Motes and Beams
Judge not, that you be not judged (Matthew 7:2). It’s a powerful statement. The Lord wasn’t speaking about discerning right from wrong. He was talking about how we discern people. We may see the surface behavior, but we can’t see the way the Lord sees. We cannot discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. The Lord gave fair warning about trying to do what only He can. “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:3).
Jesus extended this teaching. He pointed to potential problems among brothers and sisters in the Lord.
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 7:4-5).
Here are two things: the speck and the plank. These are metaphors for human fallibility. Of the two, a speck in the eye is less dangerous than a plank. Imagine a stick of quarter-round molding jammed into an eye socket. That seems deadly enough. But a plank? That is a caved-in face. It is a lesson about judging our brethren.
Jesus shows us that we can see the speck in our brother’s eye without being judgmental. In fact, He shows us it is possible to see clearly enough to remove the speck. Clarity is good and productive. Character flaws are good to outgrow. Helping one another in such matters is proper. “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). Therefore, seeing a problem clearly is not the same as judging, at least in the context of this teaching.
A speck in the eye is a small thing that is irritating. In this case, it is more irritating to the beholder than to the one who has the speck. The one who has the speck may not even be aware of it. But the beholder may start to think, “What’s the matter with him? Doesn’t he know how stupid that looks? If I were him I would _____________. How ridiculous!” Soon the beholder of the speck has amassed a case against said brother. He assumes the Lord’s seat while sitting in the seat of the scorner. The beholder is preparing a plank for himself. He bludgeons his own face. Friendships can be destroyed in the process, harm that can last beyond reckoning. Just as the one who has the speck may not realize it, so the plank-in-eye may not realize what he is doing, born out of irritation.
How can one remove a plank from his own eye? One thing is to not take for granted our own wisdom or goodness, as if we are self-assured of such things. It is a trait of gentle humility. We can see that eleven of the twelve apostles were taught this good trait. Jesus had told them things about themselves they did not know.
“Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”
“O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?”
“Get behind Me, Satan!”
“You do not know what you ask.”
“You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.”
Near the end of Jesus’ stay on earth we see some growth. Note their response when Jesus cited a traitor in their midst. “And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, ‘Lord, is it I?’” (Matthew 26:22). It appears they learned enough humility to question their own motives. Jesus depicted the righteous on the day of judgment as a people not self-assured. “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?” (Matthew 25:27). Therefore, humility is a good thing for pulling out the planks of being self-wise and arrogant. Since Jesus has departed and sent the Comforter, we have the Spirit’s testimony, the perfect law of liberty to help us see. “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25). Comparing ourselves with what the Bible teaches makes us less apt to focus on the flaws of others.
“It is the discretion of a man to be slow to anger, and it is his glory to pass over a transgression” (Proverbs 19:11). If we are counseled by the Bible to overlook a transgression, then it stands to reason that God overlooks transgressions. Does man have greater glory than God? Discretion is what enables a person to see there are other things to be considered. There is a common sense saying, “You need to pick your battles.” In other words, there are some specks in the eye that should be overlooked, lest we smother and provoke. In such a scene, there is no iron sharpening iron, just blunting and nicking. Overlooking a fault prepares the way for greater needs.
There is a way to see clearly as we behold a speck. It is to behold the beauty of this soul the Lord has created. Attributes of the Spirit are to be found in abundance among the brethren. This is the substance of deepest friendship. Seeing this beauty enables us to gently remove those minor details of our humanity.
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself (Philippians 2:1-3).
Specks or motes in the eye are common. They occur through the everyday grit of life. We can nurse these irritations into scorn, or we can tighten the bonds of friendship. “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Colossians 3:14-15).