Some time ago a person said to me, “If the Devil is not able to destroy a Christian’s witness by making him apathetic, he will try to do it by making him a fanatic.” I believe that is true, and I believe it’s illustrated by the verses to which we come this week.
In the second half of Matthew six, in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had been talking about failures that will render a Christian apathetic in regard to Christian service. They are a love of money and anxiety. Both of these will have a desensitizing effect on his witness, for if a Christian has his mind centered on things (either to accumulate them or to worry about them) he will not see God and, hence, he cannot serve Him. At this point, however, Jesus goes on to show that there is also a type of zeal that will ruin his witness. This is a zeal for judging others. It is harmful because it will turn a believer into a sharp and unjust critic of his Christian brothers.
In warning against this failure, Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye measure, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:1-5).
It is a ludicrous picture. The word translated “mote” is a word the Greeks used for a speck of sawdust or a piece of chaff, while the word “beam” pointed to a huge wooden rafter or log. Our equivalent would be a steel girder. Jesus is therefore saying, “And be careful that you do not become like the hypocrite who bustles up to another person and says, ‘Oh, you poor Christian, you have a speck of soot in your eye,’ but he does not see the thing that everyone else can see and which is so obvious—that he has a steel girder protruding from his own.”
Now there is a sense in which the text is so clear and so obvious that any attempt to explain it can only weaken its impact. But, of course, we need to do more than explain it. We need to apply it, and when we do this its impact should be felt even more strongly and be more personal.
What is Jesus Christ’s meaning when He pointed out this hypocritical attitude that so many have toward others? Well, it is certain that He does not mean that we are not to exercise proper spiritual discrimination, for the very next verse (v. 6) says that we are to use true judgment when dispensing spiritual things. Moreover, He does not mean that we are to forego discipline in the church or that we are not able to separate the truth of the Gospel from falsehood. We are told to do each of these things at several other places in the New Testament. No, Jesus is simply pointing to a general human tendency to see the faults of our neighbors while blithely overlooking our own, and He is warning us against it.