Have you ever had one of those moments when you’re reading the Bible and a word leaps out to shakes your world? Reminds me of Groucho Marx’s old TV show “You Bet Your Life” where saying the secret word would win the contestant $100.00. The secret word for today is “pardon.” Not in the modern sense of “pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon.” Or in the western sense of “pardon me ma’am.” But in the judicial sense of “you have been pardoned by the Governor.” Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:37–38, NASB95)
After a judge pronounces the sentence there are five possible outcomes (six if you count death but let’s not go there). The first is to serve the full term after which the convict is said to have, “paid their debt to society.” The conviction could also be overturned when new evidence comes to light which proves a person’s innocence. A sentence can also be commuted, reduced to time served or to a lighter sentence. The guilt remains but the debt was paid off early. The fourth outcome is to be paroled. The convict is released but will only remain so if they toe the line for a set amount of time. The final possible outcome is to be pardoned, forgiven by the state and released.
Likewise, when we suffer offense at the hands of another the same possibilities exist. The offender might be “jailed” until their debt is paid in full with interest. We check the tally sheet whenever we’re around them to determine if we have extracted our “pound of flesh.”
Occasionally, we realize we have rushed to judgment and overturn their sentence. Of course we, like the state, do not bear any guilt for being wrong in the first place. Now we come to two outcomes that appear forgiving but really aren’t. We may feel magnanimous and let someone out of our jail early. Our chest swells as if we’ve really done something good. Essentially we are saying, “Let’s forget about the recent unpleasantness and move on.” It may look like forgiveness but it’s not. The guilt remains on their rap sheet ready to be presented at some point in the future.
To parole, the offender also means that we’ve let them out of jail early and allowed them to reenter our lives but…one foul up, one mistake, one wrong word, one wrong look, any hint of the previous offense and bam, it’s back to jail for them. We, of course, feel great about this, we gave them a chance, we opened the door, their failure just proves that we were right in the first place.
The desired outcome, however, is to pardon; to forgive the offense. The forgiveness is total, the records of wrong are sealed and forgotten.
Before we move on we need to take one step back. We need to recognize that our sin is not only failing to pardon but in condemning the person in the first place. There is a big fat line between recognizing sin in others and condemning them for it.
Jesus did not call us as judge, jury, and executioner. He calls us to be ministers of reconciliation, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18–19, NASB95) Jesus is our primary example, it is the continuation of His ministry that we are employing.
We love to quote John 3:16 but often fail to remember the next verse, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16–17, NASB95) Even when Jesus spoke a harsh word (i.e. Matthew 23:13-36) there is a note of warning and opportunity to change instead of final, never to be turned back from, condemnation.
Jesus’ final marching orders did not say “Go into all the world and judge them.” He instead said to, “Go and make disciples.” Kindergarteners can’t do calculus, for that matter neither can I, but that doesn’t mean that they will never be able to, It means that they can’t yet. Likewise, who are we to judge whether a person can or cannot grow in Christ because of the sin and offense of today?
Forgiveness is not simply a good idea. Jesus explained after the Lord’s prayer, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14–15, NASB95) When it seemed that the Apollo 13 astronauts might be forever lost in space Mission Director Gene Kranz said, “Failure is not an option.” Likewise, our Mission Director Jesus Christ has firmly stated that forgiveness and pardon is the only option.
Lastly, Jesus reminds us, “for by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” Not in half measure or like measure but, “pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” With that in mind, what is your measure? Your standard of judgment and condemnation is that which you will receive. Your measure of forgiveness will be also returned to you in like manner. I know that I’m not perfect at it. I know that I fall into the trap of judgment. I know that I have a long way to go. My desire is to freely and fully pardon others instead of extracting the debt, waiting for new evidence, or releasing without trust. Amazing what God can do with just one word.