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Rightness or Righteousness?

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom…the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13-18)

 “Be angry and yet do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” (Eph. 4:26-28)

As the battle between darkness and light heats up, we have entered in to a time Jesus warned of when there will be many false prophets trying to lead God’s people astray. It is only understandable that along with the increasing number of deceptions permeating the halls of religion today those whom the Lord has granted eyes to see grow increasingly concerned. Concern is justified. Anger at the deceptions and the people who convey them, along with frustration with the people who succumb to them can also be justified for a season. Jesus displayed great emotion over those very things He observed from within the halls of religion and her leaders in His day. What is not justified, however, and will always “give the devil an opportunity” is allowing momentary righteous anger to become the unrighteous, ongoing anger of rightness.

As I grew and matured as a Christian I became increasingly uncomfortable with what I observed going on in what I had always been led to believe was “the church.” Much of what I could not hook up between what I saw there and what I read in the Bible took me on a journey from being a pillar of that institution to disillusionment, then to frustration, then to rejection, and finally to constant unrelenting anger. While my views on what I now refer to as resurrected temple worship have not changed, something that was killing me has: living in a state of the anger the sun never stops going down on I now see consuming so many others who do genuinely love the Lord and have been given some amount of truth from Him that has value.

Here’s how the downward spiral overtook me then, and perhaps is now for some of you as well. Regardless of the individual circumstance or story, the result is the same:

  • You begin as an avid student of the Word, and dedicated Christ-follower,
  • As you learn many things from the Word and personal revelation, your eyes become increasingly open to the deceptions of the world and the religions of man,
  • You begin to speak out against these things, but few listen because the vast majority just accept the temple system and its salvation gospel they’ve grown up with,
  • You become a “John the Baptist” of sorts, both in the reality of being ostracized from temple fellowship, along with segregation from popular doctrine in your own mind,
  • You isolate yourself from others, now coming to think you are the only one [or one of a very few] who has a corner on the truth and you must protect it at all costs,
  • You sink in to a state of continuous anger, bitterness, and malice towards everyone who does not see things exactly as you do, considering them all deceived,
  • Whereas before you may have spoken out in righteousness due to a love for the fellowship of God, you now lash out in frustration at everyone in a desperate need to prove you are right,
  • You become isolated from any sort of fellowship where you used to learn to love your brother, and justify it by believing you are a prophet and prophets lead isolated lives,
  • Because of your hard heart you wind up in God’s waiting room. He’s not going to let you speak the truths He wants you to speak until you become the person He wants you to be. Sadly, the waiting only increases the frustration and anger. Trapped.

Is this, or something like it, you? For many years it was my story, and not only did I chase away any sort of fellowship, I alienated the most special person in my life. What it must have been like for her as she watched me estrange so many people who were her friends too, and had to suffer the humiliation of everyone knowing she was married to the angry prophet though she was not like me at all!

Ironically, during those dark years a faint heartbeat of Christ still lived within me and that’s why I believe there is hope for all angry prophet-types. I remained constantly involved in ministries to the needy. I founded a service ministry to people in a retirement mobile home community and volunteered with several homeless and addiction recovery ministries. My love for those folks was real, but my anger for “the church” just grew. I justified this by believing I was like Jesus: loving the down trodden while having disdain for religious hypocrites. Rather than being thankful for the few volunteers who did turn out to help me I just continued to rage against the many that did not. I found out through this process being involved in ministry doesn’t justify the anger. Instead, it can actually promote it through a sense of religious self-righteousness.

What does it mean: to be righteous or to be right? I’ve learned from my own experience there’s a reason so many scriptures speak about what counts not being what we know, but how we deliver our message in the form of who we are. Rightness is all about what we know, while righteousness is about what we know transforming who we are. For example, years ago a publisher I was courting for one of my first manuscripts commented, “You have so many good things to say—things that are revelatory to me. But as a publisher who has to consider not only the content but the marketability of a book, your message is not going to get through if you alienate the reader with your attitude before they ever get a chance to consider your message.” No sale.

Some years later, after I had failed to listen to him I had driven my wife to the point of demanding we seek couples mentoring with a former pastor friend and his wife. After listening to us both and reading one of my recent bogs he said to me, “I know you think you are doing God’s work, and believe me I know ministry is tough [he had experienced his share of difficulties in the temple system], but He will never put you in a position that makes you into a person He doesn’t want you to be. If you are His man for a mission He will give you peace even through the difficulties involved. There is no peace in anything I read of yours, nor does Tammi witness any in your life or we wouldn’t be here having this conversation. So please don’t tell me what you are doing is God’s work. You’re not. You need to shut this thing down and find your heart again.” Down goes Frazier! For the first time in my life I didn’t have a snappy, combative comeback full of Scripture custom-tailored to fit my needs. I sat there fully convicted every word he said was true.

