Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Be Careful What You Ask For

Today we are returning to our study of the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is today's text.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  Matthew 7:7-12 NKJV
This is another example of a verse that is often misused.  I want to set aside the idea that God is promising to give us whatever we ask for. I hope that through today's study, we will get a more accurate picture of what Jesus is telling us.  The entire Sermon is given in the context of the Beatitudes and that process of seeing ourselves in relation to God and giving ourselves over to Him.  It is a lesson on just what it means to be a follower of Christ, which is someone who has denied himself and taken up his cross.  With that context in mind, I think we can see a much clearer picture of just what Jesus is saying. 

Jesus begins with "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. "  Without its proper context, it would seem as though Jesus is giving us carte blanche to just ask for whatever we want and expect to receive it.  But in its proper context, we can see that Jesus means that what we ask, seek, or knock for in terms of our crucified self-denied life, it will be granted.  I think that James sheds some real light on asking for things from God. 
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend [it] on your pleasures.  James 4:3 NKJV
So when Jesus makes this statement, it comes with a catch and that catch is that we ask in terms of our relationship to God and not in terms of our relationship to our flesh. 

Jesus continues "Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?"  Jesus is now using earthly fathers as a comparison to our heavenly Father.  Any decent father is not going to give his child a stone if he asks for bread or a serpent if he asks for a fish.  In other words, no decent father is going to give a child a harmful gift if that child asks for a good gift.  I think we need to note that Jesus did not say that a father will not give a stone to a child who asks for a stone.  I know that many times in my own stubbornness in asking for harmful things, God has allowed me a taste of just what it is I was asking for.  Sometimes, sadly, that is the only way we learn.  Sometimes, even as in earthly fathers, a child will not believe that something is hurtful until he or she experiences it.  Another thing that Jesus does not say is that if a child asks for candy and junk food, that a father would provide it.  Just as a responsible earthly father will constantly give his child with junk food, our Heavenly father will not give us junk food every time we ask.  What is junk food spiritually?  They are things that have no spiritual benefit and if consumed to any great degree can cause spiritual harm.  The lesson in that is that it is always best to trust that God knows what is best.  But that is all an aside, what Jesus is saying here is that a good father will not give a child a harmful gift if that child asks for a good gift.  The implication is that if an imperfect earthly father will follow that principle, then how much more would our perfect Heavenly Father.

That is exactly how Jesus continues.  He says "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!"  I think we need to note that there is a qualifier here.  Jesus says that God will give "good" things to those who ask Him.  That one word changes everything.  First of all, we have to recognize that God is the one who decides what "good" is.  Secondly, we have to realize that what is "good" for one person may not be good for another.  For example, if you struggle with greed and selfishness, is it "good" for you to be lavished with material wealth?  If you struggle with lust, will God put you in a relationship that will be a constant struggle with that temptation?  Of course that is not the case at all.  The things that God will give us are things that will help our spiritual development.  As I said before, God is not going to lavish us in spiritual "junk" food.  God tells us to keep our eyes on the kingdom of heaven and so He is not going to give us things to focus on the world.  God tells us to deny ourselves so He is not going to give us things that prop up our selves.  God tells us to crucify our flesh, and so God is not going to give us things to satisfy the flesh. 

Jesus then ends with a curious statement. He says "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."  At first glance, one may wonder what this has to do with asking God for things.  This statement, though, has much to do with asking things from God.  Earlier, Jesus told us that if we forgive others, God will forgive us.  In other words, if we ask God to forgive us, we should be forgiving of others.  Jesus is just saying now that His command does not end at forgiveness.  The same principle applies to other areas as well.  If we want God to bless us financially, we should be generous to others who ask us for financial help.  If we want God to help us through hard times, we should be helping others through hard times.  If we want God to do anything for us, we should be willing to do that same thing to others who ask us. 

