Justification

I am offended.

The note was polite, but to the point.  The writer needed to express something that had been in her mind for awhile.  To be fair, the words weren’t I am offended, but it seems offensive to me.  There is little difference.

Something I have done—language I have used in my business for years—was offensive.  I selected the language.  I placed it in a prominent place in my advertising.

I offended.

I don’t know the person.  Someone else in the church she attends has made numerous purchases from my company over the last few years.  The writer of the note is not even my customer.

And yet, I read the words on my screen and my spirits sank.  What would I say?  How would I respond?

Do you know how easy it is to believe one has been attacked?

Is it not a simple thing to take offense at the one who has taken offense?

My mind, as it does, piled up the words with which to defend myself.  I know how to use the English language.  I am accomplished in the skill of bickering.

I want the chance to justify myself.

Why is that my first reaction?  Is it true for everyone?  When we sense that we have been admonished, do we all want to deflect the blame?

I wanted to look better than I did in that moment.

I knew I could come out on top.  I knew it.

Sleep hardly came that night.  I would present my argument to the imaginary jury I had collected in my head, letting loose with the big guns and obliterating the enemy.  I win!

But, a quiet voice from deeper inside asked a one-word question.  Just one.

Enemy?

With a mental shrug, I’d decide to think about it tomorrow, only to find myself, moments later, facing the imaginary jury once more.

Time after time I built up my defense against the enemy, only to face that one-word question again.  And, again.

Enemy?

But he, seeking to justify himself, replied, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Neighbor.  That’s the word I wanted.  Not enemy.

Neighbor.

And the second is like the first: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. (Mark 12:30-31)  Jesus said it was the second most important commandment, essentially part of the first.  The lawyer who wanted to justify himself (in Luke’s passage) knew it by heart.

I do, too.  Yet, every time I am confronted with my own shortcomings, my reaction is the lawyer’s.  Every time.

I want to justify myself.  I want to make myself look better.  And, more often than not, that is accomplished by making someone else look smaller.

Seeking to justify ourselves, we reply.

Seeking to justify ourselves, we reply. Click To Tweet

We use words like snowflake, over-sensitive, entitled, and coddled

Or, we use words like arrogant, insensitive, and bully.  

Either way, the result is the same.  We tear down our neighbors to build up ourselves.

Words were the cause of my offense.  My next words would either increase the offense, possibly making me feel justified, or they would begin the healing process.

What to do?

Over forty years ago, a wise man wrote, in his beautiful script, in the front of a new Bible he and his wife were giving to their youngest son.  He knew his son well, having spent nearly twenty years in close proximity to him. 

The words, still quite legible today, were exactly what the argumentative, impatient youth needed.  I can attest that he was more annoyed than overjoyed to read them the first one hundred times or so he saw them written there.

The Preacher said the words, thousands of years before.  Their truth has not faded one iota.

A gentle answer turns aside wrath, but argumentative words only stir up more anger.  (Proverbs 15:1)

I haven’t always lived by the exhortation.  In truth, I haven’t lived by it even a majority of the time.

I’m learning. Finally.

Still—I want to know.

Why do we add offense to offense over and over?

Why is it so difficult for us to bind wounds instead of making them bleed more?

Why is it so hard for us to recognize our neighbors, instead, identifying them as enemies, almost without fail?

Why is it so hard for us to recognize our neighbors? Click To Tweet

In a world filled with hate and vitriol, we—all who follow Christ—are called to bind up, and carry, and treat, with the same love we have for our God and Savior, all who walk the same ground we do.

It’s not optional. 

It’s not.

I’m justified.  By Him.  I don’t do that myself at all; it’s what He does. (Ephesians 2:8)

How I respond to others is how I show them what’s really in my heart—in my very soul.

Gentle words.

Peace.

 

Be at War with your Vices, at Peace with your Neighbours, and let every New-Year find you a better Man.
(from Poor Richard’s Almanac ~ Benjamin Franklin ~ 1706-1790)

 

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.
(Philippians 2:14,15 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2018. All Rights Reserved.

4 thoughts on “Justification

  1. “Is it not a simple thing to take offense at the one who has taken offense?” The irony of that statement makes me grin and sad all at the same time, Paul. But it’s true nonetheless. I, too, make my case with an imaginary jury. I’ve discovered I make a lousy defense attorney. 🙂 Now, I try my best to read and pray Psalm 35 over the situation. Hard as it may be, it is often worth the time and effort before I react. Thanks for this reminder!

  2. A word in time for me, with all that has transpired this week, these were words of exhortation. Words like a salve to heal my injured heart. I said things to hurt rather than to heal. What followed were verbal jabs meant to injure me. After much reflection, I realized that a gentle response does turn away wrath. Thank you.

  3. Why is it that our first reaction is the desire to justify ourselves? I think that knee-jerk attitude is why so many people are at out-of-control when someone doesn’t think like they do. It takes courage, and a whole lot of self-searching, to love that person as Jesus would have us do. What a perfect world it would be if our enemies became our neighbors.
    Blessings, Paul!

  4. Paul, Yes, our first move is to defend ourselves, make sure that we are not seen in a bad light. And yet, if we would be like Joseph who was even wrongly charged, and yet, he didn’t justify himself. And not only that, he didn’t store it and let the injustice grow into a nice plant of bitterness and resentment. Not only did he make sure that didn’t happen, he must have remained open to God, otherwise he never would have been able to be loving to the ones who had hurt him and their hurt WAS intentional. Still, Joseph had learned that God is the one who creates the pictures. Sure we all draw on them and we even go outside the lines, but God still is the Master creator who cares about the whole picture, not one little line, not one little offensive word. We look on the outward appearance while God is busy surveying the heart. I’m so glad that’s what he is looking at.

    We should be slow to speak. We should be ready with a soft answer so we can respond instead of reacting. But we’re so blessed that even when we don’t choose the right path, the right answer, the right word, we still can turn it over to him. We can call out and he will answer.

    Today I spent an hour just singing to him with a hymnal open. Some of my words didn’t even come out, but I don’t think he minded one bit. I might have sung off key, but to him it was music. And after that hour? Well, I was ready to face the day because I was reminded I don’t face it alone. My Father won’t let me.

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