Exposition of 1 Corinthians 5:9–13 Drawing a line in the sand

1 Corinthians 5:9–13

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

Part of the problem with the arrogance and boasting by certain Corinthians was apparently related to their (deliberate?) misinterpretation of a previous letter Paul had written to them. In that previous letter he had told them “not to associate with sexually immoral people” (1 Cor. 5:9), yet they are tolerating a man in the church cohabiting with his stepmother. Paul now reiterates and clarifies his previous remarks.

Paul’s previous instruction was “not to mix indiscriminately with” (Anthony Thiselton, 409) sexually immoral people. But it should have been apparent that he was not referring to having casual contact with unbelieving people in society “who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters” (1 Cor. 5:10a). David Garland tells us, “Sexual immorality was ubiquitous in the Greco-Roman world. So too were greed and idolatry.”[1] To avoid all such people, “you would have to leave this world” (1 Cor. 5:10b) — a phrase which can mean “to die”!

Instead, Paul’s letter actually meant — and he now makes explicit — not to associate with those who claim to be Christians yet are sexually immoral (1 Cor. 5:11). So far, so good, but for us today “greedy” is a harder standard. Gordon Fee explains, “The ancient world, both pagan and Judeo-Christian, had a special loathing for avarice that hundreds of years of legitimized greed in our culture have mitigated.”[2] Anthony Thiselton says concerning “greedy” people in Corinth, “This corresponds precisely with the social analysis of Corinthian society . . . that many at Corinth were obsessed the ambition to achieve, i.e., to gain more social status, power or wealth.”[3]

The meaning of “idolater” is plain enough. “Slanderer” is a bit harder; Thiselton says that in this context the Greek word “refers to people who cannot open their mouths without putting others down in a way which causes hurt and implies a scornful, superior attitude on the part of the speaker.”[4] We hope no one’s face springs to mind!

Since the word “drunkard” (1 Cor. 5:11) is used in a ‘wine culture,’ we must take pains to see what it meant at that time and place. Fee says that in this context the word refers to “that kind of person who is regularly given to drunkenness and the various forms of carousing with which it is associated.”[5] Thiselton points out that drunkenness precludes the expression of love for others, which is a hallmark of Christian identity.

The term “swindler” (1 Cor. 5:10 and 5:11) is more subtle and interesting; it refers to those who exploit others in a way to gain disproportionate wealth. Imagine someone in a coastal city who knows a hurricane is coming and marks up the price of their plywood panels by 500%. Thiselton says, “This, once again, may reflect the entrepreneurial culture at Corinth, whereby to ‘get rich quick’ and to knock others off the ladder was the name of the game. . . . Paul means someone who kicks others down the ladder in order to advance upward at any price.”[6]

Eating with others meant more than just friendship in ancient Corinth. The act created a social bond in the eyes of the community. For a Christian to be seen eating with someone actively involved with blatant immorality would undercut the witness of the church, so Paul rules that out (1 Cor. 5:11).

The discerning reader will realize that all these descriptions require making judgments about who falls into these categories. Someone might think this violates what Jesus says about judging others in Matthew 7:1–2, but that is not the case. Jesus was advocating that judgments be made with fairness and mercy, and, when that is done, some still turn out to be “dogs” (Matt. 7:6) and “pigs” (Matt. 7:6) or even “false prophets” and “wolves” (Matt. 7:15).

Though 1 Cor. 5:12 has two rhetorical questions, those actually amount to statements. These statements revolve around two similar Greek words: ex? (“outside”) and es? (“inside”). God will judge those outside the church (1 Cor. 5:13), but each church is responsible to judge those inside the church. Thiselton pointedly says, “Against the laissez-faire [anything goes], consumerist culture of today, Paul asserts that to become part of the Christian community is explicitly to place oneself under the discipline of a Christian lifestyle.”[7] That being so, the wicked man cohabiting with his stepmother must be banished!

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 185.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 224.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 411.

[4] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 414.

[5] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 226.

[6] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 411–414.

[7] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 417.

Exposition of Romans 2:21–23 Talk the talk; walk the walk

Whether true or not, one common charge made by non-Christians is that Christians are hypocrites — those who say one thing and do another. While this charge is often a flimsy excuse for not dealing with God, there is, sad to say, some truth in it. How does our failure to match faith and practice reflect on God?

