I Don’t Think That Verse Means What You Think It Means…
Have you ever seen the Princess Bride? If you haven’t, you should stop what you are doing right now and watch it. It is a classic romantic comedy and one of the best of all time in my humble opinion. My humble opinion is right though, and validated by Rotten Tomatoes which gives the movie a 97%. Anyhow, there’s a popular meme that has circulated around the internet based on a quote from one of the characters.
One of the “bad guys” in the story believes himself to be a genius. Yet, in the midst of all his intelligence, his plans keep getting foiled. To which he responds by saying, “Inconceivable!” My favorite character, Inigo Montoya, is not really a good guy or bad guy but a guy on a personal mission to avenge his father’s death. In one scene, after the super genius has again repeated his refrain “Inconceivable,” Inigo Montoya looks at him and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
The meme on the internet has a picture of Inigo Montoya with that phrase or some version of it. A popular “Christian” meme (whatever that is) changes the wording a little bit. The Christian version goes like this, “You keep using that Bible verse. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The meme is a passive aggressive way to call out the Biblical error of others.
On Facebook, I recently saw this meme used in reference to the verse about judging others. You can find it in Matthew 7. Jesus tells his listeners to not judge others for they will be judged according to the standard by which they judge. The meme was intending to call out the tendency of people to use this verse out of context and to the extreme as a sort of force field shielding them from any sort of accountability. Some people appeal to this verse—“You can’t judge me”—to justify their sinful behaviors.
However, the meme was off-putting to me because it represents the other extreme. Some Christians appeal to Scriptures about “knowing their fruit” or “using discernment” to justify all sorts of judgmental opinions about others.
Planks and Specks
Jesus teaches us not to judge our fellow man or else we too will be judged according to the standard by which we judged others. It is true that there are people who appeal to this Scripture to justify living without any moral restraint. The heart of these people is often times as abrasive as those who would judge them. The sentiment behind “God is my judge” often comes across like this: “Back the (cuss word) off! You have no right to hold me accountable!” I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind when he spoke this teaching to his listeners.
However, many people seem to get really hung up on defending the truth and holding other people accountable. First of all, truth if it is true doesn’t need our defense. Secondly, people who are overly obsessed with correcting others miss the heart of this passage too.
I think Jesus is saying that if we judge other people without having a heart full of grace, compassion and love, then we better watch out because God will judge us according to that standard instead of according to the standard of the cross. Paul wrote to the believers at Ephesus to “speak the truth in love.” So often, I think people get hung up on just speaking the truth. You can’t speak the truth in love to someone whose story you don’t know. You can’t speak the truth in love by lambasting people on Twitter, Facebook, or a blog page. You can’t speak the truth in love through a meme that makes fun of atheists, people who identify as LGBTQ, or Muslims.
Jesus goes on to say that we need to first remove the plank from our own eyes before we attempt to remove the speck in someone else’s eyes. Often people believe the analogy of plank and speck has to do with the size of the sin. Which is ironic because I’ve heard so many people say that sin is sin in God’s eyes, yet they determine they can speak up against homosexuality because their sin is not at plank status.
I don’t think Jesus was talking about the size of the sin. If you have a plank in your eye then it obscures your ability to see anything clearly, let alone your neighbor’s sin. I think Jesus was warning us to self-reflect and make sure we have clarity. Both on our own motives and the sin of the other person. If you don’t have clarity on your own sin and your own motives then you have no business presuming to have the clarity to fix the speck in your neighbor’s eye.
When it comes to judging people, I think there are two things we should keep in mind. First, we need to thoughtfully and prayerfully reflect on our own hearts. This isn’t just about reflecting on whether we have some obvious, un-repented sin in our lives. This is about reflecting on our motives for even wanting to address the issues of other people. If there is even an ounce of self-righteous pride or personal satisfaction in pointing out the error in someone else then you’ve missed Jesus’ point. You can be sure you have plankitis in your eye.
Secondly, removing something from someone’s eye assumes close proximity. You cannot remove a speck from your neighbor’s eye from a distance. Likewise, speaking the truth in love assumes relationship. I find it good rule of thumb to allow my relationship with people to determine the level of accountability I exercise over them. If our desire truly is to correct people for fear that their choices are destructive, then our desire would also be to truly walk with them in relationship.
 Ephesians 4:15