Making Room: A Study of Biblical Hospitality: Day 4

Making Room for the Self-Righteous

by

Today's Text: Matthew 7:1-5, Matthew 23:37-39, Luke 15:11-32, Luke 18:9-14, Romans 2:1-11, Romans 3:9-23

Text: Matthew 7:1-5, Matthew 23:37-39, Luke 15:11-32, Luke 18:9-14, Romans 2:1-11, Romans 3:9-23

As a teenager I was a pretty lousy prodigal. The youngest of three daughters, I had the benefit of watching my sisters’ rebellious moments backfire and learned quickly that the best way to stay in my parents’ good graces was to toe the line. Add to that the fact that we lived at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, surrounded by structure, discipline, and people who knew how to do things right. Early on I decided I wanted to be like them: while good leaders might make honest mistakes, they usually don’t blow a bunch of cash partying. They go to college, get good grades, and become generals and senators.

I applied that same logic to my young Christian faith. I thought if I lived “rightly”’ all my dreams would go just as planned. I even claimed Scripture to back me up! (see Proverbs 16:3). Instead, my self-righteousness grew like a cancer, slow and undetectable, hidden by a life focused on pleasing others.

There is so much irony in self-righteousness because it is exactly the self-righteous who don’t think they have a problem. That’s why it can be a toxic sin, one that creeps into our lives without our awareness. Today, I find it most apparent in my marriage. When I’m having a bad day, God forbid my husband sneeze too loudly, miss a button on his shirt, or accidentally leave the stove on. I’m quick to point out or dwell on his minor flaws while ignoring the far bigger issue: my critical spirit.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the older brother starts a long argument with his father. He was angry—and legally speaking, he probably had a case against his younger brother. But followed to the root, his anger was really a deep-seeded resentment. He tells his father, “I’ve been slaving away for you” (Luke 15:28)—revealing that all along, he’d felt bitter about the work his father had asked him to do. And he mentions that he never had a party; meaning that deep down, he felt he deserved one.

Self-righteousness blocks our ability to find joy in others’ redemption. When I’m being self-righteous, I’m better at calling other people names than naming my own sin. Reading the parable of the prodigal son has never been fun for me because I know I’m the older brother—heart hardened and locked up tight—and I would much rather be the younger brother, who knows he’s in desperate need of forgiveness.

In church circles, people often talk about the father running out to meet his son. I’ve heard it told that men in that culture didn’t run—they never picked up their robes and exposed their ankles. What he did was unabashedly and radically loving. But something I’ve never noticed before was that the father didn’t stop there. He didn’t just run to the prodigal son; he also sought out the self-righteous son. He looked around and noticed that his older son was missing from the party.

There is hope in the gospel of Jesus for self-righteous people like me. The Father comes after us, too. There is room for all of us at His table.

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Claire Gibson is a freelance writer and editor whose work has been featured both locally and nationally in publications including The Washington Post, and Entrepreneur Magazine. An Army kid who grew up at West Point, New York, Claire is currently growing roots in Nashville, Tennessee. She loves her husband, Patrick, and their dog, Winnie.

  • Paula Rizner

    I’m definitely convicted right now which is a good thing. father help me to consider it all joy in the work you have placed before me. Teach me humbleness in all that I am and all that I do. Amen

  • I am so often the self-righteous big brother. This has convicted me this morning and I’m so grateful. God, keep me humble, keep me loving and keep me from judging before I’ve taken the massive plank out of my eye.

  • In talking with my church small group before this devotional, w me described all the reasons that we love our group and our church is because we have a loving, encompassing church that does not judge and that loves everyone. We need to remember to keep our hearts and minds focused on Jesus and to create an environment where no one at church feels judged. We as sinners are the very peo

  • Kensley Goodman

    My hope for myself is to no longer let myself speak judging words or think judgmental thoughts. I want to speak love and think love to anyone in my life and set in my path.

  • Something i really need to dwell on and ask the Lord to change in me!

