Rags or Robes

Woe unto them that are wise in thier own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! - Isaiah 5:21

Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! - Isaiah 5:21

    I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word. – Psalm 119:158

Bold statements are common in Psalm 119. You have to pay attention and understand the grounds of those statements. They seem to come dangerously close to self-righteous boasting.

Verse 158 describes how the Psalmist is grieved over transgressors. As I pondered over this verse, I thought of how easily this could be self-righteous contempt. We are likely accustomed to pious despising being described as grief over sinners. So, what makes the Psalmist’s grief here righteous and not contemptuous?

Self-righteous contempt is usually manifested in one of two ways:

  1. Those despised are simply ignored. They are so low, so beneath the pious that no notice is taken of them. No mental energy is expended on them. It is as if they are invisible.
  2. The other way is they are considered and looked upon with contempt. It may be masked as pity or grief, but they are actively despised.

We know the first is not the case because he says, “I beheld the transgressors.” The Psalmist is taking notice and considering them. The result of his consideration is grief, so we must find out if the second case is true here.

The key to understanding the difference is their center. But first we must consider some scriptural examples of self-righteous contempt to discern the difference. Luke provides us several examples in his Gospel.

Self-Righteous Contempt in the Scriptures
Jesus actually told a parable to address this contempt specifically.

And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. – Luke 18:9

This verse highlights the center I mentioned previously. Their despising of others centers around their self-righteousness: “Trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” The contempt comes from them viewing themselves as righteous and others as not as righteous as they. A few examples from Luke will illustrate and clarify.

  1. The Pharisee Simon invited Jesus to dinner at his house. Simon did not believe Jesus, but he wanted the chance to see and talk with Him more closely. During the dinner a woman known as a sinner came in and stood behind Jesus. That she was known as a sinner means that she had been a prostitute, an adulteress, or an otherwise openly loose woman. She was held in contempt by most in society.She had brought a box of ointment with here. She stood behind Jesus crying and she began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet off with her own hair and then anointed them with the expensive ointment.

    Simon watched all this with interest and manifested the second type of contempt.

    Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have know who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. – Luke 7:39

    In that moment, Simon is despising this woman. He is also despising Jesus for letting her touch Him. This actually reveals the depth of his self-righteousness and contempt. The woman was washing Jesus’ feet, which was an act of humble service. The one washing was humbling herself before the one being washed. This is why Peter objected so strenuously to Jesus washing his feet (John 13:6-8). Simon thought of himself so highly and this woman so lowly compared to him, he did not think her even good enough to humbly wash his feet.

  2. The Pharisees despised Jesus for often receiving sinners and eating with them.

    And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. – Luke 15:2

    They despised those Jesus ate with. They would never lower themselves to eat with ones so obviously beneath them. Again, they projected their contempt onto Jesus for doing what they would not dare to do.

  3. Jesus told a parable about an elder and younger brother. In it, the elder brother manifested the second type of contempt.

    But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou has killed for him the fatted calf. – Luke 15:30

    The elder despised the younger because he was not as righteous as the elder brother. He resented any honor being shown the younger brother because he was not as worthy of it as the elder brother was in his own mind.

  4. In the parable in Luke 18, the Pharisee manifests the self-righteous contempt mentioned in verse 9.

    The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. – Luke 18:11

    He despised the publican who was not as good as he was.

  5. Zacchaeus was one who had become rich through dishonesty, extortion, and theft. He was a tax collector—a chief of tax collectors. He was known and despised and Jesus went into his house.

    And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. – Luke 19:7

    They despised Zacchaeus and would never have gone to his house. Therefore, they despised Jesus for going to his house.

The Center
Now we come back to the center and the difference between righteous grief and self-righteous contempt. In the examples from Luke, we saw that self-righteousness was central to the manifest contempt. A high esteem of one’s own righteousness and a comparison of others to it where they fail to measure up, is at the center of contempt.

On the other hand, the center of righteous grief is very different. Central to this grief is the honor and glory of God. The grief expressed by the Psalmist is not with respect to himself and where the transgressors are in relation to him. His grief revolves around the dishonoring of God.

Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake thy law. – Psalm 119:53

Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law. – Psalm 119:136

I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word. – Psalm 119:158

This sort of grief reveals a holy zeal and jealousy of God’s glorious honor. No doubt his grief over his own sin is much the same as it is over the sins of others. Whether we manifest grief or contempt reveals our attitude about righteousness and sin. It reveals whether we want to be clothed in rags or robes.

    But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags – Isaiah 64:6
    And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. – Revelation 7:13-14

1 Corinthians 10:10

“Neither murmur ye,
as some of them also murmured,
and were destroyed of the destroyer.”

~ 1 Corinthians 10:10

A Continual Dripping

A Continual Dripping

Murmuring. I don’t know why this stuck out to me. It really grabbed my attention. Murmuring. Let’s see. O yes, that’s the sin almost nobody remembers is a sin. It is also a universal practice; some would say art form. What is murmuring? It is complaining, grumbling, muttering, etc. Murmuring is experiencing or expressing dissatisfaction with some reality. For instance, the laborers complained about the wages the householder paid in the parable of the householder (Matthew 20:1-15).

