20/20 Blind

Since the age of five, I have had horrible eyesight. My kindergarten art teacher was the first to notice. I had difficulty seeing the image on the screen we were supposed to draw and she retorted, “Maybe you need glasses.” So, after my parents confirmed that I was indeed having trouble seeing the blackboard in school, they took me to get my first set of glasses. One can only imagine my horror at the prospect of being the first person in my kindergarten class to enjoy the nickname of “four-eyes.” The glasses were large, thick, and resembled Coke bottles of yesteryear.

I was relieved when, two years later, I received a new pair of glasses that were much smaller and not as conspicuous. In fact, so familiar was I to bulky glasses, that I panicked one day when I could not find my prized new pair. They were so small that I had taken them off and lost them accidentally. I searched high and low, under my pillow, between the couch cushions, on the bathroom counter. They were nowhere to be found.

Finally, when I was sure that they had vanished into thin air and had prepared myself for the spanking of the century for so carelessly losing my new pair of glasses, I tearfully approached my father with my predicament. “Dad, I can’t find my glasses.” I couldn’t bear to watch him reach for his belt, so I closed my eyes and braced for my all-but-certain whipping…only to hear him reply, “What? You haven’t lost them at all! They’re sitting on your nose!” I had searched every nook and cranny of our house looking for my glasses in vain…when all the time they were literally right in front of me. I was seeing with 20/20 vision, but was still blind.

Christians are often like that. We evidently have great clarity and insight when it comes to the sins of others. We can diagnose problems, give explanations, and prescribe what must be done to get back on track. But when it comes to our own sins, we look quizzically to the skies and ask, “What sins?” It is to this brand of spiritual farsightedness that Jesus spoke in Matt. 7:1-5. In the mind of our Lord, pointing out the mistakes of others when we have glaring weaknesses of our own makes as much sense as looking past a log in our own eye to remove the sawdust in another’s. I am sure that Jesus had no problem coming up with this illustration; he had spent more than twenty years in his father’s carpentry shop. Jesus knew first-hand the hazards of mashed thumbs from an errant hammer and the haze of sawdust that hung in the air of the shop. How many times had he paused his work to get a speck of literal sawdust out of his eye? It seems natural, therefore, that Jesus would turn to such a vivid illustration to press his point home. Sometimes we suffer from spiritual farsightedness and are in need of a new prescription from the great physician.

When it comes to seeing the weaknesses and faults of others, we seemingly enjoy 20/20 vision; yet all the while, we are blind to our own mistakes. To borrow a phrase from Jas. 3:10, “My brothers, this should not be.” You and I are not candidates to help others with their sins until we have come to grips with our own. On the other hand, what God has done in my life to help me become a better person makes me the perfect candidate to help others with their own life. It begins with my looking in the mirror and removing the 2×4 lodged in my spiritual eye. Only then am I equipped to help others handle the speck of sawdust in their own.

I want to encourage you to try something just for today. Every time you feel yourself making judgments about others and condemning them in your mind, alert yourself and simply pause. Remind yourself that you could very well be responding to a reflection of yourself that you see in another person. You might quickly discover that you suffer from spiritual farsightedness. You are able to gaze into the lives of others with 20/20 clarity, but are hopelessly blind to your own mistakes.

Little Boy Oliver

Charles Dickens’ classic, Oliver Twist, is a story about a young orphan in England. At the age of nine, Oliver was forced to work with little food and one day approached the cook with his outstretched bowl. The classic line, “Please sir, more,” lives on in English literature as the quintessential request of a beggar in need of help.

When it comes to the human plight of sin and the gift of God’s grace, we are all proverbial Olivers standing before the throne with tattered rags and empty bowls, asking for more grace. God, in his indescribable love, grants our request and removes our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psa. 103:12). The problem is with how we take that grace and sometimes refuse to extend it to those around as.

Simply put, grace is to be passed on, but we prefer to keep it to ourselves.

Jesus warned his followers that how they judge others will determine how they themselves are judged, especially by God. We all want God to be merciful when he judges us on the final day. We long for him to take everything into account and cut us some slack, but we turn right around and fail to extend the same courtesy to others.

This story from Jesus illustrates how absurd this really is:

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.

Matthew 18:23-35

Jesus’ parable concerning forgiveness also applies to judging others. Any servant of God who arrogantly condemns sinners without taking everything into an account is slapping grace in the face much like the ungrateful servant. More than the golden rule is at stake—our integrity and identity as God’s people are both on the line. Those who judge harshly and condemn will receive likewise, while the merciful will obtain mercy (Matt. 5:7).

How do you want God to judge you on the final day? Like the king in Jesus’ story, do you long for him to forgive all your debts and welcome you into his kingdom? Like Oliver, do you hope to stand with an empty bowl and receive a rich helping of forgiveness? If so, then you are obligated to do the same for others. Recall Jesus’ words: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive a brother or sister from your heart.”