(ESV) Romans 2:21–23  you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.

Yesterday’s lesson looked at the positive advantages the Jews had received due to their possession of the Law of Moses and the covenants. In the Scripture for today, Paul shows how these advantages transform into a profound problem when the Jews are judged against the standards they so proudly proclaim.

In relation to the four questions posed by 2:21–22, Douglas Moo observes: “They expose the Jew who has made the lofty claims of vv. 17–20 as inconsistent and hypocritical, as failing ‘to practice what he preaches.’ . . . All the privileges, distinctions, and gifts that the Jew may claim are meaningless if they are not responded to with a sincere and consistent obedience.”[1] This is exactly what Jesus said as well: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you — but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Matt. 23:2–3).

Those who consider themselves teachers of the law must first learn from the law themselves (2:21a). But Paul alleges they fail in three areas, of which the first is stealing (2:21b). These sentences are constructed in a jarring Greek word order: “preach not to steal [‘you’-singular] steal.” The two verbs meaning steal are placed side-by-side in Greek for rhetorical punch.

In effect, Paul says there should be a difference between those who possess the law of God and those who do not. Yet when he looks among the Jews he sees the same types of sins he sees among the Gentiles. These same accusations against the Jews were also being made by Jewish teachers in Paul’s time.

Paul wraps up his point in 2:23 by saying that those Jews who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking it. The italicized word is the same one Paul used in 1:24 for those who dishonored their bodies when driven by various lusts.

Humility is warranted!

For every Christian who shielded a Jew from the Nazis, there was another who handed a Jew over for death. We who claim to love the living God through Jesus Christ must remember to do so humbly in light of our failings. While Paul is dealing with the Jews in today’s Bible passage, he could just as well have spoken about us!

1. In speaking of the failings of others, we must always show grace and mercy in light of our own failings (Matt. 7:1–5). Can you recall recent examples when you did not show mercy in this way? What might you do to better honor the Lord? Personal judgments are regularly required (e.g. discipline of children, choosing a babysitter or doctor), and Jesus did not forbid those (Matt. 7:6 includes some). What experience do you have at getting it right?

2. If you took a searching look at yourself — similar to what Paul did with the Jews — what would you find about how your behavior honors God?

Making judgments is never easy, but the only way we can make sure that our lives honor Jesus Christ is to examine ourselves in relation to biblical teaching and listen to counsel from mature believers. Then we can walk the walk and talk the talk — all for Jesus!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 163.

Exposition of Romans 2:14–16 Conscience-judged behavior sometimes pleases God

The fact that all people are sinners does not mean they are as bad as they could possibly be. Sometimes conscience — given by God in creation — may guide even the unsaved to meet God’s requirements in limited situations.

It is a mistake to elevate ourselves by demonizing others. Sometimes they get it right and we do not.

(ESV) Romans 2:14–16  For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Romans 2:14 clearly says one thing: Gentiles sometimes do what the law requires. What is less clear is how to position the phrase “by nature.” English translations all agree with ESV that by nature modifies the verb “do.” Other authorities think Paul is saying that “Gentiles do not have the law by nature,” letting by nature modify the verb “have.” While the former view seems more likely, the real point is not lost either way: Gentiles sometimes do what the law requires.

Douglas Moo correctly summarizes: “Paul pursues his policy of putting the Jews and Gentiles on the same footing. The Jew does not have in the law a decisive advantage when it comes to knowing and doing the will of God, Paul suggests; for Gentiles have some of the same benefits.”[1]

Looking at the Gentiles, Paul says (2:15) that “the work of the law,” the conscience and the thoughts mix in a complex way that often accuses and sometimes excuses them. Grant Osborne says, “Their minds form a type of law court in which actions are judged.”[2] But it is vital to realize that even within the court of their own minds the Gentiles are not exonerated; so, they will certainly stand guilty before a holy God.

C.E.B. Cranfield discusses the concept of conscience by saying, “The basic idea conveyed is that of knowledge shared with oneself.”[3] Sometimes this information is shared after the behavior and sometimes before; the verdict reached is by no means guaranteed to be the same that God would reach!

In Romans 2:16, Osborne correctly points out that “Paul elsewhere uses ‘the day’ for the Day of the Lord at the end of history (e.g., Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Eph. 4:30; Phil. 1:6, 10).”[4] No matter what Jews and Gentiles think about their own behavior, God has set a day when he will judge “the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (2:16).

