Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:8-15a, Rights may be willingly set aside

1 Corinthians 9:8-15a

8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. 15a But I have not used any of these rights.

Pauls argument about the soldier, vine grower and shepherd (1 Cor. 9:7) are only human arguments, so he ratchets up the force by appealing to the Law of Moses (1 Cor. 9:8-9). Quoting Deuteronomy 25:4 (Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.), Paul derives a principle that applies to his ministry among the Corinthians. David Garland explains, If God forbids preventing an ox from enjoying benefits from its work in threshing grain, how much more is a human apostle entitled to receive benefits from his mission work.[1]

Paul applies the principle from the Law to himself in a straightforward way in 1 Cor. 9:10-11. Verse 12 a clearly implies that others have been supported in ministry by the Corinthian church. Once again Paul argues from the lesser to the greater by saying that if those people deserved financial support, surely he who led them to Christ deserves support even more.

Paul has laid out a compelling case for his right to support, yet in verse 12b he drops a weighty fact on the table: But we did not use this right. Instead, Paul put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Anthony Thiselton offers Dale Martins insight that this putting up with to avoid hindrance is precisely what the socially strong were not prepared to do.[2] Recall that those Corinthian believers asserting their freedom to eat meat associated with idol worship had shown no concern for those who might be led back into idol worship by trying the same thing (1 Cor. 8:8-9).

The phrase hinder the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 9:12b) contains a military metaphor of blocking an enemy advance, a meaning the verb has in other works from that era. This is a subtle suggestion that those who make so much of their rights are hindering the gospel of Christ.

After stating his own position, Paul adds two fresh arguments in favor of his right to financial support from the Corinthian churches. First, he mentions the practice of priests in the Old Testament (Lev. 6:16-18), who had the right to eat from gain offerings made by the people. Such practices were also common in the Greco-Roman world. Second, Paul claims the command of Jesus himself (Mark 6:8-11; Luke 10:7); that caps all the arguments!

However, Paul did not use his rights, and he made that decision for a thoughtful reason. Just as eating a meal with someone established a social bond recognized by others, accepting financial support from a patron would obligate Paul to that patron. It appears that Paul refuses a friendship or patronage which is offered by selected people of influence, rather than . . . the church as a whole.[3] We will soon see the only obligation Paul feels.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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) 409.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 691.

[3] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 690.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:1-7, Paul is entitled to all apostolic rights

1 Corinthians 9:1-7

1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me.

4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk?

Paul ended chapter 8 by explaining the harm that can be done to a weaker believer through the thoughtless exercise by some Corinthian believers of their full rights in Christ. Chapter 8 ends with this ringing statement: Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. So, Paul was willing to give up his right to eat meat associated with idol worship for the good of others in the church.

Pauls theme does not change when we enter chapter 9. But you might think otherwise when you read the chapter heading provided by the NIVs editorial team: Pauls Rights as an Apostle. The NET Bible is almost identical with the heading The Rights of an Apostle. But the editors of the ESV get it right when they provide the heading Paul Surrenders His Rights.

Anthony Thiselton again lights the way by saying, The argument about rights and apostleship simply runs parallel to Corinthian arguments about their right to choose (cf. 6:12; 8:1-13; 10:23) in order first to establish the validity of the right so that Paul, in turn, may choose to relinquish it where it threatens to harm the welfare of others, or of the church as a whole.[1] Paul asserts his rights (1 Cor. 9:1-12a) only to model giving them up for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:12b-27). In this way, Paul incarnates the gospel — a theme we will return to later.

All of the rhetorical questions in verses 1-2 are structured in Greek to signal an emphatic, affirmative answer. Just imagine, no one in Corinth can claim to be an apostle, but Paul can! No one in Corinth has seen the resurrected Christ, but Paul has! If Paul has a share in the freedom bought by Christ on the cross, then surely his freedom surpasses them all. The living proof of his apostleship is the faith of the Corinthians themselves!

David Garland points out: Paul casts his remarks as a fictitious defense because of the delicacy required when discussing oneself. . . . Sounding boastful is avoided if the speaker shows that he (1) is offering a defense against charges (apologia, [9:4]), (2) does so because of compulsion (ananke, 9:16-18), and (3) demonstrates that it is included for the good of others to admonish or instruct them (9:24-27).[2] This helps explain the structure of chapter 9. Paul implements step one with presentation of his defense, starting in 1 Cor. 9:3.

