Some sayings of Jesus accumulate such controversy over time that we struggle to see the original point. Read this passage with fresh eyes:
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you”(Luke 6:37-38).
There is a “go out of your way” kindness in these verses. Jesus is encouraging us to disrupt our natural way of dealing with others by erring on the side of kindness.
When Jesus says “judge not,” he’s not saying that we shouldn’t make decisions or interpretations (see John 7:24). He’s also not saying that there is never a time when a behavior is wrong—and should be called wrong. After all, Jesus himself does this (Matt 23:2-36).
Jesus is addressing a spirit we have all observed. It is harsh and swift to condemn others. It is a fault-finding, critical spirit. It is a desire to appear better than others. It holds others to an unfair standard that we know we don’t live up to ourselves. It critiques in others what we excuse in ourselves. It borders on glee when we discover wrong in others.
This is the reason Jesus links judging with condemning and forgiveness (“judge not…condemn not…forgive…give”). These are two paths—the path that longs to judge and the path that longs to forgive. Jesus is urging his followers to have a generosity of spirit with others: “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you”(Luke 6:38).
Consider where this takes us. It means kindness with the mistakes our spouses and children make. It means patience with the missteps, annoyances, and sins of our fellow Christians. It means gentleness when considering those who do not serve Jesus and compassion when their sin worsens. It means giving far more than what others deserve because we have received so much we have not deserved—from God and others.
Jesus warns his disciples about the difficulty they are going to face during his arrest and crucifixion. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers”(Luke 22:31-32). The process of sifting wheat involves shaking (and sometimes throwing) the wheat around to separate the good wheat from the useless chaff. Just as he did with Job, Satan has asked for permission to bring hardship into the disciples’ lives to test their commitment to God.
Modern disciples experience this too. We endure discouraging situations that test our faith. Jesus’ words can help us.
You can get back up. Jesus implies that the disciples will fail—he will shortly tell Peter that he will deny him—yet there is still hope. “When you have turned again, strengthen your brothers”(Luke 22:32). “Turn again” is a fascinating word that is used repeatedly in Scripture to describe a physical change in direction. Here it is a metaphor for turning back to Jesus after disappointment. Later Peter even uses this word to invite his fellow Jews to repent and follow Jesus (Acts 3:19). Jesus understands that we will not be perfect in our service, but he wants us to get back up when we fall down. The tragedy is when we become so overwhelmed by our mistakes that we quit serving Jesus (the path of Judas).
Jesus intervenes for you. Satan has asked for the disciples, yet Jesus tells them, “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail”(Luke 22:32). Jesus doesn’t pray for them to avoid hardship. He prays that they will have faith to endure it and to recover from it. I cannot say definitively that Jesus prays for each one of us when we go through difficulty, but I can say that Jesus knows what we endure and that he does not leave us to face such troubles (and their architect, Satan) alone (Heb 13:5-6).
Your brothers can help you. Jesus gives this work specifically to Peter: “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers”(Luke 22:32). Jesus anticipates that Peter will come out of this experience with his faith intact. He wants Peter to keep an eye out for his brothers and encourage them. Sometimes what we need most is not answers to all of our questions, but someone to walk the difficult path alongside us. Jesus wants his disciples to be there for each other. This desire has not changed.
Perhaps most amazing is that Jesus then gives to Peter—the one who has just denied him—the work of encouraging others not to deny him! When we have been sifted like wheat, we are often better equipped to help others through similar trials.
It is refreshing that Jesus does not give up on his disciples just because they fail him in moments of trial. There is still hope!
How does God look at people? Jesus shares the divine perspective: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”(Matt 6:26). God takes care of birds, but people are worth more than birds. God takes care of people because every person matters.
He later mentions birds again: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows”(Matt 10:29-31). Sparrows are small and unimportant, yet God sees and provides for them. Jesus assures us that we are worth more than many sparrows. God knows every person down to the level of the number of hairs on our heads—better than we even know ourselves. Every person matters to God.
That also means that God cares about each person finding their way back to him. “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray”(Matt 18:12-13). The shepherd goes after every sheep because every sheep matters. The fact that he has other sheep in the flock doesn’t diminish the value of that one. Every person matters.
Every person matters. Rich people matter and poor people matter. Black lives matter and white lives matter. Male people matter and female people matter. American lives matter and Chinese lives matter. Nothing about the quality of our lives, the choices we make, or the circumstances we live in affects the fact that every person matters.
Know this about yourself. You matter. Your life has innate value because you were created in the image of God. Don’t allow other people—with their labels, expectations, and criticisms—to blur the truth of this fact about you.