And that really sums it up. As God gives good things to us when we ask for them, we should give good things to others who ask for them.  If we are following God, we will only ask for those things that grow our relationship with God.  If we are truly following God and asking for those right things, God will grant our requests. If we are truly following God, we will do for others what we want others to do for us.  What you see is that all of this centers around our relationship with God.  A good relationship leads to a blessed life that blesses others.  A poor relationship with God leads to a frustrated life of striving for things we should not have in our own strength and in so doing we not only hold back in our giving to others but we also take from others.  The so-called Golden Rule is not just about our relationship to others in the world, but it is also about our relationship to God.
Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask [them] back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.  Luke 6:30-31 NKJV

Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day

Hello everyone, today we honor those who lost their lives in defense of our nation.  I meant to post this much sooner, but due to technical difficulties (the internet in my home going out), it was not possible.  There is one verse that comes to mind today and I want us all to remember it not only as we honor those who paid the ultimate price for our earthly freedom, but also for the One who paid the ultimate price for our eternal freedom.  God bless you all.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. John 15:13 NKJV

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Destination Without A Map or Directions

I want you to all think back to an ancient time when there were no such things as smart phones.  The I want you to step back further to where there was no such thing as GPS for your car.  Then go back even before the internet gave us Mapquest and Google Maps.  That was a time when all we had to rely on were maps and directions.  I am not that old, but I remember those times.  I remember that if you had to get somewhere and you did not know the way you had to rely on a paper map or a person giving you directions. 

There was a very brief time in my life when I want to college in Reading, PA.  I was driving back home to New Jersey and wanted to get to the PA Turnpike. I asked a man at a gas station for directions and he said "You can't get there from here."  Of course, unless Reading, PA were in some strange vortex where no matter what you do it would be impossible to ever get to the turnpike, man was either lying, ignorant, or lazy.  So there I was knowing where I needed to get to, what direction it was in, but I had no idea of how to get there. 

That really reflects how I feel in life right now.  I believe God wants my wife and I to move north.  I have no map on how to do it and no directions have been provided.  I have a destination and a direction and that is it.  When I look at much of our challenges, it is like the world is telling me "You can't get there from here."  So here I am, knowing where I need to get to, what direction it is in, but no idea at all of how to get there. 

As the problem is the same, so is the answer.  Obviously, I am not still eternally traversing the roads of Reading trying to make it to the Turnpike.  No I pointed my car in the direction I needed to go and drove on looking for signs.  Eventually, there were signs, I made it to the Turnpike, and in a few hours I was home.  So what I need to do now is point my life in such a way to take me in the direction I need to go.  I need to move forward in that direction and look for signs along the way.  I am sure that God will provide those signs as we need them and I am sure that in the end, my wife and I will be exactly where He wants us to be. 

So that is what we will do.  We may need some help along the way.  We may hit some detours, reroutes, delays, and maybe even some signs we do not quite understand just yet.  We may even need some traveling with us at time helping us see signs when our eyes are weary.  I am sure that this journey will last longer than a few hours, but I also know it can be much quicker than expected.  What I do trust is that God will make sure that we arrive right on time, that is, His time. 
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV

Friday, May 27, 2011

Unofficially, It's Officially Summer

Happy Memorial Day Friday to everyone.  Today is a day that marks the beginning of the Summer Season, especially here in New Jersey.  Today's message is going to be short as it is just the end of a message began some months ago.  If any of you have followed this blog for any amount of time, you may have read my weekly message on the harsh weather for the year.  Since then, some cities were overcome by floods and others were destroyed by tornadoes.  That really puts my problems in perspective.  It's one thing to be taken away from your home because of the weather, but it is another thing entirely for your home itself to be taken away from the weather.

The point, though, that I want to make today is that we made it.  Summer is here and winter is gone.  It is not like we did not know this day was going to come as it did every other year.  Summer always comes after Winter.  The cold and ice and winter is always replaced with the warmth of summer.  Yet year after year we have celebrations to usher in the new summer and we have "when will it ever end" laments in the winter.  And I am the poster boy for that. 

This got me to thinking.  This is also really true in our spiritual lives.  Just like the warmth of summer and the fact that it will be back soon enough is easy to forget in the cold of winter, so is the faithfulness of God easy to forget when we go through hard time.  What I mean is just as we should know that summer will come even on the coldest of days, we should know that God will always come through even in the most seemingly hopeless situations.  

