This week we study Jesus’ teaching about the plank and the speck from Matthew 7:1-6. Jesus says, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from someone else’s eye.” Jesus knew that we’re quick to see the problems, faults, shortcomings, and screw-ups in other people, yet we’re slow to see them in our own life.
When we are led by judgment and condemnation, when we place another as the scapegoat for our own issues, we miss an opportunity to walk alongside and with God. We miss out on what God has placed in our lives to give us purpose and responsibility; we miss out on what it is to live in the kingdom of God.
Jesus shows us and challenges us to practice new rhythms and take on new responsibilities so that we can walk deeply with Him and with our community. Join us as we learn possibly the greatest relational prayer we can pray.
I will stop judging the behavior of others and trust that to God.
I will not hold other Christians to my standard of right and wrong when it’s not supported in Scripture.
I will guard myself from becoming legalistic in my assessment of others.
I will obey Jesus’ command and take the plank out of my eye.
I will focus on the plank in my eye, not the speck in someone else’s.
Last week we looked at how Jesus said, “Do not judge.” This week we’ll go even deeper into how relationships can get off track. || This is what Jesus said: 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? 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 7:3-5) We’re talking today about the speck and the plank. || And Jesus’ teaching here is not subtle. He’s talking about two categories of problems — everyone else’s problems and my problems. There are other people’s faults, and there are my faults. || Now you’d think I would be much more aware of my faults than of other people’s faults. You’d think I would notice my problems first, because they’re my problems, but often I don’t notice them at all. — “Plank? What plank? What are you talking about?” But I have great clarity on your problem. || I fail to take responsibility for my life, but I’m great at blaming other people. || I read a bumper sticker recently that said, “I didn’t say you were wrong; I said I was going to blame you.” || Do you know what my problem is? My problem is my mother. My problem is my spouse. My problem is I don’t have a spouse. My problem is the place where I work. My problem is I don’t have a place to work. My problem is you. I can see your tiny little problem, but I can’t see my great big problem. || You see, this is the plank — I can’t see my problem is ME. I can’t see my habit of blaming others, judging others, and avoiding responsibility. || People go through their whole life, and they never even identify (let alone own and take responsibility for) their real problem, which is them. || This is so common that you’re probably thinking right now about someone you wish were here listening to this message because they really need to hear this teaching. The good news is they are here. The bad news is — they are you! || Now, we learn to evade responsibility and assign blame when we’re tiny little sinners. || A woman and her husband tried to teach their little son about how good God is by asking him questions like: “Who made the sun?” “God did!” “Who made that tree?” “God did!” “Who made Dinosaurs?” “God did!” One morning she walked into his room, and it was a mess. There were toys everywhere, dirty clothes on the floor, cereal on the floor. She asked the classic parental question: “Who made this mess?” He said, “God did!” || Where did my children learn how to blame at such an early age? Not from me, that’s for sure. || Someone I know went to traffic school where everyone had to tell what violation brought them there. Amazingly enough, not one of them was really responsible for breaking the law. They all had justifications for speeding or for that illegal u-turn. When it got to him, he said, “I didn’t stop at a stop sign. That’s why I’m here. I was entirely wrong, and I got caught.” There was a moment of silence, and then everyone in the room actually cheered for the one honest man in traffic school. || Now, see, the idea is — that’s what the church is supposed to be about. We cheer people on for honestly owning their sin. || So I need to stop looking at someone else’s speck; and start looking at my plank. || I mentioned the Serenity Prayer a few weeks ago. There’s another version of the Serenity Prayer for this message today: God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me. Today, this message is about giving you an opportunity to think about what God wants to change in you. What’s your plank? || Start listening for God to whisper to you about what it is. || See, when Jesus calls us to focus on the plank in our eye, he’s calling us to take responsibility for our own life. || He’s reflecting here a deep truth about how God made us from the beginning. Genesis says God created human beings. He created them God-like. God blessed them. And God said to them: “Prosper. Reproduce. Fill the earth. Take charge. Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of the earth.” God made us to be responsible. It’s a God-like thing to be responsible, to have a little sphere that’s under my dominion. || People are actually happiest when they have responsibilities. This is actually part of what we’ve been learning about in the Sermon on the Mount — You have a kingdom. Your kingdom is your life. It’s God’s gift to you beginning with your body. You were meant to reign, empowered and led by God over your little kingdom. || How will you spend your time today? You will decide. How will you treat other people today? You will decide. What will your attitude be today? You will decide. What will you fill your mind up with today? You will decide. || God made people to be responsible, and then he gave only one rule. He said: But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:17) But the first man and the first woman do. || Notice what happens. God asks Adam: Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Genesis 3:11-12) Now God asked him a real simple question. Adam could’ve just said, “Yep. My bad. You gave that commandment to me. So don’t blame the woman.” But no, Adam throws Eve under the bus — “It’s not my fault. It was the woman.” And it’s not just her. “It was the woman YOU put here.” || Who made this mess? “God did.” || Then God questions Eve, and Eve looks for someone to blame as quickly as Adam did. || Question: Were Adam and Eve the last married couple to blame one another? Not by a long shot. || Now this doesn’t mean we don’t confront each other. It doesn’t mean we don’t speak hard words to each other. Of course we do! The plank is about a spirit of blame and condemnation. || A pastor named Andy Stanley says that a lot of times when a spouse with a distressed marriage comes in to talk to him, all they can talk about is where the other spouse is at fault, how they blame their partner. Andy will say, “You know, clearly the person who is the real problem isn’t here, so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to draw a circle, and this circle represents 100 percent of the chaos, 100 percent of the pain in your marriage. I want you to draw whatever part of this pie that represents the part for which you are responsible.” They will generally draw a slice that represents an 80/20 split. Do you want to guess which slice of responsibility is theirs (the big slice or the little slice)? It’s always the little slice. Most of the blame and responsibility goes to the person who is not there. || Andy will often say, “Well, since so and so is not here, let’s focus on your slice of the pie because this is the only slice on which you can really work.” Here’s what’s interesting. In almost every case, people can’t do it. They can’t talk about their slice. They keep going back to the other person. || People get so addicted (we do this) to complaining about the speck in the other person’s eye that they can’t see the plank in their own. || So we might call the entire circle — the pie of responsibility. You can use it for a marriage, if you’re married. You can use it for where you work. You can use it with your kids. You can use it with your parents. || Now if you focus on your slice of the pie — if you focus on being responsible for what you can actually be in charge of, what God has placed under your dominion, you will grow. If you focus on your part, your life will grow. Your heart will grow. You’ll pray, “God, change me. God, grow me. God, guide me.” What will happen over time is your kingdom will increase. Your dominion will increase, and God wants that. || On the other hand, if you focus on the other person (if you focus on, “Here’s what they’re doing wrong,” if you focus on assigning blame)… Again, it could be marriage. It could be work, what they’re not doing. What will happen is your problems will grow, your resentment will grow, your negativity will grow, and your little kingdom will get smaller and smaller and smaller. || See, blame is not productive. Blame wastes energy. Blame spoils relationships. Blame poisons families. It undermines workplaces. It violates love. || You see, taking responsibility for your life is part of God’s plan for your growth. It doesn’t mean you deny you may have been the victim of horrible abuse, a betrayal, or a disease you did not ask for and cannot control. What it actually is, is joining my little kingdom such as it is with all of its limitation into God’s great big kingdom and his plan to change everything. || There was a brilliant thinker at Stanford who was actually converted to Christianity as an adult by reading about the theme of blame in literature and history and how toxic and destructive it is and then reading about it in the Bible and seeing how God turned things around. Here’s the idea. All people, all societies, all cultures, have a custom of scapegoating. Scapegoating is that practice where we find someone or some group to pin all the blame on, even for things that are not their fault. Girard said it’s almost like a safety valve. It’s like all the blame for resentment, rivalry, anger, or whatever gets put on them so we don’t have to own it ourselves. || One kid in grade school might get picked on because they look different, act differently, or they’re clumsy or considered unattractive. No one votes on this, but somehow everyone in the class knows they’re the scapegoat. || A whole movement of family systems theory was actually developed at Stanford a couple of decades ago