If you are black and white like I am, you are probably big on people doing the right thing and doing as the law says. When it comes to your family and close friends, you are probably the harshest and hardest with them. We place higher standards for those closest to us and we’re quick to correct in the name of the law! We often say “You know better,” or “You ‘should’ know better.” My nephew Izzy in his sweet innocent voice would say “Do better!” We may be technically right in what we are saying, but functionally wrong in our approach. We don’t realize that in our technicality we are a pharisee allowing principle to take precedence over the person.
I was an RA (Residential Assistant) at the university I attended. Among the list of duties, one was to ensure that students were abiding by the dress code and rules of conduct. Naturally, I thought this should come easy for everyone. Rules are easy to follow, at least for me they never really posed a problem. Well, I was in for a surprise. It wasn’t until I became an RA that the pharisee in me was revealed. I learned that there IS a right and wrong way to uphold principles. One way that most of us tend to lean towards is the self-righteous approach. Whenever we allow the principle to take the lead we’ve missed the root of Christianity entirely. We are called to love others and help those who are heading in the wrong direction, not give them another reason to hate Christianity. Correction with the wrong intent causes us to say things we shouldn’t say, react versus respond and hurt those around us in the process. We probably won’t admit it, but we feel good about ourselves because suddenly we look really good as the rule follower and the one we exposed or who did wrong is naked in their sin and shame.
Self-righteousness is lethal in nature. It not only hurts and destroys others, but it also ends up suicidal where our heart is exposed by the motive of darkness. Self-righteousness attacks others while injuring itself. We are quick to slander others lacking the foresight that we’re speaking from a messy and ugly heart that eventually will get exposed likewise. While sin was initially the target, whenever functioned from self-righteousness the person as a whole becomes our victim. There’s no healing done or reconciliation of sin, only pain and hurt.
I’ve found that a lot of self-righteousness stems from jealousy. This type of jealousy leads us to demonize others (family and friends especially) in the name of being right. Our focus becomes pointing out others’ sins and mistakes. We become gossipers and slanders in the process as well as flawed critics too proud to see that we’re plucking the speck from someone else’s eyes when there’s a plank in ours. Matthew 12:36 states:
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
The tongue is one of the smallest yet most powerful weapons we have. If you are a follower of Christ Matthew 12:36 should be on your list of terrifying verses. We will give an account for every idle word. Those are words that are used to slander, gossip, self-righteously destroy and list goes on. Let me clarify, you may be right in what you say, but wrong in how you say it and even more so wrong in your approach. How we treat and speak about those in sin says a lot about what’s really in our hearts. Self-righteousness exposes for the sake of looking good about oneself and destroying the lives of others in the process. Humility understands that lost people do lost things and love covers a multitude of sins.
So for you, the black-and-white reader, evaluate your why for addressing sin and principle. Are they pure intentions or simply for self-gain? Take a hard look in the mirror before you inflict injury with your words. You will find that you’re carrying a lot of junk that you would hope someone would handle with compassion and mercy.
If you are reading this and you’ve been hurt by someone that is self-righteous, remember that a gentle answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). Be kind to those who are mean. Extend mercy to those who are critical. And love those who are difficult to love. The Christlike thing to do is love in the midst of hurt.