To be concrete about some of his own rights, Paul uses rhetorical questions to assert two of his specific rights: the right to food and drink (1 Cor. 9:4), meaning financial support from the Corinthians for his ministry to them, and the right to have a wife accompany him (1 Cor. 9:5). If Paul had a wife, she would also have been entitled to support just as in the case of the other apostles and the Lords brothers and Cephas [Peter] (1 Cor. 9:5).

The three rhetorical questions in verse 7 all expect the answer No one! Paul uses three metaphors: the soldier, the vine grower, and the shepherd. Paul appeals to common knowledge that each one has the right to be sustained by others or by their property.

In the next lesson, Paul will continue his argument by further strengthening his right to financial support from the Corinthians. Then he will explain why he waived that right for the sake of the gospel.

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


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 661-662.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 406, citing B. Dodd.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 8:9-13, Knowledge leads to love

1 Corinthians 8:9-13

9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

Paul is not nearly as optimistic about rights (1 Cor. 8:9) to eat meat associated with idols as those with knowledge seem to be. He can imagine situations in which their exercise of the right to choose can bring ruinous harm to the weak. In place of the blithe confidence of the strong, he commands watchfulness for potential harm. Think of the vigilance of a mother whose child is swimming in a lake when a boat comes quickly toward the shore.

Bear in mind that both the Old and New Testaments speak about life using a metaphor of walking step by step. With that common metaphor in mind, we can easily see that falling is an unwelcome and perhaps even calamitous event. That cause-of-falling is the metaphorical idea behind stumbling block (1 Cor. 8:9).

As we enter the conclusion of chapter 8, keep in mind that Paul has been carefully building his argument. He began his argument with this shot across the bow: But knowledge puffs up while love builds up (1 Cor. 8:2), a theme that will recur at the end of chapter 8. Then he seemed to agree with the strong that an idol is truly nothing (verse 4). Slowly Paul has built his argument about the effect on the weak of those asserting their right to choose. He will end with a bang by expressing his own conclusion about how to behave.

In verse 10, Paul imagines the highly probable scenario in which the weak see the strong eating in an idols temple, which was a very public place. With great irony the apostle conjectures that the weak will be built up — NIV says emboldened — to imitate this behavior. In verse 11 we encounter a quirk of Greek grammar; the main verb can be translated either in passive voice (is destroyed) or reflexively (ruins himself). NIV takes the former translation[1], but Anthony Thiselton prefers the latter.[2] The believer with a weak conscience wants to behave like the strong one, follows his example, but finds himself ruined rather than built up. For the weak, this is a bridge too far, and it collapses! Their conscience cannot stand so much freedom.

Compounding the error perpetrated by the strong using their right to choose, the person they have built up for ruin is a brother or sister for whom Christ died (1 Cor. 8:11). That makes their provocative behavior a sin against Christ (1 Cor. 8:12). Because every Christian is united with Christ, a sin against a fellow believer is always a sin against Christ.

Thiselton corrects one possible abuse of Pauls teaching when he says:

It has little or nothing to do with whether actions offend other Christians in the modern sense of causing psychological irritation, annoyance, or displeasure at a purely subjective level. It has everything to do with whether such attitudes and actions cause damage, or whether they genuinely build not just knowledge but Christian character and Christian community.[3]

Paul closes his argument with a very strong personal appeal (1 Cor. 8:13). Though he never actually commands the Corinthians to abstain from association with idolatry, the command is implicit because of the danger to those with a weak conscience.

Fee tells us, The abuse of others in the name of knowledge indicates a total misunderstanding of the nature of Christian ethics, which springs not from knowledge but from love.[4] That statement in no way demeans the knowledge Christ gives us through his Word and his Spirit, but we must see that knowledge in its proper role. Only knowledge that leads to love can claim the imprimatur of Jesus Christ.

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


[1] A choice that inevitably leads to the view that salvation may be lost; see 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)387, footnote 61.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 653.

