One of my favorite pastimes is thinking of all the things I would like to change in other people. I find it far less interesting, and far more intrusive, to think about changing myself. Digging to find the rough spots in my soul is difficult; throwing stones at others is far easier.
I’ve developed quite a talent for this. I can point out the flaws of people I’ve known for years. I can pinpoint the failings of people I’ve just recently met. And I can even sometimes imagine the imperfections in people I don’t even know.
It’s important to know I’m an equal-opportunity fault-identifier. I can find fault in my boss, or my wife, or my pastor, or my friends, or my parents, or my brother, or my in-laws, or co-workers, or my neighbors, or even strangers who pass by with an odd look or a certain outfit. And I’m not talking about superficial changes, like “I wish she would not wear that hat,” or “I wish he didn’t leave his water glass half-full every time.” I’m talking about meaningful, truth-related, character issues.
Noticing the flaws in others is ultimately a fruitless activity, however, unless you also have the courage to say it to their face, or even better, the fortitude to say it behind their backs. Fault-finding is like a good story—it’s far more powerful and enjoyable when shared with others.
Sarcasm aside, there’s deep, dark sin to be had in this kind of thinking. We bury ourselves in miry pits of self-righteousness, all the while thinking we are sparkling clean. Finding fault in others is a sure recipe for a judgmental spirit, blindness to our own sin, increased isolation from others, and callousness towards God.
The irony is that we do this sort of thing with the best of intentions. The Pharisees meant well when they saw the specks in others’ eyes. It’s simply that they missed the logs in their own—and not on purpose. After all, if you actually knew you had a log in your own eye, you would certainly remove it. So a judgmental spirit, spiritual blindness, isolation, and callousness are never the goals of people of our sort—they are just the results.
I’ve seen a logical progression for how we get into and out of this kind of thinking:
- You don’t care. People that don’t care deeply about truth, particularly God’s truth, aren’t going to be as concerned when they see truth-kinds of failings in others. So before we commit our lives to Jesus, we aren’t always as concerned about seeing truth being upheld in the world
- You do care, and you focus on individual others. This stage is where we begin caring about truth, and we naturally focus on others as a consequence of being human, so we begin to pick up on the moral failings of others. As our self-centered view of the world plays out, we want others to change so they are oriented towards us in a manner that is more convenient for us.
- You do care, and you focus on general others. This is the stage where many of us spend most of our time. We’ve learned through experience that individuals don’t like being told about what we’d like to change about them. And we’ve found it’s safer to point out the failings in a general group of people than particular individuals. Speaking in generalities also helps us feel as if we’re concerned about truth on a larger scale, which makes us feel that we have a more Godly, global perspective.
- You do care, and you focus on yourself as you see yourself. This is the beginning of the hard stages, which is why few of us spend much time here. In this stage, we have given up on focusing on others, trusting that God is working in their hearts as well. We give up in this way because we are slowly becoming overwhelmed by our sin. It’s not that truth doesn’t matter to us anymore; it’s simply that we recognize that we’re not of much use to encouraging others when we’re so broken ourselves.
- You do care, and you focus on yourself as God sees you. This is perhaps the hardest stage of all. In the prior stage, we found that we are disgusted with who we are, and we’re beginning to embrace the righteousness we have in Jesus. We do go through the process of comparing ourselves, not against others, but against Jesus, and we find that although we fall woefully short, we’re still loved and accepted by Him, because of Him. This is the hardest stage of all, because it is so unnatural at first, but it is the birth of true humility.
- You do care, and you focus on God. This is the stage of great wisdom because it’s the stage of greatest humility. We embrace the realization that coming into the presence of God means forgetting about ourselves, not primarily because we’re wretched sinners, but because He is so much more glorious to behold. Seeing God in this way leads to abiding in Jesus, and abiding in Jesus produces great fruit in our lives. And producing great fruit in our lives often leads to change in others as well as they begin to behold the glories of God on their own.
Ultimately, changing other people is part of our Great Commission. We are to baptize people into the faith as a sign of their new creation. We are to disciple them and teach them so they will grow into Christ-likeness. But we do so not out of own effort, but as a byproduct of a life spent treasuring Jesus above all other things and inviting, encouraging, and exhorting others to treasure Him as well. May God grant us passage through these stages of life so that we might collectively behold His glory, and may He change us all through the process.
Question: How often do you want to change others, and how do you typically go about it?