Lk.6:41-42 "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? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye."
Humility versus Hypocrisy
Have you ever been to an optician for an eye test? I guess most of us have. We sit in the chair opposite the eye chart on the wall and the lights are somewhat dim. There is an impressive array of equipment and perhaps a tray full of lenses near to hand and then of course there is the optician.
It's not long before he is sat on a chair close to you with his opthalmoscope in his hand – that little hand held device which he uses to shine a light directly into your eye so that he can take a good look at the back of your eye. He seems to lean in closer and closer until you can feel his breathing. It feels a bit strange – you don't normally let folk to come that close – but then he's only doing his job and you put up with it.
You wouldn't accept it however if he had a ruler a yard long sticking out of his eye! You'd feel very nervous indeed as he lent in and that ruler was coming dangerously close! No, you wouldn't sit still – you'd try to back away if only that were possible... How you wish he'd stop and take the ruler out of his eye before he proceeded with the examination. How could he possibly carry out the examination of your eyes if he didn't first make sure that his own vision wasn't being hindered by that ruler.
Jesus used a picture like this in the text we're going to look at this morning. For some of us we're so used to the words that we fail to see just how ridiculous the situation Jesus described actually was. He talks about one person having a tiny speck of sawdust in their eye – it's not comfortable and it does need dealing with – you all know how delicate our eyes are and when you've got something in your eye you want to get it out before the eye becomes too irritated or too inflamed. You're happy perhaps for someone else to take a look and to help remove the offending item. But you want that person to be able to see well. And in Jesus' story the person proposing to help doesn't see clearly at all! He doesn't have a speck of sawdust in his eye, he doesn't even have a three foot long ruler in his eye he has something the size of a tree trunk!
Not only could such a person not see clearly he could never get close enough either to be of any help either.
The picture Jesus paints is a ridiculous one – but then it is meant to be. Jesus' aim is to make a point and here he makes it by means of humour and burlesque exaggeration. What does Jesus mean by it all?
The Christian and Others
Jesus had just been talking about the dangers and unavoidable problems involved when a blind person is led by another blind person. Now there is an application of this teaching to our interpersonal relationships and the way in which we are to help one another.
This passage is not arguing that one Christian is never to seek to help another Christian in overcoming besetting sins or other weakness and failures – the last words make it obvious that such help is to be offered. Rather Jesus is calling for self-examination and self-discipline to precede all such efforts to help someone else. In other words we won't be able to help anybody else unless we have first applied to ourselves those lessons we want to teach to others.
What we have then is a clarion call for integrity humility. The Christian must be very careful not to lay himself open to the charge of hypocrisy.
One way of avoiding any possible charge of hypocrisy would be, of course, to do nothing and to leave everybody else simply to get on as they can they can on their own. That however is the not the Christian way. Jesus is not calling upon his followers to be blind the faults of others but to direct us as to how to help them. We are not to use Cain's question "Am I my brother's keeper?" in order to avoid our responsibilities but we are to be very careful how we go about exercising those responsibilities.
What Jesus taught here is further developed in other portions of the NT. Jesus spoke then about the help one Christian can bring to another:
such help is necessary
the manner in which help is given is vitally important
Mt.18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother."
Privately at first – you are seeking his well-being not to parade his failures before others. Isn't this the way you would want someone to deal with you if you were the one who had slipped into wrong-doing?
Lk.17:3 "Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,"
The aim is not to be proved right or to win an argument but to restore your brother, you must be ready to move on so forgiveness is essential.
1Thess.5:14 "And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all."
Different approaches will be necessary in different circumstances – let's be careful not to confuse them.
Rom.15:1 "We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves."
1Cor.12:22-24a "the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honourable we bestow the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require."
Paul doesn't pretend for one moment that every believer is equally strong or equally mature he simply points out that the weaker are not in any way to be despised or humiliated but to be handled with great care as people of great value who stand in need of special treatment.
Gal.6:1-2 "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."
1Cor.10:12 "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall."