So take the time to rejoice today as winter turns to summer, but make a mental note to remember just how sweet this day is so that even when summer turns back into winter we will remember just how sweet this day was.  Not only that, we can take that faith that a day this sweet will come again.  Make sure you apply this same lesson to your spiritual walk.  I know some of you are in summer, some are in winter, and some are in between.  If you are in Summer, write a journal, make mental notes, and do whatever else it is you need to do to sear into your heart and mind how God is coming through and providing so that when Winter come again, you will have a reminder that God has before and will again come through.  If you are Winter, then remember that it was not always Winter.  Remember that it was once Summer and that you had other Winters before.  This is just one of those seasons where God is strengthening your faith.  Take heart that Summer will come again.  God has given us seasons not just in our world but also in our lives, and that should be a comfort.
To everything [there is] a season, A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck [what is] planted; 
A time to kill, And a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up;
A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance; 
A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep, And a time to throw away; 
A time to tear, And a time to sew; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;
A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace.   Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NKJV

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pigs and Pearls

Yesterday I shared about how we should share the Gospel message, today I am taking us back into the Sermon the the Mount to discuss to whom we are to share the Gospel with.  The short answer is that everyone should have an opportunity to hear the Gospel, but after that it is not quite so simple.  Here is today's text.
Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.  Matthew 7:6 NKJV
In order to understand what Jesus is saying, we need to understand the imagery Jesus is using.  First of all, things that are holy are things set apart or having to do with God.  As for dogs, Jesus is not talking about our beloved family pets. He is referring to the ravenous pack animals that roamed and scavenged the land.  These dogs would be more like wolves than Spot or Rover.  Jesus is referring to the Word of God and the things God is doing in your life.  Swine is a symbol of something unclean.  In other words, Jesus is telling us to be discerning in who we share the things of God with. 

One thing we need to make clear is that Jesus is not telling us to discern to whom we share the Gospel. Everyone should hear the Gospel.  If this injunction was taken to that extreme, none of us would have heard the Gospel.  I say that because who of us was not unclean before God before we came to Jesus?  Who of us was not running with the world living for ourselves and our own satisfaction like part of a pack of dogs before Christ?  The answer is that we all were.  The difference is that we saw who we were and hated it and invited Jesus to come into our lives. 

So one must ask then just who Jesus is talking about.  Peter shines some light on who I think Jesus is referring to.
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known [it], to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire."  2 Peter 2:20-22 NKJV
I do not believe Jesus is speaking of those who do not know the Gospel, but those who know it and who have either walked away or rejected it.  We all know people like this.  They have have had some signs of growth in their lives and then for whatever reason walked away and live in all-out rebellion to the Lord.  Then again sometimes they reject the Word out of hand and never show anything but disdain for the things of God.  Usually, they are worse that anyone who has never even known the Gospel.  They tend to be angry, bitter, rebellious, and talk rather hatefully towards someone they claim they do not believe even exists.  They often try to lure others away from the truth, spewing their lies and some even fall for their lies. 

The reason why we do not cast our pearls to them is because, for one, it is pointless.  They reject the Word of God.  They reject God.  Many reject the idea of any god.  What is the point of sharing the things of God with someone who either rejects Him or does not believe in Him?  But, in our pride (and I have been guilty of this myself), we have the idea of arguing someone into accepting God.  All we end up doing is getting ourselves frustrated and putting the things of God into a position to be scorned and mocked.  Just as Jesus said "they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces." 

And in that, we fail.  We fail because we frustrate the work God may by not following the example of God's word.  We would rather try to argue an atheist into accepting that not only a god exists, but it is the God of the Bible.  You will not win that argument because that atheist rejects the very Word of God you are trying to reach him or her with.  In fact, many know the Bible even better than you do.  Did Jesus chase after the rich man who went away sad not wanting to give up his money and try to reason with him the benefits of following Him?  No, he let him walk away.  Did Jesus instruct the apostles to stay in a city preaching to the same people over and over again until all receive the Lord?  No, He said that if they did not receive, we are to wipe the dust off our feet as a testimony to them and move along.  Did Paul send missionaries after Demas after he walked away?  No, there is no evidence that Paul sent anyone after Demas.  The fact is you can not argue someone into acceptance.  It is not our logic that will win someone for Christ.  It is not our ability to counterpoint all their points against God in some kind of debate that will win someone.  What will win someone is the Holy Spirit and until they reject His conviction, nothing we do can make them be saved.  Nothing we say or do can turn them to the truth they reject.  Doing so only frustrates what plan God may have to water seeds planted in their hearts.  Doing so only keeps you from preaching to those who will receive it.  Doing so only serves to offer God up to mockery. 

