One of the great challenges of the Christian life is to see ourselves as we really are and then to assess where we are in our growth in grace. Rather than taking honest stock of our current spiritual position, we would rather point out faults in those around us. Perhaps, we believe that doing so provides temporary cover for our own mountainous list of foibles. Yet in doing so, we are in danger of making ourselves like those Jesus warned about in Luke 6:41-42. You know, the guy that attempts to take the speck out of his neighbor’s eye instead of renting a log-splitter and dealing with the overgrown forest of trees in his own sinful life.
This is a struggle I know well as one who grew up in the Church. In my teens and early 20s, I fell victim to this very issue. Rather than being slow to speak, I would instead converse in a way that by no means glorified Christ. I was often guilty of blasting people for their sins instead of demonstrating patience or self-control. I can see now I was at fault for failing to take the diving board-sized plank out of my own eye before speaking to others about the speck in their eye.
Let’s take a minute to look at what Jesus shared in Luke 6:41-42. He declared,
“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? 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.”
Back in verses 37-38, Jesus warned His disciples that they would be judged by the same standard they used to judge others. In verses 39 and 40, He warned them about the pitfalls of spiritual blindness. The danger in verses 41 and 42 is different, but involves both bad judgment and bad eyesight. Here the problem is not that someone cannot see at all, but rather he cannot see as well as he thinks he can because he is blinded by an attitude of pride.
A Proportion Problem
Pride leads to an individual having the perception of clarity (enabling him to pick a speck out of someone’s eye), but in reality, he cannot even see the big piece of wood protruding from his own eye socket. This is an absurd point of view and Jesus utilized a comic exaggeration to make a serious point. The word for speck is a little splinter of wood or straw. The word for log refers to the main beam of a building. We are talking here about a board large enough to support an entire house!
The whole picture is so ridiculous that it would be laughable if it were not so common in everyday life. The very person who criticizes other people is often guilty of the most obvious sins of all. He has some glaring wrong habit or attitude in his life which everyone else can see but he cannot. Yet he is the one who is constantly pointing out other people’s minor faults and failings.
The word for this is hypocrisy.
A large part of our problem with logs and splinters is our sense of proportion. We are more concerned about someone else’s minor issues than we are with our own major iniquities. There is also a problem with our priorities. We have the nerve to try to straighten out other people before we have cast ourselves at the foot of the cross, crying out to God for forgiveness about our own personal sin. Like a lot of other things in life, we get things completely backward.
Does Confrontation Have a Place?
There is a place for confronting other people’s sin and for offering constructive spiritual criticism, especially within the Body of Christ. Jesus does not say that we can never help anyone with a spiritual problem. In fact, He assumes there are times when we are called to remove someone’s speck. But we should be slow to straighten other people out, knowing our own proclivities for similar sinful behavior.
Our first action must be to haul away to the Master’s lumberyard the sins in our own lives before we remove any splinters from anyone else. Does this mean we have to be at a place of perfect sanctification before giving people any spiritual help? Does this mean we have to confess our own sins before we can ever hope to lead anyone else to a place of repentance?
In response to such questions, the early church father Cyril of Alexandria said, “Whoever therefore is guided by good sense does not look at the sins of others, does not busy himself about the faults of his neighbor but closely reviews his own misdoings.” It is only when our hearts have been broken by our own sin against God that we will have the humble grace to lead other sinners to that same place of repentance. One way to see ourselves as we are really are is simply to ask people who know us well to tell us what heavy timber they still see protruding from the eyeballs of our soul.
The most important thing for Christians is to follow Jesus, sticking close to His example, and to live by His generous grace. Jesus sees His people as they really are, down to the last speck. Because He is without sin, He is able to judge us with perfectly righteous clarity. But He does not condemn us, provided that we come to Him in faith, trusting in the sacrifice He paid for our sins on the cross. With the help of His clear sight, we see both our sin and His forgiveness. Then perhaps we can begin to see other people the way Jesus sees them, through the eyes of His grace.