The Speck in Your Own Eye – Matthew 7:3-5

In order to illustrate the problem with judging others. Jesus uses a humorous, even absurd, exaggeration. It makes no sense to condemn someone’s small error if you have a larger error in your own life.

The word usually translated “speck” (κάρφος) is a bit of straw or word, a small splinter, or even “a tiny foreign object in a wine cup” (BDAG). The word translated “log” (δοκός) is a heavy beam used to construct a roof or to bar a door (BDAG). In Josephus’s Jewish War, this word is used to describe a Roman battering ram (JW 3.124).

The contrast is therefore between a tiny insignificant thing, maybe something that is irritating but not really that noticeable and a massive piece of wood that is impossible to miss. John Nolland says this is a scene of “grossly selective perspective” (Nolland, Matthew, 320). The hypocrite only sees one thing, perhaps an issue they consider to be the most important issue of them all, but it is a mere speck compared to a major sin (likely hypocrisy itself) in their own life.

If we deal with “the log in our own eye” are we permitted to condemn others for their speck? Probably not. Jesus is certainly exaggerating, and has been described as ironic or even sarcastic here (Geulich, Sermon on the Mount, 352-3). There are several important observations to be made here.

First, if one is able to actually see what sin they do have in their lives, then they should be more concerned with dealing with their own sin than nit-picking minutia in another person’s life. There is something essentially hypocritical about pointing out another person’s sins when you are unwilling to deal with the same sin you your own life.

Second, if one is dealing with their own sin, they ought to be more sensitive toward people with similar problems. This is of course not always the case, especially if a person is guilty of a “grossly selective perspective.” Jesus’s disciples need to deal with sin, but knowing the extent of one’s own shortcomings must lead to a sensitive and gentle correction.

Third, this is not “blanket tolerance or moral indifference” (McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, 230). Jesus is not saying “nothing offends God so love everyone and everything they do.” He is saying that in an ideal Christian community, there will be enough love and grace among the brothers and sisters that condemning one another will not even be a possibility.

Fourth, the follower of Jesus needs to think about the impact of our condemnation of sin. If a person has been caught in sin and is publically shamed as a result, that is not permission to pile on our own gossip and rage toward the person. Likely as not, they are going through a personal hell as their life falls apart, the individual brother or sister in Christ does not need to fan the flames (probably through verbal sins of their own).

The result taking one’s own problem is that we will “see clearly” (Τότε διαβλέψεις). “See clearly” it to have one’s eyes open wide and looking intently at something (BDAG), perhaps with a clear understanding of what is being seen. Perhaps Jesus is suggestion the one who has dealt with a particular problem can gently correct a fellow disciple since they have experienced the same forgiveness. In fact, the very fact the Lord’s Prayer includes forgiveness ought to be a warning against jumping to judgment too quickly.

Maybe you have had an experience where someone was picking at some minor problem in your life and you knew the person was a hypocrite. Sadly this often is a parent, a pastor or teacher. It may have been a case of “do as I say, not as I do.” My sense is most people will read Jesus’s exhortation to “remove the log from our own eye” as referring to those encounters with hypocrites. But I do not see Jesus narrowing this down to only “those other people.” He tells his closest disciples they need to focus on their sin rather than looking for specks to pick out of someone else’s eye.

18 thoughts on “The Speck in Your Own Eye – Matthew 7:3-5

  1. With the topic of judging or confronting people of their problems, Christians of the day and age has abuse this opportunity. In my life time I have seen people use this opportunity not help those who struggle with their issues but to cover up their own short comings and sin. This is not the idea Jesus wanted from people. Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Then they fail interpret the scripture correctly. The reason will are able to judge is for the efforts to help people, not distract ourselves from the things we do ourselves. Because if you look further into the scripture it states “and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” And if God judges like this then people would be in a world of trouble because of the standards he placed on us, and we fail to meet all the time. The standards that people placed on others are quite bias only because as people of different backgrounds, beliefs and experiences we should not always expect what we do and know to others. Therefore, it makes it quite worst when this standard isn’t met and we judge people and deem them to be terrible people. We have judge people in the way that we are not looking down at them, but in a way we are looking up to the Lord in search of help out of this hole we might find ourselves in and we can’t get out of. But then again, if we know that the person knows better than I do not disagree with be a bit more firm with the judgement as long as we are fair and understanding.

