What Jesus Said: Be a Speckectomist

“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)

It would be so much easier just stop with the verse before this one. I’d be way more comfortable with a philosophy of life that said, “Don’t ever worry about what anyone else is doing wrong; live and let live. That’s between them and God, not me.” It’s what our culture often means by “tolerance,” and it sounds so right and clean, doesn’t it?

whatjesus_350But Jesus kept going: Once you’ve rejected hypocrisy and have removed that log from your eye, then jump in there and help your brother remove the speck from his own eye. Yes, don’t become a judgmental hypocrite. But, also yes, do confront each other about sin with the willingness to help each other overcome it.

Jesus’ half-brother James was talking about a lot more than “specks” when he wrote this at the very end of his famous letter: “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)

God isn’t looking for volunteer judges, but he does call us as his children to get into each other’s business, to keep pointing each other back to the path of Jesus.

Think: Which is harder for you – not to judge or to lovingly help a Christian friend to deal with sin? Why?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be willing to be available to help your Christian friends deal with sin – with wisdom, grace, and kindness.

Do: Notice how these ideas fit with Hebrews 10:24-25.

What Jesus Said: Plank Eye!

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3-5)

Jesus uses such great word pictures. You can almost see this as a Monty Python or “Saturday Night Live” sketch as the clueless-but-official-sounding “doctor” keeps whacking his patient in the head with the plank sticking out of his eye as he tries in vain to pick the other guy’s speck out with a pair of tweezers. Before it was over, they’d both be blind.

whatjesus_350And that’s the point. Volunteer judges love to walk around with tweezers looking for small infractions to point out and attempt to fix in their siblings. They carry a list of rules around with them – whatever list they’ve decided is the most important one – so they can pull it out and show it to each other and argue about exactly where the lines are that must. not. be. crossed.

Meanwhile, Jesus said, they are literally blind to the giant, obvious sin in their own lives. These hypocrites – and we’ve all been there – are like murderers banging the gavel at a jaywalking trial. They are the last people who should be “fixing” other believers.

So none of us should ever point out sin in another person’s life, right? Wrong! Come back tomorrow.

Think: Has anyone ever approached you about sin your life? Did they do it judgmentally and hypocritically? Have you ever been told you have a plank-sized sin that you had previously been blind to? Who do you trust that you could ask about any obvious problem areas in your life that you might be missing?

Pray: Ask God to help you not to become a hypocritical judge of other people’s sin while being blind to even more obvious sin in your own life.

Do: Think about asking someone you trust to tell you honestly and kindly if they have noticed any obvious sin in your life that you may not have seen. (Be willing to hear what they say and really think about it, even if you don’t agree completely, at first. And refuse to get mad and punish them for telling you what they really think.)

What Jesus Said: Don’t Judge

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

This might be one of the most often quoted verses in the New Testament by people who don’t often read the New Testament. We’re dropping in on the middle of Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount” this week, kicking off with a verse many of us have attempted to use like a “get out of jail free” card when we’ve been caught in sin.

whatjesus_350“Hey! You’re not supposed to judge me for killing kittens! Jesus said so! What is wrong with you? Don’t you ever read your own Bible? Now leave me alone; I’ve got a lot of kittens to get through before supper time.” It goes something like that.

Of course, if you read on to the next verse, Jesus is not saying we should never have an opinion about what is right and wrong – or even that we should not lovingly correct each other. He does seem to be saying one of two things. One: It is God’s job to be the judge, not yours. If you try to do his job, you’ll receive from him the same judgement that you try to pronounce on others.

Or, two, he might be making a wisdom statement about human nature: We all tend to feel and act judgmentally toward people who are judging us. And we tend to give more grace toward those who show us grace and mercy. Either way: If you don’t want to be judged, don’t volunteer to judge others.

Think: Why do we sometimes feel so compelled to judge people who are obviously doing something wrong? How do you decide when it is right to confront a friend about sin and when it is right not to?

Pray: Ask God to help you not to wrongfully judge others and for the wisdom to know when it is right to offer loving and helpful correction to a friend or family member who is sinning.

Do: Think about this verse in light of what you read in James 5:19-20.

Two Wisdoms: Plant Peace

“Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18)

One of the bottom-line differences between the world’s wisdom and the wisdom of heaven is this: The world’s wisdom leads to conflict. Heaven’s wisdom leads to peace.

twowisdoms_350The world’s wisdom says, “You’ve got to be willing to fight to get what’s yours. If you don’t compete to promote yourself, nobody else will. If you want something, you’ve got to compete for it on the battlefield of sports or academics or business or war or relationships. You’ve got to take it. Nobody is going to give it to you.”

