Know Your Bible

VOL. 15                                                                                               May 14, 2017                                                                                                              NO. 9



The apostle Paul wrote, in the second letter to the Corinthians, about those who had criticized him and questioned his authority as an apostle and to simultaneously exalt themselves. Apparently, these critics assumed that if they could get other worthless men to vouch for them, that was proof enough that they were worthy and that others should listen to them instead of the apostle Paul. But Paul’s words were clear about the foolishness of their efforts: “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2nd Cor. 10:12). The NKJV says those who compare themselves among themselves “are not wise.”

Well said!

Back when Job was suffering through great losses and his so-called friends were trying to ‘comfort’ him by telling him that he had brought it all upon him- self by doing some great sin, and after Job had defended himself and his righteousness, Elihu finally had enough and stepped in to speak what was on his mind. Elihu first pointed out that Job’s friends had in no way answered Job (Job 32), but he then turned to Job and pointed out that Job was not as innocent as what he proclaimed (Job 33). Elihu pointed out that Job had, in fact, proclaimed himself righteous while questioning the righteousness of God! Elihu said, “Job has said, ‘I am in the right, and God has taken away my right; in spite of my right I am counted a liar; my wound is incurable, though I am without transgression’” (Job 34:5, 6). Even more, Elihu asks, “Do you think this is right? Do you say, ‘My righteousness is more than God’s’?” (35:2). What a foolish thing to say or even think!

Job and the critics of Paul were not alone in foolishly comparing their righteousness to others and thinking they are doing well. Remember the praying Pharisee Jesus described, who prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (Luke 18:11)? In his twisted thinking, he believed God would be just as happy as he was to know that he was not like these other men [who were obviously not as righteous as he was]!

These examples serve to highlight the error in comparing righteousness, so let’s take a look at a couple of things wrong with such attitudes and actions, and one thing we should do.

The Wrong Standard. The problem with all of these individuals is that they based ‘acceptable’ righteousness on a standard that is far too low: either their own or that of another man. The mind of man is far inferior to that of our Creator, and it is nowhere clearer than in the standard of righteousness. God is one who is righteous and loves righteousness (Psa. 11:7), His judgments righteous (Rom. 2:5), whose throne is founded on righteousness (Psa. 89:14), and one in whom there is no unrighteousness (Psa. 92:15); man, on the other hand, falls far short. When God looked down at the whole of man, what He saw was, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). If we honestly consider just the difference between God’s righteousness and man’s, we can see that using our righteous or the righteousness of any other man for the standard of righteousness is a foolish effort. To even think that any man — all of whom have sinned — could somehow determine the measure of true righteousness is beyond reason; and to substitute man’s idea of righteousness for God’s when we start measuring ourselves is even more foolish.

But if we persist in thinking that comparing righteousness among ourselves is wise, we might then start looking long enough until we find someone to compare whose righteousness is [according our own egotistical viewpoint] worse than ours. Using that as our guide, we then try only to maintain our righteousness or to improve only if we see them improve. Instead of striving for the highest standard [Jesus], we become infatuated with mediocrity and are content to only be ‘better’ [and that term is used loosely] than someone else [someone ‘worse’ than self]. What we fail to see is that, true to mediocrity, while half the people may be ‘worse’ than us, half the people are also ‘better’ than us.

Using the wrong standard of righteousness is bad enough, but we tread on even more dangerous ground when go further and we start thinking that we alone are the judge of what is, or what is not, acceptable righteousness. When we start believing that we alone can define righteousness, we will start to believe that we are the only ones who measure up to our definition, we become self-righteous, and we start making fools of ourselves because we go about condemning others for failing to live up to our standards even as we are falling short of the true standard. The Pharisees were notorious for having such attitudes, looking down on all others because they were convinced they alone were righteous. [The term Pharisee is from a root word that means ‘separated one’; they essentially separated themselves from everyone else because they saw themselves as superior.] Surely, we do not want to be identified with such men, do we? While we might think that we are going to do good by pointing out the faults of others, the reality is that we often end up making fools of ourselves and bringing shame on the name of our Lord instead of glory.

The Wrong Focus. As disciples of Jesus Christ, our minds should be firmly set on doing all that is pleasing to the Lord and dong what is required of us so we may one day hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and we will be allowed entrance into heaven for eternity. When we start comparing ourselves and our righteousness, though, we have lost sight of our true goal and purpose as disciples! One who is busy comparing his or her righteousness to that of another is too busy to look to Jesus, our standard of righteousness, and too busy to be doing the work he or she should be doing instead. It is difficult, at best, to take the time to compare righteousness and, at the same time, be a productive servant doing the Lord’s work; it is distracting many from the work and many have lost focus altogether because this is where they spend their time and efforts instead.

Paul admonished the Corinthian brethren, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). Note well that Paul’s inspired command was to examine self — not your brother or sister in Christ. Their efforts and ours should be directed at making sure we are looking to self and examining self, rather than thinking about how old brother so-and-so could make some improvements, or how sister Jones could sure work on her attitude. In Bible classes, we should be thinking about how the text applies to self instead of thinking about how some denominations twist it into error or how the worldly ignore it completely. The first duty of the disciple is to take a good, long look in the spiritual mirror and see if he or she measures up to the “stature of the fullness of Christ” (cf. Eph. 4:13). What we will find most always [if we are honest with self] is that we have fallen far short once again. I can guarantee that if you spend all your time improving self and striving to reach “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” you won’t have time to be comparing your righteousness to anyone else’s — and you will be infinitely more successful in becoming more like Him!

Remember You Are In A Race. If you have ever run a race or if you just know the basic rules of races, you know that the winner is not crowned based on how far ahead he is of the next guy; the crown comes when the runner [1] runs according to the rules, [2] runs on the designated course, and [3] completes the designated distance. It doesn’t matter if the second place runner is .001 seconds behind or 12 minutes; what matters is completing the course according to the rules.

As disciples who have been told we are in a race, let us not be concerned with looking around or looking back to see how everyone else is doing but, as the inspired writer said, “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1, 2). If we follow the path He established, we will be guaranteed entrance into heaven; if we rely on comparisons amongst ourselves, there will be no crown awaiting us in the end. 

—Stephen Harper

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