19. Forgiveness over Judgment (Luke 6:37-42)

Gospel Parallels §76
Audio (25:34)

James J. Tissot, 'The Blind in the Ditch' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, 7.6 x 9.8 in., Brooklyn Museum, New York.
James J. Tissot, 'The Blind in the Ditch' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, 7.6 x 9.8 in., Brooklyn Museum, New York.

"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." (Luke 6:37-42, NIV)

When was the last time you were blamed for something you didn't do? Unless you're a hermit, it probably happens pretty often. Family, church members, your teachers, your parents, your boss at work. But I don't think in this passage Jesus was talking about mere garden variety judgment. I think he was speaking of the harsh criticism of his enemies. This passage follows directly after Jesus' instruction to love one's enemies and persecutors. I can't escape the conclusion that Jesus is teaching his disciples from personal experience -- he is dealing with false condemnation from the Pharisees, who were increasingly attending his meetings and spreading criticism about him. Jesus is explaining to his disciples how he himself deals with his enemies. (Luke 19:37-42, NIV)

Judging and Condemning (6:37a-b)

"Do not judge (krinō), and you will not be judged (krinō passive).
Do not condemn (katadikazō), and you will not be condemned (katadikazō passive)" (6:37a-b).

This pair of phrases represents Hebrew synonymous parallelism. Here is what the Greek words mean:

krinō -- a fairly common word, used here as a legal technical term, "judge, decide, hale before a court, condemn," also "hand over for judicial punishment."176

katadikazō -- "condemn, find or pronounce guilty."177

You can't live without making judgments. Children are vulnerable because they don't have the experience to size up a situation and take the wise, safe course of action. As children grow, they encounter a wide variety of circumstances -- hopefully with their parents or teachers nearby to guide them. With experience comes discernment, and with discernment comes greater safety.

What Jesus is talking about here is not the discernment that is necessary to survival. Those are tentative assessments meant to guide our immediate actions. What Jesus is referring to is the outright condemnation and sentencing that we ought to defer to a court of law.

It is dangerous to make pronouncements about people, to slander them to others, to roundly criticize them in public. We run the very real risk of misjudging them. Gossip is one variety of judging without the benefit of cross-examination and hearing from the accused party. Gossip slanders a person's good name with no way for him to defend himself. And all too often, the gossips are wrong. They have taken it upon themselves to state their authoritative opinion about people. In so doing, gossips make themselves liable to the consequences Jesus discusses in this passage.

I wonder if there were any gossips among the disciples? If so, Jesus was putting them on notice that this kind of behavior was unacceptable on his team. But the occasion of Jesus' discussion of this topic, no doubt, was the condemnation of his enemies. Jesus makes it clear: outright judgment of people, and the gossip that follows this, has no place among his disciples. None!178

Forgiving and Giving (Luke 6:37c-38a)

Jesus follows the negative commands with positive ones:

"Forgive (apoluō), and ye shall be forgiven (apoluō passive);
Give (didōmi), and it shall be given unto you (didōmi passive)...." (6:37c-38a)

Notice the Hebrew parallelism again? The first two clauses are synonymous parallelism; they say essentially the same thing. The second two clauses are antithetic parallelism; they state the other side of judging, that is, forgiving and giving. The Greek words used are fairly common:

  • apoluō -- "set free, release, pardon."179
  • didōmi -- "give, grant, bestow, impart."180

The first pair of negative commands tells us disciples not to be judgmental, condemnatory, blaming, faultfinding, critical people. The second pair of positive commands tells us to be forgiving, generous, merciful, gracious, and tenderhearted people.

But some people are naturally critical and negative, you protest. I suppose "natural" could be stretched that far, especially when you take into account our fallen nature. But I would guess that environment has more to do with it than genetics. A judgmental, distrustful, and negative approach is learned behavior. Too often, we learn the wrong lessons from hurts we have suffered. Instead of going to Jesus for healing, we accept bitterness and distrust instead, and go about ever afterward scarred and guarded. Is it natural? Maybe.

But the positive traits of giving and forgiving are definitely spiritual. Jesus has enrolled his disciples in a school of the Spirit designed to teach us love for enemies, forgiveness towards those who hurt us, and generosity rather than selfishness and self-protection. Instead of judging and condemning our enemies, we are to forgive and give to them. And if this is the way we are to treat our enemies, how much more our acquaintances and friends. This is to be an attitude lifestyle for us. And if it doesn't come naturally, we can call on Jesus to retrain us for his service.

Choosing Your Measuring Cup (Luke 6:38b)

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure (metron), pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure (metreō) you use, it will be measured (antimetreō passive) to you." (6:38)

Jesus goes on to talk about the degree of generosity by discussing measures. The key Greek words here are

  • metron -- "'measure,' an instrument for measuring."181
  • metreō -- "measure, give out, deal out, apportion."182
  • antimetreō -- "measure in return."183

When I think about this verse, my memory drifts back to baking cookies on Thursday nights while my parents were at choir practice. Our flour canister had a one cup scoop inside. The sugar canister had a smaller scoop. And the cookie recipes would specify tablespoons of baking powder, teaspoons of salt, quarter teaspoons of almond extract, and 3 drops of yellow food coloring. Very scientific.

