There is a lot of looking down on others in our culture. A few minutes on social media makes this very clear. Sadly, this is even true in our Christian subcultures. On one hand, the looking and talking down is rather surprising because as Christians we should not look down on others. We look to Him. And we stand right before God only by His righteousness, not by anything we have done. On the other hand, the looking and talking down is not surprising. The letters in the New Testament were written to real Christians in real cities, and their lack of unity was a fairly consistent problem that the apostles were addressing. In other words, the looking and talking down is not a new problem.
There is a parable Jesus told because religious leaders were looking down on others.
Ministry leaders who engage or even peruse social media are constantly invited to join arguments that are often built on the foundation of dismissing and reducing others. As ministry leaders who are constantly invited to look down on others, we should remember the parable Jesus told in response to the religious leaders who “looked down on everybody else.” The story Jesus told of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the story where surprisingly the Pharisee is the villain and the tax collector is the example of humility, was told to people who “trusted themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everybody else” (Luke 18:9).
In the one sentence, we see both the fruit and the root of pride. The root of pride is our self-righteousness, “trusting ourselves” and our goodness. The fruit of our pride is “looking down on everybody else.” In one verse we see a connection between self-righteousness and looking down on others. When we stand in our self-righteousness, we inevitably look down on others. What we look down on in others reveals what we are trusting as the source of our right standing before God. If we find ourselves looking down on others, the thing that we are looking down on them for is likely what we trust for our right standing before God.
- If we believe our behavior is what makes us right with God, we look down on others who don’t behave as we behave.
- If we believe how we have decided to educate our kids is what makes us right in this life, then we look down on people who don’t educate their kids the way we educate ours.
- If we believe our political affiliation is what makes us right before God, we look down on others who don’t hold our views.
- If we look down and talk down to others whose church practice differs from ours, perhaps we are revealing that we think “how we do things” is the reason we are right with God.
- If we look and talk down to others who hold a different doctrinal position than we do, especially on secondary issues, perhaps we are revealing that we trust that doctrinal position as the source of our rightness with God.
We should be very careful we are not like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story — the one who thanks God he is not like “those other people.” We should be very careful we are not talking and looking down on others because we are trusting ourselves.
Am I articulating that what we believe does not matter? Absolutely not. Am I suggesting we should not correct error? I am not. We must speak the truth in love. As we hold tightly to the Scripture, we are holding tightly to the Word of God that is “profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16).
What I am saying is that how we look at others and talk to others, and about others, matters. And that the “looking down” and “talking down” can reveal we are finding our worth, our identity, and our standing in things that are less than the righteousness of Christ.