I heard an interesting scripture reading in a church we visited today. It leapt out at me, as verses sometimes do when you’re reading them or hearing them read out.
In these verses, amongst other things more personal, I was reminded, through the parable, about the self-righteous legalists who write and sustain so-called ‘discernment’ blogs aimed at other Christians with a view to showing up all their faults and, by this means, wittingly or unwittingly, demonstrate their own perceived righteousness.
Parables can and should have the affect, at times, of helping us examine our own motives and level of understanding of the Word of God.
Hear the words of Jesus as He illustrates His point with a well-aimed parable.
Luke 18:9-14 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’
And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘ God, be merciful to me a sinner! ’
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
How many ‘discernment’ blogs have you read where the authors can, if they are not careful, come across like the people Jesus is speaking to here? He called them out as ‘some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others’.
They trust in themselves that they are righteous. As a result, they despise others. Oh that is such a powerful observation, and one we should take note of for ourselves.
The Greek for ‘despise’ here is exoutheneo, which means ‘to despise, to make of no account, to consider contemptible, to set at nought’. In elevating himself, the self-righteous judge despises those he considers to be inferior.
In the parable, Jesus speaks of a Pharisee and a Tax-Collector, or, as the Authorised Version has it, a Publican, who were often seen as extortioners who took advantage of ordinary people when they collected their taxes on behalf of the local government or council.
Hearing the illustration, I had a very quick impression of some of the ‘discerners’ who, by their continued opposition to certain ministers and ministries, look awfully like the Pharisee, who, before God, accused the Publican by declaring his own righteousness compared to the Tax-Collector’s shortcomings.
“God, I thank you that I am not like other men,” said the Pharisee.
Wow! Isn’t that a powerful representation of the attitude that comes across when some ‘discerners’ publicly condemn other Christians for falling short of what they must see as their own true virtue and holiness?
Or when they say that they are ‘permitted’ by God to pronounce righteous judgment on others, because, by the measure they have of their own sinless perfection as soon as they begin the process of judging others, they are, in their own eyes, then, righteous and, therefore qualified to judge?
Think carefully about this for a moment. I say this because Jesus came strongly against this kind of self-righteous attitude.
Or let me simplify it. If you say you have no log in your eye, you are qualifying yourself to pronounce judgment on the man with the speck in his, but it may be that this notion of self-righteousness is the log that disqualifies you. Selah!
And, look, we all have to guard ourselves against this attitude, don’t we, not just the overeager ‘discernment’ sites?
We are not immune to this self-righteous air if we are not careful. “Pride comes before a fall,” says the writer of proverbial wisdom. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall,” says Paul.
The Pharisee in the parable goes on, “I thank You that I am not like… this Publican!” He is not, in his own mind, an extortioner, or unjust, or an adulterer, or in any way like the tax-collector. He is a good giver, a tither even.
He has no repentance in his heart for his pride, however, or his self-elevation at the expense of others, or his willingness to reveal his righteousness at the cost of putting down another person because he doesn’t meet his standards, or his busybody attitude, or the log in his eye that hinders him as he reveals the speck in the Publican’s eye. Oops!
Cry for mercy
The Publican, meanwhile, who hung his head in shame and could not even bring himself to look towards heaven, beats his breast and cries out to God for mercy. “Be merciful to me a sinner!”
We simply don’t know how often and how heartfelt the cries for mercy are from Christians, leaders included, when they come face to face with their own sins. How often have we fallen on our faces before God and cried out for mercy for those things we have said and done that are wrong?
It is between us and God. It has nothing to do with the Pharisee’s attitude, or the ‘discerner’s’ quest for a condemning story to add to this week’s post on his public internet courtroom of shame.
Who has not made mistakes? Who has not been falsely accused? Who has not been misunderstood or misrepresented? Who has not sinned? Who is not qualified to cry out to God for mercy?
When we are convicted in our hearts, or convinced of the Holy Spirit we are in sin, judge ourselves, find ourselves wanting, and fall on our faces before the Lord we are acknowledging His Lordship and our need of forgiveness. He is the One who washes us clean with His Blood of Righteousness.
‘Discernment’ bloggers and Pharisees have nothing to do with it. Their judgment is nullified by His mercy.
What does Jesus say?
Who does Jesus favour in this scenario? Does He commend the Pharisee for his self-righteousness? Or does He agree with the Publican that he has come short, but, through his cry for mercy, has repented enough to warrant release from his unrighteousness?
What does He determine? “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
It was the Publican that Jesus raised up. The Pharisee left with his perspective intact but his virtue diminished.
When those who claim to be ‘discernment’ sites come to the realisation that their accusations are being noted and that those they accuse, in all likelihood, have repented many times for many things, have broken communion bread with the saints, and supped the wine of forgiveness in the Presence of God, and have had their sins cast as far as the east is from the west, whilst, on the blogs of shame, their failures remain recorded and scorned, then they will need to face the same God of Mercy to give account for every word.
Judging others is a lonely place reserved for the unimpeachable. Humility is the avenue of the welcomed and redeemed.
Lord have mercy on us all.