What Jesus is saying is that you'll get back what you give out, whether judgment or forgiveness. And, you'll receive it in the proportion that you dispense it. If you dispense forgiveness with a teaspoon, you'll receive back teaspoon portions yourself. If you dispense forgiveness by the bushel basket, you'll be overflowing with it.

The Law of Sowing and Reaping

This a form of the law or principle of sowing and reaping taught elsewhere in the New Testament.

"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)

"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." (Galatians 6:7-8)

The law applies in the natural world -- sow a few seeds, reap a small harvest -- and in the spiritual world -- sow to the sinful nature, reap destruction, sow to the Spirit and reap eternal life. It applies with judgmentalness and forgiveness. It also applies with giving and receiving. We are taught to be generous.

Have you ever wondered why you struggle at the upper edge of poverty? It may have to do with your stinginess about giving financially towards God. If it is true -- and I find every reason to believe it is, based on 2 Corinthians 9:6 and Luke 6:38 -- that God gives to us in relation to how we give to him, then stinginess will be rewarded with little financial blessing, and generosity will be rewarded with great financial blessing. You can see the same principle related to tithing:

"'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,' says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 3:10-11)

When you read this in context, you see that people had been shorting God, not bringing the whole tithe to the temple as their offering. They skimp, I guess, because they feel they need it more than God. After all, God the King was wealthy and they are just getting by. So they bring him less than the 10% that is his due as King (see 1 Samuel 8:15, 17). Because they are stingy toward God, they are living under a curse. Pretty scary!

After the exile, the some of the Israelites returned to the Holy Land and began to rebuild. But they faced very difficult times economically.

"Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 'Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?'

Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.'

This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,' says the Lord. 'You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?' declares the Lord Almighty. 'Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands.'" (Haggai 1:3-11)

Pretty harsh, it seems. But that's this same kind of law of sowing and reaping in effect.

Pressed Down, Shaken Together, Overflowing

Neglect God, skimp on giving toward him, and our whole enterprise becomes shaky. But give toward him, put him first, honor him with the firstfruits of your earnings, and he will bless you economically. Now, let's look again at Jesus' promise in our passage:

"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." (6:38)

When my mom trained me to bake cookies, I was taught to sift the flour, scoop it carefully into a measuring cup, and gently scrape off the pile of flour at the top of the cup until it was level. That is the way to measure flour to have a light, airy cookie. But there is another way: fill the measuring cup with flour, then shake it, tamp it down until it's level. Wrong! Then your cookies are heavy and glucky! Why? Too much flour. It's brown sugar you press down to measure it.

Notice Jesus' method of measuring out blessing to us in response to our giving -- generous measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over! It's the very picture of generosity. But observe carefully: Jesus teaches us that we will receive with the same measure we use to give. In the phrase "it will be measured to you" the word used is antimetreō, the word for measure with the preposition anti- prefixed to it. The prefix anti here means "instead of, in place of," indicating exchange, requital, reciprocity.184 It carries the idea of measuring and measuring back, giving and reciprocal giving, paying and repaying.

You've probably heard the saying, "You can't out-give God." I believe that is literally true. It is true in the natural realm, in the financial realm, and in the spiritual realm. Part of our fear of tithes and offerings, part of our stinginess, is based on unbelief, that if we give it to God, it is gone and we won't have it. Jesus and the Apostle Paul teach the opposite: that if we give to God, we will receive it again, but this time packed down, shaken together, and overflowing -- more than we gave.

Don't get me wrong. I am not teaching that good Christians are wealthy, and that poverty is proof that we don't have faith. What I am saying is that, when we learn to give generously to God we open up a new area of blessing for ourselves.

When I was in seminary, one of my professors, Dr. C. Peter Wagner, taught us about the phenomenon that missiologists called "redemption and lift." When people become Christians they tend to improve economically. They stop the kinds of self-destructive and wasteful lifestyles that have bled them economically, and they start to receive God's economic blessings. The second generation of Christians will be markedly better off economically than their non-Christian neighbors. Here's an example of the law of sowing and reaping with clear economic consequences.

Of course, in Jesus' teaching in Luke, he isn't talking about giving to the work of the Lord, even though the principles on which he bases his teaching are the same ones of Sowing and Reaping.

Back to the Context

In the context of the passage we are studying in Luke, Jesus is talking about judging enemies, forgiving enemies, and lending to enemies. When he says give and it will be given to you, however, he isn't saying that if you give to your enemies they will give back to you. To the contrary. We aren't to expect them to return our generosity (6:35). But God will give it back and more. It's part of the paradox of the Beatitudes:

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied." (Luke 6:20-21a)

Be faithful to obey me, Jesus is teaching his disciples, and you will surely be repaid. Maybe not now, but in the future -- fully, completely, overwhelmingly. Be faithful, for the reward will surely come. In generosity toward our enemies, too, we can't out-give God. We can only hope to emulate his abundant mercy and grace to his own enemies.

