Why do you look at the speck of sawdust (karpos) in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank (dokos) 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 (ekballo) 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 (NIV)
It’s easy to think of the first person (with the speck) in the above verse as having a little problem or sin, and the second person (with the plank) as having a bigger problem or sin. But, the three Greek words, karpos, dokos, and ekballo, tell a deeper story – a story of redemption.
Karpos (κάρφος) is a small particle, as a splinter of straw or wood; a dry stalk, a chip of wood, twig, splinter, or chaff. These small particles are usually the resultant left-overs from carpentry work or from threshing and winnowing wheat – unimportant garbage that is swept up or blown away.
There are a lot of sawdust and splinters flying around in the Carpenter’s shop. There is a lot of chaff blowing in the wind when the wheat is being winnowed, or refined and cleansed, until only the good grain is left. Like the first person, it would be easy to get a speck of it in your eye. To stick with the first metaphor, the Carpenter is building something in a person, or in us, but sometimes all we see is the mess the process makes – or we can’t see what he’s doing at all because of the sawdust in our eyes. We have to trust that he knows what he’s doing.
The second person has a dokos in his eye. Dokos (δοκός) is a beam of wood. It comes from a word that means “to hold up.” This beam is “a large beam (joist) of wood; “a beam of timber“[i]; “a log on which planks in the house rest … joist, rafter, plank.”[ii] ”The term beam of wood refers to a very big piece of wood, the main beam of a building, in contrast to the speck in the other’s eye.”[iii] These beams sound essential, holding up a structure. Jesus says the person with the beam needs to ekaballo (ἐκβάλλω), pluck, pull, take, or thrust it out of his eye – this beam that is holding up the whole structure! It reminds me of a giant Jenga game where you pull out the wrong block and everything crashes down. But Jesus says the structure must be dismantled in order for us to see clearly to help our brother with the speck.
But what is this structure? Jesus calls the plank-eyed brother a hypocrite, or “an actor under an assumed character, a stage-player.”[iv] So maybe the structure is a stage, or even an elaborate theater, a self-made structure where a self-chosen part is played. We may build these theaters to make us feel good about ourselves, to protect a fragile ego, to hide a broken heart. We may play the part of smug self-competence, better-than-you self-righteousness, hard invulnerability, a discerning Judge dispensing well-meant criticism or confident condemnation. Or the structures could be those of racism or prejudice or assumptions, long-held, long-built. Whatever it is, the parts we play, the structures we build and cling to, blind us to the needs of others, and blind us to our true identities.
Jesus wants to tear them down and start a very messy demolition. He wants to re-make us.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new (kainos) creation (ktisis); the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
The Greek word kainos means new, recently made, fresh (can you smell the wood shavings?). Ktisis means a building or creation. A new, recently made, building or creation. We are all in the process of redemption. God may be doing a demolition and rebuilding in your brothers and sisters, but you won’t be able to see it if you have not started your own demolition. All you will see is the sawdust in their eyes. The beams in our eyes hold up self-made structures that become the prisons of our souls. The beams need to be pulled out, as from a Jenga tower, so the structures can collapse and be rebuilt.
Lord, show me if I have a beam in my eye, and if I do, what structure it holds up. Help me to pull out the beam and let that building fall so you can start re-building me today.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)
“Look, I am making all things new!” Revelation 21:5 (NLT)
Photograph, Granada Theater, Chicago, 1990, taken by Genial 23, from flikr.com
[i] A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament by G. Abbott-Smith.
[ii] James Moffatt’s New Testament Commentaries.
[iii] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988.
[iv] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.