  • Alexandria

    As someone that has had a similar lifestyle of being the people pleaser and turning into a self-righteous person, I can say that this hit me hard. I had not thought of how being self-righteous can actually keep you from seeing others love and success with Christ

  • This really spoke to me and touched me. We often compare ourselves to others actions and we always either conclude that we are better or we are worse! I think this is something I struggle with and I try so hard to get things perfect but I know it won’t make God love me less or more!
    We are the light of the world, we are here to show the love of God to others, living a selfless life not a selfish one.

  • As a self-righteous sinner myself, this reflection spoke directly to my heart. Thank-you!

  • I just want to say thank you to She Reads Truth ministry. Thank you to the writers who are always honest, vulnerable and speak so much truth. There is not a lot of fluff. Your write about scripture. Our world needs that. I love how it talked about self righteousness. I think there’s a lot more that in the world rather than the typical sin we all talk about and see. It’s so important to have our hearts in the right place. I needed this. Thank you so much for your ministry. Thank you for breathing life into others!

  • I feel like I have had times in my life where I am the prodigal son, but in reality I struggle with self righteousness. Sometimes I don’t even realize it. This article was very convicting and eye opening. I would love some prayer for my struggling as I continue to pray for all of you! <3

  • HeatherMarie

    There is a lot of goodness in here! I’m a Martha, all my life I was taught to be responsible and to abhor carelessness and impulsivity. So self-righteous and critical in my heart of those who would dare be irresponsible. Now I am married to a man who doesn’t plan ahead, who forgets things regularly, and who tests my patience daily. He’s also forgiving and loving and selfless. He tells me he loves me when I am angry at him, he reaches out to hold me when I say cruel things. He forgives me when I burn with shame over harsh words. I believe God is using him to teach me to be more like Mary. I don’t need to plan everything, I can take the blessings And trials God gives as they come because the giver is the Lord of all and loves beyond measure. Thank you, Lord for the blessings you give and the way you teach us. Please never stop working in us!

  • Heather Fringer

    I really enjoyed this read. It really brought it into perspective how easy it is sometimes to be self righteous and not even know it. For when you judge, you are condemning yourself. You are storing up wrath for yourself on the day when Jesus comes.

    First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck in your brothers eye.

  • I am generally the younger brother and when I read “while he was still a long way off…” I get weepy every time because that’s how God was with me and is with me over and over.

    but even in my young-brother-ness I can have so much disdain for the older brothers in my life and even think I am better than them and end up acting self righteous like the older brother myself! it disgusts me how often I can become self righteous even about my weakness and think am better than someone else because I am aware of how sinful I am. it’s twisted and horrifying what my heart is capable of and I am so thankful the Holy Spirit reveals my self righteousness to me even as I prefer to identify with the younger brother and think myself better because of it.

  • Thankyou ladies for sharing! To hear how others struggle with the same things as me helps. Self righteousness is hard to set aside, and yet this study spoke to me and convicted me, while also pointing to the fact that my Father sees my sin and still loves me deeply. I can trust in His love and forgiveness and in the fact that He is working to change my self righteous heart and turning me into something new.

  • I thought I’d kicked my self-righteous tendencies until I read this. As I was reading, I IMMEDIATELY thought of others whom should read this! I almost posted it to social media hoping the right folk would read this and get right. It was then that I realized I still battle with self-righteousness rearing its ugly head. Your transparent humility has reminded me to be mindful and to continuously guard against it. Thank you.

  • I’ve recently read the book ‘The Prodigal God’ by Timothy Keller. It really spoke to me about the attitude of the older brother, as well as the younger one, and how God reaches out to both. Thank you for your words, too.

  • Alexandria

    This truth is such a much needed reminder… Now and always.

  • This was amazingly timed for me. I am up late not able to sleep because of an argument with my sister. I’m sure the root of the conflict is my own self-righteous attitude. We are very different and our differences sometimes lead to resentment and feelings of frustration at her for not “getting it together”. But I should be celebrating our differences and the strengths that she has. I need to be humbled and to give grace and mercy freely instead of grudgingly. Praying For Gods help to change my heart.

