No Man is An Island
Intro – A month after Donald McDonald started at Harvard, his mother called from Scotland. "How are the American students, Donald?" She asked. "There so noisy," he complained. "One neighbor endlessly bangs his head against the wall, while another screams all night." "How you put up with it?" "I just ignore them and play my bagpipes."
Well, the point is we all – whether we like it or not, and whether we know it or not – we all influence those around us for good or for ill. Just by virtue of living, we touch the lives of others. The question is, is it for good or for ill? That’s the issue in Luke 6:39-45 as Jesus continues His Sermon on the Plain.
Jesus’ addresses His sermon to His followers. In vv. 20-26, He defines identifying characteristics of those who belong to His kingdom. Then in vv. 27-38, He gives a series of commands for graceful living toward difficult people. Default settings must change from revenge to grace! Now, in vv. 39-45 He reminds us we all significantly influence others – and as His disciples He wants us to influence rightly. We are all leaders to someone. These parables give 3 truths aimed at helping us influence for the good.
I. No Man is an Island
Why such emphasis on grace-fill living? Because we are touching somebody’s life! V. 39, “He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus point is those we influence will become like us. If we are blind, they will be blind. If we fall into a pit, they will fall into a pit. If we are subject to emotional meltdowns, they will be subject to emotional meltdowns. If our life is a shambles, their life will be a shambles. Everyone we touch becomes to some degree like us. Scary thought, isn’t it? It’s meant to be! Note 3 principles here.
A. We all lead someone – Suppose we sit in a circle, each with a ball in our hands. We roll our balls to someone else in the circle. What happens? Well, in some instances, the ball moves unhindered to the other person. But most of the time, my ball is going to run into some other ball, right? And when balls connect, one thing is certain – their direction changes. It may be a little or a lot, but its path is going to change. It may go 2 degrees right or 170 degrees left, but it’s going to change. When two balls touch, both are changed. And when two lives touch, both are changed. A little or a lot, for good or bad, both are changed. That is an absolute principle of life. Let that sink in for a moment. Every life you touch, every day of your life, influence is happening for good or for ill.
Further, when lives intersect, there is almost always one person who is the leader and one who is the follower. That’s Jesus’ point. I always remind young people, choose your friends carefully. Why? Because, every time you enter a relationships with someone, you either become more like them or they become more like you. It’s inevitable! And that is just as true of adults as it is of kids. It’s true of every relationship – to parents, to children, to teachers, bosses, friends, acquaintances, whoever. We are either becoming more like those around us, or they are becoming more like us. And we all lead someone. Our influence is inevitable and constant.
B. We can only lead others where we ourselves have gone – You can’t take someone else somewhere you haven’t been. That’s the main point of the parable. “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” Suppose you landed in NYC, hailed a cab and noticed the driver had on heavy sunglasses with a white cane and seeing-eye dog riding shotgun. Are you getting in? Of course not. Get in and you’re going to end up at the bottom of the Hudson River right along with him. Neither do we have any hope of influencing anyone else toward truth that we have not experienced ourselves.
It was 1st grade graduation. All the students were passing by to shake their teacher’s hand. One boy thought his teacher was great and could not imagine life without her. So, when his turn came he threw his arms around her neck and said, “Mrs. Taylor, I love you so much. I just wish you knew enough to teach the second grade." Even that boy knew if you haven’t been to the 2nd grade, you can’t teach the 2nd grade! You can’ t take someone where you haven’t been! Which means if our faith is lukewarm, we can’t take anyone else any further. This is my constant concern as your pastor/teacher. I can’t influence you further than I’ve been and vice versa. Parents should have this very same concern going on. You can only take your children as far spiritually as you have gone. We must be growing!
C. To be a good leader, you need a good leader – V. 40, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Is Jesus warning His disciples that they must know God to lead others to God – or is He warning them that they must choose their own teacher wisely? How about both? Both are in view. They will be influencing lives and so they must be prepared so they don’t take their own followers into a ditch. It’s like in sports. Great talent needs special training to reach max potential. Michael Jordan needed Phil Jackson’s leadership. Peyton Manning was mentored by his own father, Archie, who was one of the best.
And so, Jesus’ followers must choose the right teacher. His audience must choose between the new teaching that He is bringing versus the old wineskins of the Pharisees to whom they previously looked for guidance. The audience must now make a choice about who really has truth. And once committed to Jesus, the better they know Him, the better they can influence others.
The same clearly applies to us. To think we can go through life without touching others is to live in denial. On a daily basis we either point others toward Jesus or away from Him. I saw a Peanuts cartoon once that showed Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown: "Guess what, Chuck. The first day of school and I got sent to the principal's office. It was your fault, Chuck." Charlie Brown says, "My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?" She said, "You're my friend, aren't you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me." We need to make sure we choose the best we can find to follow. Find good influences!
II. Judgment Begins at Home
Okay, so, if I’m an influence, I better set the world straight, right? Jesus has a warning about that, too. Judgment begins at home. Vv. 41-42, “41 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?” If you never thought Jesus had a sense of humor, here it is. He says, “Imagine a guy walking around with a telephone pole sticking out of his eye. Now imagine this guy trying to remove a sliver from your eye.” He’s showing how foolish we look, picking on some small inconsistency in another (they were late for a meeting) while missing the gargantuan sin in our own life – perhaps the self-righteous streak that condemns anything not done the way we think right. How foolish, Jesus says, not to deal with our own issues before meddling in the lives of others.
