A number of believers have been influenced heavily by this passage:
I believe this verse has been used inappropriately in a number of different circumstances to silence the prophetic voice in the church, and to silence the voice of leadership in the church. Even more often, reference to this passage has been used to silence people that want to stand up and say to a group or an individual, “Mommy, the emperor has no clothes!”
Functionally, it’s often been interpreted as, “You may not speak to a brother on a topic of correction until you yourself are perfect and without fault in that area.” Of course, that’s not actually good exegesis of Jesus’ statement, but saying that doesn’t actually solve the question: if he didn’t say that, then what did he say?
Of course, the opposite issue occasionally shows up: the person who has nothing positive to say, but only the negative. I find them online commonly, arguing with every post in a thread of conversation. It’s hard to respect, but at least, they haven’t fallen into the religious prison made from Matthew 7. I admire that much!
I was reflecting on this recently, reflecting on how I’ve felt the pressure of “don’t rock the boat” that has been based on this verse. As I was repenting for having received the religious muzzle that fearful people had justified with a disapproving scowl and a reference to removing a hypothetical plank from my own eye, when I was interrupted by a thought: “This isn’t about speaking or not speaking. It’s about self-awareness.”
Clearly, this is true: the last part of the teaching gives specific instruction about how to go about removing the spec from my brother’s eye, and in that, it’s consistent with Passages like Matthew 18 and Galatians 6. Jesus clearly expects us to be involved in removing specks from each others lives, but he apparently wants us to see clearly enough to do it well. (We could have a conversation about when it’s appropriate to speak into someone’s life and when it’s not, but that’s another conversation.
Long ago, Socrates’ stated that the unexamined life is not worth living; while I’m not sure I’m qualified to determine whether someone’s life is worth living or not, I can agree that self examination is valuable. A wise man once prayed, “Search me, O God, and try my ways, and see if there be any wicked way in me.”
The statement, “Do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” isn’t saying “don’t speak until certain conditions are met.” What he is saying, apparently, is “Do be aware of what’s going on in your own life. Don’t be unaware that there’s a glaring area that needs attention. Don’t look to fix other people’s sins as an escape from addressing your own sins.”
And the clear implication is this: when you can see clearly, your brother will need your help.