Hi, this is pastor Ken and these are my thoughts on a Thursday…Hey! Eyes on your own paper!
When I was in middle school I remember hearing this warning escape the lips of more than one of my teachers in the midst of a quiet room full of students taking a test. Usually it was said so sharply that it made me jump and even though I knew I had not been looking in the direction of anyone else’s desk. As a result, I would feel even more compelled to be careful to stare intently at my own test sheet. This happened often enough that even now as an adult, if I have to take a written test of any sort there is a nervousness that I feel connected to making sure no one thinks I am allowing my eyes to wander from my own paper in an attempt to steal someone else’s answers.
Of course the threat of being caught would always deter me from making any attempt to cheat no matter how great the temptation of a better grade. Also, it did not escape me the cruel irony that would exist if I did copy a classmate’s answer only to find out they had gotten it wrong! Topping off the list of reasons not to cheat was of course that I did not want to be dishonest, if I was going to get an ‘A’ or a ‘F’ I was going to own it. While I’m being honest though I have to admit I owned a few too many ‘F’s and not near enough “A”s.
I find that people as a whole have trouble keeping their eyes on their own paper, Apparently Jesus noted this problem as well. Matthew 7:1-5 records what He had to say about it. “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
When we judge, we are pointing out someone else’s fault and in that moment have our eyes on their paper. The problem with this is that when we have our eyes on someone else’s paper we no longer have it on our own. When we are not paying attention to what we are doing we do it in error. In other words, I am called to act toward others with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22&23) When I am being judgmental those qualities will not be a part of the result 99 times out of 100. So in pointing out someone else’s wrong…I have become wrong. I didn’t keep my eyes on my own paper and I failed the test.
The connection that Jesus used in this scripture is a woodworking analogy, another area familiar to me. He said, why do you look for the speck (or sliver as some translations put it) in your brother’s eye but don’t consider the plank in your own eye? That question points to an all too obvious conclusion. So, we feel better about our judgmental selves by inserting the following caveat; we are the one with the speck or sliver and it is our brother with the plank, therefore we are right to make it our business to point out their problem to them. Jesus knew what He was saying though. He knew it is probably actually easier to do it the other way around. Have you ever had a speck in your eye? I have. The tiniest of slivers will cause the greatest irritation and you can’t hardly even hold your eyelids open! When will we learn…eyes on your own paper!
When will we learn? The last time I checked there had not been an opening posted for the Holy Spirit’s job. We need to learn to get into our own lane…and stay there. We are not effective at conviction. Why? Because we are not perfect. Anytime we try to convict someone else of their wrongdoing they do exactly what we do in the same situation…they become defensive. It is an instinctual act of self-preservation. While no one likes to be told they are wrong, we like it even less when we are being told by someone we know also has faults and failings. We certainly don’t like being informed of it by someone who, not keeping their eyes on their own paper is failing to inform of the wrong in a wrong way.
I see this take place in marriages almost more than anywhere else. One spouse or the other does not like how they are being treated and so they tell their spouse about themselves. This hardly if never gets the intended result. Why? Because judgment coming from one human being to another is difficult to accept and is hardly ever done with grace, mercy and love. More often than not, we stand in judgment of someone because we are unhappy with their behavior toward us and it has affected us negatively. We want them to stop doing whatever they did that we didn’t like. I get it. In all transparency this happened to me just a week ago. My wife said something I did not like. It didn’t feel good to me to hear what she had to say. So, I judged her for it. I told her all about how I didn’t like hearing that. I explained in a rather negative way how she had not been very positive in the way she had said what she did. I used a tone of voice that was stern and a look that was designed to emphasize the tone. And you know what? In that moment while I had my eyes on her paper, while I was assessing her performance as a wife…I was being a very, very poor husband!
Let me set the record straight, my wife is an awesome wife…but in moments like those she is not married to an awesome husband. It isn’t me who has commanded her to do the things the Bible tells her she should as a wife, those commands come from God. Who do I think I am to grade her on how well she follows God’s commands? I think God’s Holy Spirit can do just fine without my interference. In fact, I know He can. The truth of it is, the only time He has trouble showing her of any changes He wants her to make…is when I have tried to do that for Him and put her on the defensive. Maybe I need to learn to stay in my own lane…maybe I need to keep my eyes on my own paper and I will do better.
The apostle Peter seemed to recognize the necessity (especially in marriage, but in all our other relationships too) of learning to keep our eyes on our own paper as well, you can read about that in 1 Peter 3:1-9
I think we all need to learn to do a better job of this. Am I saying if someone is engaged in destructive behavior we shouldn’t warn them before they run their lives into the ditch? Of course not, that would be unkind, but if we are going to do it right, if it is going to be said in love, and mercy and without judgment…it can’t be about us.
So now, learning to keep your eyes on your own paper so you can get the grade you are hoping for…go be awesome!