Gather round and I’ll tell you a story. It’s a true story, and something of great value can be learned from it. In one sense it’s quite whimsical, but it is also very sad. So here goes…
Once upon a time there were two families who, having been part of a church for several years, suddenly announced that they had discovered together what true fellowship actually was. Having received such a ‘revelation’ of what the Christian life was really about, they had therefore concluded that everyone else with whom they had been in fellowship up to then were just hypocrites who were not following the Lord as they should. God had also, they said, shown them that they must leave the church and start a new life together living in community. So they left behind the brothers and sisters they now believed to be hypocrites and pursued their vision, making all the necessary preparations and arrangements for their new life together. Moving into a shared property they were finally free to experience together the ‘revelation’ of fellowship which they so fully believed the Holy Spirit had given them.
Three weeks later – yes, I kid you not – three weeks later they had a falling out and went their own separate ways, each family having presumably concluded that the other was another example of the same Christian hypocrisy in the church they had left to pursue the vision in the first place.
…and they all didn’t live happily ever after!
So what’s the big lesson here? And I gotta tell you, it’s a really vital one! And it’s the importance of properly understanding the simple biblical principle that if there is un-acknowledged and un-dealt with sin in our lives that we aren’t being honest about, then instead of judging ourselves and repenting of that sin, which is what we should do, we will start to see it in everyone else’s lives and (quite wrongly) accuse them of it instead.
What the two families in our story failed to realise, though it was pointed out to them before they left the church, was that the problem they thought they were identifying in others was actually in them. So when they left to start their new life together they just took the problem with them. And precisely because it was their problem, as opposed to anyone else’s, they inevitably ended up seeing in each other the same ‘hypocrisy’ which they had previously thought they were seeing in everyone else in the church.
When Jesus taught about removing the log in one’s own eye before trying to remove a speck in someone else’s, this is exactly what He was meaning. A Christian who has a tree trunk in their eye is not going to be very good at identifying a splinter in someone else’s. If a believer can’t even identify, and be honest about, their own sin, then how on earth do they expect to be able to think clearly and rationally concerning other people’s?
Many Christians seem to be completely unaware that the anger, resentment and sense of having been ‘offended’ by others which they so readily feel, is actually their reaction to, and therefore evidence of, the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin, but of sin which they aren’t willing to be honest about and repent of. Many believers spend their entire Christian lives going from church to church, group to group, fellowship to fellowship, only ever settling anywhere for any length of time to the extent that their ears are being ‘tickled’ by whatever it is they want to hear, and whilst no-one is likely to advise, correct or admonish them regarding their sin. But even when no-one is advising, correcting or admonishing them regarding sin, they often still eventually fall out with those around them thus moving on yet again, because their unrepentant state means they remain spiritual babies who get easily upset and offended at things which mature believers wouldn’t even notice, let alone allow themselves to be negatively affected by. They only ever think of themselves as being the innocent victims of the wrongdoing of others, whilst never being open to the fact that they might themselves be the guilty perpetrators of wrongdoing! It is sad that so many Christians today think in such a way!
A profound change came about in my own Christian life when the Lord started to work on me in this regard, and when I started to realise that my biggest problem wasn’t other people’s sin, but my own. I started to realise that, for instance, the problem wasn’t that other people were irritating, but rather that I was irritable – and Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that irritability is not love, and therefore sin! So what was the big change? It was that I started to at last identify what the real problem was! Me! It wasn’t, as I had always just assumed and taken for granted, that other people were, for instance, irritating, but rather that I was irritable! And man oh man, what a difference that made! It was exactly the same regarding how I would so easily consider other people to be annoying! And what I saw was that irrespective of whether others were being annoying or not, the real problem was that I would so easily get annoyed. And that was because of my own self-righteousness which I was failing to judge.
This is why we need to periodically ask the Lord to show us anew just how sinful we actually are, and just how terrible our sin actually is. We so readily justify our sinful reactions by concentrating on what we perceive to be the wrongdoing of others, and in particular of whoever it is we are reacting against at any one time. I’m not saying there is never a time for legitimate anger or annoyance – as scripture says, “Be angry, but sin not!” – but let’s be clear that so much of what we would like to put down to being righteous anger is really just our own intolerance, peevishness and resentment at having not gotten our own way over something, or with having not been agreed with, or whatever!
The two families in our story got into such a terrible mess because they weren’t willing to face up to the simple fact that the problem they were struggling with was in them and not others, and that it would therefore go with them wherever they went. They were just blaming others for their own un-dealt with sin and disobedience to the Lord. It’s a bit like if someone were to trip over their shoelaces, having not done them up properly, and then shift the blame by accusing others of having pushed them.
There are so many Christians of whom it can be said that nothing is ever their fault! The sin, the mess, the division and contention – or whatever – that surrounds them wherever they go is, so they claim, always due to the wrongdoing of others, and never their own!
May we not, I pray, be numbered among them!