Romans 2:16b closely resembles Paul’s speech in Athens: “he [God] has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31, NET).

Humanity’s good is not good enough

The Jews have been busy justifying their own righteousness by wrongly relying on their possession of the law. The Gentiles have sometimes managed to meet God’s requirements as evaluated by their own conscience, but they too fall short.

1. Why do you think people spend so much effort justifying themselves and their group by comparison with other groups, races, classes, genders or ethnicities? How do people try the same thing with God?

2. If you were convinced that self-justification was futile, what would you do next to become acceptable to God?

Perhaps these questions seem contrived, but they are not. Various cultures have spent millennia trying to figure out how human works relate to acceptance before God. The sad thing is that our culture does not even want to know. By God’s grace, you can prove to be an exception!

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship (McKinney, Texas). Used by permission.



[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 151.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 70.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 159-160.

[4] Osborne, Romans, 70.

Exposition of Romans 2:1–3 Don’t try to condemn those others!

A woman in authority once said, “Nobody likes to be told their baby is ugly.” In like manner, nobody likes to be told that their conduct brings them before God’s judgment seat without any reasonable defense. But there is incredible value in knowing that fatal weakness in advance when we may seek the one remedy that can put us on God’s side.

(ESV) Romans 2:1–3 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God?

A natural reaction to what Paul has said in Romans 1 is: “You are right, Paul, that those bad people — not me of course! — are just as wicked as you say they are.” Paul was not born at night, so he is prepared for that counter to his argument. In short, his statement is: each of you does the very same thing (2:1). Jesus spoke similarly in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:1–5).

Paul was likely writing from Corinth to people whom he has never met, but he knows that among these Christians in Rome is a strong contingent of Jewish-Christians. Most scholars think this not-me type of pushback will come chiefly from these Jews. The Jews had argued for centuries that they were superior to the godless Gentiles because God had chosen them as his own people, Abraham’s children. Of course, there will also be some Gentiles who jump on the bandwagon to condemn someone else. In this game, everyone plays.

In Romans 2, Paul ramps up his rhetorical power in several ways. Douglas Moo describes one element: “Paul utilizes here, and sporadically throughout the letter, a literary style called diatribe. Diatribe style . . . uses the literary device of an imaginary dialogue with a student or opponent.”[1] In keeping with this device, Paul addresses his argument to you (second-person singular). That is more forceful. The third device is the “O man” (2:1; 2:3) direct address, which Daniel Wallace says “is used in contexts where deep emotion is to be found.”[2] Clearly the verbal intensity is increasing.

In saying the objectors “have no excuse” (2:1), we have the same Greek adjective used in 1:20 for those who have knowledge of God but suppress it. This adjective is part of a serious change in vocabulary that begins in 2:1. In Romans 1, Paul spoke of God’s wrath (1:18), but now we begin to see the verb krin? (“to judge”), used seven times in Romans 2:1–16, and the noun krima (“judgment”), used in 2:2 and 2:3 to refer to God’s verdict of guilt. In 2:1 we have one person judging another, but Paul says in 2:1–2 that we all stand under God’s judgment because of our individual guilt.

(NET Bible) Romans 2:2 “Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things.”

The ESV gets unusually metaphorical in saying “the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things” (2:2), but NET has the better translation here by replacing the italicized phrase with “in accordance with truth.” God is not confused by arguments over which humans are more sinful; they all are! C.E.B. Cranfield explains, “What is being said of the divine judgment is not that it truly is (that there truly is such a thing), but that it is in accordance with the facts (i.e., is just).”[3]

In Romans 2:3 an important Greek verb makes its first appearance: logizomai, here meaning “to hold a view about something, think, believe, be of the opinion.[4] Since the verb primarily is used for calculating costs and debts, it involves a serious kind of thinking. Even though Paul is asking a rhetorical question, he effectively states that no one is going to be a special exception when it comes to sin, guilt and judgment before God.

In relation to Paul’s question in 2:3, Moo says: “Such a question is legitimately put to the Gentile moralist or philosopher who thinks he or she can please God by his or her good life, but it is particularly the Jew who would be likely to make such an assumption.”[5] None will escape!

Denial is futile

God is saying through Paul that every human being is guilty of acts that put us under his judgment; we are all without excuse.

