Part III in a series on judging rightly
Last week I ended with this statement: We must avoid being a “divisive man” who is proud, un-teachable, and eager to dispute. Some have asked for clarification on this point. Alexander Strauch’s book, If You Bite & Devour One Another, is one of the best I’ve read. Here is a lengthy, but powerful excerpt:
“During the past four decades, I have talked to many people who have left abusive churches that were led by harsh, extremist leaders. These believers are often confused as they sort through their experience in search of true faith. As we talk, I often ask what was so appealing about being a member of such an extreme sect and why they remained so long under the influence of an abusive leader. They invariably identify the heart of the problem as pride: pride in their superior understanding of doctrine, pride in their achievement of a higher spirituality, pride in being one of the few who were more enlightened. They say that before they left these churches, they would have preferred to die than to admit that they were wrong. Pride had blinded them to the truth that their church was missing many of the fruits of the Spirit such as genuine love for all believers and true humility of mind.
Pride was a problem in nearly every church in the New Testament period, and it is still a problem. Pentecostal and charismatic churches boast of their supernatural power and higher spiritual life while patronizing those who do not share their experiences. Churches of the Reformed tradition look down on those who do not accept their polished systematic theology. Lutherans hold themselves aloof because of their reformation heritage, doctrinal distinctives, and hero of the faith, Martin Luther. Baptists take pride in their large numbers and democratic church policies. Some churches are so proud of their holy, separate living that they refuse to even fellowship with other believers whom they critically judge to be worldly, defiled compromisers.
Even if one were to be completely correct in all doctrine and practice, there is still no room for pride. Pride displeases God. It is the first of the seven deadly sins God hates (Prov.6:16-19). When Christians have an attitude of superiority and show contempt for their brothers and sisters in the Lord, they are not walking by the Spirit; they are yielding to fleshly pride. The result is bound to be relational conflict.
The verdict on pride is clear: “Pride only breeds quarrels” (Prov. 13:10). Since no human—even the most godly, devoted believer—is exempt from the internal struggle with pride, the Bible directs every believer to dress with the clothes of humility and act humbly toward all fellow believers. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.” (1Peter 5:5) …we must come before God honestly and deal with our perverse, stubborn pride.”
Mr. Strauch is dead on. A “divisive man” who is proud, un-teachable, and eager to dispute is not filled the Spirit; they lack the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22.
Sadly, those who often argue over non-essential frequently overlook the essential of godly conduct…grace, mercy, patience, peace, long-suffering and forgiveness. That’s why God directs us to deal with pride before judging others. He encourages us to err on the side of grace, not judgment when it comes to non-foundational issues. It takes humble, broken people to admit that they need to remove things from their own lives before critiquing and instructing others.
Wrong motives, arrogance, and a critical spirit cloud our ability to see clearly and be united. It’s important to ask, “Is the main goal of my constructive criticism to show, and display my knowledge and self-righteousness, or is to lovingly encourage the person to re-think their position?” In short, “Am I controlled by pride?” The criminal and the surgeon both use a knife—one to help, the other to harm.
Shane Idleman is the pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship. KTLW (88.9FM in Lancaster) features his radio program at 7am on Saturdays, and Sundays at 6:30pm beginning in February. Westside Christian Fellowship meets Saturdays at 5:30pm at 6015 W Ave. J-8. For more info., visit WCFAV.org, or call (661) 524-6610. Shane’s books, articles, & radio program can be found at ShaneIdleman.com.