The Sin of Self-Deception
Robert Wurtz II
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. (Matthew 7:3-5)
C.S. Lewis in his classic book, The Screwtape Letters, explains a primary strategy of the enemy in destroying people. He suggests that Satan and his followers work on professing Christians to, “Aggravate the most useful human characteristics, the horror and neglect of the obvious.” Lewis believed that demons work to bring people to a condition in which he/she can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself/herself that are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with the person or worked in the same office.
Lewis’ “neglect of the obvious” is very useful to Satan. Why? Because he uses it to keep the “neglector” blind to their own behavior — while aggravating others who have to tolerate them. For example, a person makes a post on Facebook about others who need to do something (usually in the area of forsaking some sin or stopping some behavior) and yet it’s obvious to everyone reading the post that the one posting the remark needs to heed their own advice. I have seen cases when the very person posting was the most flagrant violator of what they posted that I knew. Yet they simply don’t see it. They seem to be sensitive to others doing “something” and blind to themselves doing the “same thing.”
And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3)
It is impossible to overstate how offensive such behavior is to God. Matthew 7:3 asks a riveting question. Why? Why do you look at the sins of others while ignoring your own sins that are worse than theirs? In fact, Jesus uses a word that is considered His strongest of all to denounce these actions; that word is “hypocrite.” You and I may be many things, but may we never be viewed by God as a hypocrite. Jesus tells us plainly that the final sentence (executed judgment) for being a hypocrite is to be cut in two and sent where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:51). We commonly know this place as hell.
The English word hypocrite is translated from an old Greek noun that means actor, interpreter, and one who personates another. Jesus uses it of people who are forever doing something to look “pious” (godly), while they are inwardly full of dead men’s bones. They can’t give without “sounding the trumpet” or pray without making a show of it (just for starters). But their prime characteristic is that they look at the speck in their brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in their own eye. The late renowned Greek scholar A.T. Robertson stated that “‘hypocrite’ (hoi hupokritai) is the hardest word that Jesus has for any class of people and he employs it for these “pious pretenders who pose as perfect.” They have received their reward (apechousin ton misthon autoœn). This verb is common in the papyri for receiving a receipt, “they have their receipt in full,” all the reward that they will get, this public notoriety. They can sign the receipt of their reward (Deissmann, Bible Studies, p. 229. Also Light from the Ancient East, pp. 110f. Apocheœ means “receipt.” Quoted in Word Pictures on Matthew 6:2)
Our passage in Matthew 7:3-5 adds to our understanding of a hypocrite as a person who gazes upon the faults of others (sawdust), while overlooking greater faults of their own (planks or logs). They are forever meddling in other peoples’ business when they should be attending to their own first. They emphasize other peoples’ faults and sins and minimize the seriousness of their own sins. A hypocrite is the type of person who would cast the first stone—knowing they have done similar or worse things.
It was said of the late president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) that he kept people around him, such as American reporter Louis Howe (1871-1936), who “knew where all the bodies were buried.” The Howes of the world are useful to the politician types who can use elicit information to their political advantage. I suggest that some hypocrites keep good records of other peoples’ sins — so they can use them later to their advantage. This is what the Pharisees did when they took the woman caught in adultery to Jesus.
On the contrary, spiritual people remember that they were once purged from their own sins and as a result add to their faith virtue, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity (2 Peter 1:7-9). Not hypocrites. They have “publican love” — a love that loves who they want to love and shuns all the rest (Matthew 5:46). Hypocrites devise clever ways of making exceptions for their own sins. Generally, this is along the lines of “my sin was many years ago” or “God forgave me of my sins.” In other words, God forgives their sins, but not other peoples’ sins. They may not say this explicitly, but this is what their attitude and behavior amounts to.
Blinded By Sin
Jesus spoke about hypocrites no less than twenty times in the Gospels. Why did He come down on them so hard? Why would He use the strongest of terms to denounce them? Clearly, it is because they are some of the most evil people around. What did Paul tell the Romans?
Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. (Romans 2:1 NKJV)
Everyone has had something in their eye and knows how painful it is. I suppose God designed us that way. We need to be able to see clearly, so we need our eyes in tip-top shape. This is why it hurts so bad when something is in there. Our natural response is to get that thing out of there! Now! Not later; right this second! Nevertheless, (in keeping with the hyperbole the Lord Jesus used) imagine the doctor entering the room with a small beam (pencil), medium beam (broom stick), or a large beam (floor joist) protruding from their eyes. If such were the case, it would undoubtedly blind their eyes. How are they going to help someone fix their eye when they are completely blind? This is common sense, but it often does not stop people from the behavior.
Obviously, Matthew 7:3-5 is intended to be metaphorical, but we can easily see the difficulty here. A person with a speck in their eye may be rubbing it or flushing it with water, but a person with a beam ought to be screaming in pain. But they are not. How can this be? They apparently don’t see or feel it. In other words, everyone can see the hypocrites issues but the hypocrite. Remember what C.S. Lewis said, “bring people to a condition in which he/she can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself/herself that are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with the person or worked in the same office.” This is very sobering. Notice Jesus’ words, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly (…)” A hypocrite is in no shape to help anyone. They are in 100X worse condition than the people they are criticizing or “trying to help.”
Right Response to Hypocrisy
If we fit this picture, our first step is to take our focus off of others and get it on ourselves. Allow God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to do their work and acknowledge that we have a plank in our own eye (if so be that we have one). Acknowledge it in the plainest of terms. We can’t use strong terms for other peoples’ sins and use euphemisms for ours (and avoid the charge of hypocrisy). We have to call it what it is and repent.