[3] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 658.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 390.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 8:1-6, Knowledge and love

1 Corinthians 8:1-6

1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.

4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

Our opening verse contains both the problem Paul is addressing and the beginning of its solution. While idolatry provides the context of the argument between Paul and the Corinthian believers, the real conflict is between two different kinds of knowledge. The form of knowledge that Paul opposes is the one that leads to spiritual pride and an excessive focus on individual rights exercised without regard for others in the church. The form of knowledge that Paul advocates is the one that leads to love for others, building them up and putting their interests ahead of ones own. This fact will not become fully obvious until the conclusion of chapter 8.

Be clear on the fact that Paul is not pitting love against knowledge. Nor is he saying that love is good and knowledge is bad. Instead, godly knowledge is the kind that results in love for others while worldly knowledge leads to selfish assertion of rights no matter how it affects others.

Before we get into verses 1-3 in detail, take a look at the following translation by Anthony Thiselton:

1 Now on the subject of meat associated with offerings to pagan deities: we are fully aware that All of us possess knowledge. This knowledge inflates; love, on the other hand, builds. 2 If anyone thinks that he or she has achieved [some piece of] this knowledge, they have not yet come to know as they ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves [God], he or she has experienced true knowing [is known by him].[1] (strikethrough added).

The translation just given is not the same as that of the NIV because the NIV follows a different line of NT Greek manuscripts than Thiselton follows. This is one of those rare instances in which the manuscript evidence can lead in two different directions (neither of which significantly alters any Christian theology believed by the historic church). Gordon Fee also agrees with Thiselton that the words in brackets ([. . .]) above are not part of Pauls original letter.[2] These words do not appear in the oldest available manuscript (p46) and were likely added by someone who mistook what Paul was driving at.

You may be asking What difference does this make? Good question! In this context, Paul is not talking about love for God or even being loved by God; he is talking about the need of the Corinthians to learn to love others; accordingly, the oldest manuscript (p46) does not mention God in this verse. Fee says, True gnosis [knowledge] consists not in the accumulation of so much data, nor even in the correctness of ones theology, but in the fact that one has learned to live in love toward all.[3] True knowledge is crucial to Christian faith, but it will always direct us toward love for others. We too must gain knowledge — true knowledge.

Returning to the question about the Corinthians association with idol worship (1 Cor. 8:4), Paul again quotes two Corinthian slogans: An idol is nothing at all in the world (verse 4) and There is no God but one (verse 4). By using these slogans, the Corinthians hope to live something close to the lives they led before trusting Christ. These sayings are intended to allow them to do as they like in relation to eating in idol temples, eating food associated with idols or participating in civic ceremonies somehow affected by idolatry. You might say that they are examples of Corinthian knowledge used to authorize individual liberties. Besides, living like they did before is good for business and advancement! But Paul has already warned them not to get sucked into the great game of this world, because this world in its present form is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31).

Paul will not fully correct their understanding until 1 Cor. 8:9-13. For the moment he starts where the Corinthians are and deals with the more general subject of idols, and their place in the minds of people who follow Christ; later he will introduce love for others.

In this context, Paul assumes for the sake of argument that idols exist and represent so-called gods (1 Cor. 6:5), and he goes on to speak of many gods and many lords. Fee explains that the gods designate the traditional deities (e.g., Poseidon, Aphrodite, and others) while lords was the normal designation for the deities of the mystery cults that had come to Greece from the Orient.[4]

Paul begins his shift away from idols and toward his theme of love with the words Yet for us there is but one God, the Father (1 Cor. 8:6a). In fact, Paul puts one God, the Father and one Lord, Jesus Christ in direct contrast with the many gods and many lords of the surrounding society.

In speaking of the one unique God, Paul describes our relationship to Father with the phrase for whom we live (1 Cor. 6:6) and our relationship to the Son with the phrase through whom we live. Our unique God is one, yet relates to us as Father and Son. The argument began with idols and has progressed — at this intermediate stage — to our relationship to Christ. Thiselton says, Christ-likeness and the shape of the cross mark all that a Christian believers are and do.[5] That being the case, Paul will soon take the next step in his argument by showing how those related to Christ in this way must live.

