The missing tape measure
Recently, when my wife and I were trying to do a construction project, we could not find the tape measure. Not wanting to buy another one, we put off our project until we could locate it. It was unthinkable to try to build something without the ability to measure.
Likewise in our study of the New Testament, measurement comes up frequently. Unless we pay attention to it, we lose an important factor in our understanding. As I learned in the corporate world, “What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done.” The same is often true when we are talking about spiritual growth.
1. Measure how you forgive by how Christ forgave you – Eph. 4:32
In a section of how Christians should treat one another as members of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:17 – 5:21), Paul introduces this measure:
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Does this measure change the way you look at forgiveness? It should! We take God’s grace too much for granite, when we should take it for gold. God took the initiative to send Jesus as the Savior “when we were still powerless… while we were still sinners” (Rom. 5:6, 8). The sacrifice of Jesus’ perfect life and death on the cross demonstrates how great a price sin exacts, a price the Father and His Son were willing to pay.
Now as God’s beloved children, we continue to fall short of His expectations, continue to rebel, neglect, and wimp out. Blithely we approach Him, casually saying, “…and forgive us of our sins,” expecting His patience to be limitless and His grace ever-flowing.
We think that is fine and good when we are on the receiving end of forgiveness, but when we are on the forgiving end, does our attitude resonate with God’s, or do we say, “I’ll forgive you this time, but you’re going to have to do better or you’ll run out of chances.” Do we whisper under our breath, “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget”? Is that what God does when we sin? I hope not!
He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His love for those who fear Him;
as far as east is from the west,
so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him;
for He knows how we are formed,
He remembers that we are dust.
When we measure our attitude of forgiveness by this standard, we become painfully aware of how self-centered and vindictive we really are. It is exceedingly difficult for us to forgive seven times, much less “seven times in a day,” or “seventy times seven” (Luke 17:3-4; Matt. 18:21-22). And we must add this sin, of which we may have been blindly unaware, to the mountain of all the others when we pray, “Father, forgive me.”
2. Measure how you love by how Christ loves – John 13:34
The command, “Love your neighbor as yourself” does not originate with Jesus, but with Moses (Lev. 19:18), who includes it in a chapter challenging believers to strive for holiness as they experience fellowship with the holy God. Jesus contribution is to add the new measure:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
No longer do we measure our love for others by how we love ourselves. The new measure sets the bar infinitely higher. When Jesus says this he has just washed the disciples’ feet, which suggests that the love He has in mind is a love that is willing to humble self in service to others.
One of those twelve pairs of dirty feet would later that night go to Jesus enemies to lead them to seize Him in the garden. Another pair would feel the warmth of a courtyard fire while a chilling fear would prompt three denials. The other ten pairs would all run into the darkness, abandoning the Lord in terror and despair. Jesus, knowing all of this, was still willing to demonstrate His love in such a practical way.
But Jesus’ love is so much greater than merely humble service for the undeserving. His love for us leads Him to the cross and keeps Him there, as He pours out to the last drop the blood that purchases our pardon. And His love does not expire with that last breath on the cross. He continues to love us, continues to serve, to advocate, and to intercede (1 John 2:2; Rom. 8:34).
Do we have that kind of love for one another? Or does our love have caveats, make conditions, and set definite limits beyond which we seldom step? Measuring our love with His ruler convinces us just how short we fall, just how much we need to grow.
3. Are you willing to be measured by how you measure others? – Matt. 7:2
Even if God ignored the measures set by His own forgiveness and Jesus’ love and if He limited His judgment of our lives to the value judgments we make about others, we would stand condemned. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:
In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
It is true that we could apply this to the moral judgments others make of us, but Jesus in His teachings often uses the passive voice to get around mentioning the name of God – an idiom frequently occurring in Jewish writings as a traditional “fence” around the Third Commandment not to misuse God’s name (see Matt. 5:4, 6, 7, 9, 19, 25; 6:33; 7:1, 7-8; Eph. 2:8). What could be fairer in judgment than to use our own words as a standard for judging us?
Jesus speaks of this standard in two parables. In the Parable of the Minas, the wealthy man tells his third manager, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant!” (Luke 19:22). In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:23-35), the king hears of the servant he had just forgiven of a huge debt who was unwilling to forgive a fellow servant of a small debt. The king calls in the servant and reimposes his mountainous debt.
In both the long and the short versions of the Model Prayer, Jesus says, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12; Luke 11:4). The attitude we have and what we do is the measure, and it is a measure too stringent for us to attempt to justify ourselves.
Grow in God’s grace
These measures force us to only one possible conclusion: we cannot stand on our own; we constantly need God’s forgiveness and the Spirit’s transformative power to make us into something different than what we are on our own. Our “house” is neither square nor plumb. Its boards don’t join, and neither its floor nor its ceiling is level. We can’t build a spiritual house without the proper measures. “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1).
Want to go deeper?
Many other measurements occur in the New Testament. For example, consider this short list of the occurrences of the Greek adverb kathōs (“just as”) and the conjunctions kathaper (“just as”) and hōs (“as”), and the preposition kata with its object in the accusative case (“according as”):
- Over and over, the New Testament preachers and prophets say, “As it is written,” or “Just as the Scriptures say.” In this way they affirm the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures, noting that events turned out just as predicted (e.g., Acts 13:32-33; 15:14-18), or calling on believers to obey God’s will (e.g., Rom. 2:18-19; 1 Peter 1:15-16). Biblical prophecy is the measure of the outworking of God’s will in history and in the lives of His people.
- Certain events that transpired in the life of Jesus are measured by His predictions of those events, and the two align perfectly (Mark 14:16=Luke 22:16; Luke 19:32; Luke 24:24; Mark 16:7). In keeping with the ancient challenge to test whether the predictions of prophets really take place (Deut. 18:21-22), Jesus establishes His credibility as a prophet.
- Certain Old Testament events serve as the measure of salvation-history events of the New Covenant, e.g., the sudden demise at the time of the Great Flood (Luke 17:26) and at the fall of Sodom (Luke 17:28). These Old Testament events and others, such as fall of Adam (1 Cor. 15:49), as well as the swallowing of Jonah, the penitent Ninevites, and the visit of the queen of the South (Matt. 12:39-42), stand in a typological relationship with their counterparts within New Testament historical events.
- Jesus sets forth the relationship between Father and Son as the measure both of His relationship to us as His disciples (John 10:14-15 and 15:10) and of our relationship with one another (John 17:21). He also makes his relationship to the world the measure of our relationship to it (John 17:14, 16).
- In a crucial comparison, Paul makes what happens within the human body the measure of how we treat one another in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12) and how Christ cares for us (Eph. 5:29).
George J. Zemek. “Awesome analogies: kathōs constructions in the NT.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38, 3 (Sept. 1995): 337-348.
W. Radl. “kathōs.” The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider (Eng. ed.: Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990), 2:226.