No, this isn’t from the same passage where Jesus talks about the poor in spirit etc, but this is what many believe in our churches. I don’t think this attitude is just in churches, but many of us who grew up in a church have felt the sting of it, and even indulged in it ourselves. Some of us don’t like to admit having a self-righteous attitude because if we have any awareness of what is really going on in the hearts and minds of people, we would know that we are in the wrong, not the one we are looking down upon.
What is self-righteousness? The online dictionary describes it as…”adjective: confident of one’s own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behaviour of others”.
Smugly moralistic. Ouch. Intolerant. Ouch again. Some of you might think that you have never had this problem, but have spent your life being tortured by these people. Yes, it’s hard to be on the receiving end of the intolerance, but I dare say that most of us, if not all of us, have spent time on both sides of this coin.
I have spent this last month thinking about this self righteousness thing. It is more complicated than it seems on the outset. When I look back to the times that I have felt the sting of judgement from someone “truly righteous” and also to the times when I have felt that I was right(eous), I can see now that it often comes from a place of fear and denial. It’s easier to point a finger at someone else than deal with the pain and sin in our own heart. It’s also easier to get offended and hold onto the offence than it is to deal with the issues that are deep inside, those same issues that hold one hostage. There isn’t freedom on either side.
I have been reading a good book, “Breaking Intimidation” by John Bevere. “How to say ‘no’ without feeling guilty. Be secure without the approval of man.”. He talks about how there are two extremes that keep us from finding balance in our walk with God. One of them is pursuing power instead of character. And the other one is false humility. Hmmm. False humility? On the flip side of self-righteousness? I don’t think so. It’s so much easier to walk through life the “wounded victim” because then we can blame others for our life situations. Yes, often there is reason, but we can’t control others, only ourselves.
There will always be people that offend others. Can’t get rid of them. I know I offend people all the time. Never intentionally, but it comes from being too verbal at times. I am one of those who processes things out loud (even now). I’ve regretted many a thing I have said to people, and even from the pulpit, but it is what it is. I don’t mind being vulnerable because when I say things that might shock a little, I find that others start to open up as well. When I sound self-righteous I have noticed that it often comes from a place of great fear, not from confidence, but if said loudly enough, it looks like I know what I am talking about. This realization has made me a little more sympathetic to those who sound self-righteous.
Learning to not take offence is a totally different ball game though. I have spent countless hours mulling over things said to me, or things not said to me. I second guess everything. It erodes my conviction in Christ at times. It makes me worry about my ability to hold on to friends, after all I have had childhood trauma caused by my so-called friends. Am I loveable? Am I interesting enough to hold on to someone’s interest? Am I vulnerable enough so that we can take this relationship to the next level? Will they keep my secrets? Will I keep theirs?
It’s exhausting. And to tell the truth, it’s easier to not pursue friendships at all. It’s easier to not go to church. It’s easier to just keep one’s mouth shut. But does this bring us to where we are supposed to be in Christ?
What is it that causes us to stay offended? I would venture to say it also is a form of self-righteousness. Yep. “How dare they…?”. We get wounded, scared, offended, and too vulnerable, and we lash out. In our minds at least. Self-pity is toxic. I have spent years in that pit. But, in the midst of the self-pity there is a underlying tone of bitterness, anger, pride, and yes, self-righteousness.
I won’t ramble on longer but my challenge to myself and you is…what is it that you are hiding in your heart? What is it that bleeds when someone offends you? What offends you? Is it the self-righteousness in the other person, or the deep wound to your own pride? Where does that pride come from? What makes you angry? Why does it make you angry? Does it hurt in a place you haven’t wanted to deal with? And on the flip side, why do you feel that you are more righteous than someone else? Is it because it’s a shield of protection around a vulnerable heart? Is it easier to see the faults in others than in yourself?
There is no healing unless we are willing to break open the truth. We all have issues. We all hide it some way or another. It’s easier to point the finger than to break down and weep at our own pain.
There is only freedom in Jesus. He is the truth. He can reveal the truth if we only ask. When we pursue the truth, we will experience freedom. Yes, there will be persecution, and we might even have to re-evaluate some of our relationships, but it’s all worth it.
I’ll leave you with this.
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:1-12 NIV