Button That Pocket, Soldier!

by Jefferson David Tant

A retired Army officer recalled an incident when he inspected some recruits who had just finished basic training. He stood right in front of one, making the young man quite nervous.

The officer noted an unbuttoned pocket flap on the private's shirt, and barked out in his best authoritative voice, "Button that pocket, soldier!" Now a few shades of red, the private looked around and nervously asked, "Right now, sir?" The officer responded, "Of course, right now. When did you think I meant for you to do it?"

The soldier then did something quite out of character as to what a private would normally do to an officer. He gave the officer his weapon, and then buttoned the officer's shirt pocket. Needless to say, the officer was somewhat chagrined.

Does this remind you of something Christ taught? "Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 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? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:1-5).

The "do not judge" part is probably one of the most misused Bible verses. Any time some sort of criticism is offered, the offended will trot out "The Bible says not to judge…" Forgotten is the rest of the passage, as well as John 7:24: "Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment."

But why is it that so often we see the speck in another's eye, but fail to acknowledge our own shortcomings and failures? One reason might have to do with pride. I suppose most of us think we are pretty decent folks. But too much self-esteem may make us oblivious to our own faults. The Pharisees seemed to have a problem with this. Christ addressed the matter of pride when one chose a seat at a wedding feast. The self-important man came in and sat down in a place of honor, but then was moved when a more highly respected man came in (Luke 14:8-11).

It is sometimes true that those who are the most critical are the ones who might need the most criticism themselves, thus they try to hide their own shortcomings by pointing fingers at others. But we must remember the old saying which reminds us that when we point a finger at others, there are usually three fingers pointing back at us.

The whole point of Jesus' teaching is that we should not be so quick to criticize before we consider ourselves. There are times when we do not understand the circumstances of the other person, or we may have received wrong information, or it may simply be a matter of judgment that doesn't involve sin. It's just a difference of opinion.

But when we do feel some criticism is in order, there are some guidelines that should be  observed.

  1. "Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy" (Proverbs 31:9). We must be sure that our motives are right, and we are not just venting some pet peeve we have.
  2. "He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him" (Proverbs 18:13). Be sure that we have all the facts before making a judgment. When the Pharisees were seeking to have Jesus arrested, Nicodemus asked, "Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?" (John 7:51).
  3. "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). Be sure that we approach in the right spirit. A censorious, harsh spirit is not designed to encourage the offender, but indeed may drive him further away. Paul further comments on the right spirit in II Timothy 2:24-25: "The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth."

Criticism is sometimes needed, just as in driving a car, the steering must be corrected to keep the car in the right path. But let us take heed that we both give and receive criticism in the right spirit.