First Things First: Self-Examination


“First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).

It is always easier to judge others than to examine oneself. It is easy to see the faults and sins of our neighbor, and we are too ready to point them out. We are not nearly as ready to look ourselves and our own flaws. It is like seeing the bright lights of an on-coming car on a dark road. We are quick to flash our headlights at the other driver, signaling him to dim his lights, while unaware that our own lights are also on high beam and are blinding him.

Jesus warned his disciples about judging others improperly, especially without first examining themselves. “Judge not” in this passage does not mean that we must never engage in thinking critically, observe faults in others, or reach negative conclusions about them. All the Lord’s instructions about lovingly confronting our brother, with a view to correction, forgiveness, and restoration, assume that some form of “righteous” judgment or appraisal is required on our part.

The challenges we face with all such encounters are many. We tend to judge superficially, or based on outward appearance (John 7:24). We seldom, if ever, know all the circumstances of another’s life, and we certainly do not know his heart. This is why judgment ultimately belongs to the Lord (1 Cor. 4:3-5).

What Jesus does forbid in this passage is a judgmental spirit that constantly finds fault with what others say and do. The critic arrogantly assumes an attitude of superiority or self-righteousness. All efforts to scrutinize the lives of others fall short. And perhaps the greatest reason is that we are also guilty of sin ourselves.

To make his lesson stick, Jesus uses the well-known illustration of a person seeking to remove a speck from his brother’s eye, while not even noticing that there is a big log or beam sticking out of his own eye. Is such a person qualified to perform the task? It’s a rather comical image to picture in our minds, but it is also a powerful and sobering image with a profound lesson. We can sometimes presume to know what is good for others, but be completely oblivious about our own issues.

The Lord describes such an attitude as hypocrisy. Then he says, “first take the log out of your own eye.” Sometimes we do need to help a brother with the “speck” in his life, and just because the fault is relatively small does not mean it should remain. But before we concern ourselves with another’s sins, first we should take a careful look at our own.

Self-examination must be a first in our own lives. It is a key to personal growth. Paul exhorted Christians to “Examine yourselves, to see if you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). Self-examination is necessary for self-improvement. Peter wrote, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Pet. 1:5-7). James taught the importance of looking into the mirror of God’s word, the perfect law of liberty, and making correction as needed (Jas. 1:25).

Before I can experience growth or make correction in my life, first I must look honesty at myself. I must make it a priority. And so must we all.

Dan Petty