Heaven’s wisdom says, “God will give you whatever you need and many amazing things you didn’t even know you wanted. You won’t have to fight for them. You can do the hard work he calls you to and trust him to provide. You can join him in doing good things for people, finding new ways to make peace. People who love making peace ending up doing what’s right.”

Think: Does heaven’s wisdom appeal to you? Why or why not? What does that say about us that sometimes we’d rather fight than make peace?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be a peacemaker who sows in peace and raises a harvest of righteousness.

Do: Read James 4:1-12 to hear more about the conflict that comes from living by the world’s wisdom.

Two Wisdoms: Keeping It Real

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17)

God’s wisdom always keeps it real. It doesn’t have a hidden agenda. It doesn’t do nice things for you with a secret motive to get something from you afterwards.

twowisdoms_350Why? Because those living on God’s wisdom are “impartial,” a word that here means “not uncertain” or “not doubting.” We are wisely convinced that living for God is the best possible path for us and that He will meet all of our needs (and many of our wants).

So we don’t have to try to manipulate each other to get what we want. In his wisdom, I understand that I don’t need anything from anyone except him. I am free to be completely sincere, completely who I am in Christ. I don’t need to fudge the truth or threaten people or deploy my sales tactics. I can afford to do the best thing for you and let God worry about your response to me.

Think: Why does living by the world’s self-serving version of wisdom require us to avoid being sincere, to become hypocrites when we pretend to be motivated by doing good for others?

Pray: Ask God to help you to live in his pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, fruitful, convinced, sincere wisdom.

Do: Make a quick list of words that are the opposites of those wisdom characteristics mentioned in today’s verse: pure (e.g., “impure” or “diluted”), peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, fruitful, impartial, sincere. Notice how those opposite character qualities lead to unwise living in your life.

Two Wisdoms: Wisdom from Heaven

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17)

Had enough of the world’s brand of self-serving wisdom? Want to define success differently in your life? James turns the focus on God’s version of wisdom. Notice that it’s not so much about getting my way.

twowisdoms_350First, this wisdom is pure. That means it’s not some of one thing and some of another. God’s wisdom is all one thing all the way through. It is all about God from start to finish. It’s all about his view of the universe and his view of my life. Those living on God’s wisdom will always be moving in the same direction – the one he chooses.

With this wisdom, I am so confident God will have his way I can quit fighting to get my own way. This wisdom tells me I’d rather have his way, anyway. So I can work to make peace. I can spare the time to look at things from your point of view and be willing to have my mind changed. I can afford to show mercy and make choices that cause good things to happen for everyone.

With God’s wisdom, I’m not trying to beat you to build myself up. I’m trying to serve you because I know he will build me up when the time is right.

Think: Do the consequences of living by God’s wisdom – purity, peace, thoughtfulness, etc. – appeal to you? What keeps people who live by God’s wisdom from getting walked on by everyone else?

Pray: Ask God to give you the desire and courage to live by his wisdom in your world.

Do: Write down each of the attributes of heavenly wisdom listed in today’s verse. Rate each one on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being high) by how much of that thing you notice in your own life, lately. (e.g., peace-loving: 6; considerate: 4; etc.)

Two Wisdoms: Disorder More Evil

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16)

Do you have a picture in your head now of what worldly “wisdom” is, what worldliness is? We’ve looked at how James describes it – envy and selfish ambition. Put another way, this “wisdom” is about defining success by getting what I want most out of life.

twowisdoms_350One reason that fails is the same reason a basketball team fails when the players are more interested in their own stats than they are in winning the game. Nobody passes. Nobody plays defense. Everybody shoots the ball every time they get it. That is disorder. And that team loses the game almost every time, even if one or two players “succeed” in getting high scores.

The other problem with defining success by getting my way is that I’m more and more willing to do “whatever it takes” to get my way. If the choice is between hurting you and succeeding by getting what I want, I can get used to the idea of hurting you. I can get used to the idea of all kinds of evil if the other option is “losing” at life.

Think: Can you think of any examples of disorder and evil in our world that seem to come from a worldly definition of success? What would be the opposite of this definition of success?

Pray: Ask God to help you not to live according to the world’s definition of self-serving success.

Do: Write down a number between 1 (low) and 10 (high) describing how committed you are to getting what you want out of life. Then write a number rating how committed you are to accomplishing what God wants with your life.