Haggai leveled an accusation against the people of God, that their priorities were out of order. They were more concerned about their own comfort and ease than they were about building the House of God. Several times, he called them to, “Give careful thought to your ways.”
Stop what you are doing and think about it, he demanded. Where is your life life headed? Are you on the right path?
I think we have lost, by and large, the concept of self-reflection and repentance in much of the modern church.
I had two conversations recently that brought this issue to my attention. First, I talked to a young man who is going through some serious marital problems. I listened as he shared the horrible things that his wife had said and done. When I tried to steer the conversation to whether he was loving his wife as Christ loved the church, he would admit his failings but turn the conversation back to his wife’s sins almost immediately. He wanted to focus on her, not on himself.
Then I got a call from someone who has had a lot of problems on multiple blogs. I asked him why he thought that so many different bloggers have felt it necessary to block him from their sites. He had a simple answer. We can’t handle the truth. It had nothing to do with his behavior. We were all persecuting him unjustly and he was suffering for righteousness sake.
Two conversations with one syndrome. “It’s not me, it’s them!” Neither of these folks was willing to remove the beams in their own eyes, but only wanted to take the slivers from the eyes of others. I wish it was a problem limited only to them!
I am old school in terms of grammar. I hate internet slang and shorthand (and yes, those wicked emoticons). You is spelled y-o-u, not “u.” It’s “before” not “b4.” I can find myself very critical of others’ grammar, spelling and syntax. But I have noticed something. If I type a document and print it, the mistakes just go right by me. But if you hand me a printed document that you prepared, my eye will almost immediately fall on any mistake that is there. I find it much easier to see your errors than my own – and of course that is as true in life as it is on paper.
This has always been a problem. That’s why Haggai said what he did. That’s why Jesus gave the parable of the beam and the splinter. It is a problem in the American church. Pastor, when is the last time you saw someone broken in repentance? Ought it not be a more common occurrence than it is? More importantly, when is the last time you were broken by your own sin? This has always been a problem, but I see this as a growing problem.
Why is this such a problem? I have several theories.
- The false teaching of self-esteem that swept the church in the 80s and 90s has produced a bitter fruit. In complete contrast to scripture, we were told that our problems were caused by our low self-esteem and that the solution was to think more highly of ourselves. The Bible calls us to humble ourselves and not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. But this self-exalting teaching has produced a church generation that comes to church seeking to be emotionally and spiritually built up without thinking about or dealing with their sin.
- As a result, churches have adopted the “positive and encouraging” ethic for church life. If a lost sinner is completely comfortable in a gathering of believers, is that a good thing? We ought to make them welcome and to feel wanted. But it is our job to call sinners to repentance, not to make them comfortable in their sin.
- The doctrine of God’s grace is always subject to abuse, as Paul warned in Romans 6 and 7. Does God love us just as we are? Absolutely. Does he say, “I love you as you are. Don’t ever change?” Absolutely not. Is it possible for us to become maudlin and even self-focused in our reflection and repentance? Of course. We are human beings and we tend to make everything about us instead of about God! But should we abandon self-reflection and repentance because it can be abused? Of course not. Yes, we are accepted in Christ and clothed in his righteousness. But that does not mean that we should not address, resist and fight against our own sin. That’s what the Spirit is for!
- The biblical sense that God is on my side can be abused to feed human pride. There is a lot of Elijah Syndrome around today. After Mt. Carmel, Elijah whined to God that he was the only one who was faithful and still held to the truth. God called him on his nonsense and told him that there were still thousands who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Yes, God is on my side, but that does not mean that I am his special servant of truth, the lone voice in the Christian wilderness.
- We have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Avoiding the experientialism and emotionalism is mysticism is a worthy goal. But there is a baby in that dirty water that should be preserved.
The pendulum swings in the church. At times, emotionalism and morbid self-reflection become a problem. I do not think that is so today. The pendulum has swung the other way. My first duty is to look into my heart, with the Spirit of God as my guide, and to admit my sin, repent of it and let him take the beam out of my eye.