The Blind Leading the Blind (Luke 6:39-40)

In verses 39 and 40 there seems to be a shift. In the previous verses, Jesus has been teaching his disciples how they are to respond to their enemies. But now he seems to focus on the prejudices that are within the disciples themselves, not just in Jesus' enemies.

"He also told them this parable: 'Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?'"(6:39)

In another instance, Jesus has referred to the Pharisees as "the blind leading the blind" (Matthew 15:14) He may have them in mind here in Luke as he admonishes his own disciples. Here Jesus seems to be saying: If you follow the teachings of the spiritually blind Pharisees, then you'll fall into the same traps that they fall into. In verse 40, however, Jesus seems not to refer to the Pharisees and their disciples, but to himself and his own disciples (compare Matthew 10:24-25):

"A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher." (6:40)

It's as if he were saying, listen carefully and don't think you know it all. If you want to be able to judge and discern accurately, you need to be fully trained by me and undergo a spiritual change of heart.

Sawdust and Eye Timbers (Luke 6:41)

Now he moves to a fascinating parable about seeing and judging accurately. You've had a speck in your eye, of course. It is annoying, makes your eye water, and affects your ability to look at anything else very long, since your eye is so irritated. Sometimes you need to ask another person to get the speck out. They have to get your head in a position with enough light for them to see. Finally, they can see what you're feeling and remove it. Specks are so small.

Now Jesus uses hyperbole to take this common experience and push it to a humorous extreme. One person with a beam, plank, or timber in his eye is trying to see to remove a speck from someone else's eye. "You hypocrite," Jesus says, "first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (6:42b). If you don't have a sense of humor, you won't be able to understand this. But Jesus was obviously enjoying this bizarre picture, and uses it to make a point.

Seeing Clearly (Luke 6:42)

The point is this: until we take the time to deal with our own sins and weaknesses, we're in no position to help someone else get rid of sin in his own life. The reason we're in no position to help is that we can't see clearly. The Pharisees were the self-appointed correctors of everyone else in society. But though they scrupulously kept the letter of the oral interpretation of the Law, too often they missed the spirit or purpose of the Law. On other occasions he rebuked them sharply for their hypocrisy:

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices -- mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law -- justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel." (Matthew 23:23-24)

Here's the camel compared to a gnat, just as the beam is compared to a speck. Jesus' point is that the accusers' sins are much greater than the sins they see in others. They just don't "get" it.

Psychologists have a term for this kind of distortion in perception. They call it "projection," where you project onto others your own sins and weaknesses. It works this way. A person struggling with sexual temptation, for example, will loudly and harshly denounce someone else who has fallen in that area. In the 1990s, a prominent televangelist harshly denounced another televangelist for the latter's sexual failures. A few months later, it came out that the first televangelist was struggling with his own temptations. The result of trying to correct someone else's failings without dealing first with your own is a harshness and judgmental character that is unchristlike -- and ineffective in producing change in the other person. Certainly we are not to close our eyes to sin in the Body of Christ, especially by leaders (1 Timothy 5:19-20), but we are to not to rush to judgment. We are to look with eyes of mercy and forgiveness, quick to redeem and come to the aid of a fallen brother, rather than to stomp on him further.

Jesus doesn't say we aren't to help our brothers and sisters get rid of their irritating and debilitating sins. But we are to deal with our own glaring sins first, so we can see to help them, rather than overreact.

Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.

In this passage that deals with harshness and judgmentalness, we disciples are commanded to first deal with our own sins, including our judgmental gossip. Then we can have an attitude of love and forgiveness for others who are struggling. Indeed, an attitude of forgiveness and generosity toward others is an essential mark of one who has been forgiven (Matthew 6:14-15).


Father, to see clearly I must be able to discern and deal with my own flaws and weaknesses and sins. Please help me not to avoid this eye surgery that you wish to perform on me. But help me to trust you to be gentle and not hurt me in the process, that I, in turn, might be gentle with others and not injure them when you seek to use me. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verse

"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." (Luke 6:38)


Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions that follow -- your choice.

  1. Jesus says, "Don't judge." But we have to make judgments every day in order to survive. What kind of judging does Jesus forbid in this passage?
  2. What do giving and forgiving have in common?
  3. How does Jesus' teaching encourage his disciples to be generous?
  4. What is Jesus' point about the parable of the speck and the plank?


Abbreviations and References

[176] Krinō, BAGD 453-454.

[177] Katadikazō, BAGD 410.

[178] .See my article: "Coming to Grips with Gossip" https://www.joyfulheart.com/maturity/gossip.htm

[179] Apoluō, BAGD 96.

[180] Didōmi, BAGD 192-193.

[181] Metron, BAGD 515.

[182] Metreō, BAGD 514.

[183] Antimetreō, BAGD 75.

[184] Anti, see Thayer 49-50.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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