Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Duel of the Planks


It has been a while since I was in our series on the Sermon on the Mount.  There are still a few lessons left and today we will be picking back up in that series.  Here is today's text.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 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.  Matthew 7:1-5 NKJV
This passage is a favorite for those challenged in their sin.  Unfortunately, invoking this verse when challenged brings you under its injunction.  I say that because at first glance, one can see that this passage is directed at the accuser and not for the accused.  It is not meant to do away with the guilt of the accused but to direct the accuser to first examine himself.  So to begin, I want to eliminate the idea that this passage is a just response to whenever you are accused of sin.  What happens when someone comes to you and points out a sin in your life and your response is is to tell them not to judge you because of sin in the accusers life?  It makes you an accuser as well.  If you respond with someone's accusation of sin in your life by accusing them of their sin, you are merely showing your accuser your plank.  What you have then is a surreal sword fight fought with planks protruding from either of your eyes.  That immature silliness results in no one repenting and only serves to divide the body.  I know that it is hard for someone you know is involved in some unrepentant sin to point out sin in your own life.  In fact, you may describe it as humbling, and being humbled in our sin is exactly what the Lord wants.  It is that humbling of ourselves that begins the road to confession and repentance.  In fact that is the whole premise of this passage.  It is about humbling ourselves before God before we worry about the sin in the life of another.  In other words, we should be more concerned with sin in our own lives than in the lives of others. 

With that in mind, let is see what Jesus is saying to accusers.  First Jesus says "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you."  This makes perfect sense.  You will be judged by the same standards you set for others.  If you believe that even a sip of alcohol is a sin, then you had better not have a sip yourself.  If you believe that you must meet some holiness standard to be saved, then you had better meet that standard yourself.  Anything less than meeting the same standards you set for others makes you a hypocrite.  I know that I say some pretty strict things in my writings.  I know that even writing about the standards set by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and their application to our lives subjects me to those same standards.  For me, that is a good thing.  I want my friends and family and anyone else who reads this blog to hold me to these standards.  I have written various times about what God's word says about being a husband, and I want to be that husband I write about and want for others to hold me to that standard.  My wife and I are praying for God to bless us with a child and should that time come, I want to be reminded of all I have written about what God says about parents. 

Please also do not take this verse to a ridiculous extreme.  Some may take it to mean that if we are permissive in our own judgements than God will be permissive with us. God plan for salvation and instruction for righteous living are encapsulated forever in the Word of God and it is by that measuring stick that we will be judged.  What Jesus is saying is that if we add to the standards set forth God's word, we will be judged by those additional standards.  The Bible is clear on the perils of adding to His Word and Jesus is illustrating that point here.  If you judge and measure by the Word of God, then you will be judged and measured by the Word of God.  That is how it is supposed to be. 

Next Jesus goes on to say "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?"  What Jesus is saying here is that how can we accuse another of sin when we have not examined our own hearts.  We can not look for sin in the life of another when there is glaring sin in our own lives.  Maybe our sin is not glaring to the rest of the world, but it is glaring to ourselves and to God.  What may seem like a mere speck to others, we know very well to be a full-grown plank.  Jesus is not saying to not look for lesser sin in the life of another while there is great sin in our lives.  He is saying not to look for any sin in the life of another before we have examined ourselves for any unrepented or unconfessed sin in our own lives.  The point Jesus is making here is that we need to examine ourselves.  The imperative should always been our own relationship with God and what sin in our own lives is hindering that relationship.

Now Jesus tells us why.  He says "Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."  People challenged by their sin love to quote the first part of this verse telling their accuser to take the plank out of their eye.  This is not an injunction on confronting sin, it is only directing the accuser to make sure he has examined himself and dealt with the Lord regarding his own sin first.  First remove the plank, then you can help your brother remove his speck.  The idea is not to prevent the sinning brother from being confronted, but to make sure the confronter does so with a clean heart.  Challenging someone on their sin while you refuse to do anything about your own, as Jesus says, makes you a hypocrite.  Can a compulsive gambler rightfully tell the alcoholic about getting over his addiction?  It is the blind leading the blind!  However, the gambler who has overcome his addiction through Christ can see with all clarity to counsel the alcoholic to put away his own addiction.  That is the heart of what Jesus is saying here.  When you are caught in your own sin, you are willfully blind and unable to see how to lead another out of their sin.  It is when you have put away your own sin that you can see clearly enough to lead another out of their sin. 

So what we have here is not an injunction to confront someone on their sin, but instructions on how we are to confront someone on their sin.  First, we are warned that we are to be judged by the same standards on which we judge someone else.  While we have no place in judging the eternal position of another, we have every right to judge the sin of another.  Paul directed the Corinthians to judge the sexual sin of one of its members and cast him out.  Paul also instructs us to not keep fellowship with Christians who refuse to repent of their sin.  Jesus instructs us on the steps of church discipline and how to progress from personal confrontation to being cast out of fellowship before the whole church.  To say that we are not to confront others on their sin is to go against the counsel of God's word.  That said, we are not to be self-righteous about it, nor are we to be legalistic.  What Jesus is referring to is adding to the Word of God or questioning the heart behind one's actions (only God knows the heart).  We are not to be hypercritical or nitpick as the Pharisees were known to do.  We are to rebuke others in their sin, though.  We are to share what the Word of God says by others actions.  Yes, we will be judged by those same standards, but that means we will be judged by God's Word.  And that is a good thing for it is God's word that proclaims the Gospel that I am saved by grace through faith and that my eternal position in paradise is secure and settled. 

We also see the instruction by Jesus that before we confront others on their sin, we are to search our own hearts for what sins we might be harboring.  We must challenge a brother to repent of his sin when we have not repented of ours.  Our words will fall flat and we will be a hypocrite.  We must take the plank from our own eyes to be able to lead our brother to remove the speck from his.  We also have to understand that this instruction is for the accuser and not the accused.  The sinful nature of the accuser does not change the truthfulness of his accusation.  If you are rebuked by someone who is just as caught up or even more caught up in sin than you are, then accept that rebuke with all humility.  Do not get into a plank fight that only serves to damage further the both of you.  If your brother comes to you with a plank in his eye about the speck in yours, accept his rebuke and seek the Lord to remove that speck, then perhaps you can see clearly to help your brother remove the plank from his. 
 He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, But he who heeds rebuke gets understanding. Proverbs 15:32 NKJV

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