The Fault of Faultfinders
And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Matthew 7:3NAS
We continue our study of Question 145 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?” The eighth part of the answer states, “The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are… aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense.” Last time we looked at the many ways we use words to overly exalt ourselves. Today we consider the evil of being too critical of others.
It is never right to hide, excuse, or extenuate our sins. If I sin and then try to cite extenuating circumstances, I’m not taking responsibility for my actions. Adam was correct in saying that the woman gave him the fruit, but that was not the question! Adam was at fault for directly disobeying God. The circumstances that led to his disobedience were entirely irrelevant. Moreover, when I hide or excuse my sins I’m only lying to myself. My sins are still there, and thus, so is the destruction and evil that sin always causes. Could you imagine being diagnosed with a cancerous growth on your hand and your solution is to wear a glove to hide it? or to excuse it as an ordinary abrasion? or to chalk it up to extenuating circumstances: “The doctor is only saying that because he doesn’t like me”? Only an insane person would act this way when it comes to our bodies, yet we do it all the time with respect to the cancer of our souls: sin.
Like all other transgressions, the sin of bearing false witness begins in the heart. Though many different motives can fuel the breaking of this commandment, this morning’s portion of the Catechism focuses in on the motivation of sinful pride. Because of pride I am tempted to aggravate the small faults I see in others even as I fail to notice my own sins. In the above quoted Scripture, Jesus asks the question why people do this. Why do we look at the speck in our brother’s eye but do not notice the log in our own eye? Jesus was not looking for an answer from His audience. He was using a rhetorical question to bring home to each one of us our natural, fallen tendency: we are proud.
Every human being is guilty of the sin of pride, which is seen by the fact that we do not like to admit our faults. We do not want other people to see our evils. And so in order to turn attention away from my own sins, I aggravate, that is I make large or magnify, even the slightest failings in someone else. This is a hateful way to hide my own sins, for I unfairly and selfishly spare myself painful scrutiny by willingly subjecting others to it. I go free by making someone else suffer the very thing I am seeking to escape. It is a despicable act. Rather than heroically taking a bullet for others, I pull them in front of me to take the bullet for me.
So also is “raising false rumors” or “receiving and countenancing evil reports.” In our sinful natures we love talking about the evils of others, because by doing so we can proudly think better of ourselves. It is easy to be a fault-finder; to always be on the lookout for the slightest failings in others. Love does not act this way. When I am loving my brothers I am ready to “cover a multitude of sins,” (1 Pet. 4:8). Now this is not to say that I should never point out to someone their failings. Sometimes it is necessary, for the good of others, to tell someone about their faults. I appreciate our former pastor, Bailey Cadman, for helping me to overcome some of my habitual malapropisms in speaking. But the way in which he did it: privately, and out of real concern for my being a better preacher, went a long way towards my accepting that help!
Thus, when we think someone is in the wrong, we should always allow them to defend themselves. “Stopping our ears against just defense” is showing sinful bias against the truth. Why would we not want to hear someone’s explanation? Do we really want to get at the truth or do we just want to puff ourselves up by condemning others? We could be wrong, we may not know the circumstances behind a person’s actions, or it may be that it’s none of our business and we should leave it alone! But whatever the situation, no one should be condemned by us when we have not heard their side of the story. May our merciful God deliver each one of us from the temptation of being a fault-finder!