Wednesday, 1 October 2008

It doesn't matter at all

One thing that I think I've been appreciating a little more over the last couple of years is this: justifying yourself or your actions is, in the vast majority of cases, a waste of time at best, and evidence of something wrong with us spiritually at worst.

Self-justification is a very natural response for fallen human beings, and most of the time we don't realise we're doing it. We hear something that implies possible that we did something wrong - and quickly we explain, "for clarity", why we did or said what we did.

Or perhaps there is an actual accusation that's floating around somewhere - on the grapevine, on the Internet, one way or the other. It casts us in a bad light, so we quickly move to clear ourselves.

Our reputations do matter. That's why slander and gossip are such serious sins, and why James describes our quick tongues as being "a world of iniquity", "set on fire by hell" (James 3:6). The murder of reputation is a breach of the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13) just as the murder of the body is. Nevertheless, what exactly do we gain by immediately jumping in to justify ourselves whenever something is said that might case us in a bad light?

The reason that has been impressed upon me lately as to why so much of it is a waste of time (if not worse) is because of the doctrine of the judgment of God. God will bring every work into judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14); in fact, he has already appointed a particular day, and a judge (Acts 17:30-31). Our own verdicts on each other ultimately will have the cash value of diddly-squat, because the final judge is the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:3-4). We ought to fear his judgment very much, because he has the all-seeing eyes and the all-hearing ears (Luke 12:1-5). Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, that he does not judge us as our sins deserve. Thanks be to God that, having judged him, for us who trust in him there is mercy.

Ultimately, if he knows that we are righteous in a matter, then man's opinion does not matter because man won't be handing down the verdict. And if he knows that we are not righteous, then all the self-justification and approval of the whole world can't help us. If we thought more of his judgment, we'd start to realise that we have many more problems than we thought - many more foolish words, many more hasty actions, many more times when we were not slow to speak and quick to listen, and so on, than we even dreamed. This ought to humble us, and make us realise the worthlessness of spouting off in our own defence... because even if we are innocent in this particular matter that we're thinking of right now, yet if God should enter into judgment with us, are there not a hundred more in which we're guilty by his holy standards?

"Judge not, lest you be judged" (Matthew 7:1). That's not a call to drop all discernment and stop speaking plainly about the difference between right and wrong. But it is an encouragement to be a little more self-critical. "For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete out, it shall be measured to you again. And why do you behold the splinter that is in your brother's eye, but not consider the beam that is in your own eye? Or how will you say to your brother, 'Let me pull out the splinter out of your eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then you shall see clearly to cast out the splinter out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:2-5).

Man is always passing his opinion on this or that. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. So if your point in speaking is just to prove to other men that you are righteous, and there is no other reason to it - why not invest your time and effort more profitably?

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