First remove the plank from your own eye, before you try to remove the speck from your neighbor’s (Matthew 7:5)
A couple years ago when Jonah was 5, we took a short drive over to
My son was playing on a swing, minding his own business and having a good old time when a whiny little girl came over and started to remove him from the swing. “I want to swing on that swing,” she squealed as her mom came over to intervene. I was watching intently, but I didn’t get up because I assumed the other mom was going to correct her daughter and handle the situation appropriately (as any reasonable parent would do). I was wrong. Apparently the mother didn’t have much control over her aggressive daughter, and she was trying desperately to persuade the little girl to leave Jonah alone and wait her turn. “Please,” she begged the little girl, “Let’s find a different swing to play on.” But the girl kept yelling, “I want THAT one,” and she continued to try to force Jonah off. Finally, Jonah just got off the swing and left, and he walked away with a bewildered look on his face. He was probably wondering why that mother let her daughter get away with behavior like that, because he knows his mommy would certainly never have tolerated it! Both my friend and I had the same thought… “Brat,” we mumbled under our breath. We couldn’t believe what we had just seen. “I just can’t stand it when parents can’t parent their children,” I complained. She agreed. She’s on top of her child just like I am, and we tend to agree on those kinds of issues. “There’s just no excuse for a parent to be ruled by her 4 year-old like that,” I continued, “And she didn’t even rebuke that child’s behavior… I would have taken her to the car and given her a swift spanking!”
I finally finished my judgmental remarks and went back to chatting with my friend. Some time went by, and we kind of got caught up in conversation and unintentionally stopped paying much attention to the kids. The men had walked away a little and taken a phone call, so they weren’t really watching either. I didn’t know it, but Jonah had climbed up on top of something that was too high for him to jump off of. He was stuck up there and couldn’t get down, and he was calling for me to help him. I was so engaged in my conversation that I didn’t notice his predicament. Finally, another mother came walking over to the bench we were sitting on and asked me, “Is that boy over there your son?” She was pointing to Jonah, and before I could say “yes”, she informed me that he was stuck and calling for help. “I tried to help him down,” she said, “But he said he wanted his mommy to help him.” “Oh my goodness… thank you,” I said as I jumped up to go rescue him. I got him down and he was fine, but as I walked back over to my bench, I realized that the mom who tried to help him was the mother of the bratty girl who I just finished criticizing. Here I was accusing her of not being a parent while my son was stranded on the top of the monkey bars calling for my help while I chatted away! The bad parent was trying to help my child while super mom (that’s me) was too busy chatting to even notice he needed me! Boy did I feel dumb.
God took the opportunity to knock on my heart and remind me that I can’t sit in arrogance like that very long before He steps in and intervenes. I was reminded of a scripture I have to confront often (apparently it’s one of my weaknesses). “You hypocrite. First remove the plank out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your neighbor’s eye (Matthew 7:5)”, the Lord reminded me. That little girl may have been a brat, and the mother may have not handled the situation or the discipline properly, but I am far from being a perfect parent, and my sins are just as big as the next guys. Too often we spend so much time trying to pick at the faults of others while we ignore our own faults, and this scripture reminds us that we’re nitpicking at someone else’s tiny speck while we walk around with huge planks. I love the visual picture of this scripture. Picture yourself walking around with a huge 2x4 board sticking out of our head while you’re chasing after someone else trying to remove their little splinter. That would look really silly. That’s how silly we look to God when we do that with sin, faults, and flaws. Why are ours so easy to ignore and others’ so easy to spot? God’s word tells us that if we would just concentrate on removing our own iniquities, we’d be able to see better and judge situations more clearly. And yes, sometimes we do need to help others remove their specks, but we can only do it properly if we’ve first dealt with our own. If we judge the situation arrogantly as if we are so much better than someone else, we are certainly not going to be able to produce anything godly or fruitful. Why even bother to try to make someone else’s heart right if ours is not even right? Shouldn’t we care just as much - or more - about the condition of our own hearts? That’s clearly what God wants us to do.
Everyone sins. So we will always be surrounded by people who sin and who don’t conduct themselves in a Biblical manner. And there will always be people who struggle, mess up, and make mistakes. There’ no doubt we will come in contact with these people, and sometimes we will be those people. If we all worked just as hard removing our own sins as we do trying to correct others, we’d probably be OK. In fact, we’d likely be too distracted to even notice their sins as much. This is the idea Jesus had as He spoke those words in Matthew’s gospel. It’s fine (and even good) to try to help someone overcome sinful habits, and it can be very helpful to counsel someone and use the word of God to correct someone’s wrong behavior. But it should always be approached with humility and love, with an understanding that we ourselves are guilty and no better in God’s eyes than the one we’re trying to help.
In fact, we should be just as humble and teachable when someone tries to help us overcome sin by pointing out our wrong behavior. Do you have someone in your life who can do that? Do you allow your spouse or a good trusted friend to be brutally honest with you and tell you where you may be straying? Do you get defensive when he or she approaches you with loving critique, or do you humbly thank them for their exhortation and pray for God’s help to overcome it? Think about it honestly. If you are truly sinning (and I’m not just talking about making an honest mistake – but truly sinning) and a godly friend or relative you trust points out that your behavior is unpleasing to God and needs to change, how do you react? Do you immediately think, “How dare they say that about me… who do they think they are… how can they judge me like that when they are no good themselves!” If you do, that is wrong. The Bible says to have a teachable spirit, and it also says faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). You know how Jesus feels about hypocrisy, so if you’re not humble enough to take the criticism, you certainly should be slow to dish it out. And you should have a friend or relative who you allow the privilege to honestly point out your iniquities with the intention of holding you accountable to your own godly standards. For me, it’s my husband who has that role. And sometimes it’s a good friend and sister in Christ. But there are people whose judgment I value who I permit to be that honest with me. Trust me, it keeps you humble!
This is something I’m constantly struggling with, but I believe God has taken me a long way in my walk so far. I do, however, realize I still have a way to go. There are certain things that I do well (as we all do). But there are other things I do not do so well. I can’t let my strengths make me so arrogant that I prey on others’ weaknesses. That is ungodly and unbiblical, and I have to let scripture remind me of that often. I learned a good lesson on that playground that day, and God didn’t waste any time putting me in my place (He never does). I’m thankful for that. Faithful are the wounds of my Friend… my best Friend… Jesus… and I’d much rather hear it from Him than have to hear it from someone else.