1. World history is replete with those who fought for high status as proof they were better than others. But such denial of the truth about humanity does not work before God. What role has self-justification played in your own spiritual journey?

2. How does admitting our guilt before God free us to seek God’s solution to the problem?

In itself our sin and guilt before God cannot be considered good news, yet it forms a critical pillar of the gospel. Just as accurate diagnosis must precede effective medical treatment, so our spiritual condition must be accurately described so that God’s mercy in Jesus Christ is all the more clear.

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship (McKinney, Texas). Used by permission.



[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 125.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 68.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 143.

[4] BDAG-3, logizomai, be of the opinion, q.v.

[5] Moo, Romans, 132.

Craig Blomberg on Church Discipline

Church discipline is a widely neglected practice in our evangelical churches. Craig Blomberg has some excellent observations on what the key passage (Matt. 18:15–17) means. Because Blomberg always begins with the biblical text, he finds things that others miss entirely. This time he hits the target by noting that Jesus emphasized searching our hearts for what others might have against us (Matt. 5:23–24).

Blomberg makes a contribution to our understanding by saying that church discipline is never said to be about major sins, yet that is the only form I have ever seen. Most minor issues could and should be handled privately (Matt. 18:15). That out to happen routinely for the unity of the body of Christ. Too many of us avoid people over minor things that could have been resolved long ago.

He also suggests that instead of what amounts to total expulsion at the end of the process, churches might consider barring the offending person from taking communion or other activities only a believer could participate in. After all, our church services are generally open to non-Christians and we want them there to hear God’s Word and see the body of Christ in action.

Check it out!

Books: The Path to the Cross — Chapter 5

Front Cover

 

 

BIBLICAL CONCEPTS PRESS

 

 

 

Available at Amazon.com

 

 

 Chapter 5

The Last Word

Jesus limits judging others

Just after a national election, a defeated senator complained about the opposition of certain Christian groups to his candidacy. The senator accused those groups of violating Christ’s own command: “Do not judge” (Matt. 7:1).

I’m sure you’ve heard that argument before, and perhaps have used it yourself. Yet all of us make judgments about people in the common course of life. We do it almost unconsciously when we look for a “good” doctor or want a “dependable” babysitter.

In business, friendship, or marriage, people want someone they can trust; that means that some others cannot be trusted. And parents must often decide which of their children is telling the truth.

In all of those experiences, judgments are made about other people. In fact, I am making a judgment about you by saying that you do those things, even though I don’t know you. I hope you won’t conclude that I’m unfair, because if you do you’ll be making a judgment about me!

How do these common events stack up against Christ’s command? The senator expressed the most popular caricature of what Jesus taught, but the senator was dead wrong. At least he pointed us in the right direction, because Jesus taught about this crucial subject in what we call his Sermon on the Mount.

The Right Way to Judge Others

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
(Luke 6:36)

It was no accident that Jesus made that statement right before he gave his famous command about not judging; Luke 6:37 parallels Matt. 7:1 (“Do not judge, or you too will be judged”). The statement made in Luke 6:36 shows that mercy is the backbone of all that Jesus said about judging.

To understand what it means to “be merciful,” consider the strongly related concept of compassion. Compassion involves being emotionally moved by another person’s distress so that you have a desire to help them.

Jesus was saying that, as we evaluate another person, we ought to do so in a spirit of concern for them. That means that we care about them. Jesus treated mercy as the leading idea and then dealt with judging others as a subordinate application of that theme!

Judging Mercifully

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.”
(Luke 6:37–38)

Here we run smack into the main problem: What did Jesus mean when he said, “Do not judge”? That question can be readily solved, if we assume that Jesus knew we would need further elaboration and that he gave it immediately.

In other words, when Jesus said, “Do not condemn,” he was explaining what he meant by saying, “Do not judge.” Believers are not to judge in the sense of condemning another person with harshness and finality.

I have two reasons for thinking that this is what Jesus meant. First of all, the cultural situation in which Jesus spoke supports this viewpoint. At that time, life in Israel was largely influenced by six thousand men known as Pharisees. They had influence far out of proportion to their small numbers. That’s why Jesus could refer to them and say that a little leaven could affect the whole lump of dough.

The Pharisees treated all others with extreme judgmentalism. They looked down on others with a scorn and contempt that would jolt us if we encountered it in our own culture. Their contemporaries considered them harsh, unfeeling, and severe in their criticism. People feared them, and not without reason!

