Summary: Do you ever wish you could change other people? Jesus said you should first look at yourself and make changes you need to make. In other words, take the beam (or plank) out of your own eye before you try to take the speck out of someone else’s eye.
Summary: Jesus said to take the beam out of your own eye before trying to change someone else.
Doug Britton Books
Practical • Biblical • Cross-Cultural
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3)
It’s Normal to Focus on Changes Others Should Make
If you’re like most people, when you have a problem with someone else, you focus on what that person did wrong. You think the problem would get better if the other person would change. Yet read what Jesus said:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank that is 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)
The same verse is translated in the King James version as:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)
Jesus said we must first focus on our own shortcoming, on changes we need to make. This is not to say that those around us don’t have faults, bad habits and sins. They do. But despite that, God wants us to focus first on our part.
Evaluate yourself: Do you use any of these excuses?
Do you use any of the following excuses for focusing on others? Rate yourself from 0 to 10 on each one. As you read, substitute “he,” “she,” “his” and “her” where appropriate.
- “0” means “I never think (or say) this.”
- “10” means “I think (or say) this a lot.”
“It is all her fault.” My score (0-10): ____
It probably is not. It is extremely rare that one person is completely right and one person is completely wrong. Honestly confront your own faults, even if you think you are only one percent wrong and the other person is ninety-nine percent wrong.
“Sure, I get angry, but it’s only because of how she treats me.” My score (0-10): ____
When you say this, you are excusing your own sins by blaming them on the other person. Adam blamed his wife when God confronted him for sinning (Genesis 3:11-12), but God did not accept his excuse (Genesis 3:17-19). Nor will God accept your excuses.
Regardless of what others do, you need to respond in a Christ-like manner. Paul wrote, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Romans 12:17). He went on to write, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
“I am too angry to look at myself.” My score (0-10): ____
The Bible says that you must overcome your anger and not use it as an excuse to sin. Paul wrote, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). If you do not accept your bad temper as a personal problem, you will always find reasons to be mad at others, since everyone is imperfect. You need to:
- Confess that you have an anger problem.
- Ask for forgiveness from God and from others.
- Learn how to react to irritations or disappointments lovingly.
“I need to confront his sin.” My score (0-10): ____
Yes, sometimes we need to confront others’ sins. But this should be rare. Look again at Matthew 7:3-5 and you will see three elements:
- First, you must take the plank out of your own eye.
- Then you can see clearly.
- Once you see clearly, you can lovingly remove the speck from someone else’s eye.
If you try to remove the speck from the other person’s eye without first taking the plank out of your eye, you cannot see clearly and will hurt the other person. Paul made a similar point in Galatians 6:1 when he wrote, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”
“She hurt me, and I want her to suffer.” My score (0-10): ____
You may feel that you have suffered grievous wounds and desire revenge. But the Bible warns that it is God who avenges, not us (Psalm 94:1). Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and to forgive others (Matthew 6:12). Read Matthew 5:44, 1 Thessalonians 5:15, and 1 Peter 3:9.
“He will take advantage of me if I just focus on myself.” My score (0-10): ____
That is possible, but it is not likely. The most common result is just the opposite: The changes you make usually inspire others to change too.
How to take the beam out of your own eye
Pray to change
Although we can easily see the other person’s faults, we are often blind to our own role. For most of us, it is hard to shift the focus from others to ourselves. Ask God to help you see clearly.
Ask, “Did I contribute to the problem?”
Think about the last few days. Have your actions helped set the stage for the current problem? For example, if your spouse is mad at you, perhaps this is partly because you have been ignoring him or her. As you become aware of how your emotions, actions and words affect others, you likely will discover that you contribute to problems more than you realize.
Spend some quiet time with God, asking him to show you your part of the problem.
You also could ask someone who seems upset, “Have I offended you?” Or, “You seem upset. Have I done something wrong?” If you do this, listen carefully without getting into an argument.
Ask yourself, “How can I help in this conversation?”
Listen to the other person (James 1:19). Seek to truly understand his or her opinions and emotions. When you understand where the other person is coming from, look for ways to minister to him or her as you talk. Study Matthew 20:25-28 and Chapter 2 of Philippians.
Speak courteously and respectfully
God wants us to speak with love and courtesy, whatever the circumstances. Our words should be things of beauty, “like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Even if you need to take strong actions, control your anger (Proverbs 29:11).
Although it’s important to focus on changing yourself, it’s possible to take this principle to unhealthy extremes.
Don’t blame yourself for everything
Even though you need to concentrate on changes you should make, do not blame yourself for everything wrong in your relationships. Of course there are things you need to work on. On the other hand, you are not the only one with problems. It is reasonable to be aware that others have faults; just do not concentrate on them.
Sometimes you need to talk about problems
You need to talk about problems from time to time. The key is to do it God’s way—with courtesy and respect.
Call your pastor or the police if someone is physically abusive
Even though you need to take the plank out of your own eye, do not allow physical abuse. Be prepared to take actions, such as filing criminal charges or getting a temporary restraining order. Study Acts 25:10-11 to read about a time when Paul claimed the protection of the law.
Name some people with whom you are upset or irritated:
Prayerfully consider how you may have contributed to the problem. Write your answers here:
Related: Bible studies on anger
Related: Bible studies on relationships
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Unless otherwise noted, all Bible verses are from the 1984 New International Version.
Copyright © 2001, 2016 Doug Britton. (Permission granted to print for personal use.)