One Saturday I tuned the radio station to ESPN, hoping to hear some talk about a game to be played later in the day. That morning the host of the program was irate over an email from a listener offended by the show’s affiliation with a liquor company. “Don’t write us again,” the host snarled. “Go away! You are so self-righteous.”
Is it self-righteous to take a strong moral stand and openly express your views? If so, Jesus himself was self-righteous. He condemned theft, murder, slander, deceit, adultery, disrespect for parents, and, yes, drunkenness. He also exposed sins of the heart – greed, envy, lust, malice, selfishness, hypocrisy. For Jesus, these weren’t private opinions. He voiced his values boldly and explicitly. And yet there was no hint of pride in the Lord’s demeanor.
To be self-righteous is to be arrogant. “I am better than other people. I am more worthy before God because of my own moral and spiritual attainments.” Of course, Jesus denounced this attitude. He told a parable about a Pharisee who trusted in himself and despised others. The man stood in the temple and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12).
What the ESPN host and so many others fail to realize is that a moral person may share his views not out of contempt but out of genuine compassion. For instance, the man who sent the offending email was probably motivated by deep concern over the consequences of encouraging and glamorizing alcohol consumption. He was distressed by the countless broken marriages, the ruined careers, the abused children, the addicts living in cardboard boxes, and the dead bodies scattered on the highway after drunk-driving collisions.