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From Exclusion to Embrace

Jesus wants us to move away from excluding others and toward embracing others.

The Story Behind the Sermon

This year (2009) we have been preaching through the Gospel of Luke. As the preaching schedule was being put together, it just so happened that I was assigned to speak the Sunday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. My passage for the day was from Luke 6—the passage about not judging others. Although our suburban church has a growing population of minority members, it is still a predominantly Anglo congregation, and I had never heard anyone acknowledge, let alone celebrate, MLK Day. I used this message as an opportunity to speak about human dignity, drawing from King's sermons on the subject. It was my way of introducing the church to King the theologian and preacher, helping them see that he was more than just a civil rights leader (as significant as that part of his life was).

I also had another intent for the message, though. In recent years I have heard more and more people in my congregation engaging in heated political or cultural rhetoric against groups with whom they disagree. I felt that we were going far beyond discerning truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Some were engaged in the condemnation of whole groups of people because of their divergent beliefs. I wanted to help the church recognize the difference between discernment and judgment. This is a distinction that few seem to understand anymore. The wider culture believes any discernment—any identification of right and wrong—is an act of intolerance. Some in the church have overreacted to this politically-correct attitude by taking their discernment into the realm of judgment and condemnation. Jesus denounces both extremes by calling us to differentiate clearly between good and evil, but to also love our enemies rather than condemn them.


There is so much to talk about in Luke 6:37-42, that it's almost overwhelming. We could spend an entire morning on the well-known "loving your enemies" section—and another morning on the parable about removing the log from your own eye in order to remove the speck from your brother's. These are really important concepts that speak to how we are to relate to one another. But what I want to concentrate on is one sentence: "Judge not, and you will not be judged."


You hear this one little sentence quoted a lot, don't you? We tend to invoke this on our own behalf when we feel attacked or when we feel guilty. "Hey, who are you to judge me?"

Sometimes this verse is used by those outside the faith to accuse Christians of hypocrisy. In 2008, an interesting book was published—David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons' UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity. It's based on research done among non-Christian twentysomethings. One of the core findings was that Christians are widely perceived to be judgmental. Here's a brief quote:

Nearly nine out of ten young outsiders (87 percent) said that the term "judgmental" accurately describes present-day Christianity. … Just to put this in practical terms, when you introduce yourself to a twentysomething neighbor, and you mention your faith, chances are he or she will think of you as judgmental.

Whether or not Christians really are judgmental, that is the perception people have of us. So, it's pretty important that we understand what Jesus means when he says "Judge not." The key is recognizing that the word judge can be used two different ways in Scripture. Sometimes judge is used to speak of judging between two things—the act of differentiating or discerning. This is why we talk about judging between right and wrong, good and evil, righteous and unrighteous. But this kind of judgment—this sense of discernment—is not what Jesus is commanding us to avoid. In fact, throughout the Bible we are called to discern. In Luke 6:43-45, for example, Jesus talks about having the discernment to see the difference between good people and evil people, comparing them to trees. "Good trees," he says, "produce good fruit. Bad trees produce bad fruit." Seeing that takes discernment. It's judging things correctly.

Judgment as discernment is not the kind of judgment Jesus is prohibiting in verse 37. New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce explains it this way: "Judgment is an ambiguous word, in Greek as in English: it may mean exercising a proper discernment, or it may mean sitting in judgment on people (or even condemning them)." In other words, judgment has two meanings. It can mean discernment between good and evil, right and wrong, or it can mean to condemn. Judgment as condemnation is what Jesus is prohibiting. He makes it all the more clear in the second half of verse 37: "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned." Jesus is simply saying the same thing, two different ways.

In verse 37, Jesus is calling on us not to condemn people, not to pass final judgment, not to declare others irretrievably guilty. This is an incredibly important idea if you understand the context in which Jesus was speaking. The entire culture of first century Judea was predicated on the notion that some people were acceptable and others were not. The way you defined yourself—your identity and place in the world—was by contrasting yourself with others. For example, at that time Jews saw themselves as inherently better or more acceptable to God then non-Jews. In fact, they commonly referred to Gentiles as dogs—as less than human.

Certain judgments occurred among Jews, though. Rich people were seen as more blessed and acceptable to God than poor people. The healthy were seen as righteous, and those with diseases or disabilities were judged to be sinners. This went so far that they even constructed an elaborate social hierarchy to determine who was in and who was out, who could worship God and who could not. They believed that certain people were inherently more valuable than others—that some were literally sub-human and could be treated as such. They were condemned to a life of exclusion from the community and from a relationship with God.