Know this about others. Other people matter—even when I disagree with them, dislike them, resent them, or have been hurt by them. Don’t allow the occasional unpleasantness of your interactions with others obscure the fact that they matter.
Emulate Jesus’ compassion. If people matter this much to God, we should treat them with dignity and respect. We should work to understand their perspective, relate to their hurts and needs, and work to be a blessing to them—like Jesus. Our ultimate goal is to be a bridge toward them reconciling to God.
If every person matters, then every person should matter to me.
The “rat race”—that fixation on work and trying to get ahead financially and socially to the neglect of all else—seems like a modern phenomenon. It is not. Jesus himself addresses obsession with money and possessions, storing up treasures, business expansion, and retirement. What does Jesus say about the rat race that can help modern disciples?
The rat race is hollow. Jesus warns us that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”(Luke 12:15). He then tells the story of a farmer whose fields produce so plentifully that he decides to start new construction. Once they are complete, he has plans: “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry’”(Luke 12:19). Yet he dies that night and all his “ample goods” go to another. Are our lives merely intended for us to collect a lot of stuff for ourselves, then turn it over to someone else? Solomon is right to declare this “vanity”; Jesus says there is more to life than this.
The rat race is shortsighted. Focusing on work, money, and status means not considering the future after this life. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”(Matt 6:19-21). The problem with focusing on earthly things is that they are subject to earthly problems. They fade or we lose them or we die. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you”(John 6:27). Jesus is not teaching us not to work for physical food; he is challenging us not to focus on food when we will just need to eat again tomorrow. Jesus urges us to look primarily toward eternal purposes.
The rat race breeds anxiety. Jesus doesn’t want his disciples to be anxious: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”(Matt 6:25). It is possible to live in constant anxiety about how we’re going to take care of ourselves and our families. It is possible to obsess about careers and plans and retirements. The problem is that we worry about these things foremost and leave God’s things for our spare time and energy. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”(Matt 6:33). When we must provide for ourselves, we grow anxious; when we seek God first and trust him to provide, we gain peace.
None of this is to say that work is bad. Disciples of Jesus are workers (Eph 4:28, 1 Thess 4:11-12, Acts 20:34). The danger is that we lose context and begin to think that our work is deserving of all of our energy, time, and attention. We define ourselves by it. We think it is the key to validation and success and enjoyment. Jesus calls us back to center: seek God first. Lay up treasure in heaven. Go after the food that will endure.
There is more to our lives than our careers. Look ahead!
Jesus teaches his disciples in a wide variety of ways.
Jesus praises. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven”(Matt 16:17). He praises Mary (more than once), the faith of the centurion (Luke 7:9), and the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matt 15:28). Praise is a way of encouraging attitudes and actions that align with God’s.
Jesus rebukes. “Bet behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but the things of man”(Matt 16:23). Even after his confession, Peter makes a serious mistake. Rebukes teach us when we are out of step with the Father.
Jesus warns. “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness”(Luke 12:15). “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy”(Luke 12:1). Jesus wants his disciples aware of the dangers present in everyday situations and the spiritual effects of our relationships.
Jesus heals. “And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God”(Luke 13:13). Many of those Jesus heals praise God; some become disciples. The blessing of healing is intended not merely to help, but to begin a new phase of a relationship with God.
Jesus reinterprets events. After Peter walks on the water (and begins to sink), Jesus questions him: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”(Matt 14:31). What appeared to be a spectacular event actually has spiritual dimensions. Following Jesus means learning to see life with spiritual eyes, framing all things as part of the great battle between God and Satan.
Jesus challenges. “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’”(Mark 10:21). Very often Jesus confronts our greatest weaknesses and idols (see Luke 9:57-62). He calls disciples to full surrender.
Jesus promotes introspection. “And as they were eating, he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’”(Matt 26:21-22). I believe that Jesus’ statement is intended to get the reaction it does. “Pay attention to yourselves!”(Luke 17:3). Jesus wants us to thoughtfully apply his words to ourselves.
There are probably other ways we could detail from Jesus’ teaching. But the question is: what is Jesus teaching you this week? While not physically present with us, Jesus continues to work with his disciples. What lessons and methods is he working on with you right now? For me, I see him developing patience in me (mostly by me having to wait). I receive from him the blessing of seeing growth in myself and my family. I see the need for balance and perspective as I am easily angered and distracted. All of these growth areas and spiritual challenges are part of the work he is doing in me.
Jesus teaches his disciples in a wide variety of ways. What is he teaching you this week?