Question: "What does it mean to "take the plank out of your own eye" (Matthew 7:4)?"
Answer: In His great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ sometimes employed a literary tool known as hyperbole to make a point. In one such example, Jesus asked, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank 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).
Jesus drew a brilliant word picture of someone struggling with the sensitive business of extracting a tiny speck of sawdust from a friend’s eye. In contrast, a sizable plank of wood in that person’s own eye completely obstructed his vision. Such a feat would be impossible. It’s evident that Jesus was not speaking literally here. Instead, He used exaggeration to drive home the truth that people are often blind to their own faults while keenly focused on weaknesses in others. This segment of Christ’s sermon addressed the natural human tendency to see shortcomings in others and to be judgmental of their sin while ignoring, minimizing, or excusing our own sin.
When the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus, He confronted the same issue by telling the scribes and Pharisees, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, ESV). Jesus wasn’t excusing the woman’s sin but instead pointing out the need for consistency, honesty, and humility when passing judgment.
The Lord would have us remember that the blade of judgment cuts both ways. When we judge others, we condemn ourselves as well. If we are not willing to evaluate ourselves honestly and accurately, we’ll undermine our right to scrutinize the lives of others. Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged” (Matthew 7:1–2; see also Luke 6:37–42). Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 11:31, “If we were properly judging ourselves, we would not be judged” (CSB).
Sadly, Christ’s instruction to “take the plank out of your own eye” is often misinterpreted as a general prohibition against all judgment. We can’t overlook the fact that Jesus said both the speck and the plank were to be removed. Believers are indeed called to help other Christians who become entangled in sin. Paul said, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path” (Galatians 6:1, NLT). But before we can help a fellow brother or sister onto the right path—before we can remove the speck from another’s eye—we must first deal honestly with our own sin.
In the Lord’s illustration, the fact that there is a “plank” in our eye, but only a “speck” in our brother’s eye, exposes the hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and pride at the heart of the matter. Somehow, we can’t discern that our own sins are more glaringly serious than those we concentrate on in others. We criticize others while absolving ourselves. Yet, often, those faults we pass judgment on in others are the very same flaws we can’t bear to admit in ourselves.
The Lord’s choice of an illustration involving the eye also ties in with a person’s overall spiritual condition: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22–23).
The Lord calls all believers to live holy, godly lives (1 Peter 1:14–16). To do that, we must never forget our propensity to overlook our own faults while arrogantly locking on to those same faults in others. All ungodliness is cause for concern, whether it be in ourselves or in others. If we hope to help and restore someone else, we must honestly face up to our own sins and confess them—we must first take the plank out of our own eye.