To be self-righteous…is to be a fool.
Think about the sad story of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar in Genesis 16. Sarai is unable to conceive a child with Abram; and so she, in a move we can’t imagine a wife making in our culture, offers him her maidservant Hagar as a surrogate. Now mind you, there was no artificial insemination in that day; so, contributing to the brokenness, Abram and Hagar would have needed to spend a little time in the tent alone. And Scripture tells us that Hagar conceived, but that’s not all…
…And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Genesis 16:4 (ESV)
Let’s get this straight, Hagar now is looking down on Sarai, in effect saying, “I’m better than you because I got pregnant and you didn’t.” This is a perfect illustration of how being self-righteous makes you a knucklehead. After all, what did Hagar do to consider herself better than Sarai? Answer: she did nothing, and yet still considered herself superior.
You say, perhaps, “Well, my situation is different than Hagar, because there are certain things that I actually do to show myself more on top of my game than others.” For instance…
- You worked hard and climbed the corporate ladder.
- Your skills on the piano have come after thousands of hours of practice. You can’t help but feel a little superior toward the slackers who gave up after two lessons in the 6th grade.
- You got into a top-tier college with a full-ride scholarship.
- You’re crazy good at all kinds of sports; you have the most coordinated eye and hand in the city.
- Your kids are doing great academically and spiritually. Your wisdom in parenting shows through in everything they do.
Are you actually different than Hagar who clearly did nothing to warrant her self-righteousness and contempt toward Sarai? Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthians…
What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1Co 4:7 ESV)
Our self-righteousness is always foolish because like Hagar, we cannot take credit for anything we have. You worked hard to become a virtuoso on the piano? Who gave you the self-discipline to do that? Or, better yet, who put you in the particular home you grew up in with parents who would instill such a work ethic? Someone without your skills was born in the slums of Calcutta; are you really better than she is? Or did your cunning enable you to climb up the ladder of success in the marketplace? Well, where did all that brainpower come from? You get the idea.
In the end, we all tend toward self-righteousness because we have a hunger for glory. We’ve had a need to feel special and worthy of honor ever since our first parents lost their original glory in the glorious Garden. We have a sense that we’re missing something, and we long to have it back. Hence comes self-righteousness and racism and bullying and a hundred other ills.
What is the ultimate answer? We will find our lost honor and glory when we look to the cross of Christ where the love of God for us was put on full display (Romans 5:8). Then our glory hunger will be satiated. Then we can look, not with contempt, but only with love toward those around us, no matter their station or ours.
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… Galatians 6:14 (ESV)