The only pattern I've ever seen that creates critical, mean Christians is when their own insecurities take over.
Maybe this is because it's hard for a Christian to gauge spiritual growth. We don't always know if we've grown or if we've just gotten more intelligent about spiritual things. So we create a lot of rules that smell like Scripture but really are our own desire to feel in control... and we use them to tear others up.
- The easy targets... those awful "sinners" who corrupt the young and publicly promote a lifestyle that runs against the Scriptures.
- The religious targets... those "dumb people" (pardon the expression, please note the quotes) who believe in religions or alternative belief systems that stand opposed to the Bible.
- The political targets... the liberals or conservatives who share their ideas that run contrary to our... which somehow we believe is anti-Christian of them to do.
- The silly targets... the silly Christians who do silly things and sell silly books about silly ideas (substitute the word silly for other popular words, like "dumb," "false," "idiot," "heretical," etc.)
- The close targets... the people who happen to fall into our line of sight while we're wrestling through our own insecurities.
And once we get in the habit of doing that, pretty soon we become mean Christians.
Tonight my son and I spoke about teasing... he had an experience with some "friends" that turned negative. You know how sometimes kids who want to feel more secure will put others down or distance themselves in order to feel superior. Have you ever seen this happen?
And I don't mean just kids, I mean - have you ever seen Christians put others down or distance themselves in order to feel superior? It all tracks back to insecurity.
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"
On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mathew 9:9-13)
So here is Jesus - the most secure of all - investing himself into a group of people that most American Christians would avoid. Of course, we read that and want to think of ourselves as Jesus... but how often are we like the Pharisees?
Here's good news, though... Jesus even welcomed the Pharisees into His fold, but the only one we read about who took Him up on it Nicodemus. The rest of them were too busy talking about how Jesus was a heretic to simply follow Him as Lord.
Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you bring him in?"
"No one ever spoke the way this man does," the guards declared.
"You mean he has deceived you also?" the Pharisees retorted. "Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them."
Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, "Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?"
They replied, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee." (John 7:45-52)
So my son and I spoke about how sometimes you can't stop people from teasing you. You'd think this would stop at a certain age, but it doesn't - even adults will tease other adults.
What you can decide, though, is how you will respond to it. It takes a lot of God-inspired discernment to see through someone else's attacks and love them for who they are beneath the surface. While we often do well at loving those who are like us, it is sometimes difficult to love the person who stands against us in some way. Praying for these folks can seem unnatural due to the hidden desire we often have to see them receive equal punishment for any hurt they have caused us. When we pray for them, though, we begin a process of discovering a kingdom perspective that breaks the cycle of relational hostility.
And when we do that, we are less tempted to react.
And when that happens, perhaps there's one less mean Christian in the world.