Spiritual Abuse, Standards, Legalism, and Liberalism

Ed has the gift of exhortation. He can draw hard lines by applying Scriptural principles to his own experience. When others with different experience find their lines in different places, Ed quickly concludes that those others are either liberal or legalistic, depending on where their lines land.

Mark has the gift of mercy. He can find himself so influenced by others that he feels pressured not just to conform to a standard, but to adopt it. As changes in life expose him to new environments with different expectations, those tightly-embraced externally-imposed standards are now questioned or even replaced. Having such deeply held beliefs supplanted can be quite painful for Mark.

Bring Ed and Mark together, and you have a recipe for conflict.

Exhorters sometimes feel justified in condemning, I mean, encouraging others to step up their game and meet “more Biblical” standards.

And they are convinced they are right.

Those who wish to serve may feel the impossible burden of meeting outside expectations. They may feel judged – even abused – by those with different personal standards.

And they are convinced they don’t measure up.

But that’s not me, I tell myself. No, indeed. Like the Pharisee, I thank God “…that I am not as other men are” (Luke 18:11). From my perspective, I’m just an outside observer. I see the self-righteous in that direction, and I see the defeated over there in the other direction. I can tell whose standards are overly judgmental, and I can tell who’s too weak or stubborn to accept good counsel.

And I am convinced I see clearly.

But I can’t. Not until I can “…cast out first the beam out of [my] own eye…” (Luke 6:42).

We could spend a lifetime trying to figure out how others should change to prevent these conflicts, but we both know that’s not going to do much good. Instead, I must take my own issues and deal with them. I am messed up, but God is the one who began the good work in me, and He is the one who will perform it.

“Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”
–Luke 6:35

I invite you to join me as I work to cast out the beams in my eyes. Because “There hath no temptation taken [me] but such as is common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13), it is my hope and my honest prayer that you may recognize some of your own eye beams along the way.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore why we all believe that we are balanced and others are extreme. We’ll look at why it’s impossible to set perfect standards, and how to evaluate whether our standards are reasonable. Finally, we’ll take a crack at how to respond to standards that others impose on us.

I am just as likely as anyone to be that self-important man who causes others to stumble as I pursue my personal version of righteousness and liberty. I don’t want to be that person. If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you don’t either.

Let’s help each other.

photo credit: EricMagnuson via photopin cc

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  1. Please leave a comment below with a Scripture reference that speaks to one of those upcoming topics. I don’t claim to have all the answers, so I welcome Godly counsel and direction.
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