READ: Genesis 34-36, Psalm 12, Matthew 12, Acts 12
Who would have thought that Shechem the fornicator would turn out to be the good guy? Simeon and Levi were technically right to be outraged at the dishonor done to Dinah their sister, but they defended the family honor in such a way that made Jacob “obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land” (Gen. 34:30). In Matthew 12 the Pharisees are technically right about honoring the Sabbath but functionally wrong about dishonoring people. Their misguided and self-righteous application of principle led them to mistreat others as part of the process of feeling good about themselves.
What is most interesting about self-righteousness is its lethal nature. Simeon and Levi slaughter a whole community. The Pharisees “went out and plotted against [Jesus], how they might destroy Him” (Matt. 12:14). Being wrong-right not only destroys others, it ends up suicidal, for when the light that is in us is darkness, how great is that darkness (Matt. 6:23).
What is most sobering about self-righteousness is that it is a double slayer. It attacks another at injury to the self. Jealousy leads us to demonize others, even friends and colleagues. When we start to look for the sins and mistakes of others, two tragedies occur: (1) We find them and expose them, often through gossip and slander, rather than love covering a multitude of sin, and (2) by being a critic – a flawed critic – we remove ourselves from God’s covering of our flaws. We forfeit immunity and the ultimate result is disastrous self-injury.
I consider the most terrifying verse of all Scripture to be Matthew 12:36: “for every idle word men speak, they will give an account of it in the day of judgment.”
Most of our idle words criticize others while hypocritically praising (directly or indirectly) ourselves. Even if there is some basis for criticism, this is wrong-rightness and it is most foolish. When we take credit for the gifts and favors of God (another face of hypocrisy), when we self-righteously destroy others, we ingest worms into our spirit (Acts 12:23) and doom ourselves to a painful and ignoble end. Hypocrisy (wrong-rightness) kills us from the inside out.