The most obvious example in church life where we see the faults of others while overlooking our own is gossip. For the one who is hunting motes in others is never fully satisfied unless he can talk freely about them. Here is a woman who marries the wrong man while in college and whose marriage ends in divorce. She marries again in disobedience to the Lord’s commandments. Still, the Lord blesses the second marriage and gives her and her husband fine opportunities for Christian service. The mote-seeker finds out about it, and although the fault was long in the past and long since confessed and forgiven, it is not long before the fault-finder has spread his discovery throughout the full range of his acquaintances. Or again, here is a man who is so afraid of not being accepted in the office that he puts on airs, actually lying about his past accomplishments and prospects. The mote-seeker digs for the truth, and when he has found it out, he goes about to make sure that the fault is well known.
Jesus said that this is quite wrong. Moreover, not only is it wrong, but it is actually, according to His calculation, a far greater sin than the one that has been uncovered. To be sure, the remarriage was sin. But it was only a mote compared to talking about it; talking about it was a girder. The lie was a mote, but making it known was a steel girder. Instead of this, the Bible teaches that we are to bear with the one who has sinned, instructing him where necessary and encouraging him privately in God’s way.
Another form of mote-seeking relates to doctrine, for there is always a type of person who listens to the minister or to another Christian, only to find out where he deviates from the mote-seeker’s personal standards. Often, because they come to the situation filled with harsh prejudices, such persons do not even do a very good job of listening.
Like most ministers, I have had experience with this sort of thing personally. Once, a person called the church asking to speak to me on what she said was a “personal” matter. Actually, it concerned the National Council of Churches, and her question was whether my church belonged to this organization. I began to answer, trying to say that it is impossible for any individual church to belong to this ecumenical organization, although the United Presbyterian Church is associated with it as a denomination. Then, I tried to express my dissatisfaction with the National Council in those areas where I believed it has been harmful to the Gospel and to the church in America. But none of this got through to the woman. She was so incensed at the Council that she ran on for nearly ten minutes, denouncing it herself and reading me numerous quotations from others who have also denounced it. After trying to speak to her several times and getting nowhere, there was finally nothing left to do but to terminate the conversation.
The same thing also takes place with some ministers. Quite a few years ago, I knew a minister who developed such a fixation about his church’s need for money that there was seldom a sermon in which he failed to berate the congregation for their lack of adequate giving. Actually, because I had access to the church’s accounts, I knew that the giving was fairly good, and I knew that many of the parishioners were also giving to other worthwhile causes. It was not the attitude of the congregation toward money that was the problem. It was the minister himself. His fault was evident to everybody, and yet, because he could not see his failure, he eventually drove many of his best people from the congregation and thus greatly diminished the scope and effectiveness of his ministry.