The log in your own eye versus the speck in your neighbor’s eye is a powerful image of willfully living a lie. Jesus warns that if you condemn other people for their sins, you are ignoring a fundamental truth about yourself in a way that is almost impossible to imagine.
The entire Sermon on the Mount has been about one topic: Who will be accepted by God and receive a place in His kingdom?
- Matthew 5:1-16: Jesus tells us those with saving faith are blessed who will receive a place in the kingdom (the Beatitudes).
- Matthew 5:17-48: Jesus says your righteousness must be different than the kind the Pharisees have to enter the kingdom of heaven (the Antitheses).
- Matthew 6:1-7:11: Using several examples, Jesus warns his listeners to avoid the self-deception of the Pharisees.
- Matthew 7:12-29: Jesus concludes there are 2 paths. One path leads to life and the other to destruction. You must be the type of person described in this Sermon to be on the right path.
In this third section Jesus challenges those who are worldly. Worldliness is not being too materialistic. Worldliness is being too concerned with the things of this world. The hypocrites look for the rewards of this world, rather than what God has promised in heaven.
3 Foundational Truths
Three foundational truths that are taught throughout the Bible are the key to understanding this section:
- One day our Creator God will judge us. Our eternal destiny is in entirely His hands.
- We are evil people who will stand condemned on judgment day unless God is merciful.
- Mercy comes only to those who have saving faith.
You may recognize these as another way of stating the 3 of the 4 convictions of saving faith.
- People who have saving faith are not free from sin. It’s NOT that we steadfastly and courageously overcome our sin and therefore God acknowledges our intrinsic worth and grants us life.
- It’s NOT that people marked by saving faith are 51% good. We don’t tip the scales so that the good we have done outweighs the bad we have done.
- It’s NOT that we are sincerely religious enough to impress God with our piety and dedication, and so he grants us a pass on judgment day.
Rather we are open to and embrace the truths of God. In particular, we embrace the 4 core convictions of saving faith:
- We recognize and agree with God that we are sinful.
- We long to be freed from sin and to be made holy.
- We recognize that we can do nothing to make ourselves holy and God owes us nothing.
- We firmly trust that God will make us holy and grant us life in His kingdom only because of His mercy and the work of Jesus Christ.
Jesus clearly connects God’s response to us to the way we respond to others. To explain this connection, I want to give you an analogy which I learned from one of my mentor’s.
- Look up at the night sky. Our universal experience suggests that everything revolves around us.
- By analogy, this is how we view God and each other. From my perspective, I’m at the center of this whole thing, and God and other people move around me. Just like, from our vantage point the sun revolves around the earth.
- This is a fundamental part of what it means to be a sinner. Why do I sin against God and other people? Because I think I’m the center of the universe and I am most interested in benefiting myself.
- But then Copernicus discovered that the sun is really at the center of our solar system, and we are on one planet of many circling that sun.
- The two great commandments – love God and love your neighbor as yourself – are like a Copernican revolution.
- By analogy, God is like the sun at the center of everything. We human beings are like the planets that orbit the sun.
- When I shift the center of the universe back to God, two truths emerge:
- First, I acknowledge that God is at the center of the universe, that changes my perception and relationship to God.
- Second, I acknowledge that I am just like everyone else. I am no more and no less important that my fellow sinners, despite my inward pull to the contrary.
- The second great commandment (Love your neighbor as yourself) calls me to recognize that my neighbor’s needs are just as important as mine. That’s a fundamental worldview shift.
- Being a person of faith means accepting this essential truth that my neighbor and I are of equal importance, and trying to live in the light of this truth, even though I fall short.
- If I reject that principle as true, then I’m not just a selfish sinner. I am an unbeliever. I am rejecting the truth from God.
- With this perspective shift, it begins to make sense why Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments are “love God” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”
This fundamental truth lies behind the issue we encounter in Matthew 7:1-5. The connection between how I treat people and how I am going to be treated is based on whether or not I accept the truth that my neighbor and I are equivalent, that we both sinners before a holy God. I only accept that conviction if I have saving faith.
1Judge not, that you be not judged. 2For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:1-5
- This Greek word judge (Strong’s 2919) sometimes means only that an assessment had been made (e.g. “decided” in Acts 20:16).
- Sometimes this word carries the further idea that a sentence or conclusion is reached (e.g Acts 16:15).
- Sometimes this word emphasis the negative conclusion and means condemn (e.g. Luke 19:22).
- In Matthew 7:1, I think it carries the idea of condemn: Do not condemn others lest God condemn you.
- Jesus cannot be prohibiting any kind of assessment or judgment that something is right or wrong. That would contradict his other teaching (e.g. Matthew 18:15-17).
- In Matthew 7:2, the emphasis shifts to the standard of measure. Whatever standard you use to measure and condemn your neighbor will also be applied to you (implied: you will also fail).
- Jesus does NOT say: why do you look at the log in your brother’s eye when you’ve got a log in your own eye?
- Jesus does NOT say: why are you concerned with his speck when you’ve got a speck too?
- Like the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus emphasizes the size difference: Why are you concerned about his speck when you’ve got a log?
- When you get something in your eye, it’s impossible to ignore. You have to stop everything you are doing to deal with it. Think about having something that big in your eye. How could you possible ignore it?
- If I have a log in my own eye, why am I concerned with my neighbor’s speck at all? How could I possibly be more concerned about the speck in my neighbor’s eye when I have this big painful log in my own eye?
- When I condemn someone else, I am fundamentally ignoring the magnitude of my own problem.
- This is a powerful image of living a lie. If you condemn other people for their sins, you are ignoring a fundamental truth about yourself: you are just as sinful. Yet, we excuse our sinfulness all the time.
4Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:1-5
- If I was truly concerned about your welfare, then I would be more concerned with the selfish way I am treating you because I have this log problem, than the speck in your eye that is bothering me.
- Jesus does NOT say: don’t ever attempt to remove a speck from someone else’s eye. Jesus says: deal with the log in your eye first.
- I would argue dealing with the log in your eye does NOT mean “get your act together and make yourself perfect first.”
- Rather dealing with the log means coming to grips with this fundamental truth that we are of equal importance before God and we are both sinners.
- Rather than approaching my fellow sinner with the speck from a position of pride, impatience, or superiority, I approach my fellow sinner armed with the fundamental truth that I am just as sinful.
- When you clearly see the truth of the situation you are both in, then you are in a position to be helpful.
Paul makes this same point in Galatians 6:1-5.
1Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5For each will have to bear his own load. – Galatians 6:1-5
- Paul has been talking about how their emphasis on law-keeping has a tendency to lead to what he calls biting and devouring one another. Paul urges them to live in a way that reflects their understanding that they are being saved by grace through faith.
- Approach this person who’s been caught in a trespass with the understanding that we both have the same burden. We’re both sinners.
- If you think you’re better than your neighbor, you’re going into this situation on the wrong foot.
- Before you go into that situation to correct your neighbor, take a long hard look at yourself.
- When it comes to other people’s sins, I should seek to bear their burdens by being merciful and humbly correcting them with the goal of helping and encouraging them, not condemning them.
- But when it comes to my own sins, I need to be brutally honest and accept responsibility, recognize my own need for mercy.