If I were to ask you to tell me the first step to reconciliation, what would you answer? Think carefully – if you were right now estranged from a formerly close friend, family member, or Christian brother due to some conflict what would you do first? Take a minute to write down your answer before reading on.
As is the case with many issues the Bible addresses, the first step to reconciliation is often the last thing we think of or want to do. It may be obvious to those who are looking on from the outside. It might be so simple that a child can see it. Problem is, when we are in the midst of the conflict we often miss the source of the pain. The real source often lives in our blind spot. We usually have very keen vision for everything and every player on the conflict horizon. We can see every move, every expression, and every offense in that field of vision. But there is often an insidious outlier that lurks in the shadows of our vision.
Jesus shined the light on this lurking menace in our conflicts in Matthew 7. He was speaking to people like you and me at the time, a crowd gathered to hear the most unusual man they had ever encountered. In the midst of His sermon, after encouraging them to leave off anxiety because the Father knows what they need, He turns to interpersonal relating. Perhaps more accurately, He instructs us on how to view our brother’s faults in light of our own.
“1 Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck in your brothers’ eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out of your eye, and look, there’s a log in your eye? 5 Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brothers’ eye.”
A note of caution: This may be one of the most misused passages in Scripture. How many times have we been told not to judge or that judging is evil based on this passage? The Bible also instructs us to “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24) in cases where discretion and justice are called for. Making judgments righteously is necessary. What would be the purpose of law, courts, judges, and jails if men were not called upon to make right judgments about the (unlawful) behaviors of other men?
So this passage is not instructing us to make no judgments. I added and bracketed the word unlawful because we are called to judge when men sin against other men and against God. But I don’t think sin is what Jesus is referring to here. I think He is referring to perceived faults, personal offenses, or perhaps the overall merciless attitude we often display toward others. He is referring to how we view others in light of ourselves.
He used a simple, common analogy from His day and ours. When wood is cut it chips, splinters, and creates dust. In a world without safety glasses these motes or specks of wood often landed in the eyes of those involved in the work. It’s a speck, a tiny particle of sawdust swimming in the tears of someone else’s eye. It will probably get washed out naturally if simply left alone.
We often don’t have patience for that. We want that speck out now! So we let the person know about his speck. He says, “Oh it’s ok, I can’t even feel it.” It’s not an issue for him. But we persist, “If you don’t get that out it may hurt your eye.” We reason with him, attempt to persuade, and finally perhaps lose our temper with him because we can’t take our focus off that speck. It still doesn’t bother him, it’s not a problem for him – it has though become a problem for us! We are now offended that he isn’t paying attention to our irritation. He’s not heeding our warning. It’s now personal because he is ignoring us! We become a tyrant about his speck – it’s the tyranny of sawdust.
An item of personal preference, a tiny flaw or incongruity, a mannerism or way of thinking in another has now become our consuming focus. It angers us. It sits just under the surface of our existence in that person’s presence. If we just keep harping on it maybe they will see it.
Meanwhile, nearly everyone looking at us is aghast. They are alarmed at the urgency of our situation! “Can’t he see it or feel it?” they say in horrified astonishment. The “it” they are referring to is of course the timber that has impaled our vision. There we are, riveted on the other man’s speck, when a topmast has been blown into our self-vision by the gales of pride. What a hideous sight! They gaze on us thinking, “Look at him, a perfectly stupid man, blind to his plight, banging around the corridors of life with his prideful protrusion shattering this and breaking that as he stumbles through.” What a pity.
That grotesque sight leads us back to our original question, “What is the first step to reconciliation?” Is the answer more obvious now? How close did you come with your first answer? The plain answer is, the first step to reconciliation is to recognize and remove the log or beam that is obliterating our own vision. We can’t see or rightly help anyone with a speck when we are such an atrocity.
Isn’t that such a simple, sensible solution? Can’t you see a well meaning but condescending older lady patting you on the head right now? “Listen sonny, if you’ll just recognize that you have faults and deal with them then everything will be grand,” she smiles. Poppycock! That’s just the problem – OUR VISION IS DARKENED, WE DON’T USUALLY SEE OUR MONSTROUS MALADY! We are so laser focused on the people “causing” our problems that we can’t see what’s in the mirror. The question is then, “How do we turn our vision back on ourselves?”
Let’s be blunt – when conflict comes we are intent upon defeating the enemy. We may see the speck as the enemy, we may see circumstances as the enemy, we may see ignorance as the enemy, or, God forbid, we may see the other person as the enemy. Since our vision is impaired we may be mistaken about the nature of the enemy. In the example Jesus gave it is safe to say that we are our own enemy. Our blindness to our own weakness is actually causing the conflict.
So how does a blind man see? How do we ensure that we have clear vision when we think we see a speck in a brother’s eye? I think the answer lies in preparation. The apostles remind us often to examine ourselves. We can prepare for conflict by turning the focus on ourselves. Be careful though, transparency before the Lord is not easy. We are prone to excuse ourselves. We are experts at self-absolution. We can deflect and pardon indictments far too easily. We need impartial, Spirit-led scrutiny. That’s why I’ve developed 7 “Pre-Conflict” Self Examination Questions. Questions designed to dig under the surface of our defenses and expose the raw nerves only God can touch.
Once we habitually place ourselves under the Spirit’s microscope, we will begin to develop a semblance of the Lord’s keen eye for other’s challenges. We might then find graceful and gentle ways to help them. On the contrary; If we are not in the habit of self-examination we are not qualified to examine another.
In the next post we will pose the questions that will prepare us for the next interpersonal “tyranny of sawdust” conflict that arises. It’s the pre-battle planning we can put in place, practice, and have at hand when issues arise.
Next post – the 7 Pre-Conflict Questions we should all be asking.
After that…My Story.