that said families very often have scapegoats — the one kid in the family who’s the black sheep or who all the problems get blamed on so Mom and Dad don’t have to look at themselves. || Then Girard said nations have scapegoats. For Hitler, it was, above all, the Jewish people. For Stalin, it was the dissidents. In Rwanda, it was the Tutsi. Scapegoating people means dehumanizing them. || Now in the Bible in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the priest would actually have a goat chosen. It was called the scapegoat. He would put his hands on it, confess the sins of Israel over it, and release it into the wilderness simply as a picture of the sins of Israel being removed and forgiven by God. This was just a picture, but it’s where the name scapegoat comes from. || Girard said that in ancient cultures outside of Israel, sacrifices often involved human beings, human victims who were sacrificed to placate or appease the gods. They were human scapegoats, which meant all the problems of the society or the tribe were pinned on them. The idea was sacrificing them would heal the community from chaos no one wanted to own. In fact, the idea that scapegoating a victim would heal the community’s problem was so deep that the Greek word for the victim who would be sacrificed was pharmakos. We get our word pharmacology from that. That’s why to this day no one likes to go to the pharmacy. || We see this dynamic at work in the Bible in the story of Cain and Abel. Cain, unlike his brother Abel, fails to offer God a proper sacrifice. He’s upset and angry, but instead of taking responsibility, owning it, making things right, he scapegoats his brother and gets rid of him. “If I just get rid of Abel, I’ll be okay.” || Girard noticed in the Bible something unprecedented happens. Stories of blame (scapegoating) would be told, but these stories are actually sympathetic to the victim (to the one who gets scapegoated). || God cared about the victim. God condemns the act of people, families, or nations scapegoating other people. || God said the blood of Abel cried out to him from the ground. || Joseph’s brothers scapegoat Joseph, and they get rid of him. They think, “If we just get rid of him, then we’ll be okay.” But God cares about Joseph. In other words, in the Bible, the ancient universal practice of scapegoating begins to be undermined, begins to collapse, and all of this comes to a climax in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the holy, innocent One. He is utterly blameless. He is the sinless one. The powers that be — the religious leaders, the political leaders, the moneychangers in the temple — all decide Jesus is their problem. They make Jesus the scapegoat. The one man who could have saved him — Pontius Pilate — publicly washes his hands. “Don’t blame me. I’m innocent of this man’s blood.” || That’s the way we do things, but of course no one is innocent, except Jesus. On the cross, he lays bare the evil, the violence, the injustice, the wickedness of scapegoating. || We’re told in the New Testament: When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness. (1 Peter 2:23-24) In Christ’s great love, he absorbs all the sin, all the hatred, all the violence, all the wickedness of the world upon himself on the cross. He pays that price. He makes atonement. || In his resurrection, he says, “Now the way of blaming, stigmatizing, condemning, and rejecting is over.” Jesus has become, against all odds, the great scapegoat, the ultimate scapegoat, the final scapegoat, the one who takes our sins on himself so we can be forgiven. || || Now, I want to get very specific and I want to be very personal. It seems to me that this whole issue of condemnation often gets expressed through our lives in one of two ways. Sometimes it’s condemnation for people who have a different standard of behavior than I do. Maybe you develop an attitude about them and it becomes the plank in your eye. || Sometimes the plank in our eye is condemnation toward other Christ followers. And often, this gets displayed in kind of a legalistic spirit of some kind. || I want to walk through both of these forms of condemnation. And I want us to consider which one of these planks has made its way into our eyes. || In Romans 1, the apostle Paul identifies what happens to people apart from God. He describes a kind of downward spiral of sin that happens to people where they get deeper and deeper and deeper apart from God. Here’s what he says, beginning in verse 29 of Romans 1: They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:29-32) Now a natural tendency in us, when we read words like that, is too get a little proud. We say, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that. At least I’m not doing those kinds of things.” That could be your attitude. And Paul goes on to say, right after that kind of an attitude, in the very next verse – Romans 2:1: You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now, first of all, we have to understand here that Paul is talking to Christ followers. And it’s obvious that the Christ followers he’s writing to here were ready to condemn those who commit the sins he just listed. They didn’t consider themselves in the same class of sinners as those people. They considered themselves more respectable kinds of sinners. And Paul says, at whatever point you judge or whatever point you condemn another person, you are condemning yourself; because you do the same thing. 