Fourth Sunday after Trinity
St. Paul says that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (Rom 8:22). By using the analogy of childbirth, St. Paul makes reference to the Fall of man and curse that resulted from sin, a curse that includes the physical pains of giving birth. Every woman who has experienced childbirth knows this pain, though, of course, the effects of sin are felt in many other ways by both men and women. Jesus uses another common illustration to speak of the painful effects of sin: getting a speck in your eye.
Isn’t it amazing how much trouble can be caused by something so small that it’s nearly impossible to see? If you get a splinter in your eye, everything has to stop until it’s dealt with. “Don’t talk to me. Don’t ask me to do anything. Don’t expect me to think about anything else. I’ve got a splinter in my eye, and the whole world is going to have to wait until I get this out!” I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. This is an example of how a tiny sin can affect us. But whereas a speck in the eye can be a big irritant, even the smallest of sins can have terrible consequences in this life and the next.
You see, unlike specks, sins don’t stay small. One small lie often leads to a long chain of bigger and bigger lies. A little bit of seemingly harmless flirtation at the office may end in adultery. Yes, one small sin can result in the loss of faith and the destruction of both body and soul.
Your heavenly Father is merciful toward you and all of his children. His desire for sinners is to show compassion and mercy, to forgive abundantly, to offer salvation instead of condemnation. He doesn’t want his children to be destroyed by sin. He doesn’t want broken lives, broken marriages, broken homes, or broken bodies. In other words, God doesn’t want us to suffer from unforgiven sins, whether gross manifest sins, like a plank, or two-by-four, in the eye, or the seemingly smaller, perhaps almost invisible sins of the heart. Look at last verse of the Gospel reading, and you’ll see that God wants to remove and forgive all sin. He wants the planks out, and he wants the specks out too. “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Lk 6:42).
Unfortunately, this passage is so often misquoted and misused by people who want to keep their sins. “How dare you try to help me remove my speck! Maybe I like it there. Maybe I was born this way. Judge not!” But pointing out dangerous behavior is not judgment. If you were hiking with a friend and he said, “Watch out! You’re about to step on a rattlesnake!” would you respond, “Judge not, bro!” Unconfessed and unrepentant sin is worse than stepping on a rattlesnake. God, in his mercy, calls us to repentance and faith in Christ, so that we will not suffer judgment because of our sin.
Pointing out wrongdoing or destructive behavior in a kind and gentle way is not judgment. Jesus commands us to do this. It’s called loving your neighbor. “Hey, you’re playing with a poisonous serpent! Watch out!” That is called showing kindness. That is mercy. That is compassion. Jesus tells us, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). Help your brother remove the speck from his eye. That is not judgment. It is saving him from the Judgment. On the last day, all of the sin will be thrown into the lake of fire, and some people, who are still refusing to let go of their sin, will end up going along for the ride. God does not desire this for any of his children.
This is one of the big reasons that Jesus speaks so strongly against hypocrisy, as he does in our text this morning. “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye, when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?” (Lk 6:42). Why is hypocrisy a problem? Because it makes us unable and unfit to help our neighbors. Think of a pastor. Part of his job is to warn his people of the dangers of sin. That’s what an under-shepherd of Jesus is required to do. What sins? Whichever ones are troubling the flock. But if the pastor is known to be a raging alcoholic, how can he exhort his people to drink in moderation? If the pastor is having an affair with the secretary, his ability to speak out against immoral behavior in the church is destroyed. And this causes great harm among God’s people. People are then left to suffer in their sins, and the pastor can’t help them because he’s got a plank in his eye.
This is why such men must resign from the ministry. A pastor must lead a godly life that is above reproach. Why? So that he can see clearly to speak against the sins that are harming his people. Jesus doesn’t want us going around with specks in our eyes. The trouble with a hypocrite is not that what he is saying is wrong. It’s probably right. The trouble is that no one will listen. People should. But they won’t. Hypocrisy gives people a good excuse to ignore the message, however right it may be.
This brings me to an important point of clarification. A hypocrite is not someone who is a sinner. A hypocrite is an unrepentant sinner, that is, someone who is actively continuing in sin, either secretly or publicly, while pretending to be righteous. If we were to say that only perfect people were qualified to point out dangerous sin, then all the world would be consigned to living with specks, and branches, and logs in their eyes. If only righteous people could apply the Word of God to the situations of life, then every faithful pastor would need to resign, and every godly Christian man and woman would be silenced.
Of course, the world, the sinful nature, and the devil love this idea. “That’s right. No one is allowed to point out my sin, ever, no matter how destructive my behavior, because no one is perfect. Everyone is a sinner.” That is a sure pathway to hell, and Jesus won’t stand for it. So he commands us, in the final verse of the Gospel text, to do two things: First, turn away from your sin, whatever that might be. Take that log out of your own eye. That is, cry out to God in repentance: “Lord, I’m a sinner. I don’t love you with my whole heart, or my neighbor as myself. I lose my temper. I say unkind things to those I love. I lust after things that don’t belong to me. I sin in thought, word, and deed.” And having cast your planks upon Jesus, He then bids you to help your neighbor with the speck in his eye. We are to do this with gentleness and compassion, but we must do this. It’s not optional for a Christian to say, “I don’t want to speak the truth of God’s Word in this situation because, well, I’m a sinner too, and who am I to judge?” Speaking the truth in love is not judgment; it is helping sinners to avoid the judgment of God and find his mercy instead.
The bad news of the gospel, so to speak, is that we are sinners in need of repentance. It’s never enjoyable to hear that. But the good news, is better than we could ever have imagined: No believer in Christ needs to fear the judgment for sin. Why? Because the Lord Jesus was judged in your place. He was pronounced guilty in the courtroom of heaven, and the sentence of death was carried out upon Him. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away all the specks and beams of the world.
As far as believers in Christ are concerned, the judgment for sin is a past event. It already happened. Every last sin was paid for long ago by the blood of Jesus. This is the message of the Gospel. There’s no need to hang onto sins that have already been forgiven. There’s no need to incur judgment upon yourself, since the judgment of God has already been measured out upon Jesus. Because of His sacrifice on the cross, God the Father freely gives us His, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. He pours out these gifts upon His children in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over. Christ has removed the curse over Creation. He has taken away the sin of the world, and instead of judgment he gives us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Amen.