Podcast listener Danny writes in: “Pastor John, if sin is self-deceiving, even to the extent that we don’t see entire logs in our own eyes, how can we ever know with certainty that we see clearly enough to take out specks in our brothers’ eyes? Is Jesus’s point in Matthew 7:5 that we ought not to be hypocrites, seeking out specks? Or does he really intend we can and should take out the speck from our brother’s eye?”
Well, I hear two questions: (1) How can we ever know with certainty that we see clearly enough to take out specks? (2) Does Jesus really intend for us to take out specks?
My answer to the second is yes. Jesus really does intend for us to take the speck out of our brother’s eye. And my answer to the first question is that the prerequisite for this is not certainty, but Scripture-saturated, Spirit-dependent humility. So let me give some support for that answer.
Help Others See
Jesus really does intend for us to be in the lives of our fellow believers and point out to them specks and help them see more clearly. That is the problem with a speck, right? You can’t see. If you are driving a car and you’ve got a speck in your eye, then you are swerving all over the road and you are going to kill somebody. And that is what sin is like. Yes, that is what we do for each other. So Jesus says in Matthew 7:3–5,
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? 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? 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.
The aim of this passage is to overcome the blindness in our pride that keeps us from being lovingly helpful to our brothers. That is the point of the passage. This text is not simply about creating non-hypocrites who don’t care about their brother who falls into a ditch because he is being blinded by the speck in his eye. This passage is about how to become helpful, how to become loving, how to become effective eye doctors who help other people see and live and enjoy God’s will for their lives. All the apostles teaching about ministry to one another assumes this, doesn’t it?
- 1 Thessalonians 5:14: “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle.” So if you see a speck of idleness, go after them and help them.
- 2 Timothy 4:2: “Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Don’t leave people with their specks in their eye. Reprove, rebuke, exhort.
- Jude 22–23: “Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”
Seek Spiritual Wisdom
The whole picture of New Testament church life is speck-picking, which is why Galatians 6:1 is so crucial and Matthew 7 is so crucial. Here is Galatians 6:1:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself [this is like Jesus saying to take the log out], lest you too be tempted.
Don’t be proud. Don’t be arrogant. Don’t be judgmental as you step into a person’s life and help them see what they are doing wrong. You should do this. This is an imperative. It doesn’t even look like an imperative in the English translation, but it is an imperative when he says, “Restore such a one. Help him. Take the speck out of his eye. Tilt his head back and get some water and pour it on and tell him, ‘Don’t rub toward the center; rub toward the outside,’ and get that speck out so he can see.”
And of course, the key in that verse is: “You who are spiritual.” This is dangerous work, right? That is why the question is being asked. This is really dangerous work. We are very judgmental people. We like to exalt ourselves by pointing other people’s flaws out. Therefore, a lot of people just give it up entirely.
So what does it mean to be spiritual? It means you look away from yourself and, in all humility, you depend upon the Holy Spirit and the word that he inspired. Spiritual people are people who have taken the log out of their eye insofar as they know themselves, they have repented of their sins and cast themselves on the mercy of Jesus and depend on the Holy Spirit, and they have replaced (and here is the key) the fog of their former log problem with the lenses of Scripture, because Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction.”
That is what the Bible is for: helping the man of God get humble before God — get the log out before God — and then minister to his people correction so that they can see and enjoy God to the full and live in his will.
And here’s another thing spiritual implies: Those who are spiritual and who long to restore others should pray. Pray when you see someone this way. Pray about yourself. Pray about them. Here is 1 John 5:16: “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life.”
Well, I wonder how you are asking God for his life. You might be praying for yourself as well as for him that God would give you spiritual wisdom, because it says in Colossians 1:9 that Paul prays, “[We] pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom.” So if God is pleased, he might use you with your log out to rescue a person from death.
‘Save a Soul from Death’
Listen to James 5:19–20: “If anyone among you wanders from the truth” — and why do you wander? Because you’ve got a speck in your eye. You can’t see the path. “If any of you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back” — “Hey, hey, you are going the wrong direction — “let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save a soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
So when Danny asks, “How can we ever know with certainty that we see clearly enough to take the specks out of another person’s eyes?” my answer is: Certainty is not the issue here, Danny. Humility, Scripture, prayer, and love are the issue. God has set up the church so that imperfect, fallible, even uncertain people are called upon to rescue each other. Don’t let uncertainty excuse you from obedience.
If someone is drowning and you can swim, but you are not certain you would have enough strength to pull them all the way back to the land, and there is no other way to save them, what does love do? Don’t make a god out of certainty. It may prove to be a cloak for fear of drowning.