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? It’s like the person who says, “I just can’t stand that guy. He is always criticizing other people.” Or the person who’s ordering dinner and says, “Hey, isn’t that Pete over there having a cigarette? Doesn’t he know that his body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? Doesn’t he know he’s desecrating the temple of God? “Yeah, I’ll have the chicken fried steak with a basket of cheese fries and a chocolate malt, oh, and for desert later I’m going to have the death by chocolate cake.” We look at the speck when we have a plank in our own eye. We can be so quick to condemn others while we have a plank in our eye. And Jesus is saying, “First take the plank out of your own eye.” For some of us, we judge people who have different values than we do. For some of us, the plank is a coworker who lives a different lifestyle; or a neighbor with different standards. It’s the guys at work who tell the crude stories about the crazy weekends. And you developed an attitude. You developed a spirit of condemnation about those people. And Jesus is saying, “That’s a plank in your eye.” You see, the difference between the group of people that Paul was writing about in Romans 1 and the group that he was writing about in Romans 2 is subtle, but it’s significant. In Romans 1, he writes about those who do wrong things and approve of those who do wrong things. In Romans 2, he writes to those who do wrong things and condemn others who do them, which makes them hypocritical because we’re all in the same boat. We all do wrong things. || Alright, so that’s the first plank. We develop a plank in our eye for people who have a different standard of behavior than we do. Another group of people that we often develop a plank for are those people inside the church. || There was a young Rabbi that took over a new congregation and he discovered he had a serious problem. During the services, half of the congregation stood for prayer and the other half of the congregation remained seated for prayer. And each side shouted at the other insisting that their side was the true tradition. Nothing he could say would bring peace in that congregation. So finally in desperation, the young Rabbi went to visit the 99 year old founding Rabbi of that congregation who was in a nursing home. He said, “Please tell me, was it the tradition of the congregation to stand during prayer?” The old Rabbi said, “Oh, no.” “Ah,” responded the younger Rabbi. “Then it was the tradition to sit during prayer.” “No,” answered the old Rabbi. “Well,” the young Rabbi responded, “What we have is complete chaos. Half the people stand; half the people sit. And they scream and shout at each other.” “Ah,” said the old Rabbi, “That was the tradition.” || In 2000 years of church history, sadly, that’s been the tradition for much of Christianity. And evidently, Jesus knew we were going to struggle with unity in his family because one of the last things that he prayed for in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was there on the night that he was betrayed and arrested was: May they be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23) But throughout the history of Christianity, there have been those who love to come up with their own rules about what spiritual commitment looks like. Their own rules! And it’s not the fruit of the spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It’s a list of do’s and don’ts that can’t be found anywhere in the Bible. And they love to judge people by their own code of conduct that highlights some of the stuff they obviously think God forgot to include in the Bible. || Now, all through the history of the church, there have been those Christians who love to damage other Christians with their rules. And if you keep their rules, you’re in. If you don’t keep their rules, you’re judged. In fact, let me tell you some of the issues that legalists used to divide followers of Christ in the last century — in the 20th century. In the last century many Christians, at one time or another, have labeled the following things sins. Dancing… of any kind. Playing cards. Roller-skating. Using electricity. Wearing makeup… usually said by those who very badly needed to wear makeup. Going to movies. Having a television in your home. Listening to jazz music. Listening to rock music. Having facial hair — a beard or a mustache. Eating at a restaurant where alcohol was served. Playing pool. Now, today, I don’t think any of us would consider any of these things sin. My guess is that most of you didn’t feel too sinful the last time you used electricity or too sinful the last time you played a game of cards or listened to rock music. But I guarantee you, there are issues that every one of us in this room have, that we feel very strongly about, that are potentially divisive and are not issues over core beliefs in Christianity — issues where the Bible is silent — issues where God has given us flexibility and freedom to be led by his spirit. And what Christians traditionally have done is — we fight and we argue and we debate and