(A) Introduction (Read the passage.)

It does not seem to me that the three great lessons in this passage are dealt with by the various commentators with any degree of enthusiasm. Indeed, unless I am particularly unfortunate, the commentaries I have on Luke's gospel are strangely muted compared to, for example, the commentaries I possess on John.

(B) The law of reciprocity.

This law is stated in verse 38: "For with what measure you use, it will be measured to you." Or to put it another way: "As you dish it out, it will be dished out to you."

This is true for:

(1) Judgment.

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned." v37.

(a) Jesus is not prohibiting us from making judgments. We need to be discerning and discriminating in many different ways. When I was a schoolteacher I needed discernment when it came to selecting the school cricket team, deciding what level to enter my pupils at GCSE Geography and writing reports. My students did not reciprocate these judgments!

(b) Jesus is probably telling us to be careful about two things:

    • Making final judgments

    • Having a critical spirit

Final judgments can rankle! I had an e-mail a few weeks ago from an old pupil. This is part of what he wrote: 'Mr X (one of Debenham High School's illustrious band of teachers) once predicted during one of our formal chats that I had no friends and would become nothing. I am now nearing the end of a degree in ecology, have served with the Ipswich constabulary as a special constable and achieved national awards in my chosen profession.' To tell a pupil that he will come to nothing is a final judgment. It is very foolish to write someone off!

A critical spirit is one of the besetting sins of religious people. The Pharisees were highly censorious. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath the Pharisees were on him like a ton of bricks. We know that of all the groups that existed in Judea it was the Pharisees that attracted Jesus' fiercest criticism! They were condemnatory and ended up being condemned by the friend of publicans and sinners.

In March 2008 Eliot Spitzer, Governor of New York, had to resign for using expensive prostitutes belonging to the Emperor's Club. Spitzer built his career on being a sanctimonious and moralistic crusader against crime and unethical Wall Street behaviour. He was known as the Sheriff of Wall Street. When news of his embarrassment broke it was greeted by cheers on Wall Street. Peter King, a Republican Assemblyman from Long Island said: "He has to step down. No one will stand with him. I never try to take advantage or gloat over a personal tragedy. However this is different. This is a guy who is so self-righteous, and so unforgiving." Spitzer discovered experimentally the truth of the words: "For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

If we are non-critical and think the best of people; if we concentrate on a person's good points and delight in these - it is likely that we will be treated with generosity. I taught for a time with two ladies -Ros and Es - who would much rather praise than blame. They were both encouraging and appreciative. Ros and Es were highly esteemed by pupils, parents and even their colleagues! It is a crying shame that in church circles some Christians find so little to commend in others. My friend Henry, our church treasurer for many years, was not like that. When I visited him and criticised a member of our congregation he was always uncomfortable but when I spoke well of a mutual acquaintance his face shone with pleasure and he was quick to agree with everything I said.

(2) Forgiveness.

"Forgive and you will be forgiven." v37.

A forgiving person will be forgiven much. During my years as a schoolteacher I forgave my pupils much. I suppose they might query this! But the truth is I didn't allow a student's idleness, fecklessness, thoughtlessness and rudeness affect my relationship with him - or her - in the long term. And I have to admit that my pupils forgave me much - moodiness, shocking outbursts of bad temper and many errors of judgment. A school, like the family, is a place of mutual forgiveness. If a teacher has a grudge against a child or a child has a grudge against a teacher then the outcome may be disastrous.

Christians need to be reminded frequently how important it is to forgive. I came across this story in the Biblical Illustrator. In the early Middle Ages, when the Baron's ruled the land, one of the great Earls longed to revenge himself on a neighbour who had offended him. On learning that his enemy was due to pass near to his castle with only a few men at arms with him he decided to arrange an ambush. He spoke of his plans in the presence of his chaplain. The chaplain did his best to dissuade the Earl from his intention but to no avail. In the end the chaplain managed to persuade his Lord to attend chapel and pray with him before carrying out his plan. The Earl and chaplain knelt together. The chaplain said, "My Lord will you repeat after me the prayer Jesus taught his disciples." The Earl agreed. The chaplain said a sentence and the Earl repeated it until he came to the petition: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us." The Earl could not go on. He said, "I cannot repeat those words." The chaplain said to him, "My Lord you must either give up your revenge, or give up saying this prayer; for to ask God's pardon as you pardon others is to invite God's condemnation for all your sins. Go now and attack your enemy but risk God's wrath on the Day of Judgment." After a pause the Earl said, "I will finish my prayer. My God, my Father, pardon me; forgive me, as I desire to forgive him who has offended me; lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil. Amen."

Jesus made it abundantly clear in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant how seriously God treats unforgiveness in those who themselves have been forgiven their sins through faith in the sacrifice Jesus made for sin.

(3) Generosity

"Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap."

This is true in lots of ways:

    (a) In farming and gardening. I try to grow delphiniums. My delphiniums only grow half as high and have about a quarter of the flowering heads as those of my friend Peter Webb. Peter's delphiniums win prizes at flower shows! What explains the difference? For years Peter has improved his soil with cartloads of muck. He has fed his delphiniums - I haven't.

