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Three characteristics of self-righteousness

By John McCoury

Roan Mt., TennesseeJohn Mccoury roan mountain

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” Luke 15:28-30 We all can identify with the rebellious son who went into the far country. But now we stand in the shoes of this elder brother. There is not one among us who has not felt what this brother felt when he found himself gripped by jealous rage.

Perhaps it would help to analyze this a bit, to more clearly recognize the symptoms of this reaction. Three characteristics are always present when this attitude is expressed.

The first characteristic is a sense of being treated unfairly, of being ignored, forgotten, or disregarded. This feeling of unfair treatment is always the initial mark of a self-centered attitude. It is the sign of crushed pride — a wounded ego — revealing the centrality of self.

The second characteristic is that of an over-inflated view of self. Notice how the older brother describes his superiorities. Self-righteousness is always full of self-praise: Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you. There is no recognition whatsoever of what he has learned through these many years, or how much he has profited by the relationship with his father. In his view, it is all one way. And I never disobeyed your orders. Certainly, that is not true. No one has ever lived up to that kind of standard. It is remarkable how conveniently he forgets the many times his father has forgiven him. Yet his view of himself is that of being completely and wholly in the right. That is always a mark of self-righteousness.

The third characteristic is his blame for and contempt for others. This son of yours… You can hear the cutting-edge of contempt in that. He does not call him his brother, and there is no gladness at his return. He views him as someone vile and contemptible. Also, there is no love or respect for his father. Oddly enough, the father ends up with all the blame. You never gave me a goat, that I might make merry with my friends; but you killed the fatted calf for this son of yours, this contemptible wretch! How many times have we heard that reaction expressed?

These are the three marks of self-righteousness — the world’s most deadly sin. Our Lord spoke of this more frequently and dealt with it more severely than of any other sin. He could be tender and gracious toward those who were involved in adultery or drunkenness, but when he faced self-righteous Pharisees in their smug complacency, his words burned and scorched. This sin is deadly because it is so easily disguised as justifiable. It reveals that this son is more lost than the other. He, too, is in a far country — a far country of the spirit — far removed from the father’s heart. He has never learned to share the same spirit his father has.

Father, you were gracious and compassionate when I returned from the far country. Now, Lord, save me from turning harsh or judgmental and full of blame toward those who are like what I once was. Have I seen in myself this feeling of being treated unfairly? Of an overly inflated view of myself? Of contempt for others?


John McCoury is the pastor of Evergreen Freewill Baptist Church in Roan Mountain, Tennessee, and the chaplain at Roan Highlands Nursing Center. You can read more good Christian news from John HERE.