that was the standard practice. You had just better look were you are going. Well, if you are a blind person, you are in trouble. You had better have a guide with sharp eyes. But what if you have a blind person leading a blind person? You have got trouble don’t you? They have no idea that there is a hole waiting to swallow them.

Now who is Jesus talking about here when he talks about a blind person? Well, a blind person here – the one who is trying to lead – seems to be one who is judging and condemning others. Remember that when we judge and condemn others, what we are doing is putting ourselves in a place above them. The best of motives would say, ‘I am trying to lead you in the right direction.’ The problem is that too often we do that leading not from the right vantage point. If we are not in the right place, if we don’t know where we are going, how can we lead someone behind us?

Jesus explains it a little bit more in the next verse where he says, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” We are not above our teacher Jesus Christ. So if Jesus wasn’t about the business of judging and condemning, how much less should we be involved in that business?

But also, let’s talk about Jesus as teacher. What was Jesus teaching? Well, think about the other rabbis. Rabbis specialized in teaching and, as it says, training their disciples. They trained to know the law inside and out. But not only the 613 laws of the Torah, the Old Testament law, but the thousands of oral laws built up around the written law so that people would be safe from not breaking the important law.

They not only trained them about each individual law, but they trained them about what other rabbis said about these laws. And how to judge when a person really is breaking a law, and when they are not. Exactly how far can you walk on the Sabbath without breaking it? At some point there is that step, ‘Oh, you just sinned.’ ‘Can I take it back?’ That is how most rabbis trained their students.

But that is not how Jesus trained them. He didn’t come bringing them a law. Some people view the teachings of Jesus as a new law. That just as Moses brought the law from God to the people in Exodus, so also Jesus is bringing a new law that we are to follow. But Jesus didn’t bring a law. He brought a life.

Disciples of Jesus Christ are not to be seeking to follow this law, and that law, and that law. We are to be seeking to follow the life of Christ. We are to be students of the life of Jesus. And that is so much more than just keeping the law. Because to be like our teacher means that we need to be transformed. It means that we no longer live based on following rules, but we live based on a heart that looks like our Father’s heart. A heart of mercy. A heart of love. A heart of compassion. A heart of forgiveness. A heart of generosity.

The blind person is the person who only sees the law, but doesn’t see the deeper truth that they need to be transformed. And so a person who knows the law inside and out and who tries to help a struggling wanderer, all that person can do is lead the other person to look at the law saying, ‘Hey, this law is what you need to follow.’

But a disciple of Jesus Christ needs to follow the footsteps of Christ, who didn’t say, ‘Look, you need to follow this law.’ He said, ‘You need to follow me.’ The blind will only lead the blind into a pit. The pit called law and legalism. But when we have been transformed, given a new heart and new lives – when we have become like our teacher Jesus – then it is possible to help others. Not out of the sense of legalistic righteousness, but out of the sense of love. Out of sense of seeking to free people to be all that God wants them to be.

Jesus goes on then to give us one more image to explain what he is trying to say. And I am sure this image came from his personal experience as a carpenter who worked with wood. He is talking about that speck of sawdust that gets into your eye. If you have ever had sawdust get into your eye, it hurts doesn’t it? In fact, what is the first thing that you do when you get something like that in your eye? You close your eye, don’t you? You close your eye and it tears up to try to get rid of that speck of sawdust. And if you try to open the eye that has sawdust in it, how well do you see? If you can even get it open, every thing is blurry from the tears.

Well, just imagine that you have a plank in your eye. Obviously, this is a little bit of exaggeration, because if you really had a plank in your eye, you would no longer have an eye. You wouldn’t see anything, period. But the point Jesus is trying to make here is that if we have this blindness, if we have this plank in our eye, then we shouldn’t be worrying about other people’s specks.

Now what is this plank? We all understand the picture, but what is the specific meaning of the plank that Jesus is talking about here? I think that it is the same thing as the blindness. The plank is a legalistic view of the world, rather than a view of the world through a transformed heart. It is a human view of the world, rather than God’s view of the world and of other people. In a sense, you might say that the plank is the absence of something. It is the absence of an understanding of who God has called us to be. And until we remove that plank, the blindness that we have, it does us no good to seek to help another. Because none of us have a pure heart. Everything that we ever do has some sort of mixed motive. And we need to seek God and ask help for him to transform us. Not so that we might then go out and condemn, because a person who has been transformed by Jesus Christ no longer finds any pleasure in the act of judging or confronting another person. A person transformed by Jesus will only challenge another person, will only seek to take the speck out of their eye, out a deep sense of loving humility, and only when called to do so by the Holy Spirit.

Now, after the first worship service today I had many people come to me and ask, ‘Well, what happened with that guy in L’Abri?’ And I said, “You know, that is not really the point. The point isn’t what happened. The point was my heart, and whether I should even be entering into that kind of thing at all.” Now I am happy to report that, at least initially, he received what I said and he modified his behavior in the specific areas where I had pointed out to him that he had been offending and alienating people. But his heart didn’t change. His attitude was still the same. And the night before he left, the third night that he was there, he did something that was once again maybe a little bit outrageous, completely selfish, not caring at all about the community. And I was there to see it. And it made me very upset. And I went for an hour walk in the town down below L’Abri, just praying and thinking, asking the Lord what should I do. And to tell you the truth, this time I really wanted to confront him and say something.