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


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 612-613, following p46, Siniaticus and Clement of Alexandria. p46 is the oldest known Greek manuscript of 1 Corinthians, from about A.D. 200.

[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) 364-369.

[3] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 368.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 373.

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 638.

Exposition of Romans 5:6-8, Love and death — Christ gave both

Part of the problem in being a twenty-first century American is that the idea that God loves us has been around for a long time. Indeed, that is by far the most popular theological idea even among people who do not think Jesus is anyone special.

The amazing thing is that reasonably intelligent, well-informed people, who read the newspaper and know a little history, would find it next to impossible to give you one good reason why God should not hate humankind in view of how we have behaved!

(NET) Romans 5:6-8

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


This group of three verses is remarkable by any standard. First, Paul uses three words to describe our condition before Christ took action: we were helpless, ungodly sinners. Second, we are told that God responded to our desperate situation with love and death. Indeed, each of the three Greek sentences ends with the same Greek verb for death (ἀποθνῄσκω) — clearly intentional.

From a theological viewpoint — something you should definitely strive to develop — it is vital to see that before we trusted in Christ we were helpless (5:6) to save ourselves from God’s wrath. Osborne says, “This does not mean that human beings are incapable of good — John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, called this ‘common grace,’ the ability of the natural person to do good since all are made in the image of God — but it conveys that they can do nothing that will make them right with God.”[1]

In relation to the word translated “ungodly” (5:6), the Greek adjective ἀσεβής here means “pertaining to violating norms for a proper relation to deity, irreverent, impious, ungodly.”[2] It is more than sad that contemporary American society is filled with such people, who pay no attention whatever to God. Secularism marginalizes God more now than at any time in a thousand years.

We have looked at the bad-news part of Romans 5:6, but the good news utterly overwhelms the bad news: “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6b). C.E.B. Cranfield says, “For Christ’s death on behalf of sinners compare . . . 3:25; 4:25; 6:10; 7:4; 8:32; 14:15 (in the last two of these passages [the Greek preposition] huper is used, as it is here [5:6] and also in a good many other NT passages dealing with the same subject).”[3] Next we will discuss why that is important.

Huper — meaning “for, in behalf of, for the sake of”[4] — is one of the few Greek words that every serious student of the New Testament should know about because it stresses that Jesus died as our substitute. See also 2 Cor. 5:14, Gal. 3:13 and John 11:50. The preposition also occurs three more times in Romans 5:7-8.

Romans 5:7 is a comparative verse in which Paul presents the absolute most you can expect in terms of human love. Rarely, one person might dare to die for some other deserving person, described as either righteous or good. Such behavior is rare enough that we widely honor the sacrifice it requires. Think of the firemen rushing into the burning World Trade Center to help others during the 9/11 attack by terrorists.

But God has done so much more in “his own love” (5:8) than the greatest acts of human love. Christ, the beloved Son of God, keeps on demonstrating God’s love toward us in that he died for the helpless, ungodly sinners — the very ones also called God’s enemies (5:8). Seeing the desperate plight of sinful, lost humanity, God did not sit in heaven feeling affection for us and yet doing nothing. Christ came among us to suffer and die for us.

Grant Osborne rightly says:

This is the primary point Paul is making. Christ did not die for righteous people or for friends; he died for sinful human beings in all their degrading depravity, for those who “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (1:18) and do “not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God (1:28), who are “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil greed and depravity” (1:29). Therefore we deserved to experience the wrath of God and eternal judgment, but Christ took our punishment upon himself and paid the penalty in our place, thereby procuring redemption on our behalf (3:21-26).[5]

God’s love brings death and offers life

An ancient church father known as Ambrosiaster once said: “If Christ gave himself up to death at the right time for those who were unbelievers and enemies of God . . . how much more will he protect us with his help if we believe in him!”[6]

1. We will take a moment to review: (1) the penalty for sin is death (Rom. 1:32), and (2) you may pay the penalty either with your own death or use the death of Jesus instead (Rom. 5:8). Which will you choose? Keep in mind that not to decide is a decision in itself; you are not in a fail-safe position if you have never trusted in Christ!

2. Why do you think Christ was willing to die in your place? How does the extent of God's love for you, expressed in Christ's death, make you feel?