  • Keri McCue

    These are such convicting and humbling passages. I think we all struggle with this, I know I do! Praying that the Lord shows me my self-righteousness and humbles my heart!

    http://www.littlelightonahill.com

  • As much as it hurt my heart to realize I am guilty of this sin, I thank God for using you to bring this message. Wow, do I owe some apologies. You’re right, I didn’t realize I had this problem. Majorly convicted over here! Thank You Father for hearing my pleas to show me my sin. I hear you loud and clear! Amen!!

  • I don’t know if I will be able to explain myself very well, because English isn’t my native language. I’m portuguese and I follow SRT, from Portugal. And what a blessing it has been! I used to skip the comments section, but with the Advent study I decided (or was inspired) to start reading the comments. And that has been a blessing too. I feel I learn both with the study and the comments.
    I think that the older son represents also all of us that try so hard to follow God, obey Him, love Him, to be constant. And sometimes we see others around us who don’t care about Him and yet seem more blessed by God. I know people who have suffered all their lives, who have been hurt and not loved by their parents, family, friends, and it’s hard for them to be sure of the Love of God for them. Yet they try to be constant, in the midst of their suffering. I have found that the answer of the Father to the older brother is very encouraging to this people: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” He doesn’t say “I’m always with you” (which is true) but “you are always with me”, God never, never, forgets us! We are always in His thoughts and He sees our efforts and struggles and He gives us all that is His!
    God bless you all!

  • I have heard the prodigal son story TOLD many times, but I can’t remember the last time I READ it. I was comforted by the father looking for the self-righteous son as well. . . . there is hope, even if we aren’t able to see our sins.

  • This was such a great reminder today! I’ve been eating healthier, no drinking, exercising, etc in hopes to move & inspire my husband to do the same. He’s motivated to improve but I’m naturally better at living healthy. This helped me see all the ways I’m self righteous in my attempts to “inspire” him. I pray God will move him to live a life pleasing to Him, however that looks like, and use me to be a positive influence for that! Instead of me showing off and being self righteous when his choices don’t look as good as mine.

  • Love this!!

  • I also grew up being “the good girl” and did not even realize how carried away I was in my self-righteousness until my early twenties. I cared a lot more about my reputation, religion, and rituals than I did about having a relationship with my Lord and Savior. I constantly used all the “righteous things” I did as a way to justify myself and compare myself with others who I felt I was better than. I am so grateful that God brought my unrighteousness to my attention and humbled my heart. I know now that all of those attempts at righteousness are like filthy rags to Him and I am in need of His mercy and grace every day. I love the humility of the apostle Paul after his conversion and this verse in 1 Timothy 1:15-16 always tugs at my heartstrings:

    “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.”

    I am so thankful for God’s unlimited patience with me throughout my life. He has transformed my heart in such a short time, even though it is still a work in progress. Some days I find myself slipping into a different kind of self-righteousness, where I think that because I now have fully committed to serving Christ and have a relationship with Him, I’m entitled to all the things my heart desires. Or, that I don’t deserve to have any trials or troubles. But we all deserved nothing – except death – and Jesus in His mercy and love took our place on the cross. Praying for Him to cleanse me of every sense of self-righteousness and entitlement. More of Him and less of me.

  • Tina Stephens

    I never noticed the fact that in order for the father to notice the older brother was missing from the party, he had to be looking for him. I am so thankful God’s love extends to us all.

    • Kim

      I had never thought about this either! Such an encouragement! In the past despite what the father says about the older son having always been with him and that everything he has is his I have still shamefully felt that wasn’t enough, that he still showed more passionate love for the younger. But this kind of completes the story and reminds me that the father is passionate for the older brother just kind of a quiet more intimate passion

  • Oh Lord! Please forgive me for my critical spirit!!

  • Amen!

  • WHoa Romans 2:1. What a eye opener. Thanks for sharing this verse today

    http://www.in-due-time.com

  • Rachel Y.

    Ahh , what a well-timed devotion. I found myself last night upset again at a group of people I had forgiven long ago. They had scorned my husbands efforts to help them, and rejected him. The scripture that convicted me then , convicted me again today:
    “first take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brothers eye.”
    -Matthew 7: 3-5
    I may feel like I have a case to convict them of sin against me and the man I love, but how often do I commit the same sins against another? Jesus who knew no sin, forgave me of far worse and gave me his righteousness. It is not right that I become stingy with forgiveness, when Jesus pours it out on me lavishly.