Insufficient Grace

Ever wonder why you feel the need to judge and disparage others in the first place? What is it that drives us to such insidious ends? Might I suggest that the most common reason is that we have never learned to live fully in God’s grace. We have not yet approached the point where his mercy is all we need for satisfied living. As long as we condemn one another, God’s grace is insufficient in our lives (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9).

In the context of Matt. 7:1-5, Jesus was actually discussing all the various things that people chase after to find true fulfillment. Some are deceived into thinking that insincere religious piety or devotion will leave them satisfied. However, Jesus warns that public giving, prayer, and fasting—if done with the wrong attitude—counterintuitively rob us of our fulfillment in God alone (Matt. 6:1-18). Jesus then warned about the deceptive lure of riches on earth (Matt. 6:19-24) and the death-trap of worry and anxiety (Matt. 6:25-34).

With that, Jesus turned to our tendency to judge others and elevate ourselves. When insincere piety fails to uplift me, when secular success fails to encourage me, and when I discover that life is just as unpredictable when I worry as when I don’t, I am left with only one recourse: I satisfy my deepest insecurities about myself by shining a spotlight on other’s shortcomings. I may be bad, I may be incomplete or immature, and I may not have it all together, but at least I am not as bad as you are.

At one time or another, we have all felt the impulse to elevate ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. We lift ourselves to God by standing on another’s shoulders.

But someone else’s conduct should not be our measuring stick; God’s righteousness is the standard of measurement (Isa. 28:17), and we have fallen short of it time and again (Rom. 3:23). But that is what makes grace so amazing. It’s not as if we pay a significant portion of the debt and Jesus makes up the rest; Jesus paid it all and praise God for that! We may be bad. We may be immature, incomplete, or just a total mess. But we have a God who loves us and a Savior who redeemed us. What more could one ever ask for?

God is merciful, patient, and remembers that we are frail. We are his children; his one request is that we serve him with a reverent and loving heart. So I ask again: why can’t we live fulfilled in the love of God? Why do we feel the need to compare and condemn? As you encounter new people and feel yourself forming impulsive opinions and derogatory judgments, resist the urge. As soon as you notice yourself comparing and elevating yourself at another’s expense, pray this simple prayer: “Father, thank you for loving me and help me to live content in your grace.”

Think of the difference such a decision could make. No longer do you condemn or criticize; rather, you are simply one step closer to the person God wants you to be. Only when you fully see yourself as God sees you can you live free in his all-sufficient grace.

Six Inches Tall

ZacchaeusThumbIt’s natural for us to judge others. We judge the clothes people wear and the cars they drive. We judge the way people style their hair and those they associate with. We judge people’s tattoos, their girl- or boyfriends, their spouses, their children, their parents. We judge where they went to school, whether or not they went to school, and what they did on New Year’s Eve. It seems impossible for us not to judge others.

Granted, most of our judgments are harmless, but it is still hypocritical; when someone else judges you, it makes you super uncomfortable. We can feel them scanning us up and down and making judgments about us. And if something is not right—if we are weighed in the balance and found wanting—we feel about six inches tall.

How did Jesus respond when he met someone new? He obviously would have drawn certain conclusions about individuals, but the real question is what did he do with those conclusions? Did he disparage someone based on their actions, their appearance, their associates, or their identity? Or, as the perfect personification of grace that he was, did he seek to encourage people instead of judging and abusing them (cf. Matt. 12:20; Luke 19:10)?

Luke 19:1-10 tells the story of a tax collector who went to great lengths to meet Jesus. In ancient times, tax collectors were the most obnoxious and immoral people one could ever know. Yet for all of Zacchaeus’ faults, Jesus chose not to run him into the ground when they first met. Rather, Jesus reached out to one in need of a friend. So overwhelmed was Zacchaeus by the Lord’s gesture of good will that he could scarcely contain himself as he offered to make things right with those whom he had wronged.

Jesus’ mercy produced positive change in Zacchaeus’ life. Jesus set for us an example to follow regarding grace and judgment.

As those who have been charged to spread the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:15), Christians are to follow Jesus’ example and extend a merciful word to those most in need of it. Those whom I judge and ridicule are maybe the ones most in need of inspiration. Jesus embodied this principle: he was sent to help the sick and disenfranchised, rather than those who were healthy, popular, and in need of nothing (Matt. 9:12).

From now on, when you come across someone new and you feel the impulse to judge that person, ask yourself: “How would I want me to respond if I were in that person’s place? Would I want others to take different factors into an account?” In short, how would Jesus treat them? Would he be merciful or judgmental? Would he be kind or cruel? Would he encourage or denigrate? Build them up or tear them down?

Zacchaeus may have been a wee little man, but Jesus never made him feel six inches tall.