Have you ever noticed that the “church” loves to pay attention to the “big sins”? Do you know what I’m talking about? How online, in the news and in the pews, people love to call out people for the “big sins”? Of course, what counts as a “big sin” changes with the times, but it’s often and usually a sexual sin of some sort.
Now, obviously “big sins” are sins that matter and need to be rooted out. And, even that classification of “big sins” and “little sins” is problematic, but I think you get what I mean.
The reasons we love to focus on “big sins” isn’t because we are “standing up for truth,” but instead we are guided by judgment, pride and sin itself. (see Paul’s exposition on this at the beginning of Romans 2)
While there is a lot to unpack in that previous paragraph, I want to look at something else. I’d like to focus in on how we shouldn’t be focusing in on the “big sins,” but rather the “little sins.”
Because, what so many deep, wise and mature Christians have shared throughout the centuries is that our temptation to look at other people’s sins obscures us from what we should be doing, which is rooting out sin in our lives.
When we are busy looking at other people, we are neglecting the myriad of ways we neglect God daily.
The truth is, if we pay attention to the “small sins” in our lives, then they won’t lead to the “big sins.” Most often, really disastrous choices are made with a bunch of small, poor choices first.
Mechthild of Magdeburg, a 13th century mystic, writes this…
“What hinders spiritual people most of all from complete perfection is that they pay so little attention to small sins. I tell you in truth: when I hold back a smile which would harm no one, or have a sourness in my heart which I tell to no one, or feel some impatience with my own pain, then my soul become so dark and my heart so cold that I must weep greatly and lament pitiably and yearn greatly and humbly confess all my lack of virtue.”
Do you see how practical that is? How everyday that is? That we need to be paying attention to our smiles, our bits of sourness and our impatience because that can turn our hearts cold and dark.
Mechthild’s point is that if we ignore those moments, we can never move toward spiritual completion, and focusing on other people’s “big sins” just misses the point. Instead, we need to reflect and act on the little ways we disengage from God and others throughout the day.
So, I write all this as a reminder that while our world loves to focus on the “big sins,” our Saviour reminds us to focus on our own planks, junk and sin that loves to hide in the everyday moments of life.
And, that’s the starting place to really walking and following with Jesus: Looking at Him and our own lives, not at others.