  • Leigh Ann

    Y’all! I am the older son and my sister, the younger. I’ve struggled with this FOR YEARS. I have no great insight but I love being in this moment recognizing my righteousness and asking for grace. I am so humbled and hopeful for changing my heart.

  • Forgiveness and compassion go hand in hand. It’s not always the easiest thing to do but we sometimes forget we, too, have needed the very same compassion and forgiveness from God and from others. One thing we can think about in certain situations like this, when we should show compassion to someone who may not deserve it is that we’re doing it for God and to make Him happy which will ultimately make us feel good and we are given the chance to break free from resentment, anger, and hate.

  • *son’s

  • I can so identify with the father as he celebrates his sin’s return home. I am the mom of two adult daughters. One of them “squandered” as she journeyed down a self-destructive road, and that caused so much pain and turmoil in our family. As a result, and to deal with her pain, the other daughter chose the road to “perfection.” When the prodigal daughter came home, we all rejoiced to have her alive and home. Yet, the daughter who had remained home and “behaved” all along often resents her sister for the misery she caused. And the prodigal daughter often resents her sister for having a “perfect” life and attitude about it. . I love them both so much and understand them both as works in progress. I pray for a heart-softening for them. Earthly family dynamics can complicate our understanding of how we ALL fall short, yet through faith in Christ Jesus, we ALL belong.

  • I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. A co-worker that I was close to left. I’ve had to go through her emails to find clues to solve a few problems. In that search I found a lot of emails between her and her husband in which the topic of conversation was me. I had no idea that I came across so badly. Every thing she dispised about me was everything I feared I was. In my head I thought I worked hard for the glory of God and I guess I just expected others to do the same. When they didn’t live up to my expectations I was harsh towards them. At first I was sad, then angry, and now after much prayer I’ve come to realize that God was giving me a huge wake up call. I needed to make changes in my own heart, and quickly! This series is just what I needed. God is perfect in his timing and I believe he puts people in our lives and removes others for our own good. I am working on forgiving her but also working to have a softer heart, to be less judgemental, and even harder to forgive myself. Less of me and more of Him.

    • Jamie

      Heather, how difficult that had to be. I can feel your hurt. Praise God that He is there for you. This was a difficult topic for me too and I am sure I am just beginning to see the very surface of my self righteousness. I pray that the hurts and rejections are softened by His love for us and that our hearts remain soft and pliant to His teachings even when they hurt.

  • Teri Lynne Underwood

    Last night when I got home from church, I told my husband about an epiphany I had during Bible study … I realized the reason I had a negative impression of one of the ladies was because I saw so much of myself in her. I had been judging her for being exactly where I was when I was her age and, in doing so, I had forgotten the marvelous grace that can temper our (often) unknowing pridefulness and insensitive words as God matures and refines us. It was one of those real a-ha moments for me. And I realized how quick I am to assign sin to others. Man, that log hurt coming out!!

    I had written out the whole story in my journal before I opened up today’s reading here. And as I read all the Scriptures and Claire’s wise words, it was as if God was whispering, “I know this is hard for you. But don’t give up. Let Me help you understand more and trust Me to guide you through it all.”

    What a good, good Father who is always running toward us!!

  • Elisabeth

    Thanks to everyone for their comments and insights. I’ve been struggling with knowing but not really admitting to my self my self righteous ways. I’ve been especially hard on a family member and need to show more grace and forgiveness. They make their choices and I need to let go of the hurt….

    • Elle

      Thank you for your honesty, Elisabeth. Praying that God will help you to show and extend more grace and forgiveness to those when it’s difficult.

  • Holy moly – if ever there were a devotional meant for me, this would be it. I am all too able to see myself in the role of the self righteous fool and I cringe at the thought of how many times (a day) I condemn others for the very same transgressions of which I am guilty. Father God, forgive me. Help me to be a giver of grace and mercy, and please give me a humble heart. Amen!

