‘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?” (Luke 6:41)
So often we read these familiar sayings of Jesus and forget how funny they are. We nod seriously and completely miss the howl of laughter that would have attended their first telling. In the verse “The common people heard him gladly,” that last word can be translated “joyfully.” It means “with laughter.” Jesus had an unforgettable way of getting people’s attention to the truth. And laughter always sneaks up unawares.
Until you realise that the joke is on you.
The point is that speck and plank are from the same original word, meaning they are of the same substance. In other words, Jesus was saying, the reason some people are so adept at finding fault in the lives of others is because they are so familiar with it themselves. They can spot certain things in another person’s life because they are guilty of the same sin—in probably a greater capacity.
F.W.Robertson said “Each man unerringly detects in another the vice with which he is most familiar.”
So watch yourself if you find yourself quick to fault-find or nitpick. Kent Hughes said, “We find it so easy to turn a microscope on another person’s sin, but we look at ours through the wrong end of a telescope. We easily spot a speck of phoniness in another, because we have a logjam of it in our own lives. Wrath toward the speck in someone else’s life may come from the suppressed guilt over the same massive sin in our own lives.”
So, do you have something in your eye?
I was once fast-forwarded in a crowded A & E Ward because I told the receptionist I had glass in my eye. I was hurried past the crowds with a flock of worried nurses in attendance, only for the doctor to say, finally, “I can’t see any glass.” “No, no, I said grass, not glass.”
It was an honest mistake.
I mean to say: even a bit of grass is painful. Even -you might say- a speck.
So how do you get it out? Well, you don’t use your finger, as I did. You gently flush it out with clean water and there’s no problem.
Sometimes things come into our lives like a speck into the eye, and everything is uncomfortable and difficult until that tiny issue is flushed out. In Ephesians 5, there is a beautiful description of how Christ deals with the “specks” in His church:
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
He flushes our lives with the living water, with the Holy Spirit, lovingly, tenderly, creating holiness and beauty.
And this also means we can trust the Holy Spirit to flush out other people’s specks too. God has a way of sorting people out so we don’t have to.
Sometimes when people respond to God with all their hearts they find themselves weeping. People even say “I don’t know why I am crying so much.”
But maybe it’s the Holy Spirit is getting the specks out.
So Jesus’ call to self-awareness works on three different levels. It forces you to think about yourself honestly, and thereby summons you to stand before God humbly. And last, it encourages you to deal with one another gently.
Before you “correct” anyone about anything, pray for them for one day. Don’t just pray for a minute (“God open their eyes so they can see they are a big fat liar. Bless them Lord with revelation, Amen”) and then compile your list. Spend a good 24 hours of praying for them the way you would want someone to pray for you. If it’s serious, then fast. By the time you’re done, everything will have changed.
And most of the change will be inside you.
The thing is that judging other people is almost always counterproductive. Trying to change someone or straighten them out seems to have the opposite effect and eventually backfires.
When can we judge? Only when there is no plank in our own eyes. Planks make us blind. Offence makes us blind. It would be the height of arrogance to claim we are totally plank-free.
Perhaps there are times to judge. I just don’t think it happens as much as we tend to think it does. And we so easily mask our own motives.
I know this because I’ve been on both sides of the specks and the planks. Hurting people, and being hurt too.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there will always be mistakes in my judgements, (my decisions about people, that is) and yet I can choose to believe the best, give the benefit of the doubt, err on the side of tolerance and charity – and do much less harm that way.
The bottom line is that sometimes we who are nitpicking the sins of others are guilty of worse ourselves. But if we know anything of being forgiven by God, then we will be forgiving people. Forgiven people will be forgiving people.
And we are called to live according to the grace we have received.