The Sawdust and the 2×4

Many people have heard the analogy that Jesus made (Matt. 7.3-5) about people who try to pick a piece of sawdust out of another person’s eye while they have a 2×4 in their own. The analogy is hilarious, but the implications are serious. I had a few thoughts today on this topic, so I thought I’d share them.

Relation: Sawdust and 2×4’s are similar, yet different

This should go without saying, but both items are byproducts of trees. They’re related by type. But they are drastically different in terms of their size, significance, and effect. The implication here is fascinating. It isn’t that people tend to see *any* kind of fault in the life of another, but that they see *genetically related faults* in the life of another person. The issues that they see in the other person are a categorical reflection of their own sins. When you’re going through a time of life where all you can see is other peoples’ issues, it is time for you to seek out godly counsel for your own heart. Perhaps the things you’re seeing in others is a reflection of a bigger and similar problem of your own.

Prioritization: Sawdust is still a problem

I think some people get the implication that these verses give them a “Get Out of Jail Free” card when it comes to outside critiques. Oddly enough, Jesus uses this analogy only to point out the challenge that the guy with a 2×4 in his head will have in *extricating* the sawdust, but not in his recognition that the sawdust *really is there.* So when some flawed individual comes to you with an issue, still do your best to consider that claim as valid. You may do well to bounce the claim off some accountability partners whose ability to be honest and see your issues clearly is unquestioned, but ignoring the issue entirely isn’t really fair to the analogy.

Categorization: 2×4’s as a new category of problems.

What Jesus is doing with this analogy is incredible. Jesus is pointing out that there is a whole category of sinners that we’re prone to forget about. We often think about sexual sinners or people who commit sins of speech, and so on. But Jesus reminds us that there are a bunch of people out there who walk around with lumber in their faces and haven’t taken the time to remove the problem. The funny thing about this is that we tend to look at the world in right/left perspective. We see conservatives and liberals, religious and irreligious. We see the guy with the 2×4 in his eye socket as someone in one camp or another camp. But Jesus gives us a category that transcends our own. For example, we’ve seen recent examples of hard right fundamentalists and left-leaning liberal Christians attacking notable evangelical leaders. In instances such as this, we’re reminded that 2×4-types transcend our categories. In God’s eyes, these two dissimilar groups in this instance share more in common than we originally would have thought.

Perception: You’d think we could see a 2×4, right?

Related to the previous point, it’s important to remember that if all we do is chat with, read, or befriend are people who share our dendrite problem, we’ll never see it for what it is. We’ll always see the sawdust of others as 2×4’s and receive critiques of our own 2×4 as if people were seeing sawdust. By surrounding ourselves by less than objective voices only from our own carpenter shop, we will consistently fail to recognize the gravity of our situation. And maybe this is part of the value of the church — it provides us with a variegated spectrum of saints who are able to see our problems better than we can ourselves. Seek out accountability not only from those who are most like you, but from those with whom you find little in common.

Concluding Thought: The value of outside accountability

Accountability is important in order to (a) evaluate whether the critiques we make are reflective of our own faults and (b) evaluate whether the critiques we receive are valid. Outside accountability is essential because (a) it shows us when we’ve fallen prey to our own categories, and (b) it shows us when we’ve fallen prey to our lack of context.

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