And so while we are to preach the Gospel to everyone, we are to not waste our time trying to force it down the throats of those who reject it.  Sharing the things of God to those who reject God will only serve to open you and God's Word and work up to mockery. Do not be looking for special projects or spiritual notches on your belt as those are constructs of your own pride.  It is not us who saves anyone, we only spread the seeds of the Gospel.  It is the Holy Spirit who convicts the heart unto salvation and it is only God who can cause those seeds to grow.  Let the atheists and scoffers be, God will deal with them in His time and in His way.  He certainly does not need our help.  Let's not try to force feed the Gospel to those who will just spit it back up in our faces when millions perish daily in their spiritual starvation. 
And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!  Matthew 10:14-15 NKJV

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Should We Preach Judgement or Should We Preach Mercy? The Answer is Yes.

There is an ongoing debate on Christianity regarding the emphasis of fire and brimstone or the emphasis of the love of Christ.  Sometimes in an argument, both sides can be right.  This is one of those cases.  When asked if a preacher should preach fire and brimstone or preach mercy, the answer is "Yes."  Here is the central text for today's lesson.
And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling [them] out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.  Jude 1:22-23 NKJV
There is no one formula for reaching everyone with the Gospel.  Some respond to the love of Jesus and some respond to the fear of judgement.  I do think it is superior for one to come to Christ drawn by His love, but that is not always the case. Some churches reach out only with love and avoid if at all possible any talk of sin and the eternal fire that awaits those who do not come to Jesus.  When they do refer to judgement, they usually call it "eternal separation" instead of being cast into eternal pain and torment "where their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched." (Mark 9:44 NKJV).  Other churches take out the sin hammer and beat away week after week.  Both of these approaches are unbalanced and fail to share the whole counsel of God.  We must reach out with the love of Christ and with the fear of impending judgement. 

The reason why both must be preached (beyond the Bible telling us so) is that they do go hand-in-hand.  Mercy is irrelevant with out the fear of judgement and the fear of judgement is hopeless with the mercy of Christ.  One can not exist without the other.  How can you teach the love of Jesus in dying for our sins without giving an open and honest reason as to why that was even necessary?  How can you share the judgement of God in the context of the Gospel without giving the hope that is in Jesus through His mercy and love?  The fact is that you can't.  Both must be preached and balanced against one another.  Anything less leaves some out of hearing the word that will reach them.  Let us look at an example of each in God's word.

The first example is reaching through fear of judgement.  We find our text in Acts chapter 2.  It is rather lengthy so I will not republish the whole sermon, but needless to say it cut to the core.  Peter shows how Jesus was Messiah and here is how he ends it.
Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: 'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool." Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard [this], they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men [and] brethren, what shall we do?" Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation." Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added [to them].  Acts 2:33-31 NKJV
Basically what Peter does is shows how Jesus was Messiah and reminds them that it was them who called out for His crucifixion.  He then reminded them how God would make the enemies of Jesus (ie. those who called for His death) His footstool.  They were cut to the heart at the realization of what they had done. Surely they did not want to perish.  Surely then did not want to be enemies of God and in fear of that impending judgement, they asked Peter what they should do.  Peter then shares the Gospel and thousands were saved.

On the other hand, here is an example of reaching out in love.
Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot." So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth." So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, [here is] water. What hinders me from being baptized?"  Acts 8::26-36 NKJV
In this example we see Phillip coming along side this Egyptian Eunuch and shared with him from Scripture the love of Jesus.  We also see that God was already working in his heart as he was reading some of Isaiah's prophesy regarding Jesus.  Phillip reached out in love to this stranger and led him to the Lord.  The eunuch was not reading a scripture regarding any coming judgement, but was reading about God's mercy through the sacrifice of Jesus. 