This is the kind of judgment that Jesus says is absolutely wrong. When we condemn someone we are declaring that they have no value, no worth—that they do not matter to us or God. We exclude them from belonging as a way of elevating ourselves. Author and pastor Greg Boyd captures well the problem of this kind of judgment when he writes: "You can't love and judge at the same time, [because] it's impossible to ascribe unsurpassable worth to others when you're using others to ascribe worth to yourself." That's the problem Jesus is addressing—the idea that our worth requires someone else's condemnation.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I've studied and read a lot about King over the years. He's a fascinating man—not just as a civil rights leader, but as a pastor and a preacher. He's a more brilliant theologian than most people today realize. I want to read from one of his sermons in which he describes why segregation, a form of exclusion and judgment, is so wrong:

Segregation is not only inconvenient—that isn't what makes it wrong. Segregation is not only sociologically untenable—that isn't what makes it wrong. Segregation is not only politically and economically unsound—that is not what makes it wrong. Ultimately, segregation is morally wrong and sinful. … It's wrong because it substitutes an "I-It" relationship for the "I-Thou" relationship and relegates persons to the status of things.

In other words, judgment causes us to see someone else not as a person, but as a thing—as less than human, less valuable. Once we do that to a person or a group of people, it opens the door to all kinds of terrible things: segregation, injustice, abuse—even genocide.

We may discern another person or group to be wrong, but when that discernment causes us to value another person or group less, then we've crossed the line into judgment, condemnation, and exclusion. As I've already pointed out, even among the religious in Jesus' culture this was a common practice. But I don't think it's any less common among religious people today. Obviously there are people and groups that we may disagree with theologically, socially, or politically. But we seem to cross that line between discernment and judgment so easily today. We quickly devalue or write off "those people" as less valuable. We exclude them from the status that we feel privileged alone to occupy.

I see this a lot in political shows on TV or the radio. Sometimes these talk show hosts speak about liberals as if they're demonic. If you're a political conservative, that's fine! Defend your views, disagree with others, engage on the level of ideas. But when you start to condemn those who disagree with your politics—when you see them as intrinsically inferior—you're in dangerous territory.

I realize these political shows are popular, but I wonder what constant exposure to this kind of rhetoric—from either side of the political spectrum—does to our souls. I wonder how constant exposure might warp our perception of other people and certain groups. I would caution you, as people of Christ, to be on your guard. Use your discernment to determine whether constantly exposing yourself to that kind of stuff is really helping you love others as Christ desires. Is it possible that it might be teaching you to judge and condemn in order to elevate your own sense of worth and rightness?

Here's another place I see judgment and exclusion among Christians today: the way we've responded to Muslims. Since September 11 and the subsequent wars in the Middle East, the anti-Muslim rhetoric among Christians has really gotten out of hand in some cases. Again, there's a difference between disagreeing with Islamic ideas and theology and the condemnation of Muslims as people. The popular narrative today is the so-called "clash of civilizations"—that Muslims and Christians are in a battle for control. When that's how we think—when that's how we frame the relationship—it's easy to judge, condemn, and exclude Muslims.

When we see other people as wrong—not just wrong in what they believe, but in their core identity as people—it's easy to convince ourselves that we don't have to love them, we don't have to serve them, we don't have to respect them. This exclusion and condemnation of others fuels so much of what's broken in our world today. It's what convinces one group to kill another or one person to abuse another. Jesus says, "Not so with you." We are never to judge, never to condemn, never to exclude, never to see anyone as without value or dignity—even the person we disagree with most. To quote Greg Boyd again: "The Christian's job is to agree with God that every person you meet was worth Jesus dying for." We cannot ascribe that kind of value and dignity to a person and condemn them at the same time. It's just not possible.


There's another side to the issue we've been discussing. We've talked about those who judge and exclude, but what about those being judged and excluded? What about the victims who've been relegated to subhuman status and are being mistreated by others? Jesus has something important to say to them as well. Consider all of verse 37: "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven." When we are judged and condemned, we are to forgive.

I want you to see how all of these instructions are connected. If we just had the first part about not judging or condemning, we could say that Jesus just wants us to do no harm—to live and let live. We could argue that while we shouldn't exclude anyone, we don't necessarily have to embrace them either. But by adding this command to forgive, Jesus is calling us to something more. As his people we're not just supposed to tolerate people we disagree with. We're not just supposed to live and let live. We are called to be a people of forgiveness. And forgiveness is a call to actively seek out and reconcile. Another way of putting it is that Jesus wants us to move away from excluding others and toward embracing others.

I've mentioned how our tendency to exclude and condemn leads to all kinds of evil—from segregation to war to abuse. One way to end these things is to stop judging, stop seeing others as subhuman. But that's not the only way. When we find ourselves the victims of wrongdoing, the instinct is to retaliate, to hate the person or group doing wrong to us. But that just leads to endless cycles of brokenness and destruction. As Gandhi once famously said, "Taking an eye for an eye will eventually leave the whole world blind." Jesus says: Whether you find yourself in a position to condemn and exclude—or whether you find yourself in the position of a victim—as the people of God, it is your responsibility to end the cycle. You are not to judge, not to condemn, not to exclude. You are to forgive, to heal, to reconcile.