    (b) In the work place. A generous employer like John Lewis that operates a profit sharing policy is likelier to have happier and more productive workers than a penny-pinching employer.

    (c) The teachers who get most from their students are those who give most in terms of lesson preparation, enthusiastic delivery, help and encouragement.

    (d) In Human relationships. My mother was a warm, cheerful and hospitable woman. I can remember a Mr Goad conducting a mission in the neighbouring village of Rede. He lived in a caravan and preached in a tent! Every day for a week he walked the two miles from Rede to Brockley and had dinner or tea with us and chatted to my mother. She had her reward! Mr Goad sang her praises wherever he went! If he met my mother at a special meeting he would shower her with compliments. My mother loved a little appreciation but I think she got almost too much from Mr Goad!

(C) Qualifications count.

"He also told them this parable: "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?" v39.

(1) Some qualifications are essential for success.

    (a) A blind man needs a guide that can see. There is something pitiable about a blind man leading another blind man. The thought of two blind men ending up in a ditch doubtless made Jesus' listeners chuckle but it is really a very sad picture. A blind man is better off with a seeing dog than another blind man!

    (b) For a doctor to successfully treat an illness it is important to understand what causes it. Before the twentieth century and the scientific revolution doctors were in the same position as the blind leading the blind. I find it incredibly sad to read of the treatments that sick people had to endure in the early 19th century. Patients were bled, blistered, dosed with mercury or arsenic - all of which made them worse rather than better.

    (c) If a person pronounces on a subject he should know something about it - otherwise it is a case of the blind leading the blind.

    William Barclay uses this illustration of uninformed criticism in his commentary on Matthew's gospel: In his autobiography Gilbert Francau tells how in Victorian days his mother's house was a salon where the most brilliant people met. His mother arranged for the entertainment of her guests. Once she engaged a young Australian soprano to sing. After she had sung, Gilbert Frankau's mother said, "What an appalling voice! She ought to be muzzled and allowed to sing no more!" The young singer's name was Nellie Melba.

    I am afraid that people are very prone to make pronouncements about what they know nothing about. There are few subjects that attract ill informed comment like Christianity. Last year Andrew O Hagan wrote a malign piece in the Daily Telegraph in which he accused Evangelicals of cruelly mistreating their wives. Now, I know lots of Evangelical Christians and although they are not without their weaknesses mistreating their wives is not one of them. Most Christian ladies I know are quite strong minded and wouldn't stand for it! So where does O Hagan get his information from? I can only conclude that he makes it up. It is a case of the blind leading the blind.

    Some Christians fall into the trap of speaking about what they know very little about. I am very sorry that many Creationists suggest that there is evidence outside the Bible that the earth is very young. Anyone who is well grounded in Geology, Geomorphology and Meteorology knows that this is poppycock. There is abundant evidence that the earth is old. A serious study of the stratigraphy of the British Isles shows conclusively that the earth is millions of years old. Speakers with a smattering of knowledge who address audiences desperate for the Scientists to be proved wrong are blind men leading the blind toward the ditch of obscurantism.

(2) A description of the teacher, pupil relationship.

"A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher." v40.

This statement of Jesus reminds us of three things:

    (a) A humble student will respect his teacher and accept that he doesn't know as much as his teacher. It may be difficult for a pupil to realise the extent of a teacher's knowledge. Sometimes a boy or a girl would ask me if I had passed GCSE Geography. When I said that this was an elementary qualification and I had studied to a much higher level my words were treated with considerable scepticism.

    The Christians at Corinth made the mistake of thinking they were very advanced and knew as much if not more than Paul. The little apostle wrote and told them: Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly - mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 1Cor3v1and2. See exposition on 1Cor3v1to9.

    Paul was not respected by the Corinthian Christians and it hindered their development. An ignorant and arrogant attitude to our Christian teachers will arrest our growth to maturity.

    (b) It should be the aim of every teacher to bring his pupils up to his own standard. No teacher should hold anything back, jealousy guard his status or hinder in any way the advancement of a pupil. The best teachers want their pupils to equal, and then excel them, in learning. I wonder if this is true for every pastor? Are pastors keen to bring on eager young members of their congregation so that they can share in the ministry of the word? It seems to me that many pastors are determined to keep the bulk of preaching to themselves. Their pulpits are not for sharing!

    (c) The standard a pupil reaches depends considerably on the quality of teaching he or she receives. These days it is possible to educate yourself. Anyone wanting to be a Bible scholar has innumerable books to help him. But I still think a good teacher makes a difference! It is certainly true in music, ballet, football and acting. I suspect it is also true for Biblical understanding and pastoring. I am sure that C.H.Spurgeon's wonderful lectures to his students played an immense part in preparing them for the ministry. Thank God for a good teacher!

(D) True Judgement.

(1) True judgement is impossible if our vision is distorted.

"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?" v41.

There are four planks that distort our vision and make for poor judgement:

    (a) Bias

    Nowhere is the pernicious influence of bias better shown than on BBC's 'Match of the Day.' When two rival managers are asked to give their opinion on a controversial penalty one will say that it was 'never a penalty' and the other will affirm that 'the ref got it right'. It is hard to believe that the managers are discussing the same incident such is their judgment distorted by the plank of bias.

