Removing the Plank

The President is Missing is a novel written by best-selling author James Patterson and former President Bill Clinton. Now, I'm not a fan of novels, so I probably won't read it!

However, USA Today quoted from the end of the book, where the fictional President says: "Our democracy cannot survive its current downward drift into tribalism, extremism, and seething resentment...our willingness to believe the worst about everyone outside our own bubble is growing."

Now, this quote caught my attention. Sadly, I believe it is true. I have lived in the DC area for over 45 years, and I must confess that I have never seen the political climate in this city more ugly and hateful than it is now. Thirty years ago, there was a collegiality among many politicians in town, even when they disagreed with each other's political stances. Famously, Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill often had drinks together after hours, even though they were political rivals. Can we imagine Donald Trump and Maxine Waters doing this today?

If you were expecting this blog to be about politics, though, I am sorry to disappoint you--because it's not! The real reason this quote caught my attention was spiritual.

I was just in Israel doing ministry with Jews for Jesus, and I spoke one evening from John 8:1-11 on "The Woman Taken in Adultery". This passage is often referred to in scholarly circles as The Pericope de Adultera, and many of these liberal scholars regard this passage as spuriously not belonging in the New Testament. This is primarily because John 8:1-11 is missing from two of the oldest extant copies of the NT, both from the early 4th century A.D. (Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus--google them!). I am totally convinced, however, that these scholars are wrong and that the Pericope de Adultera belongs right where it is in the King James Version. My reasons are manifold, but I'll give you only two: (1) the vast majority of NT manuscripts DO include this Pericope; (2) we have Church Fathers who include references to the Pericope de Adultera in their writings beginning with Papias at 125A.D., indicating that the Bible they were reading most assuredly included it.

So--all this to say--I preached from John 8 and talked about Jesus' statement to the Rabbis: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone" (John 8:7). I commented on how judgmental of others we all tend to be (caustically so many times). This leads us to Jesus' instruction in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:1), "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get." In both cases, of course, Jesus is confronting the same issue: the tendency we all have to pass harsh personal judgments about others, and then condemn them in our hearts, and then slander them with our mouths. I am incredibly guilty of this--as are many Christians. And it leads us towards the kind of resentment and "believing the worst about everyone outside our own bubble" that is spoken about in The President is Missing. Moreover, it turns our churches into mean places where Christians say and do some of the most hateful things to one another.

The solution? Well, Jesus tells us what it is as He continues speaking in Matthew 7:3-5: "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the beam 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 plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye."

In other words (says Jesus), "If you want to be hard on sin, that's good--but start with your own sin! Be judgmental first about your plank, not your brother/sister's speck." And you know what I have discovered? I've discovered that the harsher I am on myself regarding my own faults and sins, the kinder I become to other people regarding their faults and sins--because I figure, if I'm trying as hard as I can to live for Christ as I should, and this is the best I can do, then I certainly have no room to criticize and condemn others!

PS--Just to be clear--I am not talking here about judging others for illegal or criminal behavior (ie, jurisprudence)--or judging their theology as it compares to the Word of God (which the Bible commands us to do--1 John 4:1)--or church discipline done properly (where restoration and not condemnation is the goal). I'm talking about our evil personal judgments of others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.