Digging in Deeper: Matthew 7:3-5

“Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

So, yesterday morning we started talking about judgment. Or rather, we started talking about not judging people. Well, no, that’s not quite right either, is it? Jesus said we shouldn’t judge, but as we thought about it together, we realized that wasn’t really what He was saying at all. And I’ll admit, it was a little tough to follow (including what I had to say!). This morning we’re going to try and clear things up a bit…or at least make them a little less muddy. Let’s talk about sticks in our eyes.

When Jesus said not to judge, He immediately followed that up with a rule of thumb to use when we judge. As we said yesterday, the rule of thumb is that the more gracious and kind is our standard for others, the more likely we are to receive a gracious and kind standard from them.

That’s really sound advice (what other kind would you expect from Jesus?), but the fact that He offered wisdom about judging immediately after seeming to tell us not to judge on another was the tip-off that maybe He didn’t exactly mean we shouldn’t cast any kind of judgment at all. Rather, He meant that we shouldn’t make the wrong judgments in the wrong ways.

This led us to clarify a couple of different kinds of judgment. One was temporal, the other eternal. One dealt with actions, the other the value of a person’s whole life. Neither are ones we should make casually or without that gracious and kind standard.

Well, what we see here has Jesus focusing our attention on when we make the first kind of judgment, a judgment of the rightness or wrongness of another person’s actions, habits, or behaviors. He ends here by describing a situation in which we are left fit to judge someone and to follow up that judgment with appropriate action. Again, this seems to suggest that Jesus wasn’t really talking about not judging anybody, but rather about our making the right judgments in the right ways.

The imagery Jesus uses here is pretty graphic. Why do you look at the splinter in your neighbor’s eye, but ignore the beam in your own eye? Splinters are small, right? Sometimes you get one in your hand or your foot and although it hurts like crazy, you can hardly see it. You have to work and work just to get a glimpse of it in hopes of easing it out without it getting wedged in there deeper. If someone had one in their eye, it would be pretty immediately noticeable. While you may not be able to see the splinter itself, you’d be able to see the effects of it. The eye would be all red and watery and probably crusted with eye goo from the body’s attempt to force it out. It wouldn’t be a pretty picture.

A beam of wood sticking out of your eye, on the other hand, would be an entirely different story. That would just be disgusting. Can you imagine it? Jesus wasn’t us to try so let’s give it a go. Number one, a beam implies something that’s at least a few inches in diameter. So really, it wouldn’t just be in your eye. It would be almost your whole face that it obscured. But let’s say it only took out half your face. Can you quite get your mind around a person with a four- or five-foot long beam of wood sticking out of a gaping hole in the side of his head? Gross! It would be almost impossible to see around it. And, if you got close enough to try and see a splinter in somebody else’s eye with that thing sticking out of your face, you’d be hitting them about the head with your beam. It would take an epic level of a lack of self-awareness to not notice the log while you picked at somebody else’s splinter. All the while, they’re trying to push you away because they’re so offended by your beam. The whole picture is just ridiculous.

So then, what does Jesus say we should do about this? Stay away from other people entirely? Just focus on our beam and leave the people around us alone? Well, something along those lines is often imagined when people talking about these verses. But that’s not actually what He says, is it? Oh, sure, He says we should focus on getting the beam out of our own eye before we do anything else, but He doesn’t stop there. He follows that up with “then…” In other words, once you’ve dealt with your own stuff, then you’ll be in a better position to help other people deal with theirs.

Now, hold on a minute. That sounds awfully judgmental. I mean, if you are helping other people deal with their stuff, that assumes you think they’ve got some stuff to deal with. In other words, you’ve judged their stuff as not good and believe they should get it out of their lives. You think they should take that splinter out of their eye. How judgmental of you!

Exactly.

Again, Jesus isn’t talking about not ever passing judgment on other people here. He’s talking about doing it in a way that leads both you and them to life rather than adding more stuff to the pile. The thing is, we’ve all got junk in our lives. What’s more, this stuff has a way of not staying on the inside. Jesus isn’t talking about internal-only issues here. A splinter…much less a whole beam…sticking in someone’s eye is noticeable. Everyone can see it and everyone recognizes it’s not supposed to be there. But, a splinter in your eye isn’t something you can get out on your own. You need help. Other people need help with their splinters. Both you and them know it’s there, but they can’t deal with it on their own. You’ve made the judgment that it shouldn’t be there and, when they are honest, they agree with you.

But, you’ve got to deal with your own junk first.

Here’s what Jesus is saying: You are going to pass judgment on other people because they’ve got stuff you can’t avoid passing judgment on. You can see it clearly and know it’s not right. Don’t ignore that. But, if you are going to help them with their stuff, you’ve got to make sure you have dealt with your own stuff as thoroughly as you possibly can. It may be that you’ve got a splinter in your eye that you need someone else’ help in addressing, that’s a separate issue. What you’ve got to make sure of, though, is that you don’t have any glaring issues that you can deal with on your own making your help for others less helpful than you intended it to be. The thing about that beam in your eye is that you can pull it out all by yourself. Deal with the part of your stuff that you can deal with on your own. Then, you’ll be in a position to help your neighbor with his. And, he’ll be able to help you with the stuff you can’t deal with on your own in your life.

Now, does knowing this make this process any easier? Not a bit. The whole thing needs to be filled to overflowing with grace. That’s why Jesus talked about the kind of standard we use for judging others before getting to this issue. Be gracious and kind with others and they’re likely to return the favor. But, getting this right leads to life for everybody. That’s a path worth taking.

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