Hypocrisy is when you care more for other people’s sin than for your own. It’s when your foremost concern is not your own flaws, but the flaws of other Christians.
I am a master at identifying sin. I might be tempted to brag about that fact, except for this: While I’m a master at identifying the sin in other people, I’m a mere novice at identifying the sin in myself. And I don’t think I’m the only one. There seems to be something deeply embedded in sinful humanity that gives us the ability to spot the sin in others but to ignore it in ourselves. We can provide a thorough accounting of someone else’s flaws, but often only a cursory account of our own.
I recently found myself pondering logs and specks—the funny little parable Jesus uses to make a dead serious point about that very disparity. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?”
While some of Jesus’s parables require historical context if we are to picture them properly, this one’s simple enough. You’ve been outside with a friend doing a little home improvement project. Suddenly there is a major collapse and when the dust settles you see your friend holding his eye and you hear him saying he’s got a bit of sawdust in there. You rush over to see if you can help. But as you approach, he backs away and tells you that you need to get some help of your own. What he knows (and you’re ignoring) is that amid all the fuss you got something in your eye too. But it’s not a little speck of sawdust. It’s a log. It’s a plank. Actually, the word Jesus uses here describes the roof beam, the single biggest piece of wood in the whole house. So while you’re trying to get a microscopic speck out of your friend’s eye, you’ve got a 30-foot beam jutting out of your own. It’s an illustration that is deliberately hyperbolic, deliberately absurd.
And here’s what Jesus says about it: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” That’s obvious. You can’t do microsurgery on someone else’s eye when you’ve had major trauma to your own. You need to deal with your own major mess before you can deal with someone else’s minor mess. But what stands out to me as especially significant is that Jesus describes this as hypocrisy. That’s interesting to me because hypocrisy is a moral word, which means you haven’t just made a mistake, you’ve committed a sin.