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A minor


Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Peter Leithart's Exhortation, Sunday, September 14

Jesus knew that His teaching differed from the teaching of others in Israel and especially from the Pharisees, and His warnings at the end of the sermon show that He wanted to distinguish His teaching from others. He gives a quick succession of “cartoons” that describe the dangers of false teachers. He says that the Pharisees are like blind men who are trying to lead other blind men, and points out that when the blind lead the blind, all of them eventually topple over into the ditch. He warns that disciples become like their teachers; following Pharisees means becoming a Pharisee, and who wants that?

One sort of blindness that Jesus condemns is the kind that comes from focusing on the small errors of others while ignoring your own large and blatant errors and sins. He describes a man with a tree trunk in his eye offering to remove a small speck of dust from his brother’s eye. The picture is absurd, and the significance is deepened when we look at it in larger biblical perspective. Throughout Scripture, eyes are organs of judgment. From the first chapter of Genesis, God sees and evaluates the world He makes; He “sees” and pronounces it good. The man with the speck in his eye has his judgment impaired, but not nearly so much as the man with the tree trunk in his eye.

Jesus is not saying that passing judgment is wrong. In fact, we are redeemed, Paul tells us, so that our eyes may be opened and we can share in God’s evaluations and judgments. It is a great privilege to be able to discern and pass judgment. Our brothers and sisters may indeed have specks in their eyes, which cloud their judgments, and it is an act of Christian love to help remove the speck. But Jesus warns that we need to take heed to ourselves first. Before we have offer our services as ophthalmologists, we should check our own qualifications, because our eyesight may be faulty. Paul made this very same point when he encouraged the Galatians: “if a man is caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

We in Moscow especially need to take Jesus’ warning to heart. We are frequently critical of other Christians for their goofiness and their trashiness. We condemn Christian kitsch and Jesus junk and the me-tooism that characterizes evangelicalism. Making these kinds of judgments is not wrong. These are genuine errors and flaws, and serious ones, in the contemporary church, and they are obstacles to discernment.

But we are qualified for this only insofar as we are regularly removing the logs from our own eyes, and making sure that our judgment is not impaired by some massive sin. One of the great dangers is that an attitude of pride and self-congratulation can come into this, even if we state our criticisms with a degree of humility. We don’t profess to be perfect, but at least we don’t sing praise songs. We may not have arrived, but at least we don’t like Thomas Kincaid. We may not have it all together, but at least we don’t buy cheesy Bibles. At least we’re superior to our brothers in THOSE respects. At least we are not like that pathetic Evangelical in the corner.

That kind of smug self-satisfaction would be a log, a monstrous beam in our eye, and as long as it’s there we have no business trying to perform cataract surgery on our brothers. Remove the log, and THEN help your brother with his speck. For remember the words of Jesus: “by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you in return.”

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