Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

What kind of judge are you? (Matt. 7:1-5)

As we know, the word ‘judge’ can have a variety of meanings. One meaning, found in law courts, means to make a binding decision on whether a person has done right or wrong. Another meaning is ‘discern’, where a person may not have to choose between a good and a bad option, but between two or more good options; in such a scenario a wide range of facts may have to be considered. Another meaning is ‘criticise’, and of course criticism can be either valid or invalid.

It is clear that the judging that Jesus has in mind here is inappropriate judgement. Yet what makes the judgement inappropriate is not the problem in the other person, which is there and which Jesus says should be removed. Instead the problem is in the person who is aware of the defect in the other person, but awareness in itself does not qualify a person to try and remedy the defect. Before the person interferes in the life of the other with a defect, he has to check his own state first. A Puritan called Thomas Adams described humans in this way: ‘All men are like barbers. They trim all men but themselves.’ This is what we do when we pass unjust judgements.

In verse 2, Jesus points out that those who judge will be judged by others according to the same standard. He is reminding us of an obvious feature of daily life which is that others expect us to live up to our own standards. This reality should have a sobering effect upon us: before we attempt to assess the problem in another person, we should say to ourselves, ‘Others are going to treat me in the same way as I will treat this other person with a defect.’

Jesus uses a very striking and humorous illustration. He imagines a person walking about with a big plank of wood sticking out of his eye. With his other eye, he observes that another person has a speck of dust or sand in an eye. The man with the plank wants to remove the speck, but we can imagine what takes place. The closer the man with the plank comes to the person, the more likely it is that he will hurt the other by striking him with the plank of wood. Instead of helping the other person, he will only make the situation worse.

This illustration reminds us of the danger of exalting our own opinions. Sometimes the blank may be an idea we have that we think every other person should adopt. It becomes so big in our lives that it becomes our identifying mark. We can imagine this man’s neighbours saying, ‘Here comes the man with the plank.’ Similarly we can be known as the man or woman with the …. Our opinion, which may have been legitimate for us, becomes so big that it prevents us from helping our brothers with their little faults. Rather bizarrely, we can become quite proud of our plank, imagining that it makes us attractive, when in reality it makes us ugly and dangerous.

The illustration reminds us that there are degrees of sin. While we cannot say that there is such a thing as a small sin, we do recognise that individuals may have traits that are not as serious as others. A speck of dust in the eye can cause a lot of pain, but it is usually only sore for the individual himself. On the other hand, a plank is not only a burden for the person who has it, it can also cause pain to others when it hits them.

The illustration reminds us that usually we are to regard the faults of others as specks and to regard our own sins as planks. Obviously there will be times when the sins of others will require a strong response. Yet in our interactions with one another, we are always to be harder on ourselves than on others. When I see another person losing his temper, I should say to myself, ‘What is my temper like, and what would I have done in the same situation?’ We can ask, is there any particular reason why the person has this speck at this time? Has anyone else caused him to have the speck in his eye?

The illustration reminds us that we should deal with others in a gentle manner. This is obvious from the care that has to be taken when dealing with eyes. Gentleness is fruit of the Spirit, and it is not found in a self-righteous person. Jesus expects his disciples to remove specks from one another’s eyes, but he expects them to imitate his way of dealing with them. We know how he does it by the way he deals with our own faults. Jesus forgives us our faults, and we should forgive the faults of one another. He forgave us gently – after all, each of our sins deserves severe punishment. It is a sign that we have a plank in our eye when we are reluctant to forgive and help a believer with a speck in his eye.

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