There is an interstate here in Colorado that I really dislike driving on. It is busy almost all the time, and is known for its bad accidents. One day as I was driving on a particularly busy stretch of this road, I noticed the car next to me was getting dangerously close. In my sideways glance, however, I failed to pay close attention to what I was doing, and didn’t realize I was about to hit the car in front of me. I slammed on my breaks just in time, but I learned a valuable lesson: I need to pay closer attention to my own driving than to the driving of others.
This is a good spiritual lesson, too. It’s so easy to become fixated on the things that other people are doing wrongly, and, all the while, not pay attention our own actions, words, and attitudes.
Jesus says in Matthew 7:3-5, “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
We are called first to make sure that we are right before the Lord. It is not that we are to be oblivious to what is happening around us. Just like in driving, it’s important to be aware of what is going on around you, but ultimately we are responsible for our own actions. There is only so much I could have done to prevent the car next to me from hitting me, but it would have been completely my fault had I hit the car in front of me, because I was distracted from my first priority. If in life I am constantly looking at others, fixating on the things they are doing wrong, I am bound to do something wrong myself.
There are times when we are supposed to call others out on sinful actions or attitudes. But this should only happen once we have allowed the Lord to reveal to us any wrong motives or things we need to first make right with Him or others. It should always be out of love for the other person, in humility of heart, knowing that we are just as susceptible to sin as the person we are approaching. If (in my car example) I had angrily honked at the person next to me, then moments later slammed into the car ahead, it would have only caused more harm than good. But if I had needed to give a little honk to prevent someone from hitting me, while being sure that I was fully aware of what I was doing, it would have only brought about good and prevented a harmful situation.
If we point out a sin in someone in anger or pride, it will most likely cause more damage than was already there. But if we take care to approach them in love and gentleness, then it will most likely do great good.
When I am working through how to handle any kind of difficult relational situation with another Christian, it is so comforting to remember that the same Spirit who dwells in me also dwells in them. And I can trust God with the results of my obedience. When we entrust both ourselves and others into the Lord’s faithful hands, simply being obedient with what is before us, we will be able to look back and see God’s goodness and all-surpassing wisdom marking each difficult thing we walked through. As 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says, “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”