Again differences of Christian experience and maturity are recognised as a simple fact of life. The more spiritual is not to act in a cavalier manner riding rough-shod over the feelings of another who has got caught up in wrong doing but must show gentleness in his efforts to restore his brother.
On this occasion Paul's adds a warning. The spiritually minded Christian is not immune to all temptation and could himself make the same mistakes: to think that you're somehow better than the other can so easily lead to a self-righteous attitude and pride is the precursor to a fall.
Acts 20:35 "In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’"
Mt.12:19-20 "He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not quench, "
Quietly, privately, gently and tenderly.
Lk.22:32 "but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."
Pitfalls the Christian Must Avoid
Well so far we've thought about our inter-relatedness in the family of God and in particular our duty to help one another and we have thought about a number of the ways that such help might be given.
The Christian life is dynamic and risky – in seeking to help others we may go about it in the wrong way. It's time to think of some of the negatives we will need to avoid.
Now being concerned for one another and on the look-out for one another is not to turn us into some kind of religious police constantly snooping around or like an investigative journalist trying all the time to dig up the dirt. Jesus was not seeking to develop a busybody's charter. Our responsibilities are often referred to as when something directly affects us eg. when someone sins against us.
2Thess.3:11-12 "For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living."
It will not always be easy to tread the right path between the two extremes of the "indifferent leave well alone" on the one hand and the intrusive busybody on the other but it is necessary for us to try to find that middle way.
Perhaps this is the moment to say that if we are Christians we must be ready to receive positive constructive criticism realising that such really is for our good. We do live in a day when any perceived infringement of personal freedom is deemed to be a dreadful thing that many will be reluctant to give wholesome helpful warnings and advice. If those who offer such help with a genuine concern for the other's welfare are met with a harsh reaction they may well not try again and everyone will be the loser.
Possibly the greatest pitfall of all to avoid however is that of not doing yourself what you insist on telling others they ought to do. That is at the very heart of what Jesus warned against in his story of the man with the plank in his eye wanting to engage in delicate eye operations!
In Jesus' day the Pharisees and the Scribes were particularly guilty of this crime:
Mt.23:1-4 "Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger."
It is probably easier for most of us to be critical of others than it is to be critical of ourselves. Most of us have a natural tendency to be hard on others and soft on ourselves – we are aware of every mitigating circumstance when it comes to excusing ourselves and we can be blind to such things when we focus on others. The Scribes and Pharisees had perhaps all the right answers but they failed dismally because they didn't apply to themselves what they demanded of others!
There is a word that describes this sort of attitude and it is the word hypocrisy. And who likes a hypocrite? The folk in the world certainly don't and they tend to sniff out hypocrisy very quickly indeed whether it be the hypocrisy of a corrupt politician or of a loveless church.
I perhaps need to qualify that a bit. I've said that the world doesn't like hypocrisy and while that is generally true it is also true that the world loves to discover hypocrisy in the church, it loves to hear of unfaithful pastors, of ministerial falls etc. because then the world feels it can ignore the church's message! If the church is full of hypocrites then we don't need to listen to what must be a failing and failed message, do we?
This has not been a sermon about how to become a Christian. You become a Christian when, having realised that not only have you fallen short of God's standards but that you'll never ever be able to attain them, you have turned to Jesus Christ for him to save you.
This is then a sermon about how the person who has so gone to Jesus for salvation will be expected to reorient his life and to live in a new way.
In Jesus' vision of his church his followers will demonstrate a genuine loving concern for their fellows. This loving concern will proceed even in the face of opposition and potential misunderstanding. His people will however be inspired not to develop into hypocritical busybodies but will live lives of intelligent self-examination and they will apply the truth to themselves as they receive the necessary spiritual light to do so.
None of his followers this side of glory will be perfect in the way they live and relate to others but none should expose themselves to the charge of being a hypocrite, none should legitimately hear the proverb "Physician heal yourself" being directed at him.
Aware of failure and aware of the wonderful grace of God one Christian will seek to help his brother as they both have so much progress to make.
Will you and I seek to live our lives as believers and as disciples of Jesus Christ in this way?
May God give us the grace we need to do so.