Contempt and the gospel


Something spontaneous I am thinking about this morning:

Luke 18:9: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”

It seems to me that these two things go together – self-righteousness and contempt for others.  When we see an attitude of contempt and scorn and disdain for other people in our hearts, we should shine the flashlight around looking for self-righteousness.  Why?  Because when we are trusting in Jesus + something else for our sense of rightness and identity, we can’t help but look down on other people.  But when we see ourselves as having nothing to commend ourselves to God but as totally desperate for his mercy, there is no room for contempt for others.  The greatest thing is not simply to have the truth, but to apply the truth to oneself.  What good does contending for the doctrine of total depravity do if we don’t act with a humility that corresponds to the truth that we ourselves are totally depraved?  The doctrine of total depravity exists first for me to apply it to myself, before I apply it to anyone else.

I wonder if it is the case that every instance of contempt for other people can be traced back to a failure to understand our own desperate plight before God and need of Jesus.  In other words, I wonder if contempt for others is simply the way that the vertical reality of self-righteousness before God operates on the horizontal plane.

I think we need to be very wary of our hearts when we feel contempt for others creeping up.  Some questions which may be helpful to ask ourselves:

1) when I feel contempt for another person’s error, where am I forgetting that the grace of God is all that restrains me from committing the same error?

2) if my right doctrine or gospel-centeredness or biblical healthiness or theological distinctive (or anything) causes me to have contempt for other genuine Christians who are different from me, could it be that I am looking to it for identity more than I am looking to Jesus?

3) what would it look like to for right doctrine to lead me into humble, loving engagement with other people, rather than contempt?

4) if I’m never willing to learn from those with whom I disagree, is it possible that I am loving my distinctives more than the truth?

5) when I feel contempt for others, am I willing to consider the ways in which this is dishonoring to the gospel itself?  Do I consider contempt for others a gospel issue?

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