Mark Shea: The measure you use will be measured to you

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One spiritual principle that is important to grasp is that the measure you use will be measured to you (Matthew 7:2).  We see it illustrated in the gospel in several ways.  Jesus, for instance, says:

“That servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:47-48)

The warning of the gospel is that the more you claim to be a “Real Christian”[TM], the more responsible you are to obey him without deflecting to somebody else’s behaviour in order to blame-shift.  All finger-pointing at others receives the reply Jesus gave to Peter when he tried to pry into the Lord’s plans for John:  “What is that to you?  Follow me!” (John 21:22).

This is why Jesus adjusts his approach to people, depending on their approach to him.  For instance, in Mark 12 he meets three different sorts of people.

The first are cunning predators, seeking to trap Jesus with their questions about Roman taxes so that they can accuse him. The second are Sadducees who want to show the upstart who rules the theological roost in a debate about the Resurrection, which they reject. The third is an honest seeker of truth.

Jesus handles the predators according to their own cunning: he ingeniously turns the tables on them and honours both God and Caesar according to their proper stations without pitting either against each other.  The predator’s trap is foiled and everybody is amazed.

Jesus addresses the Sadducees on their terms as well. They only regard the first five books of the Bible as inspired so he answers them from those books, noting from Exodus that God says “I am (not was) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exodus 3:6).  Therefore they still live. He does not try to get the Sadducees to believe the prophets (who speak more plainly of the Resurrection) are inspired right then and there. He meets the Sadducees where they are and tries to bring them to further light.

Finally, Jesus speaks to the sincere questioner by giving him a sincere answer. The honest man wants to know what the greatest commandment is.  Jesus answers plainly: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31). No parables.  No elusive language. No mysterious imagery.  Just a straight answer to a straight question.  Why?  Because the questioner has no agenda other than the straight road to God, so Jesus answers him according to the measure he uses.

The same principle applies to us. Paul tells us: “To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15).

Much of what we call “the judgment of God” is simply us seeing God through the lenses of our own eyes and projecting on to him our assumptions about him.  If we are harsh and punitive, we assume God is harsh and punitive.  If we are loving, we more clearly see that God is love.  If we are trapped in fear, we will bring that fear to our relationship with God.

No small part of the work of the Holy Spirit is freeing us from the contact lenses we have worn due to upbringing or choice so that we can see clearly and seek God without distorted agendas.  As we listen to him in prayer and Scripture and step-by-step try to follow his light, the hidden sins of our own labyrinthine hearts become known to us and we gain more and more freedom.

So the Psalmist prays:

Clear me from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:12-14).