Choppin’ wood – sermon by James Moore

Good morning.

I am freshly Kojacked for you this morning. Some of you don’t get that reference, you’re too young, and some of you do get it, so you’re…well-seasoned.

Interesting story about Kojak. Kojak, Telly Savalas, was born in 1922 and was a WWII veteran. My father, born in 1925, was also a WWII veteran and in all likelihood shared a lot of values and views in common with Telly. Dad was balding from his mid-20s, and when I was born in 1973 (the same year that Kojak started on television), he was pretty much devoid of hair without the need for a razor. I think there was a passing resemblance of the two men based simply on hair and age, but to a small child missing his father, it was a striking resemblance. You see, Dad died in 1975 when I was two, and I’ve always felt when watching Kojak, even way back in the 1970s, that I saw somehow watching my father. I love the show and can watch it over and over all day long.

So now you know more about me that you ever wanted.

Back to the matter at hand, Luke 6:41-42.

41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
42 Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.

You can find the same lesson in the Gospel of Matthew, 7:3-5.

Hopefully I have time to make the associations that I need to make, and hopefully I can make them without meandering too much or missing the mark too badly. I’ll start 2000 years ago, and then I’ll go about 2000 years before that. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover in only about 15 minutes!

Most of the commentary Bibles that I have (I have several and can always use another) title this section and the one in Matthew something along the lines of “Jesus teaches about criticizing others” or something similar. I don’t say that’s not true, but it’s too shallow and misses the deeper point made throughout scripture.

Understand first that there is really only one type of person in the world: The kind that God loves. There are three subsets of these people: Those who have believed on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, those who have not but can still be drawn to Jesus, and those who God has given up on and will no longer draw to salvation. Since He is not forthcoming as to who belongs in the set of people He has given up on, we can only be concerned with the first two groups…His reasons for the third group are not mine to question, nor is the membership mine to know.

It was eye-opening to me when I began realizing the wisdom in the things that have been withheld from us. Who knows (other than God) what we’d do with the knowledge of who He has given up on. We also don’t have the original autographs of the letters that Paul wrote, or the Gospels or any other book of the Bible, because rather than studying and worshiping the Word, we’d venerate the parchment and forget what they say (which we do anyway far too often). And you also read that Jesus himself didn’t baptize anyone, so that way no one could claim special status over the other brothers and sisters.

Understand this as well: Christians are given by Christ a primary mission, normally referred to as The Great Commission, which is to spread the Gospel to everyone in the world. Everything else in secondary. Everything. Everything. This also includes your physical safety and security, and even your life. Ask Paul, ask Peter, ask James the brother of John or James the brother of Jesus…they had salvation and joy, and they loved the life that they lived, but they all died horribly fulfilling their mission. Paul had his head chopped off, Peter was crucified, James the brother of John was run through with a sword, and James the brother of Jesus was stoned.

But going back to the verses today, what all of the commentaries I have, and all the writings or sermons I have read or heard on these verses seem to overlook are the associations between the mote and the beam. Yes, the beam blinds your sight so much that you cannot possibly help your brother or sister with the mote. Yes, you should get rid of your beam so you can help your brother get rid of their mote. Yes, you should not be too critical of other people. In the first two verses of Matthew 7, Jesus warns that you’ll be judged the way that you judge, so be careful.

The first thing that seems to be lost is the physical association between the mote and the beam. A “mote” is a tiny particle of something, something so small it’s difficult to see. The Greek word is karphos for mote, which is a small, dry twig or chip of wood. Dakos is the word for beam, which is like a beam of timber you’d build a house with. It’s clear that Jesus is talking about the same thing, only to different degrees. Translate the association to sins, and it’s the difference between smoking 2 packs a day vs. having a cigar every Friday night, or drinking a fifth of whiskey a day vs. a glass of wine on your birthday. One is very bad, one is not that bad (although we can always discuss how bad any particular thing is).

The second and more important association is that your brother always has a mote, and you always have a beam. He doesn’t say you can help with your brother’s beam after you deal with yours, He says your brother’s mote. Jesus is putting the emphasis directly on you and your own personal holiness (or lack thereof). Your focus should be on you and your habits, and you should always view your own foibles and sins as being far larger impediments than those of your brethren.

So these verses become not only a call to clean up your act first, they really become a call to clean up your act only. Your focus needs to always be on you. Personal judgment and personal holiness. But you need to understand why.

There are two filters through which a Christian should view scripture. The first is John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. This verse, the heart of the Gospel and mankind’s salvation, is the primary filter through which you should view the scriptures from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. Nothing is more important.

The second filter is that of The Great Commission. Having received eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, how can you not want others to have the same? You should use this divine assignment to help you understand all of the Gospels and the epistles. So how do I view today’s verses as related to The Great Commission?

This is where I go back another two thousand years, to Genesis chapters 18 and 19, wherein Sodom and her sister cities are destroyed. You read in Ezekiel 16 that the main sins of Sodom were pride, abundance of bread and idleness, along with neglecting the poor and needy. So they had plenty of money and free time, but instead of using these to care for the less fortunate, they used them to commit a multitude of sins.

I think God expects the sins. God says multiple times through scripture that man is evil. Jesus says it. Paul reiterates it. But when the sinning gets in the way of charity, that pushes things too far and God intervenes. The people of Sodom had been given by God the means to care for the needs of a great number of people, but they failed to do so. God doesn’t like it when people are uncharitable. Many people are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, and “faith, hope and love.” Well, the King James translates it as “faith, hope and charity”, which I feel is more appropriate. Charity is the giving of a gift, giving something to someone who cannot possibly repay you. It’s what Christ did for us. It’s what we’re expected to do for others. And it’s what Sodom primarily failed to do.

And how does this tie back into today’s verses?

There was a guy there in Sodom, Lot. He was Abraham’s nephew and believed in God the same as his uncle. In Genesis 15:6, the scripture said that Abraham’s belief was counted for righteousness, the same as ours is counted per John 3:16. Paul referenced it in Romans 4. Lot was the same.

In Genesis 18 Abraham prays for the unrighteous in Sodom by leveraging the righteous, asking that God spare the righteous in spite of the unrighteous. He “bargains” the number down from 50 to 10. 10 righteous people would spare all of Sodom and the associated cities.

Of course God could not find 10 people, just Lot and his family. And Lot was horribly backslidden and hardly acting like a righteous man. His sons-in-law declined to leave because they liked it there too much, his wife looked back longingly while they were leaving and turned into a pillar of salt, and his daughters got him drunk and committed incest with him after they had escaped. Lot had failed miserably to rule his house and his self.

I used to argue that this meant the bar for righteousness was low. The level of “good” needed to be counted among the righteous was not great, if even Lot was counted among them. But then I realized that I was in fact arguing for a salvation of works. It is important to remember that your salvation in no way is dependent on the things that you do. Isaiah in chapter 64 says that the best we can do is still as a filthy rag to God. (Read Leviticus 15 starting in verse 19 to get an idea of what “filthy rag” refers to.)

It’s clear that belief is what leads to us being counted to righteousness. That’s all over the Bible. It’s all over John 3:16. In fact, it’s all over John’s Gospel, with “belief” or “believe” being mentioned over 100 times in that book alone. It’s why Lot is counted among the righteous. It’s why I’m counted among the righteous. It’s certainly not for anything I’ve done.

