Self-Righteousness in Society and the Church
Luke 18:9 (ESV) He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:
I read this and thought that if any verse can characterize America right now, this might be it. Both believers and unbelievers; both Republicans and Democrats, both conservative evangelicals and religious liberals. All of us are self-righteous. We’re convinced of our opinions and we are condescending to those that disagree with us. We don’t tend to be gracious with each other. No, whomever disagrees with me is the enemy.
Ellen Degeneres sat next to President George W. Bush in a private box along with a lot of other people at the Cowboys Packers game two weeks ago. She got lots of blowback from self-righteous celebrities that were too good to sit next to President Bush. He’s Hitler after all. Or at least he’s so evil that Ellen shouldn’t sit with him. By sitting next to him and being pleasant she’s agreeing with his policies or some other such nonsense. It goes both ways although personally I think Progressives are more guilty of it in politics. But it would be hard to beat Christians in religion. We’ve cornered the market on self-righteousness.
“trusting in themselves” is having confidence in yourself. It’s having no doubts about your opinions, the rightness of your positions. There is no second-guessing. I’m right and everyone else is evil. No one is wrong anymore; they are just evil if they disagree with me. It’s so pompous, or as Jesus says, self-righteous.
Contempt is a good translation of exoutheneo (ἐξουθενέω). It means “to despise someone or something on the basis that it is worthless or of no value.” It shows up in Rom 14:3 in the context of Christian liberty. The one eating shouldn’t despise the one that doesn’t. Contempt is despising someone. That’s what our self-righteousness leads to. It’s why the political climate is so poisonous in America. It’s why politicians have to apologize when they say something nice about someone across the aisle from them. Ridiculous. If you don’t question the humanity of someone that disagrees with you, you’re evil too. That's the climate.
Again, Christians are guilty of this also. We have contempt for those that aren’t “woke” enough or for those that are “woke.” We have contempt for those that don’t understand the church’s problems with sexual abuse the way I do. Or for those that seem to be going too far to correct it.
Contempt dooms relationships. You cannot be reasonable with the opposite viewpoint and also be contemptuous.
Jesus recognized this in his day, and he told this parable to correct it. But the parable won’t help you if you think it applies to your “enemy.” Can you own your own self-righteousness, misplaced self-confidence, and contempt? Can you admit it?
Luke 18:11 (ESV) The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
Now the parable. Verse 11 is key. The Pharisee imagines himself as better than other men and specifically, better than this man—a publican. And this is us. We are self-righteous and imagine we are better than most others. And when we look at individuals, we imagine we are better than them too. We are Pharisees with all the pride and arrogance that go along with it. And the answer is humility as this parable teaches.