You don’t have to answer, but I wonder if any of you groaned a bit during the Gospel. We heard everyone’s favorite two-word Bible verse. Not, “Jesus wept,” but “Judge not.” That has to be the most hackneyed phrase from all of Holy Scripture. Especially if we as Christians have attempted to discuss anything in the public sphere over the last few years, all we have heard shouted back at us are the twin phrases of “tolerance” and “judge not.” To the world, those two things go hand-in-hand. To them, it’s their trump card—“You can’t say a thing about what I’m doing because your own Bible says ‘Judge not!’ Jesus tells you that you must tolerate whatever I’m doing!” The sad thing is that this common understanding of Jesus’ own Words are so far off the mark of what He meant. As we unpack what Jesus really said, we will see that today’s Gospel is instruction in Christian living as the Body of Christ.
A part of today’s instruction in Christian life is the “Golden Rule”—do unto others as you would have done unto you. What are we told? “For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” In other words, the way you treat others is the way they’re going to treat you. If you’re confrontational and judgmental and rude, don’t be taken aback when they act the same way toward you. On the flip side, if you’re polite and caring and looking out for your neighbor’s good, chances are that same behavior will be given back to you. This is the basis for the godly quietness for which we asked God in the Collect. Treating others with respect means you will get respect. Not always, but generally speaking, you will.
But what about this phrase “judge not?” Does that mean that living together in Christian community means you cannot and must not ever say something to your neighbor about their lifestyle and conduct? Absolutely not! How did Jesus end the Parable about the log and the speck? “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Jesus didn’t say “Ignore your brother’s sin.” Jesus didn’t say “Keep your thoughts to yourself.” He said, ‘Repent first, ask for grace to live a godly life, and then in love and concern, help your neighbor.’
While many may feel that being talked to for their sin is the height of hatred and disdain—if you really loved me, you’d keep your thoughts to yourself because what I’m doing makes me happy—it really is the height of love and concern. If you see a brother or sister engaging in an activity that is harmful, isn’t it better to speak to them to save them? If you know someone is about to trip and fall on an obstacle they can’t see and you let them do it, is that love and tolerance or is that hatred and apathy? Love is stopping them before they get hurt. How do you think they would feel if they found out you knew they were going to trip and did nothing? It’s the same way with sin. If you see someone engaging in something that Scripture has clearly forbidden and says is harmful to faith, is it really love to turn away and pretend you didn’t see anything? Is it love to let a person endanger their eternal life all for earthly comfort?
But isn’t talking to them judging? Isn’t it condemning? Jesus said not to judge or condemn! You’re right about what He said, but not how you’re understanding it. The word for judge does not mean to tell someone their behavior is harmful. Judging someone means putting yourself in God’s position and judging that person as guilty and deserving of eternal damnation. We are not called to judge. That is God’s job. Remember what you’re about to confess: Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. You can warn someone that Scripture says their behavior or attitude is threatening to their faith, but you can’t tell them that they are damned. That’s not your job.
Your job is to walk with them in Christian love. Walking with them in Christian love means acknowledging the log in your own eye—that you are under the same condemnation as the person you’re helping. Your sins have merited the same condemnation and punishment. Remember: “With the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” If you lovingly confront your brother or sister from a loving heart, concerned for their temporal and eternal wellbeing, their response will be much better than if you come in as if you have no sin of your own. This means telling them “I’m not perfect. I’m a poor, miserable sinner. I sin in ways I know and ways I don’t know. But I’m worried about you. I see that you’re struggling with your sin. I do, too. Come with me, confess with me, hear Jesus’ Word of absolution with me. I’m here to walk alongside you. The Holy Spirit will help us fight the temptation. He will help us battle Satan and do those things that are pleasing to God.”
That doesn’t mean the conversation will be easy or that it will go well. You may have a very offended person standing across from you. But Jesus has not called us to look out for our own comfort, or keeping the family peace at all costs, or something like that. He has called us to be faithful witnesses of the truth we heard last week: Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost. He came to save His people from their sin. He came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. When we lovingly speak to our brother or sister caught in sin, we’re doing so because we want them to enjoy those gifts that Jesus has come to give. And, we want them to do the same for us. We want someone to love us enough to tell us when we’re in danger.
This Christian love and concern for one another comes from the One who stepped in when we were not just in danger, but were dead in our trespasses. Remember what Jesus said: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” We have a heavenly Father who is merciful, who loved us enough to pull us back from the edge, from our plummet into eternal death. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pull the logs and specks of sin from our eyes. He fulfilled this word perfectly when we did not. He did not judge or condemn those who sentenced Him to death. He was merciful when no one was merciful to Him. He gave freely, gave His all, and gave His life that your life be spared. He shed His Blood so that you be forgiven.
He gave freely, He gave His all, He gave His life that your life be spared. And therein lies true forgiveness. For Christ alone brings true forgiveness. Even of those who put Him to death He prayed “Father, forgive them…” And as your Advocate with the Father, that is what He prays for you. That is what He won for you. Giving Himself, truly unselfish and in consuming concern not for Himself but for you, He shed His Blood that you be forgiven.
Forgiven in Christ, Baptized into His death and resurrection, and filled with His Holy Spirit, your faith finds its expression in extending the love of God shown to you to those around you. Faith sees others clearly and helps you explain everything in the kindest way, for their good. It won’t be easy to do, but you have the Holy Spirit giving you the words to say and comfort in the difficult times. Christian living as the Body of Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit, one we pray He would give us all in great measure. May He be with us always to help us to live as He has taught, loving both great and small, and living in peace with our neighbor.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.