To demonstrate the high and mighty approach taken by the Pharisees, I would like to recount a story out of rabbinic tradition. According to the story, on one occasion in heaven God was having a discussion with the heavenly council about some difficult question of ceremonial purity. After tossing the question around for a while, God and the heavenly council couldn’t resolve it!

So, God sent down to earth and brought up the leading Pharisaic rabbi to settle the question — as if the Pharisees could even teach God a few things! From that lofty vantage point, it isn’t hard to judge other people!

Jesus knew that his disciples had been strongly affected by the precepts of Pharisaism. By contrast, Jesus used the Pharisees and their approach as a case in point of what not to do.

Here’s the second reason for believing that Jesus meant “do not condemn” when he said “do not judge.” Matthew also records an occasion when Jesus was teaching his disciples about these principles. Right afterward he gave them a command that made it obvious that they would not always be able to avoid evaluating other people.

He said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matt. 7:6, italics added). Jesus wasn’t talking about house pets and barnyard animals; he was describing certain kinds of people. To follow this command, his disciples would have to be discerning and make value judgments about people, distinguishing the “dogs” and “pigs” from more receptive people. By using those terms, Jesus was referring to people who treated the Word of God and the miracles of his Son with contempt.

So, Jesus was not saying that we can never evaluate other people or form opinions about them. He knew that his disciples would have to do that. That’s simply part of life. But the spirit in which it is done makes a great difference; compassion is required.

Jesus next switched attention from the negative to the positive. He instructed his disciples about how to make such evaluations properly. Consider the literary arrangement of the four commands in Luke 6:37–38. Jesus used an order that literary scholars would call chiastic, which means that the commands follow an “A-B-B-A” pattern that is common in the Bible:

A   “Do not judge” (Luke 6:37)

    B   “Do not condemn” (Luke 6:37)

    B   “Forgive” (Luke 6:37)

A   “Give” (Luke 6:38)

Each “B” command explains the nearest “A” command. And so in the case of the latter two commands, the thing that Jesus wants us to “give” is forgiveness. Here, too, the theme of mercy predominates.

The last part of verse 38 pictures the way in which God has generously given mercy and forgiveness to us. The picture comes from an ancient grain market. Suppose for a moment that you were going to such a market to buy wheat. After striking a bargain with you, the merchant would use his scoop to measure the quantity that you had agreed upon.

If you happened to be dealing with a particularly generous merchant, he would measure the grain and then pack it down with his hand so as to make room for more. Next he would shake the container so that the particles would pack together more tightly. As a final step of generosity, he would allow the grain to literally run over the top of the scoop as he poured it into your outstretched cloak.

That’s the way that God measures out his mercy and forgiveness for each of us! He doesn’t miss a single opportunity to give us as much as possible.

Bad Models Yield Bad Copies

39 He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.
(Luke 6:39–40)

This brief paragraph must be understood by using both culture and context. Jesus was warning his disciples about the deep danger of following the example of the Pharisees. He did so with a brief parable that not only asks questions, but also implies the answers — a useful feature of Greek grammar.

The first question anticipates the answer no: a blind man cannot lead a blind man. The second question expects the answer yes: if a blind man leads a blind man, then they will probably both fall into a pit. Jesus seemed to be asking questions, but actually he was making statements. His audience knew that.

This parable reminds me of an embarrassing incident. The offices for our church staff were to be painted, and one staff member kindly volunteered to get paint samples so that we could pick the color we wanted.

Buried with work, I simply told him to pick a color that he liked and use that for my office too. Several days later, the painters arrived, and his office began to get its treatment. The moment I saw the half-finished office, it set my teeth on edge!

My friend had picked a bright, bright yellow that reminded me of suddenly biting into a lemon. Then I found out that the man I had sent to pick out paint for our offices was color blind! I had sent a blind man to do my seeing for me.

But Jesus was speaking of spiritual blindness and specifically that of the Pharisees. He called them blind guides on numerous occasions. In effect, Jesus was telling his disciples that if they followed the harsh judgmentalism of the Pharisees, then they were no better than blind men following blind guides. They would soon meet disaster along that course.

Jesus challenged his disciples to consider carefully the person they were going to pick as their model in this whole matter of judging others. If they were the disciples of the Pharisees, then they would become more and more harsh and condemning. However, if they considered themselves his disciples, then they must follow his lead in showing mercy. Over time Jesus’ disciples could expect to become more merciful.