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  2. I have often wondered about the “spot it, got it” phenomenon in humanity; the desire to detect and destroy the difficulty or error in others that is even more pervasive in my own life! I hate the sin in myself so much that when I see it on the outside (in someone else) I want to call it out and deal with it externally. This attempt at dealing with the sin in someone else is always preferred over dealing with myself and my own internal state. The key to ending this self-righteous hypocritical analysis is only found in practical application of humility and love; no man willed effort will stop this human dysfunction.

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  3. This seems to be something that we all battle with at one point or another. For me, I know it can be easy for me to internally nitpick at people’s flaws rather than outwardly. I have to keep in mind that, that just like you said, I am not sure of what personal problems they could be going through. Also, I agree that if you see someone who is going through something or doing something that you have gone through or done, that is a great chance to show them the same forgiveness and love that you have been shown. Isn’t that the point of giving grace to people? It is so often that we sit here and compare our problems to one another and say that our problem isn’t as bad as the next person so we can point out their flaws because we are not as terrible of a person as they are. Our levels of flaws are not the point. I think that this is where we have to take that opportunity to, again, show the grace and forgiveness to others that we have been shown. We also need to be reminded that we still need to hold each other accountable. We cannot misconstrue accountability for judgement. McKnight points out in his text that “it s one thing to be judgmental; it is entirely different to say greed is wrong or that sexual sins are wrong, and saying so is not judgmentalism” (McKnight, pg.234). Overall, we have to hold ourselves to not judging others but still be reminded that we are to hold each other accountable.

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    • Great post Hailey!! Thanks for your insight on this topic. I specifically liked the quote you used from McKnight, which states “It is one thing to be judgment; it is entirely different to say greed is wrong or that sexual sins are wrong, and saying so is not judgementalism” (p. 234). I am one to avoid conflict at all cost. Because of this, I’ve always struggled with the verse that says that we ought to call out those followers who are sinning Matt. 18:15 and Gal. 6:1. However, both verses are clear about the “gentleness” with which it should be done. Besides this, if we have to call someone out, we must do it in humbleness because just like this verse in Matthew says we most likely deal with sin, just a different kind. I always try to keep in mind what Paul said about thinking we are doing “well” in our walk with God “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). I believe this applies to when we think we’re helping someone out but we fail to pay attention to the “log” in our own eye.

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  4. Often as Christians we struggle with this the most because it’s so easy to judge others and so hard to reflect on ourselves and what we’re doing. Most of the time we spend looking at others and stressing about how they are wrong and how to fix their doings in stead of looking at our own lives and asking what we can do better. Jesus reminds us in the NT that we must remove the plank in our eye before we remove the speck in someone else’ eye. This is very convicting because more times than not we look at others. During this time when Jesus said these famous words, the people of the time were acting hypocritical and judgmental to those around them and ignored themselves because they thought they were in the right; obeying the law and being religious but they were overlooking the fact that they were the ones who needed help. Now days, Christians spend most of their time evaluating others but Jesus shifts our attention to ourselves and that making sure we are right before judging others is important. Our job is to encourage others, live a testimony to Jesus Christ and give Him glory with everything that we do. Removing the plank from our own eye before removing a speck from another will keep our focus in the right place; which is on Jesus Christ.

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    • Great Post as Christians I do agree that we tend to struggle with this the most. We spend too much time looking and relating ourselves to others and especially when it does not matter but we are always trying to fix others instead. The other important thing you mentioned, in the end, is what our job is supposed to look like we are supposed to encourage others, live testimony to Jesus Christ and give him glory.

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  5. This is one of these things that divides a lot of people. I think that people often tend to quote this out of context. But still it is an important issue. Everyone needs to be aware of themselves at all times. We are still called to hold each other accountable, but we need to be aware our own short comings and acknowledge them to make sure we are not off putting to those we are trying to minister too. It is also one more reason to make sure we are above accusation in every way possible to control. Billy Graham was famous for not even getting on an elevator alone with a woman. He always wanted a witness. In order to be an effective ambassador for Christ we need to address our own issues before we attempt to correct anyone else.

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    • I think you are right Ben. We get very busy pointing fingers at others and forget that we also make mistakes. When we want to confront someone about a mistake, we should always do it out of love and not out of “authority”.

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  6. I grew up with a dad who was a pastor. I cannot count the number of times I was told to “…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 3:5). I grew up with 3 siblings, so whenever I pointed out their mistake, I was reminded that I am not perfect. This is an important thing, many people live their lives pointing out everything wrong that everyone else does, but forget to worry about their own lives and their own mistakes.

