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A Master at Identifying Sin – Tim Challies

I am a master at identifying sin. I might be tempted to brag about that fact, except for this: While Im a master at identifying the sin in other people, Im a mere novice at identifying the sin in myself. And I dont think Im the only one. There seems to be something deeply embedded in sinful humanity that gives us the ability to spot the sin in others but to ignore it in ourselves. We can provide a thorough accounting of someone elses flaws, but often only a cursory account of our own.

I recently found myself pondering logs and specksthe funny little parable Jesus uses to make a dead serious point about that very disparity. Why do you see the speck that is in your brothers 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?

While some of Jesuss parables require historical context if we are to picture them properly, this ones simple enough. Youve been outside with a friend doing a little home improvement project. Suddenly there is a major collapse and when the dust settles you see your friend holding his eye and you hear him saying hes got a bit of sawdust in there. You rush over to see if you can help. But as you approach, he backs away and tells you that you need to get some help of your own. What he knows (and youre ignoring) is that amid all the fuss you got something in your eye too. But its not a little speck of sawdust. Its a log. Its a plank. Actually, the word Jesus uses here describes the roof beam, the single biggest piece of wood in the whole house. So while youre trying to get a microscopic speck out of your friends eye, youve got a 30-foot beam jutting out of your own. Its an illustration that is deliberately hyperbolic, deliberately absurd.

And heres what Jesus says about it: 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 brothers eye. Thats obvious. You cant do microsurgery on someone elses eye when youve had major trauma to your own. You need to deal with your own major mess before you can deal with someone elses minor mess. But what stands out to me as especially significant is that Jesus describes this as hypocrisy. Thats interesting to me because hypocrisy is a moral word, which means you havent just made a mistake, youve committed a sin.

Hypocrisy is when you have a high standard for everyone else but a low standard for yourself. Hypocrisy is when a politician says, everyone needs to wear a mask, but when she is spotted in public, sure enough, her face is bare. Hypocrisy is when a prosperity preacher tells people to give generously so he can spend lavishly. And, in the context of what Jesus is saying here, hypocrisy is when you care more for other peoples sin than for your own. Its when your foremost concern is not your own flaws, but the flaws of other Christians.

Heres the thing. Jesus is not making the point that theres never a time to go to another Christian and to help him see his sin. We actually need other people to help us in that task. Most of us can think of times that our eyes were opened to some sinful habit or pattern only after someone took the time to point it out to us. But its a matter of putting first things first. Maybe its helpful to think about it in this way.

Its miserable to have a speck in your eye. When you have even the smallest particle of sawdust in your eye youre desperate for someone to help you get it out. But if you go to the doctor and find she has a roof beam sticking out of her face, youll probably find another doctor. Why? Because the beam in her eye doesnt just make her unqualified, but actually incapable. She doesnt have the vision. She will mess it up and make it worse.

And just like its miserable to have a speck in your eye, its miserable to have a sin in your life. And just like you want someone to help you find the speck, you want someone to help you identify the sin. But that person needs to be qualified, and the qualification is that she herself has put sin to death, that she herself has pulled that metaphorical plank out of her eye. Its when she has done that that shes qualified and capable.

It may be your responsibility to help another Christian spot a sin and repent of it. But your first priority must be dealing with your own sin. Your first priority must be demanding holiness of yourself, not of everyone else. Your first priority must be to admit that youve got some planks in your eye and to be far more concerned with getting them out than going after the specks in someone elses. Because if you try to help a friend while that sin is still firmly embedded in your life, youll be unqualified and incapable; youll make it worse.

Youve probably heard the famous quote from Robert Murray MCheyne who said: For every look at yourself take ten looks at Christ. What he meant to point out is that the way to grow in godliness is not to fixate on your own sin, but on Christs glory, Christs beauty, Christs holiness. This is good and wise counsel. And maybe in light of Jesuss parable we can add to it something to this: For every look at someone else, take ten looks at yourself. This will align your priorities. For every one look at someone elses sin youll be taking ten looks at your own and 100 at Christs glory. The point, of course, is not to follow mathematical formulas but to admit spiritual weakness and establish godly priorities. Its to admit that while you can be tremendously helpful in the lives of others, you can also be recklessly harmful. Its to establish that your first priority is not to dig out their specks, but to haul out your logs.

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