Putting His Finger on It

“1‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as 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.” Matthew 7:1-5

Sometimes blog posts almost write themselves. I was in a meeting in our youth space today, and a young member of the team spilt a few drops of Coke on the billiard table. Two of us standing near him sympathised and joked with him: ‘don’t worry, we won’t tell’. Then the venue leader came in and warned him not to spill any, realised he already had and told him off for not clearing up the mess. My own tail between my leg, I sloped off to consider the stark contrast between our two responses. Mine had been to comfort and conceal. That had made the young man feel better, perhaps, but it allowed a stain to be unattended to, and would have caused a permanent sticky patch. The leader’s criticism felt a bit rough at the time, but on reflection it was justified, prompted the problem to be sorted out and made a learning opportunity.

Twenty minutes later the same leader shouted over to us that he had just spilt an entire cupful of Coke on the billiard board. He acknowledged the irony, “judge not, lest you be judged, and the measure you use be used against you.”

The fact is, there’s being judged, and there’s knowing you’ve done wrong. There is a difference between judging someone and being convinced in your own heart that you’ve done wrong. Sometimes it’s right to call someone else out, sometimes that’s ultimately more loving than stroking them and telling them it doesn’t matter.

And believe it or not, when I was wondering what to write today, I had the worst speck in my eye. Inevitably my thoughts turned to Jesus’s wry joke about judging others for the speck of dust in their eye, when there’s a ruddy great plank in your own. My own speck didn’t come out until I looked up the above verses. Until I saw the words together, I hadn’t realised that God was sending me a strong message, as all the verses we’d been throwing around today came from the same passage from John. Coincidence? I don’t think so!

Sin, judgement and forgiveness is all rather academic until God shows you, just between him and you, how much he loves you, and how he feels about something going on in your life, values or attitude. He doesn’t get all angry and wag his finger at us. He sends the Holy Spirit to convict our hearts – we become aware that a path we thought good is actually leading us towards a steep drop. Sometimes he sends other people to put their finger on it, but either way it’s a moment when we acknowledge, ‘yes, that is what it boils down to, and I don’t want to act like that’. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:12)

If someone doesn’t believe in God why should they take into account how God would judge their actions? It’s nice and tidy to think everyone should have the same values, but they don’t. What’s more, as Christians, even in an area where we do know what’s right according to God, it can still be a struggle to do the right thing. None of us is perfect, and we still make mistakes in controlling a temper or  an appetite; or in being faithful in the face of threat, or in forgiving someone, as we have been forgiven.

The fact is, it’s the Holy Spirit who convicts (convinces) us of sin. That allows us to walk through the open door and confess it, be free of it, and move on into a better life. When Jesus prepared his disciples for his imminent departure from this world, Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit would convict them of sin – they would no longer have Jesus by their side to show them a better way. His words are translated with great clarity here by JB Phillips:

8-11 but now the time has come for me [Jesus] to go away to the one who sent me [God the Father]. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ That is because you are so distressed at what I have told you. Yet I am telling you the simple truth when I assure you that it is a good thing for you that I should go away. For if I did not go away, the divine helper would not come to you. But if I go, then I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convince the world of the meaning of sin, of true goodness and of judgement. He will expose their sin because they do not believe in me; he will reveal true goodness for I am going away to the Father and you will see me no longer; and he will show them the meaning of judgement, for the spirit which rules this world will have been judged.” John 16:8-11

Sometimes it might feel like we can surely just live as well as we can, and God will forgive anyway…what’s the problem?
The thing is, there are real consequences of sin. God isn’t out to control us. Rather, he knows the damage sin does, and he loves us, so he hates seeing us sin. When we sin, maybe our world gets a little smaller because we feel shame and we avoid a friend; maybe we tie our hands without knowing it, by setting a pattern of escaping reality instead of finding a solution. Maybe a relationship withers just a little because we can’t say sorry. Perhaps we get a little harder-hearted, and we miss out on joy as well as pain. We don’t notice these things at first. But God sees everything, including where this path will lead us if we carry on.

Ultimately we need the Holy Spirit to reveal these things to us. While we may have mentors in our lives who point out where we’ve gone wrong, our most effective guide speaks from within.

A valid thing to ask God is this: ‘please show me if I’ve opened myself up to danger or limitation by doing wrong without knowing it. Reveal to me how you see me. Clear my vision.’

I’m glad that speck’s gone, it was really starting to hurt.

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