I've been reading Desmond Tutu's No Future Without Forgiveness. Tutu is a bishop in South Africa who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against apartheid. The book is about his leadership role in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. South Africa had been plagued for generations by terrible violence between the white ruling minority and the black majority—a vivid case of exclusion and judgment. Once the whites relinquished power and Nelson Mandela become President, the question in need of an answer was clear: How does a country with so much pain and violence and division in its past move forward? Tutu and others established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a way forward. The goal was for those who had committed atrocities in the past to come forward and tell the truth—both blacks and whites. But it didn't end there. After confessing the truth, the goal was to bring reconciliation and forgiveness—to break the cycle of hate so the entire country could move forward.

One particular chapter in the book was one of the hardest things I've ever read. Tutu recounts testimony after testimony of people, both black and white, who came before the commission to confess to torturing and murdering others. It was horrific—terrible stories in graphic detail. It's almost impossible to believe that human beings are capable of such evil. Two people who came before the commission were Mrs. Calata and her daughter. Mrs. Calata's husband had been an advocate for black South Africans in rural communities. Because of his work, he'd been arrested, detained, and tortured by the police numerous times. But one day he disappeared. On the front page of the newspaper, Mrs. Calata saw a photograph of her husband's car on fire. She cried so loudly during the hearing, describing the autopsy's report about his torture, that the commission had to be adjourned.

When they reconvened, Mrs. Calata's daughter testified. Years had gone by, and she was now a young lady. She pleaded with the commission to discover who had killed her father. But she was not crying out because she wanted vengeance or justice. Instead she said to the commission, "We want to forgive, but we don't know whom to forgive."

Eventually members of the police confessed to the crime. Rather than continue the endless cycle of hatred, Mrs. Calata and her daughter forgave the men who tortured and killed their husband and father, because that's what Christ's people do.

Does forgiveness mean we don't care about justice? Does forgiveness mean there is no consequence for evil? No! What it means is that we leave justice and vengeance in God's hands. He alone can judge rightly. Our job, as agents of his kingdom on earth, is to break the cycles of hate—to move from a people of exclusion to a people of embrace, forgiving others just as God, in Christ, has forgiven us.


In light of tomorrow's holiday, I want to read an excerpt from one of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s sermons. He captures what Jesus intends in Luke 6. He shows us how we are to break the cycles of hate with love:

We need not hate; we need not use violence. We can stand up before our most violent opponent and say: … Do to us what you will and we will still love you … throw us in jail. We will go in those jails and transform them from dungeons of shame to havens of freedom and human dignity. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities after midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead, and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Go around the country and use your propaganda agents to make it appear that we are not fit culturally, morally, or otherwise for integration, and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes, and as difficult as it is, we will still love you.
But be assured that … one day we will win our freedom, but we will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience [by our love] that we will win you in the process. And our victory will be a double victory.
Oh yes, love is the way. Love is the only absolute. More and more I see this. I've seen too much hate to want to hate myself; hate is too great a burden to bear. I've seen it on the faces of too many [people]. Hate distorts the personality. Hate does something to the soul that causes one to lose his objectivity. The man who hates can't think straight; the man who hates can't reason right; the man who hates can't see right; the man who hates can't walk right. And I know now that Jesus is right, that love is the way. And this is why John said, "God is love," so that he who hates does not know God, but he who loves at that moment has the key that opens the door to the meaning of ultimate reality. So this morning there is so much that we have to offer to the world.

Likewise for us this morning, there is so much we have to offer the world. Let us not judge. Let us not condemn. Let's reject the all-too-common practice of devaluing others as a way of elevating ourselves. Let's instead forgive so we can break the cycles of hate in our world. Let's embrace others—even those we disagree with—with the same love that God has lavished upon us.

To see an outline of Jethani's sermon, click here.

For your reflection:

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? _____________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ___________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see Plagiarism, Schmagiarism and Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize.

Skye Jethani is an author, speaker, consultant, and ordained minister. He also serves as the co-host of the popular Holy Post Podcast.

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Sermon Outline:


There is so much to talk about in Luke 6:37—42, that it's almost overwhelming.

I. Exclusion

We are never to judge, never to condemn, never to exclude, never to see anyone as without value or dignity—even the person we disagree with most.

II. Embrace

We are not just supposed to tolerate people we disagree with. We are called to be a people of forgiveness and reconciliation.


Let us not judge or condemn. Let's instead forgive so we can break the cycles of hate in our world. Let's embrace others—even those we disagree with—with the same love that God has lavished upon us.