Perhaps the greatest example of balancing judgement and Mercy is our Lord.  It was the same Jesus who said.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  John 3:16 NKJV
That also said:
The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Matthew 13:41-42 NKJV
Jesus used both the hope of salvation through Him and the terror of eternal judgement for those outside of Him in his preaching. We must follow that same example.  We must follow the example of our Lord and be balanced in our message. 

There are so many cut-and-paste or "signature" Gospel messages we either learn or develop on our own.  We can not assume that the same presentation will have the same effect from one person to another.  People are individuals and we have to treat them as such.  I am not talking about changing the Gospel message.  That is entirely wrong and comes with grave warning in Scripture.  I am only talking about how we present that message.  We must take into account personal life experiences and cultural backgrounds when presenting the Gospel.  What may be a compliment to one person may be an insult to another.  While one may be reached with the warm embrace of God's eternal love, some will not be reached without the terror of God's eternal judgement.  The best presentations are ones that take both of those realities into consideration.  In fact, that is what I think to be the only way to accurately present the Gospel.  As I stated in the beginning, the love and mercy of God are meaningless when not presented in the context of God's judgement.  How can you call out for a savior if you do not know you need one?  What can mercy mean to someone when there is no expectation in judgement?  On the other hand, if you preach only judgement, where is the hope in that?  You can not force someone to come to Christ by scaring them half to death with the thoughts of eternal hellfire.  Coming to Jesus through compulsion does not create the loving relationship that God is seeking in us.  If you preach fire and brimstone, you must include the message of God's love.  You must preach not that just that you can come to Jesus to be saved from it, but that Jesus desires that from you.  In other words, you can not just teach that one can accept Jesus, but that Jesus loved that person so much that He died for them to make that even possible.  God deals with us as individuals and we must do the same in our outreach.
For though I am free from all [men], I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those [who are] under the law, as under the law, that I might win those [who are] under the law; to those [who are] without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those [who are] without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all [men], that I might by all means save some.  1 Corinthians 9:19-22 NKJV

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Duel of the Planks

It has been a while since I was in our series on the Sermon on the Mount.  There are still a few lessons left and today we will be picking back up in that series.  Here is today's text.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank [is] in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.  Matthew 7:1-5 NKJV
This passage is a favorite for those challenged in their sin.  Unfortunately, invoking this verse when challenged brings you under its injunction.  I say that because at first glance, one can see that this passage is directed at the accuser and not for the accused.  It is not meant to do away with the guilt of the accused but to direct the accuser to first examine himself.  So to begin, I want to eliminate the idea that this passage is a just response to whenever you are accused of sin.  What happens when someone comes to you and points out a sin in your life and your response is is to tell them not to judge you because of sin in the accusers life?  It makes you an accuser as well.  If you respond with someone's accusation of sin in your life by accusing them of their sin, you are merely showing your accuser your plank.  What you have then is a surreal sword fight fought with planks protruding from either of your eyes.  That immature silliness results in no one repenting and only serves to divide the body.  I know that it is hard for someone you know is involved in some unrepentant sin to point out sin in your own life.  In fact, you may describe it as humbling, and being humbled in our sin is exactly what the Lord wants.  It is that humbling of ourselves that begins the road to confession and repentance.  In fact that is the whole premise of this passage.  It is about humbling ourselves before God before we worry about the sin in the life of another.  In other words, we should be more concerned with sin in our own lives than in the lives of others. 

With that in mind, let is see what Jesus is saying to accusers.  First Jesus says "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you."  This makes perfect sense.  You will be judged by the same standards you set for others.  If you believe that even a sip of alcohol is a sin, then you had better not have a sip yourself.  If you believe that you must meet some holiness standard to be saved, then you had better meet that standard yourself.  Anything less than meeting the same standards you set for others makes you a hypocrite.  I know that I say some pretty strict things in my writings.  I know that even writing about the standards set by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and their application to our lives subjects me to those same standards.  For me, that is a good thing.  I want my friends and family and anyone else who reads this blog to hold me to these standards.  I have written various times about what God's word says about being a husband, and I want to be that husband I write about and want for others to hold me to that standard.  My wife and I are praying for God to bless us with a child and should that time come, I want to be reminded of all I have written about what God says about parents. 