So let’s loop back to Luke 6. “…cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.” This is telling you to clean up your own act, try to live a righteous life as best you can, and you’ll be able to help other people. You have to view this verse through filter of The Great Commission, I think, and you have to understand how you help the two previously mentioned groups of people.
First, for your brothers and sisters in Christ, the church. When you get that beam out of your own eye, you become a role model and an inspiration to the others you’re with. You become a great example, at least in one area. We’ve always got more beams to deal with, but if you can get rid of one you can help others who have the same problem (remember that the mote and beam are of the same substance). They’ll seek you out as an inspiration. And you’ll see clearly to help them remove their mote. And as different people remove different beams and help others remove different motes, we can collectively approach a more righteous life together, and bring ourselves a little closer to Christ, and stoke the fire of the Holy Ghost just a little more.

And as we strengthen each other, we strengthen ourselves for The Great Commission. In John chapter 6, Jesus says that no one comes to Him unless the Father first draws them. I would argue that we, as followers of Christ and fishers of men, are the primary means through which God moves on the hearts of those outside the faith. As we increase our zeal for righteous works, as Paul told us to do, we become a stronger magnet for the lost. And as our church family seeks us out to discover how we removed that beam from our eye, so unbelievers will ask the same thing. “Man you used to drink all the drunks under the table, how’d you stop? Man, you used to smoke 4 packs a day, how’d you stop? Man, you used to be so angry and now you’re all chill, how’d you do it?”

And then, Friends, you get to tell these lost sheep about another set of beams, shaped into a cross, and set upon a hill. My favorite parable is the one about the merchant who found a pearl of such great value, that he sold everything else just do he could possess that pearl. I used to understand it as meaning that I should “sell out” to Christ and give everything over to Him, that the kingdom of Heaven was of infinite value and nothing could compare and I should strive to possess it. But that’s works again. Then I realized the beautiful truth, which I can convey to someone who is lost. I’m not the merchant, and Heaven is not the pearl. I’m the pearl. Christ is the merchant who gave up everything to possess me.

This is the point where works comes into the topic of salvation. They have no value for our own personal salvation, only faith does. They won’t save anyone. But they are a powerful tool used by God for bringing the lost sheep back to the Shepherd.

This is where Lot failed. He believed God, but he did not live out that faith. At best, he ignored the iniquities around him and failed to act to help the less fortunate, and to provide a proper example to his family and the citizens around him. And though his faith saved him, his actions damned Sodom. Had he lived out his faith in action, God may have found 10 righteous people to forestall judgment.

I know that many Christians don’t believe that they’ll one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ, as scripture promises. Jesus said that we’d have to answer for every idle word in the Day of Judgment. (Remember idleness being a chief sin of Sodom). I am going to tell you that He was being truthful. One day I expect to stand before Christ and give my account. I don’t expect it to be a pleasant experience. I know I have many things to answer for, although I won’t have to suffer for them. When John was confronted with a glorified Christ in Revelation, he fell down as though he was dead. This is the beloved apostle who rested his head on the bosom of Christ, who loved him more than anyone. What’s it going to be like for me or you?

But the thought that scares me most, is that He’s going to say, “James, I had to destroy High Point because I couldn’t find 10 righteous people (or 50, or 100, or 1000), I could only find 9 (or 49, or 99, or 999). You were among the ones I found. Why was I lacking 1?”
How do you answer that? “Well, Josh should have…” No, Josh is not the one being called to task, I am. “Well, Jennifer didn’t…” No, it’s not about Jennifer. It’s only about me. It’s always about me, that’s part of what Jesus was saying. Personal salvation, personal responsibility, personal ownership.

What would my answer have to be? Lord, I believed but I didn’t live it out for You. I didn’t catch fire with the Holy Ghost. I should have lived the faith I believed, I should have caught non-believers on fire, I should have stoked the fires in my church, my family. But I failed. I failed. I should have brought you at least one more.

No one has to advertise a fire. People will always follow the flames and the heat, even if out of sheer curiosity. People even fly 6000 miles just to see Kilauea erupting in Hawaii. If I catch on fire, I’ll catch someone else on fire. Someone caught me on fire once and I haven’t stopped burning yet. I want to go supernova.

I want to be Righteous Number 9, always on the lookout for Righteous Number 10.

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