3 “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3–5, NKJV).
Jesus did not forbid seeing someone’s fault or helping to remove the problem. Mature Christians try to restore fellow Christians overtaken in sin (Gal. 6:1-2). When Christians strays from the truth, we try to turn them from their error and save them from death (James 5:19-20). In today’s text, Christ’s rebukes fixing our attention on the speck in someone’s eye (a dry stalk or twig, straw, chaff; figuratively, a small fault) while failing to perceive our plank (a beam; figuratively, a glaring error). All of us have flaws and faults we ought to perceive and address. And we should be ready to help each other overcome our failings. To do so, we must not be hypocrites who quickly see others’ deficiencies while having a distorted vision of our own. The apostle exposes the hypocrisy of such judging, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God (Rom. 2:1-3)?” We can help others remove their speck after first considering and removing our plank.
1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.” (Matthew 23:1–3, NKJV)
Emphasizing the need to live what we preach, it has been said, “Seeing a sermon is better than hearing one.” Certainly, those who teach God’s word need to live God’s word. Otherwise, a stumbling block of hypocrisy is laid that is not easily removed. So it was with the scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus confronted and confounded with His truth. Since they taught God’s law to Israel (“sit in Moses’ seat”), the Lord expected people to observe God’s law when they taught it. Yet, Jesus warned against following the example of these hypocrites because they did not follow the law they taught. We must see that God holds us accountable for our own spiritual responsibilities. We cannot blame hypocrites for our sin. We must also learn to distinguish between a teacher of God’s word who may sin and corrects it, and the hypocrite who pretends to be what he is not. A Christian’s sin does not automatically make that person a hypocrite. That happens when we pretend to be something we are not. Genuine faith prevents hypocrisy while fueling faithfulness to do the will of God.
16 Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:16–18, NKJV)
Spiritual pretenders do not prosper. The law of Moses required fasting only on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27). The Jews also fasted at other memorable anniversaries (Zechariah 8:18-19). The temptation to show this deprivation of food in the devoted service to God was too great for some. They let everyone know when they were afflicting their souls with a fast. How we portray ourselves to others as we do the Lord’s work is the lesson we must take from this. Do we make sure others know how much we have “suffered” for the Lord? Or, do we simply do the work the Lord gives us to do, unassumingly and diligently? The Lord sees your service and He will not forget it (Hebrews 6:10). That’s all that really matters to the faithful citizen of the kingdom (not how many “likes” you get on social media).
6 He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 7 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Mark 7:6–7, NKJV)
The hypocrisy of Israel was reaching its zenith in the days of Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13-14). Israel gave Jehovah lip service, while serving idols, and demanding their own teachings be regarded as divine truth. This verse gives us God’s definition of a hypocritical heart: While saying one honors God, he elevates his own will above the will of the Almighty. Hypocrisy is pretense, pretending to be what one is not. The Greek word was applied to the actor who wore a mask, pretending to be a character in a drama. Christ applied this term to the Pharisees and scribes of His day. Their words honored God, but their hearts were given over to the commandments of men. The Jews had codified their oral traditions (the Mishnah). These men whom Jesus rebuked judged a violation of their traditions to be a violation of God’s law (see Mark 7:8-9). We must avoid accepting human traditions as if they are the will of God, lest we join hands with the hypocrites of Christ’s day. Revealed truth, not the traditions of men, must guide our hearts and our deeds. Otherwise, our worship will be vain.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1–5, NKJV)
We will all be judged by Jesus in the last day (2 Cor. 5:10). Therefore, this verse is not teaching us to avoid judgment by never rendering a judgment. Still, many attempt to use verse one to avoid the force of divine truth that calls their conduct into account. The context makes it abundantly clear Jesus is warning against hypocritical judging, not making a blanket condemnation of all forms of judgment. After all, Jesus would later command to “judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Did Jesus command us to sin? No, Jesus did not contradict Himself. The word of God is the revelation of God’s judgments. We let God be the judge by letting His word reprove and rebuke sin (2 Timothy 4:2). His judgments are true and altogether righteous (Psalm 19:9). The question is, will we accept God’s judgment when His word exposes our sin? Or, will we try to deflect personal accountability by saying, “You can’t judge me!” when someone teaches us the truth?