10. July 2022
“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful… Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?”
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
There are many problems in the world today, more than enough to fill 24-hour news channels. Media, social media, mailing lists, and other talking heads complain daily about the ills of mankind and criticize endlessly those responsible. They feed you with a steady diet of judgment and condemnation. But astute listeners will notice that some immoral or illegal acts are ignored, apologized for, and even forgiven. Whoever is on their team, has a common goal, or whose actions hit too close to home is quietly set aside. But in so neglecting to be equal opportunity critics, they fall down on their job and contribute to the downfall of the moral and lawful compass of civilization.
You, too, are happy to criticize the media, the cultural creators, the political order, and the institutional church. You see sin and sinners all around you. Some seem to be so captivated by their rebellion against God’s holy word that to be utterly captive to demonic. Their open and clear refusal to live according to the clear exposition of the law in the Ten Commandments makes you wonder if they are even human anymore. They dishonor, hate, fornicate, steal, defame, and consume insatiably. They have no moral compass, no shame or guilt, and behave no better than the wild beasts.
A Christian is not given to judge the sin of others on his own. But God puts some of us into offices where we are given to judge. According to God’s Word, He gives vocational authority to civil rulers, judges, fathers, school teachers, and preachers to judge, punish, and pass sentences on those who do evil. Our life in this sin-corrupt world would soon fall into chaos, disorder, and death if the citizen said the legitimate public governor, or a child to his father, or a pupil to his teacher, or a thief to his judge: “Be merciful, judge not, condemn not…” If any authority, ruler, judge, or father only practiced mercy and not be serious about administering punishment, the world would be full of lawlessness and unlawful people.
Moreover, if a preacher should hold his peace regarding false doctrine, lies and error, public sin, and all other rebellion against God’s Word, not many Christians would be found after a year. But how do we reconcile this with Jesus’ Word today, “Be merciful, judge not, condemn not?” Jesus also says, “The Word is what judges them” (John 12:48). You must distinguish sharply between the person and the office, whether preacher, father, teacher or civil ruler. Individuals are prohibited from judging and sentencing, except for those who occupy the offices which Christ Jesus gives to do so. God, Himself will judge and condemn the preacher who fails to rebuke false belief, the father who refuses to admonish and discipline his children, the teacher who rewards wrongdoing, or the ruler who looks the other way for his friends and punishes those who are not unjustly.
We know that judgment of sin and punishment of evil is necessary for order and peace in this world. That’s why we’re so quick to point out sinful rebellion in our family, community, congregation, state, nation, and world. We want life in this world to be at least a little bit better. And we think that by bringing the sin of others to light, it will bring about the change we want. It’s hard enough for those who hold offices of judgment to execute their duties faithfully and without preference. But what about you? Do you think you can talk about the rebellious living of others and, by so doing, bring them to amend their lives? Be honest with yourself. For all your complaining, criticism, and condemnation, have you seen the changes you thought your words would bring? I doubt it.
When Jesus speaks of “judge not, condemn not,” He’s talking about gossips and slanderers, who are blinded by their planks and judge the splinters of others. These pass sentences on others without authority, out of malice, hatred, and wicked intent, thinking if not saying, “I wish this or that person would fall on their sword, or had this or that punishment.” This is usurping judgment from God and those whom He has set up with the office. It is a sin against natural law and God’s law and brings condemnation itself.
Do you remember the Eighth Commandment? “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” And Luther’s explanation? “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” As the Apostle John says, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). The one who judges, sentences, and condemns his brother without being given the office has murdered him already.
And those within the offices of preacher, father, teacher, or magistrate cannot exercise their office faithfully when they themselves live in rebellion to the Word that governs their office. The preacher whose own words and behavior betray the Word he preaches cannot be trusted. The father who accuses his children of sin that he himself commits will fall under the same judgment. The teacher who speaks of right and wrong, good and evil, truth and error but himself denies in word and deed will undermine his teaching. A ruler who demands the rule of law but puts himself above that rule is a tyrant. And the Bible gives us a particular word for all such rebellion: hypocrisy.
What’s the way forward, then? How can we have judgment and amendment of life? How can we bring about the order and peace we desperately want, even in an incomplete way? The problems in church, culture and political order aren’t physical and earthly. Our accusations and judgments are only symptoms of the real, spiritual depravity underneath. All your words and actions will only have a limited and temporary effect on the sins of others. The only way for your life to be even a little bit more like what you expect is to be again humbled under God’s mighty hand.
God the Father, working through the Word of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, will make, accomplish, and do in you what is needful. And by repenting you, forgiving your sin, and amending your heart, the world around you will begin to change. The good measure given to you will overflow in the same kind for those around you. As you are forgiven by God, you forgive those who sin against you. As you are shown mercy by God, so mercy will overflow for those near you. As God removes the plank from your eye, you will compassionately and in love be given to assist your neighbor with the speck in theirs.
You were once blind, but now you see. You aren’t blinded by a speck or a splinter, but now you see before your eyes the wood of the cross and Christ crucified upon it. Jesus is the good tree that bears good fruit. You are grafted onto Him through your baptism. You are nurtured by the sap of His Word. You are fed with His body and blood. And in Him, you bear good fruit in the same measure it has been given to you. Living in the repentance, forgiveness, and faith Jesus gives, don’t be surprised when His life overflows in love and mercy toward those near you, love for your enemies, good for those who hate you, prayers for those who seek your harm, without judgment or condemnation, and eagerness to forgive, give, loan, counsel, and help. Live in the mercy of God the Father, that you overflow in His mercy. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin