A self-righteous person is not a loving person. Yet, that is the normal attitude in all of our hearts apart from a work of God’s grace in us. The place where we condemn others and excuse ourselves is in our minds. Self-righteous people (that’s all of us at one time or another) must deal with this destructive tendency. It prevents one from being close to God and to people as well.
One aspect of love is that it “thinketh no evil” (I Corinthians 13:5). This means one doesn’t keep a list in their heart of how they have been wronged. As long as your focus is on the offender and the hurt you feel, you will not love them as you ought to, if at all. What are some practical ways we can make sure we are thinking correctly so we might be able to love authentically? In the next five posts I’ll mention a specific area in our thought life that affects the way we love.
First, I should focus on my sin more than yours in my thinking. A common evidence of our sinful nature is defending ourselves when we are wrong. A humble person doesn’t shift blame to others, but acknowledges his sin.
A word we rarely hear anymore is repentance, but it has everything to do with our relationship with God and with people. Repentance always results in a change of behavior, the Bible calls this the “fruit of repentance” (Matthew 3:8). But true repentance always begins in a person’s heart, in their mind, before it touches the life. If the mind isn’t changed, then it is only external reformation and will not last.
Here is a simple, but important thought: repentance is your mind being changed about your actions, not your trying to change the other person’s mind about theirs. As long as you focus on the sins of others you will never be truly sorry about your own.
A group of people in the Bible did this so often that their name has become a moniker for those that do the same today. They were the Pharisees. Initially this group began sincerely trying to obey the Lord and to please Him. Over time their focus changed from a relationship with God to keeping rules in place of the relationship. A symptom of that mindset was that they focused on the sins of others more than their own. They weren’t loving or caring for people, but were harsh and arrogant toward them.
The best example of this is seen in a parable Jesus gave in contrasting the attitudes of pride and humility. One man focused on the failures of others (the Pharisee) and the other man his own failures (the publican). Here’s the story.
“And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon 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 every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
The self-righteous man not only thought he was better than the other man, but he “despised” him. He was obsessed with his perceived good qualities (note his frequent use of “I” and the parading of his deeds to try and impress both God and those listening to him) and blind to his needs. He compared his self-righteousness with the sinfulness of the man beside him. (That’s a sure mark of a Pharisee, comparing themselves with other people rather than God).
The other man knew he was unworthy and didn’t say much at all. Without any pretense, but with a sense of his heavy load of guilt and sorrow, he asked God for mercy. God heard Him and saved him. He was not only delivered from hell, but delivered from himself, the need to compare, justify, and condemn.
A thought to consider: which one of these two would you like to have for a friend? The answer is so obvious, the humble man rather than the self-centered, proud man. Perhaps that is why you are having constant conflict with those in your family. Self-righteous people are not loving people and their minds are consumed with how they appear before others. The result is a relationship that is surface, shallow, and pretentious – and a lot of criticism.
An uncomfortable thought to consider: which one of these two respective people does your family have to live with in terms of your own attitude and focus? If we were all truthful, every one of us would confess he has some Pharisee in us. We don’t like to admit when we are wrong. It’s a lot easier to focus on the sins of my wife and children than my own. But when I love them (and love the Lord) I will focus on my own failures and sins first.
When you are alone do you think about your sins or the sins of others more? Do you wish that your spouse, parents, brother or sister would change and see things your way? Are you preoccupied with how aggravated they make you rather than how you cause them to be irritated? Do your children ever hear you apologize to your spouse or to them when you are wrong?
These are heavy questions. If you want to be a loving person you must honestly answer them and begin to focus on your sins rather than the sins of others. This is part of what it means to not count the faults of others. Rather, we count our own sins first. This will not only change your spirit, but also will more often cause you to see their offense as unworthy to even trifle with in your thoughts.
Today, love people in your thinking by stop criticizing them and focusing on their faults and deal with your own sins. A lady responded to an invitation after a sermon by Billy Sunday and he inquired of her, “Why are you responding to the message?” She replied, “I need to confess my sin, but I’m not sure what to confess”. Sunday said, “Kind lady, take a stab at one and you’ll probably get it right”. That’s true for me, too. Let’s stop trying to get others to admit their wrong to us and be quick to admit ours.
“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain; and most fools do”. (Benjamin Franklin)