“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.” – Matthew 7:3-5 (NIV)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
When I was in the military we had inspections on occasion. You always wanted to make a good impression during inspections because it helped officers and NCO’s to remember your name and it kept you out of trouble. One of the tricks you learn is to stand as close as you can in ranks to the worst dressed soldier. There are always a few who don’t polish shoes, iron shirts or keep their hair trimmed. By comparison, you will always look much better.
The only problem is that outward appearance isn’t the only thing that counts in being a soldier. In fact, some of the NCOs and officers were willing to let things go during inspections because they knew how good the soldier was at his job. His skills and work ethic were far more important than how nice of a crease he had in his shirt. The other problem was that the more experienced inspectors did not compare you to the man next to you; they compared you to a set standard and that usually revealed more flaws than judgment by comparison. In the end, it was far better to ignore how everyone else looked and just work toward the standard.
It is very easy for us to see God as an inspecting officer checking us for cleanliness and orderliness, His good little soldiers putting on proper appearances. We may even convince ourselves that we look pretty good compared to some of our comrades in arms. Unfortunately that can lead to a false sense of accomplishment. There is only one standard for the Christian and that is Christ. One of the reasons that Jesus shares this passage about specks and planks is to remind us that we change the world by changing ourselves, not by trying to change everyone else. He is also reminding us to have a humble perspective about where we are on our journey toward being like Him.
The comfort for all of us is that God sees us through His Son, unblemished and whole, as the children of God we can be. But He does not leave us to our own devices; He gives us a drill sergeant in the Holy Spirit to constantly remind us of the standard we are working toward – Jesus Christ. Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to those around you; you won’t see well anyway with that plank in your eye. Don’t bother trying to fake it; you can’t satisfy God anymore than His Son. Instead, do all you can to listen to the Holy Spirit who disciplines us for “the race marked out for us,” and we will all look like Jesus at the finish line.