“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother,`Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mat 7:3-5 NKJ)
One thing that used to bother me about this passage was the absolute way Jesus speaks here. How does He know it’s only a speck in my brother’s eye that I’m trying to get out? Why am I the only one with a plank in my eye?
The reason it’s always a plank in mine and a speck in the other’s is because of our sinful nature, because of the pride and self-righteousness in my own heart. I always have a plank in my eye, and getting that plank out is a full-time job. On the contrary, the things we see others doing, the behaviors we actually observe and try to correct, are always comparative specks. I cannot see or deal with the pride and selfishness that drive my neighbor; that’s his plank. Instead, I focus on specks- how he worships, how he dresses, how he raises his kids, and the like. In comparison to the pride and selfishness in my own heart, all these things are small ball. In this realm, I can decide what matters the most and what doesn’t, and therefore will be able to frame the debate in a way that makes me look better than him. If I am not dealing with my own plank, then these are the kinds of criticisms I will raise against my brother.
If, on the other hand, I face my own plank, if I face the fundamental sin in my heart, my pride and self-righteousness, then I will recognize that the problems in my brother that I am focusing on are comparative specks of little importance. I will begin to see clearly the real issues, and may now be in a position to actually help him, just as the magnitude and seriousness of the problem makes me much more cautious and less quick to insert myself into his life. I can begin to know that everyone’s real problem is that plank, that pride and self-righteousness that leads me to hate God and my neighbor, to be constantly demeaning my neighbor and elevating myself above him, and therefore focusing on minor issues where I might be able to pretend that I am superior to him.
This passage comes immediately after that passage, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Verses 3-5 (quoted above) tell me the right way to understand Jesus’ statement. When I am trying to fix all the little mistakes my neighbor is making, correcting him in every detail of his life, then I am doing what Jesus is exhorting us not to do in these first two verses- judging my neighbor.
It is never judging my neighbor to simply proclaim what God has said, that stealing, lying, or hatred is wrong. But when we spend our time focusing on our brother’s faults and not looking at ourselves, then the plank in our own eye will prevent us from doing anything about his specks. When we concentrate our attention on our own planks, the specks of our brother will seem small by comparison.
If I had spent as much effort in my life trying to convince myself to be more godly and obedient as I have spent trying to convince other people of some opinion of mine, I would be a very different man than I am. And that’s why I always have the plank and the other guy always has the speck.