    Bias plays a huge part in human relationships. I noticed during my career as a teacher that male colleagues who were liked by female members of staff could get away with sexist behaviour but woe betide a man who was disliked if he acted in the same way. Some woman used sexism as a club to threaten the men they disliked.

    Choices of all sorts and at different levels are adversely affected by bias. It was always interesting to watch children pick up sides for a game - football or netball. Very rarely did children pick their side purely on the basis of ability. They tended to pick their friends first. Near the end of the process a little group of oddballs and misfits were left whom no-one wanted to select. The wise teacher intervened before this point was reached and allocated the last half-dozen or so to one team or the other. The same sort of thing happens at job interviews. If the selection panel don't like you it is very improbable that you will get the job even though you might be the best qualified to do it. I find it significant that tall and distinguished looking men are more likely to be promoted than short, ugly ones. I write with feeling!!

    Christians need to be very careful that the plank of bias does not distort their judgment when decisions are made on church appointments. I am very much afraid that a man will be chosen to be pastor or church secretary or deacon because they are liked rather than because they are capable.

    (b) Prejudice

    It is almost too easy to illustrate the pernicious influence of this plank.

    I have just finished reading the biography of Elizabeth Blackwell the first woman to qualify as a medical doctor. She encountered dreadful prejudice as she tried to make her way in a man's world. Elizabeth Blackwell experienced prejudice in male doctors, the general public and, in particular, other women. She was not considered up to the job simply because she was female.

    Many people are prejudiced against dirt! I read many years ago of a prominent evangelist's wife who reckoned she could always tell what a man was like from the state of his fingernails. How ridiculous! My fingernails are fairly clean because I do the washing up! In school there would always be a few rather shabby, grubby girls. They tended to be ostracised and called names like: smelly, fleas or slag. It was generally assumed that these girls were both 'thick' and sexually promiscuous. In the 1960's I read about super tramps in America by W.Davies. He said that the best tramps were the dirtiest and the worst were cleanest. This was because housewives were much more generous to clean tramps than the dirty ones. So the inveterate scroungers cleaned themselves up whereas those who did casual work didn't bother. It is amazing how many ladies are prejudiced against dirt. My three sisters-in-law all say that they would not marry a dirty man. My brothers all became cleaner after they got married! My sisters-in-law are quite sure that nothing would induce them to marry me!

    Prejudice is very damaging to Christianity. There is no doubt at all that many of the producers of TV programs have the plank of prejudice in their eye when it comes to evangelical Christianity. Very, very rarely is a religious leader presented positively in TV drama. I very much enjoyed BBC's dramatisation of Elizabeth Gaskell's, 'The Cranford Chronicles'. Now in the book much is made of the conflict between Lady Ludlow and the clergyman, Mr Grey. Elizabeth Gaskell draws a sympathetic picture of the evangelical clergyman who is quite left out of the TV dramatisation. Indeed his dominant position is taken by the steward Mr Horner. The BBC version of Cranford dealt very differently than Gaskell with the death of little Walter Hutton the Vicar's son. Sophy the Vicar's lovely daughter is shown to be out of sympathy with her father for praying that God's will be done. As far as Sophy is concerned prayer achieves nothing - it is a waste of time. There is not the merest hint of this in Gaskell's account of poor Walter's death. Sophy was a child of her time - and in the 19th Century the vast majority of people were not hostile to Christianity. The BBC, which is so careful to get the costumes right, could not bring it self to accurately reflect the Christian ambience of the time.

    Sadly Christians are not without prejudice! We can be prejudiced against other denominations. My dear father couldn't believe any good thing could come out of Roman Catholicism. I think he forgot that Martin Luther came out of Catholicism! As I have pointed out on more than one occasion in these expositions my old friend and former colleague Miss K, and ardent Anglican, used to dismiss me as a tub thumper and member of a low sect.

    (c) Ignorance.

    We often make bad judgments out of ignorance. This year, 2008, over 60 years after the end of the Second World War the Bevin Boys were finally honoured for their war effort - not with a medal but with a badge. They were conscripted into the army and then allocated to the coalmines by ballot. They had no choice in the matter - that is where they had to serve their country. Yet, ignorant people accused them of cowardice for not joining the armed forces.

    On several occasions I misjudged my pupils because I had the plank of ignorance in my eye. Many years ago I taught two boys - Big Iac and Buster. I had a high opinion of Big Iac - he was enthusiastic, cheerful and enjoyed his work. Buster on the other hand was less well motivated and something of a whiner. I had a much lower opinion of him. I took both these boys on holiday to a Christian camp. There I had to revise my judgment all together. Big Iac hated doing camp chores. He did all he could to avoid potato peeling. If a Dixie can needed cleaning he was nowhere to be seen. Buster on the other hand was in his element. He made light work of all the menial tasks. He got on and did them thoroughly with no complaint. I was taught a lesson I have never forgotten.

    Before we rush to judgment we need to be sure we have all the facts. Ignorance can distort our vision and lead us into error.

To finish exposition click CONTINUED below.