What measures do you use with others? Are you gracious, holding your tongue when wronged? Are you generous and sincere when praising others? Or merciful and gentle when correcting another’s sin? This multifaceted word, measure, can mean an amount, a planned action, or a standard of comparison.
During His Sermon on the Mount, while declaring the characteristics, principles, and consequences of God’s kingdom, Christ said:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV)
And, again, as reported by Luke:
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:37-38 (ESV)
And, warning His disciples after explaining a parable about entering the kingdom of God:
…He said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 4:24-25 (ESV)
I must admit, the passage in Luke is a favorite of mine. Who wouldn’t want overflowing returns of like kind for your deeds? That is, of course, if those deeds were gracious, generous, sincere, merciful, and gentile.
John Calvin explains these synoptic gospel passages:
Matthew 7:1. Judge not These words of Christ do not contain an absolute prohibition from judging, but are intended to cure a disease, which appears to be natural to us all. We see how all flatter themselves, and every man passes a severe censure on others. This vice is attended by some strange enjoyment: for there is hardly any person who is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults.
[Everyone] acknowledges…that it is an intolerable evil, that those who [fail to notice] their own vices are so [habitually] against their brethren. The Heathens, too, in ancient times, condemned it in many proverbs. Yet it has existed in all ages, and exists, too, in the present day. [Indeed], it is accompanied by another and a worse plague: for the greater part of men think that, when they condemn others, they acquire a greater liberty of sinning.
This depraved eagerness for biting, censuring, and slandering, is restrained by Christ, when he says, Judge not. It is not necessary that believers should become blind, and perceive nothing, but only that they should refrain from an undue eagerness to judge: for otherwise the proper bounds of rigor will be exceeded by every man who desires to pass sentence on his brethren.
…To judge, therefore, means here, to be influenced by curiosity in inquiring into the actions of others. This disease, in the first place, draws continually along with it the injustice of condemning any trivial fault, as if it had been a very heinous crime; and next breaks out into the insolent presumption of looking disdainfully at every action, and passing an unfavorable judgment on it, even when it might be viewed in a good light.
Delving deeper into the nature of unrighteous judgment, he says:
We now see, that the design of Christ was to guard us against indulging excessive eagerness, or [ready irritation], or [intense hatred], or even curiosity, in judging our neighbors. He who judges according to the word and law of the Lord, and forms his judgment by the rule of charity, always begins with subjecting himself to examination, and preserves a proper medium and order in his judgments.
Hence it is evident, that this passage is altogether misapplied by those persons who would desire to make that moderation, which Christ recommends, a pretense for setting aside all distinction between good and evil.
We are not only permitted, but are even bound, to condemn all sins; unless we choose to rebel against God himself, — [going so far as] to repeal his laws, to reverse his decisions, and to overturn his judgment-seat.
It is his will that we should proclaim the sentence which he pronounces on the actions of men: only we must preserve such modesty towards each other, as to make it manifest that he is the only Lawgiver and Judge, (Isaiah 33:22.)
Then Calvin characterizes the punishment due these censorious judges:
That you may not be judged He [announces] a punishment against those severe judges, who take so much delight in sifting the faults of others. They will not be treated by others with greater kindness, but will experience, in their turn, the same severity which they had exercised towards others. As nothing is dearer or more valuable to us than our reputation, so nothing is more bitter than to be condemned, or to be exposed to the reproaches and infamy of men.
And yet it is by our own fault that we draw upon ourselves that very thing which our nature so strongly detests, for which of us is there, who does not examine too severely the actions of others; who does not manifest undue rage against slight offenses; or who does not [testily] censure what was in itself indifferent?
And what is this but deliberately to provoke God, as our avenger, to treat us in the same manner. Now, though it is a just judgment of God, that those who have judged others should be punished in their turn, yet the Lord executes this punishment by the instrumentality of men.
Chrysostom and others limit this statement to the present life: but that is a forced interpretation. Isaiah threatens (33:1) that those who have spoiled others shall be spoiled. In like manner, our Lord means, that there will be no want of executioners to punish the injustice and slander of men with equal bitterness or severity. And if men shall fail to receive punishment in this world, those who have shown undue eagerness in condemning their brethren will not escape the judgment of God.
And, finally, Calvin addresses the question of just recompense:
Luke 6:37, 38. Forgive, and it shall be forgiven to you. Give, and it shall be given to you. This promise, which is added by Luke, means, that the Lord will cause him, who is indulgent, kind, and just to his brethren, to experience the same gentleness from others, and to be treated by them in a generous and friendly manner.
Yet it frequently happens, that the children of God receive the very worst reward, and are oppressed by many unjust slanders; and that, to when they have injured no man’s reputation, and even spared the faults of brethren. But this is not inconsistent with what Christ says: for we know, that the promises which relate to the present life do not always hold, and are not without exceptions.
Besides, though the Lord permits his people, when innocent, to be unjustly oppressed and almost overwhelmed, he fulfills what he says in another place, that “their uprightness shall break forth as the morning,” (Isaiah 58:8.) In this way, his blessing always rises above all unjust slanders. He subjects believers to unjust reproaches, that he may humble them, and that he may at length maintain the goodness of their cause.
It ought also to be taken into the account, that believers themselves, though they endeavor to act justly towards their brethren, are sometimes carried away by excessive severity against brethren, who were either innocent, or not so greatly to be blamed, and thus, by their own fault, provoke against themselves a similar judgment.
If they do not receive good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, though this is chargeable on the ingratitude of the world, yet they ought to acknowledge that it was partly deserved: for there is no man who is so kind and indulgent as he ought to be towards his brethren.
Augustine summarized these verses’ essence this way:
…Is it the case, then, that if we shall judge anything with a rash judgment, God will also judge rashly with respect to us?
…By no means does God either judge rashly, or recompense to anyone with an unjust measure; but it is so expressed: …that very same rashness [by which] you punish another must necessarily punish yourself.
…[As an example,] what else is meant by the statement, “For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” but that the soul dies by that very sin, whatever it may be, which it has committed?
Please, if the Spirit impresses these verses on you, as He does on me, take them to heart and change your measures.
Richter: On The Nature Of Daylight, YouTube, Versions available on Amazon: Quintet and Orchestra