  • I just realized that even in my moments of humbleness and meekness I can be so self-righteous.
    I oftentimes think to myself, “why can’t they be vulnerable like me?” “If they had our financial struggles, they wouldn’t be complaining about such a small thing.” “Why can’t they admit they made a mistake, I sure do”, and so on.

    Father, don’t ever let me get comfortable and confident in my good works. I want to always remember that if there’s anything good in me, it’s because of You.
    I realize that I sin against You when I think people are too stubborn to change. Help me see that I too need grace and forgiveness.

  • My life the past few months have been very difficult. And In the mess of it I’ve made mistakes. Nothing earth shattering but enough where I beat myself up because those were mistakes I looked down on others making. I wasn’t very merciful or understanding. So when I’ve confessed my sin to one of my sisters in Christ or to my mentor – they immediately notice that I feel beyond ashamed. Like the father forgave the son, they tell me that the Heavenly Father forgave me. That I need to forgive myself. The past few days I realized that it’s been difficult to accept that forgiveness when given because of a self-righteous attitude I’ve had in the past. The same judgment I put on others in the past, I self-inflict on myself. I’ve now realized how my behavior in the past was and find myself asking forgiveness. And also asking those who felt/were judged by me in the past forgiveness. What’s amazing is that those people never ran away. They just smile at me, say I forgive you, and mean it. Then remind me to not beat myself up any further. They choose to be a tangible example of how the Father forgives and loves.

    • Tina P.

      Forgiveness is a gift girl!! It’s been freely given so it can and should be freely recieved!! Thank you for making room this morning! :)

  • This confirmed something the Lord put on my heart that I need to apologize to my roommate–about gossiping about her to make myself look better, more put together. I wanted to rationalize it away, and reading this–man how self-righteous I want to look. Please forgive me, Lord! Thank you there is forgiveness and room for all of us.

  • MegESegraves

    Yep. This one stings. Thank you.
    This study has been very challenging.

  • This study is speaking to my heart in SO.MANY.WAYS! I see so much self-righteousness right now in our country (USA), on both sides of the aisle – absolutely! – and yet the Jesus I love and serve was able to have a posture of drawing people to Him, no matter their belief or sin. He was able to listen and love and guide – this message today reminded me that by pausing before speaking, by letting the Father into the moment, I can allow the posture of Jesus into the tough conversations, the self-righteous struggles of those around me. I hope others can do the same for me!

    • Irina

      Hi Angela. Yes, Jesus was loving and serving to those who was eager to listen and believe and accept, but he,also, was straightforward with those who did not want to believe. In Joann 8, 32- pretty much to the end, He talks and names openly that there are children of God and children of devol. Some times we want to politically correct where we need to say that evil is evil and good is good. Sorry, just wanted to reply on your note on what happening in our country today. Thank you

      • Kristen

        Angela and Irina –

        I recently deactivated my Facebook hoping to intentionally spend less time in frustration and anxiety over our current political happenings and more time in God’s word and prayer. This study has been a great time of digging deeper for me personally.

        Thank you both for your comments and thoughts. I have loved reading the comments in this forum the last several days… Christian women seeking to love God and others well… and having respectful discussion! It has been so incredibly refreshing!!

        So when I say this I hope it doesn’t come across as the very thing today’s study is asking us to repent of… but in an honest, loving, wanting to learn from you and hear your thoughts, way – while I absolutely agree that we need to call evil, evil, and good, good, I think we – especially as Christians – need to be careful about assuming that anyone on either side of the aisle is evil or good without having some conversations about how they arrived at their positions. And oh goodness – aren’t we all evil, or on our best day as good as a dirty rag, without the love and grace of God through Jesus?

        Love you sisters. Thank you for sharing your failures and hearts. I love this community!

  • The parable about humility when we pray struck me today. How often do I compare myself to others, thinking I’m pretty great, when the reality is that I need God’s grace and mercy just as much as everyone else! I am thankful that His mercy is free and new every morning!

  • Kelly R Smith

    Claire, this speaks so clearly to my own self-righteous heart! Being a good girl can result in so many hidden sins–pride, judgment, independence, self-righteousness. These aren’t sinful “habits” from which one can just turn and walk away. I can’t lock my pride up in a closet like an addict can lock away his vice. I carry it with me, hidden in the recesses of my dark heart. It is a work only the Spirit can do in me.

