Have you ever noticed that when we mess up, it is a temporary lapse of judgment, but if someone else messes up, he or she will be immediately declared a hypocrite and unfit for the kingdom? I once heard a comment by a pastor saying, “We cannot measure Christianity by the conduct of Christians; but rather by the character of Christ!”
One of my favorite childhood stories of self-righteousness came out of a daily routine carried out in the opening exercises my fourth grade year in 1969. Every morning, we stood at attention to recite the flag salute and the Lord’s Prayer. Our teacher encouraged us before the prayer to bow our heads and close our eyes.
There was a certain boy in the class most of us considered a source of irritation. He bounced off the walls, rarely brushed his teeth, and had an incessant runny nose. Girls avoided him like the plague and boys taunted him mercilessly. Johnny wanted so desperately just to fit in.
During the morning exercises, I noticed a grave infraction of the “heads bowed, eyes closed” rule. Out of the corner of my eye, I was secretly watching Johnny look around the room during the Lord’s Prayer. As soon as we came to “Amen” and began taking our seats, my hand shot up. I felt it was my duty to inform the teacher that there was an irreverent defector among us.
“Mrs. Schuneman, Mrs. Schuneman,” I blurted as my hand waved wildly. “Johnny had his eyes open during the prayer!”
I just knew Johnny would be staying inside for recess. I felt I had single-handedly saved the entire class from the would-be tormenter for the day.
Mrs. Schuneman, without missing a beat, very calmly returned, “Shari, how did you know?”
OK, I was young, but I was no dummy. I heard the bars of guilt slam shut in my conscience. I had just hung myself with the rope intended for Johnny. Her question did not demand a verbal response. With gentle wisdom, she tenderly admonished me, but sweltering conviction was throbbing in my head.
Throughout the years, there have been several times when I pulled out the self-righteous rope of condemnation. As Christians, many times we can come across as harsh as a blowtorch instead of the gentle candle God calls us to be. I envision an angel of the Lord coming along after me with a broom and dustpan sweeping up my messes.
First Corinthians 4:21 says, “Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?”
Paul reminds us in the third chapter of 2 Thessalonians that we are to be gentle even with those who lead undisciplined lives, to not consider them an enemy but to gently admonish them as a brother [or sister]. The hard part is then leaving the rest of the work to the Holy Spirit to change the heart of the person. The Christian life is indeed a daily work in progress. We will only have arrived when we see Him face to face.
Merciful Father, You sent Your Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Thank you that the Spirit of Christ sets us free from the law of sin and death. Forgive us for the times we really mess up. Help us to be as patient with others Lord, as You have been with us. Holy Spirit, remind us to be tenderhearted and forgiving and to let the warmth of the light of Christ draw others to the Cross. In Jesus’ name, Amen.