In this society, today’s passage might be one of the more popular ones. We’re always told that judging people is wrong, and I’ve actually heard people cite this verse when it’s pretty obvious that this is just about the only verse they know. Jesus’ words against lust or greed are ignored, but we certainly like to pay attention when he condemns a judgmental attitude.
But as usual, we need to look a little closer to avoid misunderstandings. Did Jesus condemn all judging? Does he not want us to discriminate at all between good and evil, between foolish and wise choices, between people who are trying to follow God’s instructions and those who aren’t? If he was telling us this, then that would contradict further instructions later in this very sermon. How could we discern between true teachers and false teachers, between good fruit and bad fruit, and between the path of life and the path of destruction if we forfeit judging altogether?
What Jesus was condemning was a judgmental attitude, which seeks to make ourselves look better by comparing ourselves with sinful people. You might've heard this already, but just in case you didn’t, the word “hypocrite” was a term used for actors in plays. Commonly they didn’t have enough actors to fill every role, so the actors would hold masks in front of their faces to show the audience that they were playing a different character. So in other words, Jesus was calling judgmental people actors. Friend, when you condemn others with this type of attitude, you’re pretending. You’re acting as if you somehow need a little less grace than someone else. It took the blood of the Son of God to cover your sins, and you deserve hell no less than anyone else. We're all guilty before God’s throne of justice, and if he treated us as we deserved, well, you get the idea.
We sometimes forget it or under-emphasize it, but I really believe Jesus has a sense of humor, and it shows in this passage. Come on, isn’t it a funny picture? Can you imagine a man walking up to his friend saying “Hey buddy, let me help you with that speck out of your eye” while he’s sporting a log out of his head? I think our Savior was using humor to make a point. Sins are just like headlights on a car, yours look so much more glaring to me than my own.
This doesn't mean that we don’t come alongside our brothers and point out to them when they’re doing wrong. To avoid that duty is not showing love to them. But that’s the key word: We are to speak the truth in love, not with a prideful attitude that thinks that we’re somehow immune to what they fell into. All of us are in daily need of God’s grace, and none of us deserve it. So despite how some people might abuse and distort this passage, let’s not lose sight of the hard truth here. Don’t ignore the “log” while you’re offering help to someone else’s “speck.”
Lord Jesus, it is so easy to fall into this trap, and so hard to stay out of it. Please keep me mindful of what it took to save me, and help me see others with nothing but love and compassion. Let’s leave the judging up to you, shall we?