Now, Jesus is not suggesting we never confront sin. Matt 18 and Gal 6 among others make clear that there are times when it is our Godly duty to do so. But before we even think about that, we must take a magnifying glass to our own life. Peter gives the same principle in I Peter 4:17, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” We must judge ourselves before we begin sharing our valuable insights with others.
Two things must happen. First, we must own up to our own sin. Then we must deal with the sin. In owning up to our sin, we have to be cold-blooded about that process. Typically we are not. We cheat. Did you ever take your binoculars to a ballgame or a show or on a hunting trip? Fascinating piece of equipment. I remember the first time I really examined a pair of binoculars. I quickly found out that they can be used in two ways. If your look through the small end, they make the ball field look bigger. Players just jump out at you. But if you turn those binoculars around the look through the large end, the opposite happens. Those players who were right in your face a moment ago now look 100 miles away.
That is our default setting for rendering moral judgments! We examine others thru the right end and their faults look humungous! Figuratively speaking that is what we do when we 1) cut them no slack, 2) accept no excuses, 3) ignore any positive character traits of that person. We concentrate only on the flaw. It destroys all perspective. We see neither the surrounding context nor our own greater issues. We only see their sin.
But when it comes to looking at our own lives, we turn the binoculars around. We see all the mitigating circumstances, accept any and all excuses, take into account all of our positive qualities and minimize the sin to the point of extinction. Then we claim that we are judging ourselves just as we judge others, using the same equipment -- neglecting to mention that we’ve turned the binoculars around. Listen, if you won’t cop a guilty plea, I would suggest that you are probably looking through the wrong end of the binoculars right now! We’re all guilty. And Jesus is saying, “You’re not fit to help someone else with their spec until you’ve acknowledged your own greater guilt.”
But He doesn’t stop there. He goes on to v. 42, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Jesus is saying, “ Quit performing eye surgery with a telephone pole in your eye. You’re nothing but a hypocrite. Deal with your own sin before you worry about someone else’s.” Don’t just recognize it – deal with it -- confess and abandon it. Until you do that, you’ll only point others away from Christ, not toward Him. Humility compels people toward Christ; hypocrisy kills any interest in Him.
The great Methodist preacher, William Sangster, said the question we must all ask is, “Are some people outside the church because you’re inside?” Listen, Beloved, that won’t happen when people see a church full of sinners working to become more like Jesus. But it will surely happen if they see a church full of people pretending to have no sin. They know better, and deep down, so do we. Let’s admit it and obey the words of Heb 10:24, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Brennan Manning strips our pretenses when he says, “The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from their fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners.” Judgment begins at home. Who’s outside because we’re inside?!
III. It’s What’s Inside That Counts
Vv. 43-45, “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Here is the key. The Pharisees would have said, “We’re not blind. We are worthy teachers. We know the law better than anyone. And we examine our lives all the time. That’s all we think about.” Pharisees lived in dread that they would violate the law. Their lives were blameless by their own definition of the law. But now Jesus adds the crusher. “Oh, by the way, guys, it’s not what you are outside that counts. It’s what’s inside.” And if you want Jesus’ evaluation of the Pharisees in this regard, Matt 23:25 will do: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
A bad tree can’t bear good fruit. If the tree is rotten, the fruit will be as well. It may look really good, but there is nothing worse than biting into a rich, luscious apple and finding that it is nothing but mush inside. Yuck! It’s not about looking good; we influence by who we are inside. In the end we cannot hide who you are; it will come out. We may look great. But Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matt 23:23). We can do all the Xn things, but if it’s all a burden; if we hate God for imposing these restrictions; if we do it only for show, or to buy our way into heaven – sooner or later the true us will emerge. Others will see right thru us and it is who we are, not what we do that will impact them.
Charles Berlitz was asked how a linguist identifies a native tongue. He said, “It probably comes down to what you say when you hit your thumb with a hammer. For me, my first reaction is in French.” You get the point. The real you will come out sooner or later. And people will see through us a lot sooner than we think. The question is, does our heart really belong to Christ. And if so, is He comfortable with what we continue to harbor there?
Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ tells of a businessman he knew who was a rabid racist with a superior and condescending attitude toward anyone of another color or not of his elitist social standing. He was crude, caustic and unmoveable in his remarks. Then he became a follower of Jesus. Strobel says, “I watched in amazement, his attitudes, his perspective, and his values changed over time as his heart was renewed by God.” He began to love those he had previously hated. Strobel goes on, “Legislation did not change him. Reasoning did not change him. Emotional appeals did not change him. He'll tell you that God changed him from the inside out -- decisively, completely, permanently.” You can’t change your own heart, but God can. Has God changed you, Beloved? What does the fruit of your life say?
I’ve got a question. Are you becoming more like the people you are around – or are they becoming more like you? Does it matter to you that every person you meet has an eternal future, and that you are one factor influencing what that future will be? C. S. Lewis brings this reality crashing home. He says, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities . . . that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. . . . It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” Toward which does your influence point because it surely directs one way or the other? No person is an island. Let’s pray.