Measure by measure

If we study the scriptures carefully, we will see that our Lord is one who takes measure.  It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that faith, obedience, and love are things we possess and exercise in full or simply lack completely.  It is easy to think that these are all or nothing.  After all, we separate ourselves into those who love God and those who do not, those who obey him and those who do not, those who believe in him and those who do not.  Yet, the scriptures tell us that these attributes can be measured as different from one person to another, and these differences matter.  When we talk about the measure of a man or the measure of a woman, we must keep in mind that God truly measures us and often distributes according to that measure.

Mt. 7:1-5

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.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

The culture in this country today, and a lot of our global culture, has a problem with entitlement.  Entitlement is all about the assertion of a right.  Some will feel entitled to have or possess certain things because of their position or station in life.  Others will feel entitled to take liberties with the law or the rights of others.  Regardless of the specific entitlement, the one who holds that position is doing so because he or she thinks that a different rule or set of rules applies in their case.  When I was in grade school, there was nothing so sacred as one’s place in line.  Each of us wanted to be at the front, and it was a battle any time we had to line up for anything.  If another student tried to cut in line, everyone behind that spot would be up in arms.  We saw that as such a grave injustice.  However, each of us at one time or another tried that same tactic.  No doubt, some of us thought that we had a right to get to the front quicker and bypass others whose rights were less than ours.

The bible’s lessons regarding our measure of judgment on others and the corresponding measure of judgment on us are about entitlement.  The point is that we are not to think that some other rules apply to us for some reason.  We cannot hold anyone to a certain standard and then think that we can skate by with a lower standard.  We cannot impose upon others the rules and precepts of God but then defy them ourselves.  Part of the equation here is that those who are so adamant to have others follow God so closely and strictly should be just as adamant to do the same themselves.  The pastor or the elder cannot say that only the flock must obey certain rules. The shepherds who lead the sheep cannot hold themselves above the law.  If anything, those who are in positions of authority in the Church must walk an even more spotless walk.  Their responsibility for instruction and example requires that they act as they speak.  It is for us to examine ourselves first because God will examine us by the same measure we examine others.

Mk. 4:21-25

And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?  For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”  And 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.”

The lamp under the basket is an image that anyone who has spent any time in a church will recognize.  It seems like a rather silly metaphor because the picture it paints is nonsensical.  There is absolutely no reason why anyone would take a lamp, which would have been a light by fire in that time, and place it under a basket.  Not only would the basket have covered the light, but the basket could have caught fire.  The picture we see is not so much about the light and the basket or a fire, but it is about purpose.  There is a reason why a person lights a lamp.  This is not something done without a reason, which is to provide some kind of necessary illumination.  In this context, the lamp and the basket are at odds regarding that purpose.  Where the lamp is there to shine, the basket is there to dim.  A person who puts a basket over a lamp stifles the purpose of its light, and that light will lessen.  In fact, if the lamp is covered enough, that lamp will go out for lack of oxygen as fuel.

When we look at this passage now, the illustration gains meaning.  Jesus is speaking about the light in us, and that light has a purpose.  Our options are to shine the light or cover it.  If we shine that light, the Lord will cause even greater illumination in return.  He is measuring how we share our light and rewarding us accordingly.  By the same token, those who decide to cover their light and keep it for themselves will end up with loss.  We cannot expect God to reward us for being unfaithful stewards of the precious gift He has given us.  We cannot expect him to give us more if we are unfaithful with what we have now.  He expects that we would value this treasure and chase an increase.  The way that we do that is by letting the light in us do what it was purposed to do.  When we do that, God causes us to shine even brighter.  When we decide to darken and dim that light, God causes it to grow darker, and it might even go out.

Rom. 12:3-8

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

When I read this passage of scripture, the two operative words I see are assigned and given.   First, we read here that God assigns our measure of faith.  It does not say how that measure is taken, but we know that this is within his purview.  We also read that these varying measures of faith correlate to the different functions the members serve in the body.  Some functions will require more faith than others, and God will distribute the measure that is necessary for any saint’s function to be carried out.  Second, we read that our gifts differ according to the grace given to us.  The same concept applies here.  There is a correlation between the amount or magnitude of grace we receive and the resulting gifts.  For some gifts, more grace is required.  These also are within God’s purview to measure and distribute, and that is the basic idea behind our requirement to think of one another with sober judgment.