Please also do not take this verse to a ridiculous extreme.  Some may take it to mean that if we are permissive in our own judgements than God will be permissive with us. God plan for salvation and instruction for righteous living are encapsulated forever in the Word of God and it is by that measuring stick that we will be judged.  What Jesus is saying is that if we add to the standards set forth God's word, we will be judged by those additional standards.  The Bible is clear on the perils of adding to His Word and Jesus is illustrating that point here.  If you judge and measure by the Word of God, then you will be judged and measured by the Word of God.  That is how it is supposed to be. 

Next Jesus goes on to say "And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank [is] in your own eye?"  What Jesus is saying here is that how can we accuse another of sin when we have not examined our own hearts.  We can not look for sin in the life of another when there is glaring sin in our own lives.  Maybe our sin is not glaring to the rest of the world, but it is glaring to ourselves and to God.  What may seem like a mere speck to others, we know very well to be a full-grown plank.  Jesus is not saying to not look for lesser sin in the life of another while there is great sin in our lives.  He is saying not to look for any sin in the life of another before we have examined ourselves for any unrepented or unconfessed sin in our own lives.  The point Jesus is making here is that we need to examine ourselves.  The imperative should always been our own relationship with God and what sin in our own lives is hindering that relationship.

Now Jesus tells us why.  He says "Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."  People challenged by their sin love to quote the first part of this verse telling their accuser to take the plank out of their eye.  This is not an injunction on confronting sin, it is only directing the accuser to make sure he has examined himself and dealt with the Lord regarding his own sin first.  First remove the plank, then you can help your brother remove his speck.  The idea is not to prevent the sinning brother from being confronted, but to make sure the confronter does so with a clean heart.  Challenging someone on their sin while you refuse to do anything about your own, as Jesus says, makes you a hypocrite.  Can a compulsive gambler rightfully tell the alcoholic about getting over his addiction?  It is the blind leading the blind!  However, the gambler who has overcome his addiction through Christ can see with all clarity to counsel the alcoholic to put away his own addiction.  That is the heart of what Jesus is saying here.  When you are caught in your own sin, you are willfully blind and unable to see how to lead another out of their sin.  It is when you have put away your own sin that you can see clearly enough to lead another out of their sin. 

So what we have here is not an injunction to confront someone on their sin, but instructions on how we are to confront someone on their sin.  First, we are warned that we are to be judged by the same standards on which we judge someone else.  While we have no place in judging the eternal position of another, we have every right to judge the sin of another.  Paul directed the Corinthians to judge the sexual sin of one of its members and cast him out.  Paul also instructs us to not keep fellowship with Christians who refuse to repent of their sin.  Jesus instructs us on the steps of church discipline and how to progress from personal confrontation to being cast out of fellowship before the whole church.  To say that we are not to confront others on their sin is to go against the counsel of God's word.  That said, we are not to be self-righteous about it, nor are we to be legalistic.  What Jesus is referring to is adding to the Word of God or questioning the heart behind one's actions (only God knows the heart).  We are not to be hypercritical or nitpick as the Pharisees were known to do.  We are to rebuke others in their sin, though.  We are to share what the Word of God says by others actions.  Yes, we will be judged by those same standards, but that means we will be judged by God's Word.  And that is a good thing for it is God's word that proclaims the Gospel that I am saved by grace through faith and that my eternal position in paradise is secure and settled. 

We also see the instruction by Jesus that before we confront others on their sin, we are to search our own hearts for what sins we might be harboring.  We must challenge a brother to repent of his sin when we have not repented of ours.  Our words will fall flat and we will be a hypocrite.  We must take the plank from our own eyes to be able to lead our brother to remove the speck from his.  We also have to understand that this instruction is for the accuser and not the accused.  The sinful nature of the accuser does not change the truthfulness of his accusation.  If you are rebuked by someone who is just as caught up or even more caught up in sin than you are, then accept that rebuke with all humility.  Do not get into a plank fight that only serves to damage further the both of you.  If your brother comes to you with a plank in his eye about the speck in yours, accept his rebuke and seek the Lord to remove that speck, then perhaps you can see clearly to help your brother remove the plank from his. 
 He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, But he who heeds rebuke gets understanding. Proverbs 15:32 NKJV