Our pastor spoke to us on a recent Sunday morning on the difference between “holiness” and “holier than thou”. Doctor Hadley gave several verses to point out specifically what holiness is but spent a great portion of the sermon on the latter issue, the sin of being holier than thou. Our main portion of scripture studied was Mark 7: 1-23.
I’ve studied this portion of scripture before but there are always new things to learn each time you read scripture. God reveals a new lesson to you at the appropriate time, I believe. It wasn’t that the lesson wasn’t there before, or that the scripture meaning changed because God doesn’t change (He is the same yesterday, today, and forever) but perhaps you just didn’t pick up on it the first (or second, or third, or fourth time you read that particular passage). Does that make sense?
A specific message I picked up on during Sundays sermon was the recognition of who is usally holier than thou. Like the pharisees that Christ called hypocrites, it is the person/s who have overcome an obstacle (or become so ritualistic) in their lives that usually have no patience for that same obstacle in other peoples lives.
I had to laugh as a recent experience with my mom popped into my head during the sermon as an example for this. My mother used to be a chain smoker and, after several failed attempts, finally kicked the habit with the Lord’s help. She, however, is terrible now at pointing out folks who smoke at church and can’t wait to get home for a smoke (though, actually, I can’t ever recall her smoking at church). I wouldn’t say my mom is holier than thou in general but in this instance she is. She thinks “If I could quit smoking after all those years, you should be able to also.” Lest my mom thinks I am picking on her, I’M NOT!! I can name several areas in my own life that I have had to particularly focus on as well but our conversation from Christmas-time just happened to be the one that popped into my mind at the moment.
The major issue with being holier than thou is that we lack mercy for others. Our only comparison for our own life should be that of Jesus Christ. It shouldn’t be compared to a brother, a sister, a friend, an enemy, the Jone’s, some faceless/nameless person in a newspaper article or on a blog/website, or anyone else known or unknown to us. We should line our lives up next to Christ and only then will we see exactly how much mercy WE have been given. Hopefully, we can then try to extend that same amount of mercy to those around us. Unfortunately, this isn’t the standard fare in many situations. It is much easier to become HYPER-critical and point out to others exactly how poor a sinner they are (aren’t we all poor sinners, though?). At this point, you might be tempted to pull a proverb out of your pocket to give a “but” excuse. Specifically, I am speaking of Proverbs 27:17 which says “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (the Hebrew says ” one man sharpens the face of another”). Yes, by all means, sharpen each other, but you MUST do it with mercy, grace, and love or you are not behaving in a holy fashion, but as a holier than thou hypocrite. When we focus our attention on pointing out sins of others in the latter format, even if we are too prideful to recognize that is what we are doing, we are still sinning. God does not put a level on the degree of sin but considers all sin equally wrong. Therefore, shouldn’t we all truly understand that you can be right in the position you hold but wrong in the disposition in which you hold it?! The following passage of scripture found in I Corinthians 13 verses 1-8a should be a strong and constant reminder for all of us:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails . . .”
Is there an area in your life that you struggle with being holier than thou? Do you have folks you need to ask forgiveness from because of it? Why not seek that forgiveness this week? Sometimes it seems like it is too late to garner forgiveness for our sins from fellow human beings, even Christians, because human nature tends to be short on forgiveness and long on memory. It’s never too late to garner forgiveness from God, though, and its so very important to be right with Him. Seek forgiveness first, but then diligently seek to change yourself so that you may become more holy rather than holier than thou.