Thursday, January 07, 2010
The log and the splinter
Perhaps one of the most mis-used verses in the Bible is found in Matthew 7. It is primarily brought up when a Christian says something that is critical or (allegedly) judgmental about a person's action, word or deeds. The conversation goes something like this: Christian: you did this action and I think it was a wrong thing to do Person: you don't have a right to tell me what to do! Doesn't the Bible say to take the log out of your own eye before taking the splinter out of mine? You hypocrite. What is really happening is that the Person is not trying to help the Christian see the error of their way, which is the Christian's purpose, but the Person is trying to defer from having to deal with the rightness or wrongness of their own action. If they really read the verse and understood the context they would not use this verse as a defense. Here it is in full context: Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV) 1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. In verse 1, "Judge" here means to assess the state of a person based on an action, not to point out an error (that is a rebuke). This does not mean we cannot assess the right or wrong, properness or improperness of a behavior. It means we should not find a person as worthless because of an action they did. That is why, in verse 2, the warning is that if you judge others, you will be judged by by God with the same standard you judged others. The reality is that most people are hypocrites. They do violate their own standards at some point in their lives. Verse 3 & 4, probably the most popular, seems to indicate that we should not ever say anything to anyone until we are perfect. The "log" concept is often thrown out there in response to a criticism. But look closely at the context and it just a reinforcement of verse 2. If we are going to rebuke, we need to be very careful about how we do this. We need to examine ourselves as well. I recently come to the understanding that what Christ is saying here is that when we see others sin, our first response should be to look at the sin in our own lives. Here is the part that is most ignored - the "splinter". Christ does not tell us to ignore the splinter. A splinter left in can be a constant irritant, it can become infected and kill the person. It is not something to just let go, so regardless of the size of our log, the splinter that remains in the eye of the other person needs to be removed. But think about this, how is a splinter removed, especially from such a vulnerable areas as the eye? We don't go for the pliers but go for the tweezers. We don't first go for a knife, but use a needle. We don't yank and jerk at it, but try to slowly retract it. Our effort is to ease the pain not create worse suffering. We want to remove a splinter with the least amount of damage to the area.
This is how we should rebuke. To point out an error in such a way that we do the least amount of damage to the other person. This means we need to think about our tone, the words we use, our motives. Our goal, as Christians, is not to hurt but to help because we are no better than the other person. We are called to do this in love, with the other person's best interest in mind.
When a person does wrong, they often know it already. Our rebuke should be to help them turn from their sin. If they don't know it is wrong, then how we tell them will help them realize it. Never should our intent be to bring about more sin.
There is great risk in a rebuke. Most people don't like their sins to be shown and go to great lengths to hide or justify them. They look for loopholes and ways to divert the heat from their own searing conscience. But an unrepentant sinner is a doomed individual. We would try and stop someone from walking into the path of an on-coming semi, so why wouldn't we want to help someone whose actions are condemning them?
So, while we need to look for our "logs" and be aware of them, let us not be deterred from helping others with their "splinters", and do that not as one in authority, but one in the same station.