When we hear a sermon containing rebuke or instruction to turn away from some sinful thought or behavior, we have an unfortunate tendency to call to mind someone we know that could use this message more than us. Like ducks with their water repellent outer plumage, we submerge ourselves in God’s Word, but we let its life-giving truth roll right off our backs. If we’re lucky, we might get a chance to splash someone whose feathers are just a bit more soiled than our own. Isn’t it time we let the truth sink in?
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Mat 7:3-5)
When we read about a particular sin in Scripture, what comes to mind first? Do you connect it to the knowledge of someone else’s sin, or is your conscience pricked at the thought of your own sin? Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All of us have missed the mark at some point, and simply because we have new life in Christ does not make us perfect or sinless here and now. It is a constant battle of the mind to bring our thoughts and actions under Christ’s control and authority.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
There is a time when we are called to correct one another in love, but we first must equip ourselves for that task. In the Book of Titus, Paul gives the qualifications of what is expected of elders and spiritual leaders within the church. A running theme is self-control and an attitude that is above reproach. Jesus similarly condemned the hypocritical behavior of the Pharisees. This is not to be taken lightly; such a blameless attitude requires self-discipline and humility to admit one’s mistakes and make appropriate corrections.
We often claim to possess these virtues, yet brush off instructions we might apply to ourselves first before looking for someone else who needs a spiritual makeover. I’m guilty of this myself, so I know what it’s like to study a passage of Scripture or listen to a sermon thinking it doesn’t apply to me. The entirety of Scripture applies to all of us however. Even if there is a sin we haven’t committed, James 2:10 tells us that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”
Our nature is to gravitate towards selfishness and our fleshly desires constantly pull our attentions and focus away from God, violating His perfect standard. Perhaps one of the enemy’s greatest deceptions is the lie that one sin is worse than another. Every sin, no matter how minor it may seem, results in death and destruction. This is why it is so crucial to first repent of our own sinful desires, thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors before seeking to correct a brother or sister in Christ.
This desire to deflect Scripture onto someone else is a subtle form of pride that deadens our hearts to the gravity of our own sin, while simultaneously justifying the judgment and condemnation of someone else. Don’t misunderstand; there is a time for right judgment, but primarily our focus should be first on addressing the sin in our own lives.
It can be a slow, uncomfortable process admitting where we have gone astray. God’s Word often functions as a mirror, reflecting our shortcomings and fallen nature. Yet, when we repent and turn our hearts over to Christ for safekeeping, it also transforms the image into something made whole my God’s grace.
There are plenty of people living in unrepentant sin, and there is a time to address them. However, we cannot shove this Mirror in their faces, expecting them to change when all they see is someone with a giant chunk of broccoli stuck in their teeth. When we look in a mirror, we see ourselves, not someone else. It simply doesn’t work that way, so why do we attempt to do the same with the Bible? The Scriptures serve as an excellent mirror reflecting our own nature, but when we present this, we also must be mirrors for the gospel. When we are saved by grace and belief in Jesus Christ, we take on a reflective quality ourselves, demonstrating how we have been changed by His love.
I urge you to examine yourself the next time you find yourself reading Scripture or listening to a sermon and connecting the dots to how its message applies to someone other than yourself. Before you judge someone else based on the perception that their behavior is somehow more repulsive to God, let me ask you: When was the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror?