“Is There Something In My Eye?”

Scripture:  Matthew 7:1-12 

Judgment In The Church

I recently came across a study by the Barna Group that I found startling and more than a little bit troubling.  The study involved a nationwide poll of 16-29 year olds and asked about the respondents’ perception of Christianity. 

Among the non-Christians who responded to the poll, 87% said that they would describe Christianity as “judgmental.”  “Hypocritical” also ranked very high, with 85% of respondents agreeing that they believed that the term accurately represented contemporary Christianity.

My first thought was that Christianity must just have some really bad public relations.  Maybe we need to run some sort of PR campaign to try to change those numbers, because clearly people outside of the church have the wrong perceptions about those within the church.  After all, we don’t wake up on Sunday mornings and say, “I’d really like to work on becoming more judgmental and hypocritical.”

But then I continued reading the article, and it was revealed that even many people within the church have that same perception.  Of the people who responded to the poll who identified themselves as Christians, half of them said that they “perceive Christianity to be judgmental [and] hypocritical.”[1]  So, apparently this perception isn’t just something seen by those who are on the outside looking in, but has been noticed even by people on the inside looking around.

So I was simultaneously filled with hope and disappointment when I read our passage for this morning and realized that Jesus addressed both of those issues – judgment and hypocrisy – in the first five verses.  Even 2000 years ago when the Church was in its infancy, Jesus noticed these problems among his followers and prospective followers.

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

Specks & Planks

Some pastors have suggested that chapter 7, verse 1 is one of the most well-known and often quoted scriptures in the New Testament.  While I wouldn’t go that far, I do think that it is a verse that many of us hold dear to our hearts.  It’s a good verse, isn’t it?  “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”

This is one of those passages that people love to quote when they feel like they’re being judged unfairly.  “Hey!  Well…  Jesus says not to judge.  So mind your own business.”  We also might reference this passage when we know that we’re in the wrong, but the person who is passing judgment is also in the wrong.  “Yeah?  Well, who are you to judge me?

But we all too often we forget the second, and most important, part of this passage – Jesus’ explanation of why we shouldn’t judge others.

I can still remember, like it was yesterday, the first time I had a life experience that has forever impacted the way that I read this passage.  It was elementary school, and I was at recess, playing on the big wooden toy structure on the playground.  I was minding my own business, pretending that I was piloting a boat on the open ocean…  And then, all of the sudden, I heard from across the playground the words that every overweight kid dreads: “Hey, Fatso!”  When I looked over, I saw the mean-spirited culprit…  And it was another boy who was around my age, and he was at least as chubby as I was.

I didn’t have the words at the time…  I simply knew that his judgment hurt, and that he didn’t seem to be qualified to pass judgment.  But if I did have the words, I may well have responded, “Why do you see the speck in my eye, but you don’t notice the log in your own eye?”  “Who are you to judge me when you have the same problem?”

It’s Not About Judgment

Jesus’ words here are not primarily about refraining from judging others.  It’s true that we should withhold our condemnation of others – unfair or spiteful judgment isn’t beneficial to anybody.  But the reason we shouldn’t jump into judging and condemning one another left and right is because we have our own shortcomings and imperfections to worry about.  We can’t go around with logs sticking out of our eyes while pointing out mere specks in the eyes of others.  We know that Jesus was serious about this matter – because not only does he use the most grotesquely over-the-top imagery possible, but he repeats the metaphor no less than three times.

According to Jesus, when we are tempted to judge others, we should first look at our own selves and examine our own hearts.  “First,” Jesus says, “take the log out of your own eye.”  If we go around judging others without proper introspection, we come across as hypocrites and our judgments become hollow and devoid of meaning.  The log in our eye instantly disqualifies us from the job of Speck Extraction Specialist – no matter how good we may think we are at that job. 

Recognizing Our Logs

This idea is nothing new or unique to Matthew’s gospel.  A similar statement is made in John’s gospel in the story of the woman caught in adultery. When the elders brought the woman forward, Jesus asked that anyone without sin be the first to cast a stone.  They quickly found that, given Jesus’ criteria, none among them was qualified to do so.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, said it this way, we “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory”[2].  We’re all broken, no matter how good we might be at making people think we’ve got it all together.  All of us struggle.  We all fail sometimes.  We all have our moments that we’d rather forget.

And even a proverb of our own time says, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”

Only when we recognize our own faults and failures are we able to see clearly enough to truly be of help and service to others.  When we go through the often difficult and painful process of honest self-examination, we gain the credibility to offer help and advice, centered in love and service rather than insecurity or spite.

More Like Christ

And this all applies not only to us as individuals, but to the way that Christianity interacts with the world in general.

Earlier, I mentioned the Barna Group study about how people view Christians.  What is interesting is that, while they had such a negative view of Christianity, when these same people are asked what they think of when they hear the name Jesus, they had really good things to say.  In contrast to their negative view of Christians, the values they named about Jesus were things like all-loving and inclusive and accepting.

So,, there’s a giant disconnect - a great chasm - between how the world sees Christ, and how the world sees his followers.  How do we overcome this discrepancy?

Well, a book published to address the findings of that study attempts to offer a word of hope:

First, we must admit that we are, at times, judgmental.  It doesn’t do any good for us to deny it.  The truth will surely set us free.  We must be honest with ourselves and others that there are times when we are way more eager to point out other people’s problems, rather than deal with our own.  We’ve got to admit that often times we’re more critical than gracious in our interactions with each other.

We can’t continue to pretend like the church is a place marked by love if fundamentally we discount those within our very own community who screw up.  If we can’t forgive pastors, leaders, and friends, then how could we possibly begin to forgive others?  We must begin by loving each other, forgiving each other, and carrying each other’s burdens, especially when we fail.  When a brother or sister is steamrolled by life, we don’t run from them, we rally around them.

Secondly, we must engage with the people whom we have been taught to stay away from for too long.  We must boldly enter into the environments where [God’s love] flourishes and does its best work.  Christian insulation and a safe life are not what you and I signed up for when we said we would follow Jesus.  He was never insulated from people’s pain, and he sure didn’t keep to safe places.  He engaged with those who were being crushed by their mistakes and bad choices.  Jesus wiped away the tears of the prostitutes, held the hands of the outcasts, and touched the wounds of the sick and the crazy.  He hung with the not-so-perfect people of the world and showed them what Christianity was all about [forgiveness, love, and support].  He was never concerned about a person’s title, society’s name tag, or the sign on their place of work.  Prostitutes or preachers, gay or straight, Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t mean a rip to God.[3]

Perhaps that explanation from the book was too wordy.  To put it simply…  In the end, we need to stop trying so hard to look like Christians, and try harder to look like Christ. 

We need be slower to pass judgment and quicker to show one another the same mercy that we receive from God.

We need to embrace the fact that we are part of a community made up of people who have messed up and are working toward a better future.

Ultimately, we have to be willing to look within ourselves to see the places where we fall short of living and loving the way that Christ has commanded us to live and love.  And, once we identify the logs in our eyes, we must be willing to make the changes necessary to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

[1] The Barna Group of Ventura, California (www.barna.org)

[2] Romans 3:23, NRSV

[3] David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, UNchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2007), 201-203.