Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Unsolicited Advice -- Examining Matthew 7:3

Matthew 7:3 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? 4How 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? 5You 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.

Many people read this passage to mean that one person, whom I will refer to as the “confronter”, should not confront another person, whom I will refer to as the “confronted”, on a small fault when the confronter has not dealt with his large violation of that same fault. This interpretation of the passage is based the most obvious and clearest form of hypocrisy. If I am criticizing another person for a small infraction, when I am committing that same infraction on a larger scale, I am obviously guilty of hypocrisy. Others may interpret this passage in the broadest possible sense to mean that anyone with a large fault in any realm of his life cannot confront another person on a small fault, even if the large fault of the confronter is completely unrelated the small fault of the confronted.

The problem with the former interpretation is that it is too narrow and does not call many confronters to enter the full X-ray of self-examination. The problem with the latter interpretation is that it is too broad and makes the standard for confrontation too high – who is not guilty of any large faults in any aspect of his life?

The passage is best interpreted to mean that there is something about the large fault of the confronter that it is affecting the confronter’s ability to operate with love and integrity as he approaches his brother in confrontation. Here, Jesus is saying that that one must remove any obstacle to operating with love and integrity as one begins to operate in the process of confrontation.

If the “speck” that belongs to the confronted is a genuine fault, then an unsolicited confrontation may be necessary on the part of the confronter. However, in order to proceed, the confronter must make sure that is not guilty of committing that same fault. That is the first test of integrity. Then, the confronter must make sure that he has repented of any insecurities or latent issues that are in any way keeping him from operating carefully with love, care and precision as he attempts to confront his brother. This is the second test of integrity, and it solves another potential problem. It is possible that the “speck” belonging to the confronted is not a genuine fault at all but only appears to be that way in the eyes of the confronter. It is also possible that the “speck” is a tiny fault that appears to the confronter to be much larger and more urgent that it really is.

It is the confronter’s failure to operate out of peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control that will render him unable to see clearly to approach his brother. For the confronter to operate without hypocrisy in all of the ways that hypocrisy can affect the confrontation, he must first take his emotions captive and surrender his emotions to the ministry of God’s Spirit. He must also apply his mind to discern the true severity of the fault that he is about to confront another on, according to Biblical standards of what constitutes a severe fault. The quality of the confronter’s emotion processing and Biblical/intellectual discernment will determine the quality of the confrontation.

The second test of integrity, of taking insecurities captive to the truth of Scripture and the ministry of God’s Spirit, solves yet another problem. A confronter who is being driven by insecurities to act impulsively is not assessing the true gravity involved in confronting another person. When we are confronting another person, we are drawing from a certain “negativity bank” in our relationship; there is a certain, limited degree to which we are prepared to hear things that are necessary but negative from another person with whom we are in relationship with. Any confrontation, no matter how small, even if it is only to dispense advice, is never “no big deal”, and must always be done with care and forethought so that we do not draw from the “negativity bank” carelessly. To treat any advice and criticism that one offers another as “no big deal” is to be flippant in regard to what is real about relationships. Anyone who is being intellectually honest will admit that this is true for anyone, including him.

It is the teaching of Jesus for us to be slow to confront another over what, according to Biblical standards, is a small matter, and to put our hearts and minds through several tests before proceeding in a confrontation. The wisdom of this passage can be summed up, by saying, “do unto others, as you would have them do unto you” by confronting others with the care and precision that you would like to have applied when you are confronted. A confronter’s failure to confront another with the precision and care that he/she would like to be confronted with is the subtlest and most common form of hypocrisy that Jesus is addressing. The inability to confront a brother in love and precision is the most common form of “plank” as it superficially presents itself. It is taking the hard, necessary step to examining the sin and insecurities that are causing this inability that we are able to understand the specific nature of the “plank” that needs to be removed as it is lodged deep in our hearts

One of the most common ways that the teaching is this passage is violated is when people give impulsively give advice/criticism to others. It will invariably be grating and will be interpreted as unloving criticism by the person receiving it. The insecurities that can fuel the impulsive giving of unsolicited advice/criticism are many. Someone who is giving advice/criticism impulsively may have the fear he/she is not effective in influencing the world and is trying to soothe that fear by trying too hard to seem wise and effective in the company of others. This form of insecurity is the result of a fallen, misapplication of a God-given need that we all have to affect the stage of history.

Someone who is giving unsolicited advice/criticism can have an even deeper an uglier problem; the need to find comfort in conforming to the standards of the world and the impulse to act out of discomfort to “fix” another person to conform to worldly standards. There is a demonic torpidity that lurks in the hearts of those who affect the stage of history in order to make themselves more comfortable according to worldly standards of comfort. This sin is compounded by intellectual dishonesty when those who act out of their desire for comfort excuse and justify the unsolicited advice/criticism by saying that it is “no big deal” or that they were “just” trying to “help” the other person. It is in this case the giving unsolicited advice/criticism can be the manifestation of a deep idolatry on the part of the person giving it.

These are only a couple of the insecurities that can fuel hypocritical and impulsive criticism and advice giving. It is A) impulse to give hasty, unsolicited advice and B) the empty justifications for giving it that Jesus calls us to crucify in the application of his teaching in Matthew 7:3 on how to proceed to properly confront another.

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