we judge and we divide instead of giving one another freedom to allow the Holy Spirit to give each of us his individualized guidance. || For some of us, the plank in our eye could be for someone inside the family of God? Someone who sees something a little differently than you? || Alright, so how do we practice living in the kingdom of God this week? || I invite you to say, “I will focus on the plank in my eye and not the speck in someone else’s eye.” || That plank (a spirit of condemnation) could be based on someone’s morality, ethnicity, their behavior that drives you crazy, their religious beliefs, or their political ideology. It could even be generational. This stuff divides churches up all the time. || Maybe you’re older, and what that means is you come to church, you see somebody younger, and you think, “Why don’t they wear something besides ripped jeans and a tee shirt? Why do they have to pierce their bodies? Why do they have to tattoo their skin? Why do they want their music so loud?” Just under the surface is, “Why can’t they be more like me?” And you end up missing the wonderful spirit of adventure in them, compassion, idealism, or the desire to make a difference. || Maybe you’re younger, and what that means is you come to church, and you see someone older. And you think, “Why do they have to be so formal, so picky, so wrinkly, or so technologically incompetent?” Just under the surface is, “Why can’t they be more like me?” || Maybe you’re not sure whether you’re younger or older. What that means is you’re older. || So this week, just stop trying to straighten other people out. I have a friend who says if you want to straighten people out you ought to work in a funeral home, because that’s the only place where, when you straighten people out, they stay straightened out. Live people tend to resist straightening. This week, give up the practice of straightening out. This week, practice taking responsibility for your own life. Instead of automatically getting defensive or trying to justify or excuse, this week step back and pray — “God, help me,” and actually own, “Yep, those are my words. Those are my actions. Those are my habits. Those are my patterns. Those are my attitudes. It’s me.” This week, ask God to help you identify what the plank is that needs to be removed. || Jesus is right. The problem isn’t just that we have a plank in our eye. It’s that we don’t even notice the plank. So we need outside help to become aware of what it is that needs changing. The old language for this is conviction of sin that is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s a gift no one wants, but it’s a gift of the Spirit. || I’ll give you a picture of this. There was a guy named Charles Steinmetz. He was an electrical engineer in the early twentieth century who was just an absolute genius. There was a story in Life magazine that Henry Ford once called Steinmetz to consult about problems with a huge electric generator. It wasn’t working, and no one could figure out what was wrong. Steinmetz went to the plant, observed it for two days, climbed a ladder to make an X mark with a piece of chalk on its side. He told the engineers to remove the plate at that mark and replace the field coil. They did what he said. And it worked! Henry Ford was thrilled until he got a bill from Steinmetz for $10,000, which was a ridiculous amount of money back then. He asked for an itemized bill. Steinmetz then resent the bill but with only two items. First — “Making a chalk mark on generator: $1.” Second — “Knowing where to make the mark: $9,999.” Ford paid the bill. || Now, every one of us has a plank. Maybe it’s an attitude. Maybe it’s a habit. Maybe it’s a relationship. Because of that, my life is not working right. My character is out of whack. I don’t even know why. This is the human condition. The psalmist says: But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. (Psalm 19:12) See, that’s the plank I don’t notice. || And if we’ll invite him, the Holy Spirit will come and make an X so we know the problem and can invite God to change us. || See, the problem is most of us would prefer to go around and make a big X on other people’s lives. I’d put the X on you. — “Here’s where you need to change. Here’s where you need to be different. Would you like to know what your problem is? Could I straighten you out?” || This week, ask God to help you know where to put the X over your heart and your life, because there’s something God wants to change in you. || This is maybe the greatest relationship prayer you can pray — “Lord, change me.” It’s not, “Lord, change him. Change her. Change them. Change it.” It’s, “Lord, change me. Change my attitude. Change my pattern of negative thinking. Change my sarcasm with my spouse. Change the way I nag at my children. Change my negative attitude at work. Change my envy I can’t seem to get over. Change the way I rush through every day without pausing to be grateful. Change my defensive spirit. Change my stubborn streak. God, show me where the X goes.” This week is about the plank. After you’ve worked on the plank this week, come back next week, because next week we’re going to talk about the pearl and the pig. Alright, let me pray for you. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA