Christ was not known for being critical, but many Christians are.
Christ was not characterized by a judgmental attitude, but Christians have a reputation for it.
Christ gained a reputation for hanging out with sinners, but Christians commonly avoid the same.
The word Christian means “Little Christ,” or Christ-like, but we just can’t seem to meet the standard, or even get close.
So, was Christ critical? Yes, absolutely. But He was more critical of the “pharisees” than the sinners, calling them vipers and warning His followers about their teachings. To the interested sinners He offered explanations and forgiveness, but He wasn’t nearly so critical or preachy as some of His followers. Let’s look at a few exchanges with sinners:
When Jesus met the woman at Jacob’s Well, in Samaria, He knew who she was and was familiar with her history before the first word was spoken. Rather than calling out her sins, as some modern Christians insist we are duty bound to do, He simply acknowledged her sin when she opened the door, and then offered forgiveness. John 4.
When He met the paralytic in Capernaum who was let down through the roof by his friend, Jesus recognized the problem to be the man’s sins, and forgave him, thus healing him, with no apparent scolding.
Just after this, some Pharisees found their high horse, mounted it, and charged, pointing out that He and his disciples “eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners.” Matt. 5. Jesus, now having been accused of blasphemy against His own father, explained His mission and said, among other things:
“Go and learn what this means: I desire Mercy, not Sacrifice.”
Sacrifice is giving of what you have, losing something in the process. Mercy, however, is extending love. Sacrifice can be accomplished without love, and Mercy can be shown without sacrifice. The two of them together is often life-changing for the giver as well as the receiver, but God is looking more for the Mercy than the Sacrifice.
After Christ entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He gave what might be considered a going away speech regarding the Pharisees. After all, He knew what was about to happen, and He spoke like someone walking out the door having just been fired.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their tassles long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. Matt. 23
There are still plenty of people today who fit this description – Jews and Gentiles alike. They want people to see their “godly” acts and praise them for them, or at least vote for them or support their “ministry.”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
That word “pharisee” is thrown around a lot in modern times among Christians. Just who are the modern Pharisees? I saw some Jewish men in Jerusalem, and on the plane to Paris, who certainly let their tassles and such be seen, but were rude to the people around them, left trash all over the plane, and abused their Heineken privileges. But I don’t live in Israel and I don’t see those guys on a regular basis.
It seems to me that it is not my role to point out, or call out, the sin of an unbeliever who is not interested. My understanding is that the Bible is “good for reproof and correction” indeed, but I should only engage my fellow Christians who ask for the accountability. I give you 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church[a] whom you are to judge? 13 God judges[b] those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.
God did not call me to find the sin of the world and convict, or regulate, or even define it for them. He does that. And the “pharisees” do it too. That is how to recognize them. They wear their piety like tassles, and they post the Law of God for people to follow, even if they aren’t God’s people, and have no desire to be. In this fashion they put weights on people that they cannot bear, but make little or no effort to help them with the load. These are the people for whom Christ reserved His strongest criticisms:
33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
He never used this language for the simple sinners – He reserved it for the church people who presented as holy and condemned the “sinners” for the same sins they themselves were committing behind closed doors.
I saw the guys with the phylacteries and tassles in Israel, but I see them in Arkansas as well. I would do well to not type any further, as when I start pointing the finger is when I best fit into the group. My job is not to point out the “sinner” but to take care of my own affairs.
So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants[d] of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” Matt 13
My job is not to pick out the “weeds,” but to let the Father do it. I would only screw things up. My pilgrimage reminded me to get the logs out of my own eyes before I try to remove splinters from the eyes of others, lest I be pharisaic.