Each day’s lesson begins with a six-word theme. Here is another one:
Jesus Christ died in your place. Praise God forever!

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


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 132.

[2] BDAG-3, ἀσεβής, ungodly, q.v.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 264.

[4] BDAG-3, huper, on behalf of, q.v.

[5] Osborne, Romans, 134.

[6] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 131.

Books: The Path to the Cross — Chapter 5

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 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 Revelation: Revelation 2:1-5

Revelation 2:1-5

To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write the following:
This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has a firm grasp on the seven stars in his right hand the one who walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I know your works as well as your labor and steadfast endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have even put to the test those who refer to themselves as apostles (but are not), and have discovered that they are false. 3 I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! 5 Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place that is, if you do not repent.
(NET Bible)

NOTE: The next five posts cover Revelation 2-3, but the Bible quotes that accompany the posts will not contain all of that text.

The literary patterns of Revelation 2-3

If you have ever spent any time camping in the back-country, then you know how useful a flashlight can be. It is simply amazing how dark it can be in the wilderness, especially after the moon sets.

But if your flashlight fails in the wild lands, few things can be more useless. What would you do with a light that gives no light?

While the messages to the churches in Revelation 23 are often called letters, each of the seven messages generally conforms to an internal pattern presented by Craig Keener:

To the angel of the church in a given city, write:
Jesus (depicted in glory, often in terms from 1:13-18) says:
I know (in most instances offers some praise)
But I have this against you (offers some reproof, where applicable)
The one who has ears must pay attention to what the Spirit says
Eschatological [end-times] promise[1]

Since the seven messages fit a literary pattern, what are we to make of them? Grant Osborne suggests: It is clear from the text that the characteristics of these letters were meant for all the churches of Asia Minor [now Turkey] and indeed for all periods of church history. . . . What we are to do with these seven is to ask: To what extent does this situation fit our church? How can we maximize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses seen in these churches?[2] That is a sound approach!

The church at Ephesus

By any standard, Ephesus was a challenging spiritual environment. Robert Mounce informs us that by NT times the city had a population of about 250,000, an amphitheater seating 25,000, and the enormous Temple of Artemis (Diana in the Roman pantheon).[3] A Roman writer gave the dimensions of the Temple as 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 60 feet high; it doubtless employed thousands of people. Idolatry had profound clout in Ephesus.

Jesus commends the Ephesian Christians for their works, especially their vigilance in excluding false apostles (2:2). He is in a position to commend or rebuke because he walks among the seven golden lampstands (2:1), a metaphor meaning the churches. Jesus is present in every church! He walks among us unseen, which should give each of us cause to reconsider our lives.

One of the two biggest issues in this section is determining what Jesus means by your first love (2:4). Some say he means love for God and others say love for fellow Christians, but I join Greg Beale in a minority opinion: The idea is that they no longer expressed their former zealous love for Jesus by witnessing for him in the world.[4] The Lord commands repentance in Ephesus in the form of a return to what was done at first (2:5). The consequences of not doing so will be severe; they will cease to be a church! (What use is a light that gives no light?)

The next mystery occurs in 2:6 where Jesus expresses hatred for the deeds of the Nicolaitans. While more will be said at a later point, the NET Bible Notes explain, The Nicolaitans were a sect . . . that apparently taught that Christians could engage in immoral behavior with impunity.[5]

For the moment we will discuss only one element of Rev. 2:7, and that is the reward Jesus will give to the one who conquers. Osborne says, The reward for the faithful is striking ? they will participate in the blessing intended at creation but never realized by Adam and Eve ? to eat of the tree of life.[6]

Is your light shining?

Many of us were active in sharing our faith at the outset of our Christian experience. I remember having a commitment to share my testimony with a group of Marines at Quantico one night after getting stitches in my mouth from a Navy surgeon. My mouth would scarcely open. I wanted to laugh, but it hurt too much!

One who gave witness on a dark day was the thief who spoke out for Jesus from the cross next to him. To him Jesus said, I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).

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


[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 105.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 105.

[3] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) 67.

[4] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 230-231.

[5] NET Bible Notes for Revelation 2:6.

[6] Osborne, Revelation, 123.