Above James speaks of the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those making peace. The seeds of rightness are not peacefully sown, but rather howitzered at others along with a demand they agree. Notice James also says this peaceable, gentle, reasonable wisdom full of mercy is at the same time unwavering and without hypocrisy. Angry prophets believe they must be combative and confrontational to protect the truth, but James says wisdom can be delivered in love yet without wavering on it. Paul would say of being right without being righteous, “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2-3).

If you have no love for those you disagree with, as is the case with most anyone in the rightness camp, it doesn’t matter what truths you may have to convey. If you cannot live in peace with the fellowship because you think everyone but you is deceived, then you are the one deceived. All my angry prophet brothers out there need to hear what it took me over twenty years to: no one—and I mean NO ONE—has the truth of God cornered. And if “your truth” causes you to be angry, haughty, and hard-hearted towards your brother it, according to James, “is not wisdom from above.” It, according to Paul, has made you “nothing.” Some truth, yes?

What matters to God is we display the fruits of the Spirit and characteristics of love: mercy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control in spreading our truth. Jesus said we would be known as His disciples not by our great revelations, teachings, or the books, CD’s, or videos we put out but “by the love we display for one another” (John 13:35). Paul says when people are “caught in any trespass [doctrinal or otherwise] we who are spiritual are to them in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1), not chastise and dismiss them.

Down through history God has chosen to be glorified through His people, not individuals. Great men of God are meant to lead a great people of God, not stand isolated in loin cloths out in the desert. That sort of prophet died (Mark 12:6) when God decided to reconnect with His people whom He had stopped caring for (Heb. 8:9), and Jesus came to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth by displaying and commanding His people be known by love. Jesus is the new standard of what a prophet should look like: a teller of truth with an attitude of love. If you want to think about it that way, the transformation between the former covenant and the new is the perfect picture of the transformation all angry prophets need to consider. I believe there will be prophets to come, but the new ones must convict by truth and by the Spirit, and not condemn with the law.

We are not all “eyes,” nor are we all “feet.” Paul tells us in Romans 12 God has given each individual a measure of faith so no man thinks higher of himself than he should, and that we all need to remember we are a body made up of “members of one another.” If one had the market on truth cornered to the exclusion of all others it would defeat community, the purpose of the body, and the love Jesus said must define us because it is, in part, mutual need that brings a body together. If your revelations lead you to think you don’t need the body, or are superior to others in the body, then you are not glorifying God by fulfilling your role in the body. Don’t get me wrong: sound doctrine must be protected (2 Cor. 11:12). But if we are to fulfill the purpose of the body humility, temperance, and listening to try to understand others “truths” is also a requirement.

Finally, God is fully capable of protecting His doctrine. It’s not your job to save the church, particularly if your quest is robbing you of love, fellowship, and peace. Will the truth continue to come under assault? Yes, and increasingly so. We counter that by speaking our truth within the body (1 Cor. 14:26-33) in a spirit of gentleness and with a goal to restore, not dividing the body. We are to restore those less mature to truth, not chase them away. If the truth God has given you is the greater one it will prevail, but through attraction not alienation. Will people not be more willing to listen to your truth if you treat them as one who acts as the God of truth commands? People accepted Jesus’ truths even though He was very confrontational, because He lived and loved as One who knew the God of truth.

It has been a long and painful journey for me, but because of the desire God has placed in me over the past few years to seek His kingdom on earth, and the natural desire that has spawned to seek out true Christian community I have had to lay aside my anger, begin listening to truths others have to share, and find reasons for love and common ground. The old me would summarily dismiss and brand a person deceived if there was even one thing he said I doctrinally disagreed with. But then God caused me to ask myself what life would be like if everyone did the same thing to me. Actually, I didn’t have to concoct it, all I had to do was look around me. The old Golden Rule trick, and it worked. You know what I’ve now discovered? I didn’t know it all, I can enjoy fellowship with people I have some doctrinal disagreements with, and I’ve learned a few things by hearing them out!

My pastor friend was right: God will never put you in a position of delivering truth to others that destroys His truth in you. I assure you if the need to be right is making you angry day after day, and your delivery of truth is anything but gentle, it is not His will that you help Him protect His Word. It is not His, but “the one you have given opportunity to” through letting the sun go down on your anger (Eph. 4:26-27) whose will you are doing by dividing the body and spreading the divisiveness and anger of the flesh. I implore you, let go of the need to be John the Baptist come to save the church, temper your concern with a desire to see the wisdom available through others in the body, seek to restore rather than tear down, re-join the fellowship and get free! Then perhaps they will be more inclined to listen to your [to our] words.

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