In Matthew 7:1-5, we are in the sermon on the mount. Jesus is teaching the people gathered around and the crux of his teaching is the way life in his Kingdom looks. It doesn’t look like life as the people are used to it. In chapter 6 he has spoken about trusting God for provision, storing up treasures in heaven, prayer and fasting, not worrying, etc. Then in chapter 7 he moves to the matter of judging others. He tells those listening not to judge so that you won’t be judged. He says that if we do judge others then the standard we use to judge will be the standard by which we are judged. Now then, does any of this sound unfair so far? Not really – it sounds measured and reasonable doesn’t it? This is what leads him in then to his life changing question for the people.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? -Matthew 7:3
To this Jesus assigns the label of hypocrisy. Would any of you disagree? Probably not.
Judgment is a bit of a hot button issue today, isn’t it? The refrain we hear from people – “Don’t judge me.” “I didn’t tell you because I was afraid you’d judge me.” “All of you Christians are just so judgmental.” Do these things sound familiar? Have we (and I mean we in the general sense of Christians) come by this honestly? Do we deserve it? A lot of times we do. I think this whole attitude is best summed up in a statement from one of the great minds of our time – Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, Sheldon is a Physics genius who has broken out of his Bible thumping mother’s religious upbringing. He finds out one day on a trip home that his mother is living in a way that is inconsistent with the Christian faith that she has always professed. He is confused and confronts her on the matter and eventually just says, “Ok, I will condemn you internally while maintaining an outward appearance of acceptance.” And his mother responds, “That’s mighty Christian of you.”
Why do we do this? Why do we get so caught up in the actions and problems of those around us and yet we don’t give the same attention to the stuff in our own lives – our own struggles and sins and problems? For one, I think it is just harder for us to do the work of looking at ourselves. I think it is so challenging at times to really look at our motives and our instincts and try to understand where they come from and ask ourselves if they are in line with Christ’s desires for us or not. I think this is hard for us because often we are worried about what we might find.
A second reason why I think we find it easier to focus on someone else’s stuff while ignoring or downplaying our own stuff is we think the more we magnify their flaws, the smaller it might make our stuff look by comparison. This comparison trap is dangerous friends – we do it with the good stuff in our lives for sure – comparing someone else’s “good life” to ours and convince ourselves that we are missing out because we’re not like them. We do the same thing with our flaws and problems; we believe that by focusing on their issues (the speck in their eye, if you will) I can convince myself that the log in my eye isn’t really a log – “It’s not that big, I mean look what they just did, look at what they’re struggling with; wow I’m glad I don’t have to worry about that.” And so, we allow ourselves to slide into this comparison trap, but now we are comparing our sin nature with others so that we convince ourselves that, at least we’re not that bad.
And so, Jesus asks this question, “Why do you look at the speck in your neighbor’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?” Friends, if we will give this real consideration, this is a life changing question. This issue of judgment – of dealing with the speck in our neighbor’s eye and ignoring the log in our own, for me boils down to holiness. Holiness of heart and life is the goal for the Christian on this side of eternal life. Holiness is a surrender to what Wesley called “full salvation”. Through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are saved from the guilt and power of our sins. But we are also called to move forward in a life of following Jesus and each day we go through life in Christ is we are asked if we will surrender more to the infilling of the Holy Spirit that is forming us into the image of Christ – making us Holy as he is Holy.
Holiness is never about being “holier than thou” – pointing out other people’s specks or planks in order to prove how holy we are – it’s always about allowing the Holy Spirit to make me look more and more like Jesus every day. Holiness isn’t about what others think or see in you – it’s about who you are in Christ, when nobody else is around.
Holiness of heart and life is never going to be easy – dying to our self more and more each day isn’t something that comes naturally; sin won’t let it. But Jesus asks this life-changing question as a way of letting us know, there is more this life can offer than being fixated on the issues other people have.
Each day, if we can allow the Holy Spirit to make us a bit more like Jesus than we were on the last day then we are working toward holiness of heart and life. You will find freedom in that kind of life, freedom from needing to compare yourself to anyone else other than Jesus. That’s a good place to be, because I don’t know about you, but it’s exhausting always looking at other people’s specks trying to make my giant plank look smaller. I’d rather just focus on being like Jesus, how about you?
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