    My prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out ANYTHING in my that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Ps 139:23-24

    • Valerie

      Such truth in this for me. “Search me, O God, and know my heart…”

      Thanks for sharing your insights!

  • I felt convicted reading the parable. When the older son was upset I though, “Uh yeah, I would be upset too!” I feel like my worth comes from doing things correctly and not straying from authority. I need to turn this thinking towards God. My worth comes from him and when I repent from my sins my Father is right about his strong and courageous daughter.

  • Too many times I have missed finding “joy in others’ redemption” or just finding joy at all because of my critical self-righteousness. How many smiles have I traded for smugness? How many peaceful moments have I forfeited for my pride’s sake? And why in the world did I ever think that was a good idea? Thank you for your great grace, Lord!

    • Hilary

      Smugness. This word caught my eye today and hit me like a brick. That’s me. I totally identify with the older brother. So many times I’ve read this story and thought, “Well, what’s wrong with him feeling like that? He’s done all the right things and obeyed his father like he was supposed to. Why shouldn’t he feel that way?” Lord, forgive me for being so quick to judge others and not show mercy like you would. Let me rejoice with them rather than being so smug in my own self-righteousness.

  • Churchmouse

    Yes. I appreciate the reminder to be introspective and to not hurry to prayer requests while neglecting honest confession. Naming each sin for exactly what it is, is very humbling. It puts me in my place -at the level ground found at the foot of the cross. Too many days I skip across that ground instead of stopping and looking at my Savior hanging there. My sin put Him there. Sobering. As I confess my sin, I feel Him gathering me once again under His wings, tenderly reminding me that all is forgiven always,that I am His forever daughter. It is both humbling (me)and exalting (Him). May I linger a little longer there at the cross today. I cannot leave that place looking at others in judgment but only with compassion and understanding. Yes, good to once again be reminded of the level ground found there.

  • Oh boy, does God have a sense of humor! Yesterday I whispered a prayer to Him regarding a coworker. I prayed “show me how to love her” to make a long story short, she is an amazing nurse, very intelligent and a hard worker. And she knows it. And she makes sure everyone else knows it. I always viewed her as very self righteous and obnoxious. But yesterday when she was grating on my nerves particularly hard, I felt God pushing me to show mercy and kindness to her. The last thing I wanted to give her was mercy or kindness. I wanted to tell her where she could put her confidence…. But I prayed that simple prayer several times yesterday and then kind of forgot all about it. Then today I open up SRT and this is the topic today… Loving the self righteous. Every word of scripture was like God was standing right in front of me, speaking directly to me. I heard him loud and clear. And as if that weren’t enough, he threw an extra hidden Easter egg at me too. My journal has a shirt verse at the bottom of every page. The page I was writing on this morning had Psalm 32:8 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go, I will guide you with my eye.”.
    Ok God I hear you. Loud and clear. Now to put that into action today.

    • Hilary

      Ha! God does have a sense of humor!! I laughed out loud reading your comments. Don’t you love it when He speaks so clearly there’s no denying it? Prayers for you as you try to show mercy and kindness to your co-worker today!

  • I too am definitely the older brother. It would be so much easier to be the one who knows his sin and is so desperate for repentance. This lesson really opens my eyes to just how awful it really is to be so self righteous. I pray that God will soften my heart and show me the sin in my own attitude. Thank you for this lesson.

  • This was painful this morning because I am so the older brother way too many times. As I read I thought of the verse from John that says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30. My prayer for today and every day. Less of me, Lord. More of you.

  • Sarah_Joy

    Good reminders when it’s so easy for me to become critical. God calls me to deal with my own log and live in the joy of my Father because all that He has is mine – including grace, compassion and love for all people.

  • Alice Carroll

    I am definitely an ‘older brother ‘ and need forgiveness just as much. I’m praying that I forget my self-righteousness in the joy of being fully forgiven and restored.

  • Jen Gladwell

    I love the reflection about the Father coming out to meet the older son. I too had never noticed that before :)
    Reminds me of the amazing book by Henri Nouwen on this story x

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