14. Are you too righteous

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 14:  Are you too righteous?

Matt 1:18,19   Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

I recently commented, in the series on the Nativity, that God takes risks with us human beings. The fact that He has given us free will means that we do not have to comply with His wishes – and that is a scary thing. It is scary because, first of all, from a practical point of view, we may not be good at hearing God’s voice and thus miss the things He has for us. But it is also scary that we can misunderstand the voice of God and reject it, thinking it is the voice of the enemy for He seems to be saying something that runs counter to our understanding of His general will. The problem is that at any point in life we only have partial understanding and so we settle in to a particular way of thinking and that shapes or moulds everything that is before us, and so we can almost accidentally reject God’s will through misunderstanding – understanding that is not complete.

Joseph is an example of this, of what might been a wrong course of action through misunderstanding. He knows that he is not the father of Mary’s child and that leaves only one logical conclusion – she has been unfaithful to him and there is another man who is obviously the father of the baby she is carrying. But he’s a righteous man and so he doesn’t want to do anything unkind or spiteful and so he decides the only course to take is to divorce her (break off the engagement) quietly. If that had happened Jesus would not have had a physical father to be there to provide protection and security from the human standpoint at least. He is about to do what is reasonable at least and it is only a dream with an angel in it that persuades him otherwise. Thank goodness he took note of the dream. God trusted him to respond positively to the dream. What a risk!

But as I look around the Christian world, I realise that you often see these situations where people are set in a particular way of thinking, which they consider right; they consider they are righteous. They are good, solid, faithful Christians – but set in a particular way of thinking. Now I am about to shoot myself in the foot by doing what I am about to complain about – people who complain and critically write off other Christians. I don’t want to do that because I want to emphasise that so often this is the Achilles heel of good Christians, good righteous Christians.

I was given a book for my birthday by a friend who is obviously worried about keeping me on the straight and narrow, a book about how the church has gone off the rails in respect of truth. Now I am sure, as I hear things (mostly from America I have to say) from various corners of the Christian world that there are some weird and wonderful things being said or done in some quarters that are being attributed to the Holy Spirit, but which I suspect may be blown away within three years. I may be wrong and I want to recognise that the people concerned are good hearted and well-intentioned, just like Joseph and only time will tell whether what is happening is of God. But the book slates and denigrates these people and I have come across more than one or two such books in the past that seek to pull down other Christian groups. The writer may be right, but I always remember Dr. Francis Schaeffer warning about how we should disagree with one another – in genuine love.  So there is the writer AND the people he writes about, all good Christian people, all believing their outlook is right – but opposite. Someone isn’t right.

We can all have our personal perspective which may or may not be right. For instance I was talking with some old friends recently who go to a growing church and their complaint was that it was becoming completely impersonal and that was sad. We talked about the difficulty of maintaining meaningful relationships in such churches and indeed what the point of the church is. This is a really fertile ground for conflicting opinions. I come from a perspective that says church is not spectator sport, it is where Jesus wants to involve every person in body ministry.

I confess I occasionally watch Christian TV or ‘God channels’ and cringe at the sight of massive auditoriums where people sit as spectators with their personal issues only being dealt with at the preaching level and rarely by persona interaction. Are all these nicely dressed people laughing at the preacher’s jokes actively interacting with their local community and ministering the love of God to individuals with good works and spiritual gifts? Whether we like it or not we make our TV preachers ‘stars’ and we elevate them beyond what is healthy. All preaching is, in a measure, a performance, but I struggle with big performers on the platform. I look back, with immense thankfulness to a heritage of preachers who exuded humility as well as incredibly insightful and anointed preaching. I struggle with preachers who have a salary as big as that of the CEO of a large company. I struggle with preachers who have to have body guards and managers. This seems a far cry from the Christianity that Jesus’ modelled.

But here is the danger in being critical of these things because God uses them all! We can seek to be righteous in all we say or do – and yet still misunderstand the will of God and be wrong, and we’ll probably only find that out when we get to heaven! Joseph found it out through a dream and I would hope that we are each sufficiently open to the Lord to be able to comprehend His will through such a tenuous communication.

The simple lesson here? Check out how you feel about other Christians and other churches and, yes, check out not only WHAT you think about them, but how you feel about that. I will write books about theological understanding but not about how different people think differently from me, for if I do I will be in danger of using my righteousness as a cloak to cover a judgmental heart.  The simple lesson is to hold our ‘opinions’ lightly and be open to the Lord for Him to bring us greater understanding, while at the same time seeking to be careful to find the truth but doing it without a judgmental spirit. A difficult area! Is my righteousness fixed, unbending, legalistic and/or judgmental? As I said, a difficult area.

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