Measuring Lines

James M. S. Tait, Lerwick

Category: Exposition

"With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again". This proverb seems to have been often on the lips of the Lord Jesus, and is recorded in each of the three Synoptic Gospels, Matt. 7. 2; Mark 4.24; Luke 6. 38, the context being different in each case.

In Matthew, the Lord is speaking of that unlovely trait of our fallen natures, the urge to sit in judgment upon one another; and if anything could check us in our uncharitable criticisms of others, it would surely be this solemn declaration of our Lord, that we shall ourselves be measured by our own yard-stick.

We know that this can happen here and now. One who habitually indulges in merciless judgment of the actions and motives of others ought not to be surprised (although indeed he often is both surprised and deeply hurt) when others apply his own rigorous methods in judging him. But our Lord's words seem to imply more than this. On the cognate subject of forgiving those who trespass against us. He says, "If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses", Matt. 6. 15. There seems therefore to be a clear indication that the way we deal with one another may affect the way in which our Father will deal with us; surely this is a sobering thought.

In Luke, the reference is to Christian liberality,, and the principle which our Lord here lays down is developed in many other passages of Scripture, both in the Old Testament and in the New. Paul's favourite metaphor in this connection is the figure of sowing and reaping, and he reminds us that the bountifulness or stinginess of our giving will be reflected in the harvest we shall reap, 2 Cor. 9. 6.

In Mark, the application of the Lord's proverb is perhaps not so easily grasped. He had just been explaining the parable of the sower, and stressing the responsibility of those who hear the Word of God. Then follows the warning, "Take heed what you hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given". The thought seems to be that in this matter of hearing the Word we really measure off for ourselves how much of our "goodly heritage" we are going to possess. For instance, the amount of time and thought we devote to the study of the Bible will necessarily affect the extent of our knowledge of it. More than that: we may seriously narrow our apprehension of the Word of God by the way we approach it. If we go to the Scriptures seeking material for controversy, or texts to support some favourite line of our own, we shall probably find what we seek, but may perhaps find nothing else. Our inheritance has then been measured off to us with our own petty measuring line, and spiritual impoverishment is the result.