I frequently go on and off diets. But when I’m on one and losing weight, it is a great feeling. I’m being disciplined and focused, I’m feeling good about myself. But I also notice something else when I’m on a diet. Not only am I hyper-aware of what I’m eating but I’m also more aware of what others are eating. I subtly start to make judgments about what others are eating. And very subtly I start feeling superior to others, critical of their poor choices and begin to think why can’t they be as disciplined as I am. Even though I know that in a month or two I’ll be back eating just the way they are or even worse.
Jesus told a story about our tendency to judge others in Luke 18:9-14, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The problem here is the Pharisee thinks he can go above and beyond in obedience to God and still have disdain for people like the tax collector and anyone else who doesn’t measure up. He thinks he can fulfill what God’s law requires with no focus on loving. That is his definition of righteousness. But Jesus defines righteousness as loving God with all you heart and loving your neighbor as yourself. That is what righteousness means. At the heart of authentic righteousness is a heart that genuinely loves God and loves people. That’s the essence of righteousness. Righteousness isn’t about following a set of moral values, but it is about loving people selflessly and sacrificially.
The Pharisee mistook spiritual pride for righteousness. He didn’t understand that out performing others wasn’t about righteousness but it was about pride. He was judgmental of people and looked down on them because they weren’t producing like he was. Jesus goes after the sin of self-righteousness and a judgmental spirit harder than any other sins because we have a hard time seeing it in ourselves. Those sins cut us off from the flow of the Spirit like nothing else because it puts us in the center of our universe. It prompts us to violate love. Pride is utterly and completely incompatible with love. It is like the opposite of love. And when you are full of pride it is impossible to love others. Especially ones that don’t measure up to your standard.
The reality is there is a part of this Pharisee in all of us. Do you ever find yourself passing judgment on someone? Do you ever get a little twinge of joy out of being critical? Do you ever find out somebody else messed up and feel a little superior? Can you get a better diet of grace, love and forgiveness?