Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 5. The Plank & the Speck
Mt 7:3-5 “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? How can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
These three verses, which are fairly obvious at first sight in what they say, actually get their meaning from the two verses that precede them: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Mt 7:1,2) That is Jesus’ basic teaching: don’t judge others. Why? Well, two answers are given, the one (v.3-5) following the other (v,1,2) and it is important to see both.
The first reason (v.1,2) why we should not judge others, is because even as you judge others, so God will then judge you. When you dare to judge others, you present yourself before God and He will check your worthiness to judge. He knows about the other person already, but now we are causing Him to look at us and weigh us. The moment He does this, the second reason comes into play: we’re probably just as bad if not worse than that person we are judging. This is what the picture language in our three verses above conveys. Let’s look more closely.
The focus of this picture is yet again the eye. In the previous study we read, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” (Mt 6:22) and we considered how the eye here means both the light waves being received plus the interpretation of them by the mind, and together they speak of how we receive things into our lives and how we respond to them. So the subject of Jesus’ present teaching looks at this other person and identifies some character fault in them. They are critical of them.
Now Jesus is the master-teacher and he observes something in human behaviour that I have seen at various times in people: those who are critical of others so often think they have the answers to the others: “you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,” (v.4). One of the biggest dangers, I have concluded after watching this for many years, is that those of us who are leaders and counselors, are tempted to think that we are God, we have all the answers to the misdemeanors of the flock! There are two stages in observing those around us: first, there is discerning where they are in Christ and, second, what we then do with that. Let me explain further.
Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, the Lord allowed me to run a Sunday evening activity in my flat (apartment); this was long before I was married, and each Sunday evening about forty young people congregated there and we did (as Wimber said) the ‘stuff’. We sang, we worshipped, we listened to God and so on. Now here’s the thing: as every person arrived and came through my front door, I ‘knew’ exactly where they were at with God. Now this was all so new to me that I just took this for granted and didn’t try and do anything with what I knew. Today, after many years experience, I recognize I have revelatory gifting. I used to think I had the answer for people, but today I have learned better – He has. My role today is simply to love people with God’s love. That may mean simply accepting them as they are, it may mean simply listening to them, it may mean simply being a friend, it may mean bringing a word of encouragement, or it may mean bringing a word of revelation to strengthen, build or comfort – but only as He leads, as He inspires.
What have I learned over the years? We’ve all got defective sight! I’m not sure what mine is at this moment, but I can guarantee that I have a speck or a plank in my own eye; the trouble is that until God points it out, we’re not aware of it. Having said that, many people are self-aware, they do know that everything is not perfect. Whenever I ask someone, “Hi, how are you?” if they know me and trust me, they may be honest enough to say, “Well, mostly OK, but you, know, not everything is perfect,” and I take steps to help them realise that we’re all the same, so no judgment, but should they need help, I’m there for them.
What are likely specks or planks, things that hinder our vision, things we probably even aren’t aware of? Well, on the basis of the way Jesus is teaching here, they tend to be things that build our ‘superiority’ – I’m all right, I would never sin, I could never deny Jesus, I don’t need any help, my marriage is perfect, my kids are perfect, my job is perfect, anything in fact that inhibits us seeing reality, life as it really and truly is. And why do we have and tolerate and perhaps ignore these things? Because in one way or another we are insecure, we are not totally convinced of God’s love for us, we may come from a church that preaches law rather than grace and so deep down, when we are given all these goals – you ought or you should – we find we fail or don’t achieve them and are left feeling guilty, and guilt is so often accompanied by fear (fear of being found out, fear of being revealed as a less-than-perfect person demanded by the preacher) and guilt and fear are the two greatest stumbling blocks to love and faith.
How can we remove such specks (small things) or deal with planks (big habit or attitude issues)? First of all realise you are loved by Jesus exactly as you are – he knows everything there is to know about you and your foibles and failures and he still loves you. (Yes, he wants to help you with them, but he still loves you as you are at this moment – with them!) Second, be honest about your less-than-perfect side. Face the truth. Here is something I would like to deal with. Third, share with a friend and ask them to pray for you. Often sharing such things puts them in perspective and helps us see ways through to dealing with them. But remember, the first ‘plank’ may be a condescending attitude that looks down on lesser mortals around us, negatively assesses them and knows ‘just what they need’. That needs removing first, and it is probably only with God’s grace and revelation, so talk to Him about it first – and then watch the transformation. Be blessed.