Matthew 7:1-5 (NIV) “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.
“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.”
Many interpret Jesus’ words here as an absolute decree that the people of God’s kingdom are never to pass judgment on anyone or anything. Unfortunately, that interpretation leaves them at a loss to explain other things that Jesus said, including verse 6 right after this section. How is one to know who not to give pearls or sacred things to without judging who the dogs and pigs are?
What Jesus is actually doing here is continuing His condemnation of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus found many of them to be what He called “whitewashed tombs” (cf. Matthew 23:27), clean and holy-looking on the outside, but inside harboring hatred and all kinds of sin and foulness. Many of them actually did in private the very things that they condemned in public. So Jesus was warning them that God would judge them using the same standards that they publicly used to judge others.
This hypocrisy is the basis for Jesus’ illustrative parable about the speck of sawdust and the plank. Both items are composed of wood, illustrating the same type of sinful behavior in both people. But the picture of the person with the plank protruding from his eye seeing himself as superior to the one with the speck of sawdust in his eye, and offering his help to correct the situation, is ridiculous. But, as ridiculous as the caricature might be, the truth of the situation is sobering.
Jesus’ solution was not that we simply refrain from judging that something might be amiss, that our companion might have a speck of sawdust in his eye. That would be unloving, especially with regard to sin, which could cost that person his soul. Instead, Jesus directs us to clean up our own lives, to remove the plank from our own eye, before becoming the judge of others and trying to get them to clean up their lives. Only when our own life is free from that sin will we be able to clearly see the solution to recommend to others.
Jesus never condemned true and righteous judgment of what was legitimately sin. And the apostles never refrained from calling a sin a sin. (See Acts 5:3-4, 8:20-23, and 1 Corinthians 5:3 for examples.) But they always did so from hearts that were free of hypocrisy, never condemning in others what was present in their own hearts. They also encouraged others to judge sin correctly (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13). But they recognized that even that must be done in accordance with Jesus’ overarching standard of non-hypocrisy.
Father, it is easy to slip into condemning others for sins they are committing, while turning a blind eye to my own sin. But taking the complete opposite tack of never p sin, pointing out sin, just leaving the other person separated from You, isn’t right either. Help me to do all things, even this, in Your way: first keeping my own heart clean before You, and then confronting sin when we see it in love, desiring only to prompt repentance so that the other person may be saved and experience the same restored relationship with You that I enjoy. Amen.