PASTOR COLUMN - Of planks and specks: How to handle sin, judging?

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Matthew 7:1-5 states, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

"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."

Jesus said many things that cut right to the heart, and these words definitely do that. I'd venture to say no one is more often misquoted or misunderstood than Jesus Christ.

Everyone - and I do mean everyone - who reads what Jesus has said will both tremble and find great relief at His words. Jesus words and teaching cover everyone's issues. At times, His words bring deep conviction; at other times, an overwhelming sense of freedom.

The trouble with most of humanity is that we have difficulty with having two emotional responses at the same time. We are also prone to prefer to have an overwhelming sense of freedom. So, when it comes to interpreting Jesus' teaching, we usually lean toward the interpretation that makes us feel good.

Really, who wants to feel bad? When I read Jesus' words, depending on what is going on in my life, I can even find myself feeling conviction or freedom from the exact same teaching.

Have you ever seen those optical illusion drawings? You know, the ones where you see either a young lady or an old lady.

They're both present in the same drawing. First you see one, and then, if you concentrate, you can see the other. Scripture is like that.

What do optical illusions, conviction and freedom have to do with judging?

When Jesus said these words, His listeners were hypocrites.

He was addressing a group of very religious people of his day who were suffering from having something in their eyes that kept them from recognizing they had the same issues they wer quite willing to condemn in someone else.

In John 8:1-12, the Bible records that one day, Jesus faced a very serious issue. A woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery was brought before Him, and the religious leaders asked Him what He thought should be done to her.

The leaders put Jesus on the spot, for in their culture, the woman was to be put to death, according to biblical law.

Yet Jesus, stooped down as if He did not hear and wrote with his finger on the ground. As they kept questioning Him, finally He raised Himself up and answered, "Whoever is without sin should be the first person to cast a stone at her."

One by one, from the oldest to the youngest, the men dropped their stones and left the woman standing alone with Jesus.

Jesus' words of comfort, forgiveness and truth pierced this woman's heart and still pierce our hearts today. He said, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord."

And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."

Notice that Jesus clearly puts us all on the same playing field. No one has the right to condemn or judge another for issues of sin. But also notice that He tells the woman to go and sin no more.

Jesus' instructs us to leave judgment to Him. If we are judging others, then we are sitting in a seat reserved for Jesus alone, and He promises that we will be judged with the same measure that we judge others.

Here's where the optical illusion comes in: Far too often, those who are attempting to justify their own rebellion and sin, quote Jesus' words about not judging. You who tell someone else to not judge you, are you allowing Jesus to judge you? Are you allowing Jesus' freedom to release you to a life of sinless obedience?

A teenager is at odds with her parents because they've said she can't go out with a boy they don't think it would be good for her spiritual development.

She storms out of the room and screams, "Judge not that you be not judged!"

Slam goes the door. And she feels perfectly justified in having told her parents off because of what the Bible says.

But Jesus' instruction to "judge not" is spoken to me, not spoken for me to quote to others.

And although we are told not to judge others, we are encouraged to help each other out of sinful behaviors.

It is possible to see sin in others, and even help them get free from it, when one has recognized sin in himself or herself, and has allowed others and the Lord to bring freedom to one's life.

Jesus finishes his teaching on not judging by declaring that we can see clearly to remove the speck from our brothers eye once we've taken the plank out of our own.

There is hope for us all when we realize we are all in need of Jesus' help and know that the help He offers is one of both conviction and freedom.

The Rev. Bob Grimm is senior pastor of Life Church in Walla Walla. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should call Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312 or email her at catherinehicks@wwub.com.

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