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Looking down on other people

By what right does any Christian presume to pass serious judgement on someone else? 



I was chatting with someone recently after a service where I was the preacher. We hit on a topic where we didn’t see eye to eye – nothing serious, just a genuine difference of opinion. But it prompted him to suggest a reason why I thought as I did: “Oh, that’ll be because you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Baptist!”

Well, that had me nicely pigeon-holed, didn’t it?

I didn’t know whether to be amused or annoyed. I had only met this man five or six times before, and yet he had clearly got me well sussed – well sussed, that is, to his satisfaction. It was only later, as I thought about it, that annoyance (anger would be too strong a word) set in. How dare he pass such an ignorant and superficial judgement on me! (a) I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool Baptist (harrumph!), and (b) What’s a dyed-in -the-wool Baptist anyway? Grrr.

Well, I wasn’t going to waste more than five minutes being irritated, so I just passed it off for what I think it was: a silly remark.

But then something else this man had said earlier in the conversation came back to me: he wasn’t, it seemed, too thrilled with the state of the church he belonged to, and one of the reasons was that “the leaders aren’t Spirit-filled”.

Which struck me as a very different matter from me being a dyed-in-the-wool Baptist: not just a silly remark at all. By what right does any Christian presume to pass such a serious judgement on someone else? (And what, in his eyes, did a “Spirit-filled” person look like anyway?)

Even more serious, if you dismiss someone else as not Spirit-filled, then presumably you are making a claim that you are. And once you start making that kind of claim, even if only by implication, you really are on dodgy ground.

In Philippians 2:3 Paul tells us: “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

That seems a very simple statement – a statement about humility – but the more you think about it the more thought-provoking it becomes.

For one thing, it flies right in the face of the Greek culture and society in which Paul lived. The Greeks of Paul’s day were renowned for their learning. They were one of the most intellectually gifted nations in history, and humility was something they not only didn’t value, but which they actually despised (they might well regard it as “servile weakness” and “obsequious grovelling” says one commentator).

(I have a feeling that our 21st century western world – so brash, so vulgar, so sure of itself, so look-at-me – isn’t a lot different, and could do with a strong dose of Paul’s quite revolutionary remark.)

Still more, Paul speaks of humility as a chief characteristic of Jesus himself: “he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Pride is, very simply, the polar opposite of all that Jesus is about (your mind probably flies to that remarkable, beautiful event of the washing of the disciples’ feet).

The obvious question can’t be avoided: how do I view my fellow-Christians, my fellow-church members? From a lofty height? Or from a lowly stool?

What troubles me is the suspicion that often we are, putting it bluntly, two-faced. Oh yes, we are skilled at putting on a humble and gracious manner – but how often, at the same time, are we despising that other person in our heart? Perhaps they aren’t as clever, or as gifted, or as successful, or as popular as we are, so we tolerate or patronise them; deep down, the thought of “considering them better (!) than ourselves” just doesn’t come into it.

Lord, what hypocrites we can be!

It strikes me in fact that, just by writing about that man in the way I have, I myself have perhaps been guilty. I can’t feel it was wrong to react to his comments as I did – but how is it possible to do that and, at the same time, to consider him “better than myself”? (Help, please!)

Well, questions like that can only be left to the judgment of God, who knows our hearts better than we do ourselves. All I know is that the challenge of humility is the challenge of Christ-likeness – and mustn’t be shirked.

So while I go away and scratch my head, let’s leave the last word with the apostle Peter… “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility” (1 Peter 5:5).

How well clothed are you?


Image: Robert Payne | Passing on Judgement | Creationswap


Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.

He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com

Baptist Times, 06/02/2017
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