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  7. It is so easy as humans for us to knit pick at others and their problems. Yet, Jesus is calling us to look within ourselves and deal with our own sins and problems. I know that for me, it is so easy for me to knit pick at others in my mind, rather than outwardly. I find myself having to stop myself from pointing out sins that I see in their lives. This really happens when I see them trying to correct me on something in my own life. I feel like it is almost a defense mechanism that I have where if someone is trying to correct me, I am like who are you to try to tell me what to change when you have all of this wrong with you? There are so many times that I have to be conscious of when my mind gets like this and just stop it immediately. I also really like the point you made about showing grace and love to those who are going through a similar situation that we have been through. I feel like this is a huge idea that many Christians can get confused on. Instead of taking this time to point out all of their mistakes and sins, we should show them love and compassion and help them through it, especially if we have been in that situation before in our own lives.

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    • I agree with you. It is very hard not to look at others and knit pick something about them in our minds. I also find myself pointing out others sins rather than focusing on my own life and the things I need to work on myself. I also agree with you about how when someone tries to correct me I put up a wall and show defense. God tells us not to judge others and I that is something I can consistently work on and ask God for help with. We need to be helping those and showing them love rather than judging them and pointing out all of their mistakes. McKnight explains how we should not put ourselves in Gods position by judging, but showing mercy and helping those who need help (McKnight, pg. 230).

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  8. This post hits the nail right on the head! We have to be mindful of all others and the sins that they may be dealing with. I think that is the main thing we have to realize. If we are struggling with a sin, does it give us the right to say things behind their back or judge them? No it does not. We all sin and we all struggle with different things. I love what McKnight said about this issue. He says, “Christians tend to be harder on fellow Christians than on others (McKnight, 2013).” I believe that this 100% true. Should this be the case? Personally, I don’t think should be a reason to be harder on other people. I think that people deserve grace. We all sin and we all need to approach the situation in love. Just because we are a Christian does not give us a right to judge. We need to live up to the standard that we are expected by God. We are to act in a way that is pleasing to Him. I think one of the biggest problems we have here is the nit-picking aspect. I love was was said in the post above about this issue. We need to deal with our own sins before we start trying to deal with other people’s sins. I will admit, it is a struggle for me sometimes to do this. If someone is doing something differently and it is something that I don’t necessarily endorse, it is tough for me to not think about that. But, I need to work on myself before thinking about them.

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  9. Because we have a sinful nature, it is so much easier for people to judge others and to completely miss the fact that there are things that we struggle with. I feel like often times it is a lot easier to pick things out from other peoples lives rather than our own. Jesus clearly states that we should look into our own lives and fix the sin that we have instead of looking and judging others lives. When people are more focused on others lives, it divides people. Things do not go well. Ephesians 4:29 commands us to not have any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but rather we should be speaking words of encouragement to them. When we are too focused on judging one another, we are not speaking words of encouragement to them. God’s vision is to live “as a community marked by love, peace, justice, and reconciliation” (McKnight 230).

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    • I agree that we are judgmental and fall to sin because of that is what our nature is. I agree that we should speak words of encouragement
      and love and rather than bring each other down. God commanded us to bring his light to others and speak the gospel. When we judge someone that is judging God’s creation and also not valuing God’s creation and his beauty in each individual person.

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  10. Humans constantly think and assume that their role on earth is to be the judge. We try to judge sometimes to help, but more our judgement thoughts are more harmful than helpful. We judge based on looks, action and what we hear about other people. Jesus judges by the heart not by the appearances. Our role is not to be the judge. It is a lot easier for an individual to judge and criticize someone else but it is hard to do that to ourselves. We need to remove the negative and the sin in our lives before we go off looking like a hypocrite. “Christians tend to be harder on fellow Christians than others (McKnight, 2013). We should aim to lead each other away from sin and lead them more to Christ but we should also lead ourselves to Christ and not fall to judgement of other humans. We need to spread love and forgiveness onto on another and display God’s character.

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  11. Great topic! If we claim to be a follower of Jesus then we need to have His heart rise up within us. Although sinners ourselves, we need to understand that a person’s wrong actions actually stem from lies the enemy tells us in our thought life. We need to understand the spiritual realm and know that we are just as sinful as others. Some choose to work at their sin and others don’t. Instead of judging we pray for them, while we look at our sin and do everything we can to become more and more like Jesus and resist temptation. I’m grateful God has done such a work in me that I am able to recognise my own sin and stand in awe that He loves me and accepts me even though I am so undeserving of His love.

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