Jesus was not a negative person.
He didn’t walk around rebuking and criticizing and complaining about everyone and everything.
He certainly had the right to. Jesus was the one human being who actually was better than everyone else. And yet, He didn’t look down on everybody.
In fact, quite often He praised people and rejoiced over good things they did. He even marveled at one man’s faith.
Think for a minute about why righteous anger is righteous. Why is a righteous person upset over evil? Isn’t it because he loves what is good? And if he really does love what is good, he will be just as quick to praise good things as he is to criticize evil things. If all he does is rail against evil but never praises or rejoices in good, then it probably isn’t coming from a heart that loves the good.
Think of Jesus’ assessment of the churches in Rev. 2,3. Do you know off the top of your head, out of those 7 churches how many were good and how many were bad? According to Jesus, 5 of the 7 were bad and 6 of the 7 were good. Jesus rebukes 5 of them and praises 6 of them. And if that doesn’t sound to you like it adds up, that may be because we are so prone to think that if a church is bad then it can’t also be good.
But Jesus is a Judge who is capable of complex judgment. The church in Thyatira was terrible – and great. They were a church that tolerated false teaching, sexual sin, and idolatry – that’s terrible. But then Jesus praised them for their love and faith and service and perseverance and progress – that’s great.
And Jesus has that some kind of complexity of judgment when He evaluates individual people. And so if we are going to have affections like Christ’s then we are going to have to rise up out of our mental laziness and make complex evaluations like Jesus did. Jesus was simultaneously grieved over what was bad and delighted by what was good.
And aren’t you glad He is like that? Aren’t you glad God is a God of complex perception? I love it that God doesn’t take one sin in my life and smear it across the rest of His thoughts about me as though that one thing were all that defined me.
It’s because of this attribute that you can be guilty of terrible sin and be deserving of punishment in hell forever on the one hand, but at the very same time you can be in the right on some minor little issue over here, and if you’re treated unfairly you can cry out to God for justice in that area, and He will keep that separate from the evil parts of your life and grant you justice in that one little are where your were in the right.
I love it that God can look at the big, horrible sins in my life and be angry over those, but at the very same time be pleased with me and commend me and even reward me for areas of righteousness.
What a wonderful thing it is to serve a God who has the attribute of complex perception! If it weren’t for that He would be impossible to please.
We need to remember that when we find ourselves starting to become impossible to please- when we get so 80% of our speech is criticism, and the other 20% is small talk and there is almost no praise, no acknowledgement of the work of God in people’s hearts, no appreciation of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying ministry in people’s lives, no real delight or joy in the righteousness God is working in His people.
When that starts to happen, it is a symptom that our anger or grief over evil is rising up out of pride rather than out of love for the good.
If it comes from loving the good then where there is good there will be plenty of joy and praise of that good.
Question for Reflection
Do you praise more than you criticize? (Most critical people don’t think they are critical, so it might help to ask someone close to you.) When people do what’s right, do you tend to think, “That’s what they are supposed to do,” and keep silent? Or do you praise them for it? And if you are an especially critical person, what kinds of attitudes about others and about yourself is at the heart of that sin?
This podcast is an excerpt from D. Richard Ferguson’s expository sermon on Mt.5:22-26 titled “Reconciled Relationships.” For that and all the rest of his sermons, visit the Sermons page.