Learning to See

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 6:41–42)

I wish we all could have been with Jesus to see the gleam in his eye when he used humor. These verses should at least hint to us that taking everything super-seriously is not a requirement for spirituality. Jesus pictured a ridiculous, exaggerated situation to drive his point home.

Imagine a man whose eyesight was so keen that he could pick out a small speck of sawdust in another person’s eye, without even realizing that he had a telephone pole in his own eye. The word used for “plank” in verse 41 commonly referred to one of the structural beams that would hold up a building.

The Pharisees could spot in others the tiniest infraction of rabbinic rules, while they utterly failed to realize how repugnant their own judgmentalism was to God himself.

The key principle that Jesus expressed in these two verses is that whenever we evaluate others, we should always do it with one eye on ourselves. If we tend to see all of our problems as originating “out there” in the hearts of others, then we are basically looking at people the way the Pharisees did.

Only by realizing that we have problems within ourselves can we temper our evaluation with a measure of mercy. Other people may differ from us in degree but not in kind. Every one of us has personal flaws and could stand some improvement. By dealing with our own motives and behavior, we can become better able to evaluate others with righteousness and truth tempered by mercy.

Jesus is absolutely not suggesting that we must be perfect before we can ever get to the point of judging others. That meaning would produce contradiction not only with our Lord’s own teaching, but also with other portions of the New Testament that instruct us about cases in which we must make evaluations and judgments about others.

I think we could summarize the whole passage with three principles.

  • First, mercy must dominate any evaluation of other people.
  • Second, it pleases God when we model our lives after people who evaluate others with mercy and forgiveness.
  • Third, any evaluation we make of others should take into account our own share of the problem and our own flaws.

Learning to See More Clearly

Use the following concepts to help you in judging others as Christ commands.

Examining Ourselves

Certain things in our own hearts can take us over that fine line into condemning others. Circle the items below that you think may lead you towards judgmentalism:

1. Anger towards someone

2. Personal weaknesses:

(a) Lack of love and compassion

(b) An inflated or sagging self-esteem

(c) A tendency toward perfectionism, dogmatism, and rigidity

3. Learned responses to certain kinds of people and situations

I become more judgmental when I’m angry. If a husband and wife are mad at each other, they really know how to give it to each other with both barrels.

We know intuitively that some people find it difficult to express love or compassion toward others. Such people often find it impossible to love themselves; they become their own worst critics.

Regrettably, some groups of Christians simply exude judgmentalism. A person within such a group will quickly realize that they must either toe the line or suffer the consequences.

Examining Others

Use the following ideas to help you evaluate others more accurately. Consider your own motives and purposes in evaluating others; if you don’t really need to, then don’t! Consider your own life; do you have credibility as an evaluator of the other person? Do you know them well and have their interests at heart? If you passed the motive and credibility tests, then use the following ideas to guide your evaluation.

Evaluate others from alongside, not from above.

Give others time to change and room to grow.

Be willing to revise your evaluations of others. Use other people’s perspectives to refine your own.

Remember how it feels to be on the receiving end of judgment.

So that you don’t misunderstand me, there are some real “jerks” in this world. I’m not saying that they aren’t jerks or that your opinion of them ought to be different. (Remember what Jesus said about “dogs” and “pigs.”) However, we must not reach such a strong evaluation lightly. I think we should also be quick to extend mercy if such a person shows signs of changing.

It may help to visualize two cliffs that you don’t want to fall off of. One cliff consists of thinking that the problem always lies “out there” within other people, rather than “in here” within you. That view of life simply paints others as too evil and you as too good.

But the other cliff can do you an equal amount of harm. It consists of an inability to show mercy to yourself. My early struggle with perfectionism has taught me a lot about how intolerant I can be toward my mistakes. I act more like a Pharisee toward myself than I ever do toward others.

Have you fallen off one of those two cliffs?

Are you willing to try to change that area of your life with Christ’s help? Jesus warned that we must consider carefully who our models are in judging others.

I used to eat lunch weekly with a friend who spent most of our time together running down other people. It was a constant slide down into the same pit. I had my own struggle in that area and didn’t need his help! Perhaps you should consider your own circle of social relationships, and also your church environment.