I could operate in every spiritual gift available, and perhaps I would operate in those gifts incredibly well, and that might cause me to look upon others who are less gifted as being less than I.  If this were the case, I would have completely missed the point of this passage.  It is the same reason why we cannot look at others as more highly than ourselves simply because they have gifts we do not have or in greater measure.  Whether we are talking about the faith required for our individual functions or the grace required for our individual giftings, it is the Lord who chooses how that is measured.  We should not bemoan what we receive as less than what we would desire, and we should not covet the greater that others might have.  As with the light God gives us, He has great purpose behind our functions and our giftings.  It is for us to value them and utilize them as best we can for his kingdom.

Mt. 9:27-31

And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”  When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”  They said to him, “Yes, Lord.”  Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”  And their eyes were opened.  And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.”  But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.

We have all faced the doubt of others.  I can remember many times in life when someone did not believe I was able to accomplish something, and many of those times I felt as if I had to prove that person wrong.  Whether it was out of pride or wanting to set the record straight, the other person’s doubt moved me to act.  There were other times in life when the doubt of others moved me to inaction.  Instead of deciding to prove the other person wrong, I decided not to show them what I knew was true.  For example, if I offered to help someone and that person scoffed me off as not sufficiently able or talented, I would throw my hands up and let that person suffer through the work alone.  What I did was allow their doubt to become their reality.  I withheld my ability based on that person’s expectation, and they received what they expected. 

Jesus does not tell these blind men that they are healed because the Lord is compassionate.  Jesus certainly was compassionate, and He certainly loved them, but He gave a different reason for healing them.  He told them that their healing was a reflection of their faith.  They had sufficient belief in him and his abilities to open the door for those abilities to operate.  Had they not believed and simply challenged him to perform some parlor trick to show his authority over sickness, I do not think they would have seen any fruit.  Jesus produced a miracle as a result of their belief that a miracle could be produced.  This certainly should make us evaluate our own petitions before the Lord.  The question is one of whether we really believe He is able to do what we ask.  If we need to seek a greater measure of faith, then we do so.  The point here lies in understanding that what we receive from the Lord has much to do with what we believe He can give.

Rom. 2:6-11

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.  There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.  For God shows no partiality.

I remember my father withholding certain things from me because of his expectation that I would misuse or abuse those things.  He saw a track record in my past, and he made present and future decisions based on that track record.  He also saw whether I trusted his judgment and whether I desired to be obedient and respectful toward him. This was not about how much I loved my father, how much I felt that emotion, but it was about how I behaved according to those feelings.  He wanted my love for him to manifest itself in obedience, respect, an appreciation for all he did for me, and an appreciation for the treasures he gave me.  When I did not meet those expectations, I could not expect to receive.  My decisions and my behavior naturally resulted in what I would or would not receive from my father.  There would be fruit from my works, but the question was the type of fruit based on the type of works.

We see here that the way we live these lives brings us a future that is measured against this life.  Those who love the Lord and have a sincere desire to be with him will obey him and live according to his precepts.  The result of that kind of life is eternity with him.  That reward comes when the words and the feelings manifest themselves through the works.  That is the proof.  Some might say that they love the Lord and feel some kind of affection for him but do not live according to his ways.  They continue to live for themselves by their own standards and to their own ends.  What will result for them will not be good.  Their lives will bear fruit, but that fruit will be sour, dry, and rotted.  Their lives will bear the fruit of death.  The Lord measures it all and gives according to what He sees.  If we want the prize and the rewards and the crown and eternity, we must live now as people who really desire those things.  The Lord can see who honestly lives up to that standard and who honestly wants him.

So many aspects of our faith are not merely black and white.  We might all be equal in his sight, but that does not mean that we receive in equal measure.  It is for the Lord to judge us as we judge others.  It is for the Lord to distribute faith as He sees fit.  It is for the Lord to distribute grace as He sees fit.  It is for the Lord to reward us based on our works as He sees fit.  It is for the Lord to decide if we have the faith necessary to cause him to move in response to prayer.  When the Lord’s measure is based on us, we certainly should be concerned regarding whether we measure up.  Let us seek to meet his standards.  Let us pursue him with honest hearts, and let that true pursuit manifest itself in the works we produce and the way we live.  There is a reward waiting for all who follow his ways.  If our reward is a measure of how we manage these lives, we should desire to manage them as well as we can.