Our world is filled with complaining. People complaining everywhere—in line at the store, waiting rooms, church fellowship, internet forums, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Start the day sometime with the determined purpose that you are going to be alert all day to people complaining. You will probably be surprised at how much you hear—I’ve had the worst day, the line is too long, the pump is too slow, the wind is too cold, this burger has pickles on it, and on and on it goes.

The Bible commands us not to complain. Our text is one of those instances. If the Bible forbids us from doing something, the doing of it is sin. Complaining is sin. It is one of the sins that brought punishment on the Israelites in the wilderness: “some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.”

Paul wrote that the Israelites “were our examples” (1 Corinthians 10:6) that we should learn from and not be like them. Complaining was one of the people’s characteristics along with lust, rebellion, idolatry, fornication, stubbornness, and other things that don’t exactly look good on a resume. So let’s take a few moments and think about complaining.

When we complain, we are expressing dissatisfaction with something as it is. The implication is that we would prefer that thing to be different. We might feel slighted, cheated, wronged, impatient, angry, manipulated, disliked, or something else but at the root of it complaining is dissatisfaction.

If we are dissatisfied with some reality and would prefer it to be something else, we are actually complaining against God. We are calling God’s wisdom into question when we complain about the rain that ruined our picnic. We are calling God’s justice into question when we complain about that coworker who has wronged us many times and still seems to get promoted. Ultimately, our complaint is against God.

Complaining is also contagious. It spreads like an infection. This seems obvious from the example of Israel, but we have also experienced it. I was once sitting in a waiting room with several other people. Everybody was sitting quietly and waiting. Then a disgruntled woman comes in and begins airing her complaints. Several others were quick to join in and add their complaints of the day to the floor. When we complain, we are encouraging others to do the same.

Complaining also contains an element of human pride. We might be seeking to exalt ourselves by complaining against others. We might be complaining because we feel that we should never be treated or be subjected to something as we are. In complaining we are boasting of ourselves, our worth, and what we deserve in our own mind.

Complaining is also a lie. Generally when we are complaining, we are dissatisfied with people and circumstances outside of ourselves. We think everyone and everything else is the problem, the root of our distress. The truth is: Complaining is the defilement of our own heart coming out of our mouth and defiling us before God and the world.

Complaining is sin. It is a sin for which people are condemned and it is a sin for which Christ died. We would do well to think about our complaining on the cross. Hanging between heaven and earth, Jesus Christ bore all the complaining of all His people. Speak of a contradiction of sinners against Him. The One who when “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

I pray that we take God’s Word to heart: “Neither murmur ye.”

Mark 12:44

“For all they did cast in of their abundance;
but she of her want did cast in all that she had,
even all her living.”

~ Mark 12:44

Usually when we come to this text, we talk about the widow. She is worthy of admiration and emulation. No question. But, other people put money in the treasury that day also. Mark reports:

“And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much”
Mark 12:41

From this description, people of all classes were putting money in and some of them were rich, and many put considerable offerings in the treasury.

Christ commends the widow’s example, but He neither rebukes nor condemns the others. In other words, they were doing good by giving offerings into the treasury. Their gifts differed in size proportionally to their generosity and “many that were rich cast in much.” Everyone probably gave more than the “two mites” the widow gave.

All the contributors had one thing in common that distinguished them from this widow. Jesus said, “This poor widow hath cast more in, than all they . . . For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want” (Mark 12:43-44). All the people of all the different classes gave of their abundance. They were not all classified as rich, some were, but they gave of abundance. This means their offerings were not sacrifices. They weren’t wrong. They just weren’t sacrifices. The widow sacrificed.

Most of us are not the widow, we are the others. We might even be many that are rich. Imagine you are walking down a city street on a cold, windy evening. You round the corner and see an old woman shivering and trudging up the street. She has a thin tattered piece of cloth pulled about her shoulders. The wind is blowing loose strands of her hair across her face and she puts up no resistance. You are moved with compassion and become suddenly aware of the warm hands balled up in your coat pockets. You take off your coat and put it around the woman saying, “Here, Ma’am, take my coat.” She grasps it tight around her, says, “Thank you,” and goes on.

Though your heart is warm, a sudden blast of chill brings you back to reality of just how cold it is. You shiver and think. There are a few blocks to go to get to your car, which will warm up quickly and you will be nice and toasty to return to you warm house and another coat. There is also a clothing store at the corner, which is still open. You could go in and just get another coat. If it is really cold, most of us would probably just go buy another coat right there, but even if we chose to be thrifty and go home to our older coat, we could buy one if we wanted to.

Would it be wrong to give your coat in that circumstance? No, it would not be wrong in any way. Would it be good to do it? Yes, it would absolutely be a good thing to do. But the point is: It is not really a sacrifice. We might trade a few moments of inconvenience, but we really wouldn’t be doing without to give. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not being critical of this act, it would be the right thing to do.

The point in all this is to impact the way we think about giving. At least part of the point Jesus was making was that in God’s economy the bottom line is not the same as that in men’s accounting. Let us not be proud and think more highly of our giving than we ought to think. Let us also be ready to give when it has to come out of our want (2 Corinthians 8:2) and not just out of our abundance.

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