But the Lord spoke to me, not in an audible voice, but the Lord told me, ‘You are not to say anything to him. Your only job from this point on is to pray for him.’ And so although I might have wanted to say something, it would have been for my sake. It would not have been at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It would have been at the prompting of my own need to say something. Which means, I would have fallen into sin if I had gone back to him and tried to confront him – even though I might have spoken a truth he needed to hear.

Now there are many different areas in life where you and I are confronted with this same challenge. And it seems sometimes so right to judge, because you think, “I am on the side of truth.” I have heard people say, ‘Any Christian ought to be able to confront any other Christian about a sin they see.’ I’m not so sure. If we were all perfect, yes. But if we were all perfect, we wouldn’t be confronting each other would we?

If we have the heart of a disciple, then we are not going to desire to confront others. And we are going to ask the Lord to change us if we do have that kind of desire. So let’s look briefly as we close at a couple different places where we may need to learn in this whole area of not judging, but rather releasing and freeing people.

Remember last week we talked about our enemies. Well, an enemy by very definition is a person that we have boxed in because of their sin, because of what they have done to us. So the very first thing that we need to learn is, ‘Don’t judge our enemies.’ But that is the totally natural thing to do isn’t it? But to somehow even see our enemies as people who need to be released from the bondage that they might find themselves in. Not judged. How often did judging a person really help them change? Very seldom. And if it did, it was probably because the Holy Spirit was working overtime, not because of our judgment upon them.

Well how about in the Christian community? Sometimes in a church there is more judging going on than anywhere else. And not the good kind of discerning for their help. But, ‘Oh, can you believe they did that?’ And then we talk about it, and we make it a prayer request. That is not releasing a person. That is tightening the prison they are already in. How do we as a Christian community learn not to judge, not to condemn, but to free people up?

Look at Jesus Christ. Who did he hang out with? He hung out with tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves. He hung out with pretty much anybody. Now you don’t think that he hung out with them in order to condemn them do you? Jesus seemed to have this openness to him. Where just by his love for them and his own releasing and giving – that in and of itself seemed to be enough to convince most people that there was something missing in their lives as they spent time with Jesus. What if we became people like that as a church?

What about families? If there is any place that has more judgement than a church, it is probably the family. Parents judging kids. Kids judging parents. Brother and sisters, husbands and wives, there is plenty to go around. And if you ever needed an example of ‘Don’t judge and you won’t be judged,” or the converse, ‘Judge, and you will be’ – you might find something wrong with your child, but I bet you they can find something wrong with you. You might find something wrong, or maybe even two with your spouse. I bet you they will find three about you. There is plenty to go around.

What a gift to our children to – as they grow – not judge and condemn them in a way that sets ourselves up over them, and places them in a box, but rather in a way that really releases them. Where when we do find it needful to correct, and it happens, that it is not done out of any sense of, ‘You made me look bad, and I am going to get you now,’ or even ‘I am better than you.’ But out of a sense that the Holy Spirit is leading us even to confront our child in a way that is in their best interest.

And before we start blaming our parents for our problems, let’s think about how to release them. Many of us – whether we are young or old – didn’t have perfect parents. None of us did. But rather than holding them captive because of their mistakes in the past, release them. Give to them the love that Christ has given us. And this is especially important between spouses. Husbands and wives. Sometimes the closer it is to home, the easier it is to judge. Yet in that relationship above all, we ought to see, in fact, just the exact opposite. The freedom, the encouragement, the building up of one another to be all we can be.

Expanding this idea a little bit, we can also judge and condemn whole groups of people. It has happened in the past as we have condemned a whole group of people because of an ethnicity or the color of their skin. We see that still happening in the world today, and it is evil.

But look closer to home. How often do we judge a generation. ‘Those boomers! They are so selfish!’ When you say that, you have just condemned, you have just judged, 50 million people, and it didn’t help them. I am a boomer. It didn’t help me. Sometimes we can too easily judge when it is not so personal, but this is still not living out of a heart of mercy, like our Father in heaven.

Finally, often the judgment and condemnation isn’t even directed at other people. Sometimes it is directed inside. Sometimes you and I have a very difficult time accepting the forgiveness of God. We aren’t going to release even ourselves. We have built our own box that we fit in. And we don’t free ourselves from the sins of our past, but we keep re-living them over and over again. Maybe beating ourselves on the back saying, ‘Oh man, I can’t believe I did that.’ Sometimes even years later we will punish ourselves for something that we did that was wrong. And just as we should not be judging and condemning others in that way, we should also not be judging and condemning ourselves. If we have a heart that is transformed by Jesus Christ, if we are becoming more and more like our teacher and master, Jesus Christ, then we will be able to forgive both ourselves and others.

You might have heard it often, but that is because it is true: The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Whenever you and I place ourselves above another person, whenever we approach a sin or a problem in their lives out a sense of, ‘That poor soul. I will condescend to help them out of it,’ rather than out of total humility and understanding that I am in the same place as that person, and any help I can give is not as the greater to the lesser, but it is as a person redeemed by God trying to free another person so that they might also find that same redemption. That is what it means to have a heart of mercy like our Father. May God give us the grace to live as he lived.

Please join me as we pray:
Lord we thank you for these words that you have given to us through the words of your son Jesus Christ. Lord, we pray that you would take our blindness, the plank that we have in our eye, and Lord, that you would remove it as we are transformed into your likeness more and more. Lord, help us not to live out of our desires, our own drives, but let us be controlled by your Holy Spirit. Let us seek in all that we do to truly love. And Lord, we pray that you would give us each day a tremendous sense of your overwhelming grace, your forgiveness that sets us free. For we ask it in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, Amen.