Are those people helping you to learn more about showing mercy, or are they simply blind guides leading you toward the nearest hole?

A Final Word

When I graduated from seminary knowing the technical matters of theology, I had a lot to learn about interpersonal relationships. That personal deficiency eventually led to some painful criticism from others. With a moment’s thought, I’m sure you can recall similar experiences in your own life.

You and I are going to be evaluated by others for the rest of our lives. There’s no avoiding it. The other side is that we ourselves will evaluate other people. Christ calls on us to use mercy in reaching such evaluations.

We may speak the latest word about someone else, but Christ will speak the last word about them and about us!

 Coming next . . .

In Chapter 6, near the end of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, he began to teach in parables. Resistance to Jesus’ ministry was rising as he taught the disciples how to analyze the heart.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 3:14–15

Genesis 3:14–15
The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the wild beasts and all the living creatures of the field! On your belly you will crawl and dust you will eat all the days of your life. 15 And I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; her offspring will attack your head, and you will attack her offspring’s heel.”
(NET Bible)

A Failure to Rule — A Resulting Curse

When someone is unexpectedly struck down, we call it being “blind-sided.” As the term suggests, being blind-sided happens when someone loses sight of a threat which should not have been ignored.

Many people have lost sight of God’s rulership over every aspect of our world and the fact that he appointed us to rule for him over the physical and animal world. The first threat arose from that unexpected quarter in the animal-human relationship. Simply put, humanity failed to “rule over” (Gen. 1:28) the animal population in that Eve was deceived by the serpent.

What long-term consequences resulted from our blind neglect? How does our danger of being blind-sided manifest itself today?

Older folks will recognize the childhood taunt: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” This saying is generally accurate except when God speaks a word against someone. That will hurt like fire and probably for a long time!

In the wake of deception and disobedience, the time for a reckoning has arrived, and the Lord will surely deliver it. He does so in inverse order of the sins named for those involved:

Sin of the man (Gen. 3:9-11)                        Judgment on the man (Gen. 3:17-19)

Sin of the woman (Gen. 3:12)                      Judgment on the woman (Gen. 3:16)

Sin of the serpent (Gen. 3:13)                     Judgment on the serpent (Gen. 3:14-15)[1]

This gives a literary order of ABCCBA (man=A, woman=B, serpent=C). Genesis is filled with such literary touches.

When God announces the consequences for what has happened, they have a consistent structure described by Hamilton: “To each of the trespassers God speaks a word which involves both a life function and a relationship. Thus the snake is cursed in his mode of locomotion, and his relationship with the woman and her seed is to be one of hostility.”[2] The way this structure works for the woman and the man will appear later in the study.

We are accustomed to the idea that one will experience consequences for actions, but in Genesis 3:14 it happens for the first time. God’s words purposely begin with the word “because” to emphasize the connection of consequences with sins. Cursing is the opposite of blessing. The shrewd serpent must now slither on its belly; the one who tempted the woman to eat must eat dust himself. Hamilton says: “Obviously, snakes do not eat dust, and no ancient writer ever thought they did. One has to take this passage symbolically, not literally. . . . The writer clearly intends these two facts to be expressions of humiliation and subjugation.”[3]

Genesis 3:15 contains a world of issues whose dimensions we may only outline here. It helps to remember the disrupted relationships (here the woman and the serpent, as also carried forward in their offspring). This section “is a curse on the serpent, not on mankind, and something less than a draw would be expected”[4] in the struggle between the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring.

Next, it helps to see what stays the same in the verse and what changes. As to changes, the contrasts are “head” with “heel” and “her offspring” with “your offspring.” The hostile relationship between the woman and the serpent results in repeated attacks (carried on through the offspring), but the verb describing the attacks is the same in both cases. Most translations overtly retain this sameness (NET “attack . . . attack,” NASB “bruise . . . bruise”), but a few introduce an unwarranted variation (NIV 1984 and NIV 2011 “crush . . . strike”).

Wenham says, “Once admitted that the serpent symbolizes sin, death, and the power of evil, it becomes much more likely that the curse envisages a long struggle between good and evil, with mankind eventually triumphing.”[5]

From the revelation of the New Testament we know that the struggle will be won decisively and finally by Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews tells us, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil),” (Heb. 2:14).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 196.

[2] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 196.

[3] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 196-197.

[4] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 80.

[5] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 80.