Meet Mr. Spiritual, his wife, Mrs. Spiritual, and their daughter little miss Spiritual. The Spirituals are Christians, good people, honest, often generous. Yet, while they have numerous fine qualities, a relationship with them can have its frustrating moments.
Though they are all related, the family has several branches. There are members of the Spiritual family who impose their weaknesses on others. Many believers have found that there are things that they cannot do without slipping into temptation. The thing they avoid is harmless enough, but it takes them into spiritually dangerous territory. For them it is a wise precaution, but these conscientious Spirituals decided that if they cannot do this, nobody else should, either. Rather than follow the adage, “Others may I cannot,” they try to impose their precautions on everyone else, even with zero Scriptural support for it. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty, but where people think they are spiritual there is legalism.
There is the Spiritual who imposes his natural strengths on others’ weaknesses. For example, the morning person for whom getting up in the morning comes easily, who loves the early morning hours. However, when someone doesn’t share this trait, Mr. Spiritual, not only looks down on him, but considers him unspiritual. Or take the scholar who considers impious anyone who doesn’t read three books a week.
Another member of the Spiritual family is the Lingo User who excludes others who do not use the same terminology. To be accepted, it is not enough to share the same beliefs, one has to use all the right words–and even the mannerisms–of the group.
There are the Culture Imposers. Or, more accurately, the sub-culture imposers. While the world around us is oblivious to these subcultures, each one has its own leaders, celebrities, music stars, and styles of dress. There is the contemporary subculture, the southern gospel subculture, the fundamentalist subculture, the liturgical subculture, the Calvinist subculture, the anti-Calvinist subculture, etc.. One does not belong in the Spiritual family because she loves Jesus, but she belongs because she is also in the same sub-culture.
Some of the Spirituals are followers of a big-name pastor. His every word is almost on a par with Scripture. If many of these big-name pastors knew about this, they would be embarrassed! Just three weeks ago, little miss Spiritual’s pastor said the same thing, almost word for word, as the super-star pastor said at the conference. When her local pastor said it, it was ho-hum and boredom. But when she heard it at the conference, Wow! What insight! The starry-eyed student-fan of the seminary professor… The church member who has a quote for everything, not from the Bible, but from his favorite Christian author… They are all members of this branch of the extended family.
There are the Secondary Doctrine Elevators who take a secondary or third level doctrine and make it a primary doctrine… and a test of fellowship. Think the rapture is on the wrong side of the tribulation? You’re not only unspiritual; you are a false teacher!
Then there are the fortunate, but naïve, souls like Mrs. Spiritual, who have never had a divorce in their families, yet who are all too ready to condemn you for the divorce in yours. And it must somehow be, at least partially, your fault!
Relating to such brothers and sisters can be frustrating. They have this subtle way of making you feel you don’t measure up. In talking with them, you will have this sense that your perspectives on spiritual matters are suspect. At first, you feel it must be something you are doing wrong or that you came across in the wrong way. But finally, you come to realize the problem is not you.
In I Corinthians 7, Paul is discussing the question of whether a person should marry in light of the distressing times they were experiencing at that point. He explains his conclusions, but knew there were teachers among them who may have been wrong, but who were never in doubt. So, to his conclusion on the matter, he added with a touch of sarcasm and in massive understatement, “And I think I also have the Spirit of God” (vs. 40). It’s pretty bad when a five star general of the faith has to do that!
Why do the Spirituals do this? It is a way of keeping score. Paul knew how it worked; he explained that they are “Measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves to themselves” (II Cor. 10:12). They feel something along the lines of, “I may not be as attractive or as athletic or as accomplished or as talented and intelligent as you are, but I can be more spiritual.” It’s a way to feel better about themselves. The problem is that for them to win, we must lose.
The “Spiritual” family in Corinth were an extreme case; they were “False apostles, deceitful workers” (II Cor. 11:12-15). Because they were influencing the believers in the church at Corinth, Paul was forced to defend his apostleship. It was an awkward position to be in. Yet he would be coming back to Corinth and stated that when he returned, “I plan to challenge certain people who think we are behaving in an unspiritual way” (II Cor. 10:2). Yep, Paul knew the feeling!
The truth is, we can fall into this trap easily enough ourselves. If I am going to leave the Spiritual family, I have to be self-aware… honest before God. I have to choose to accept my brothers and sisters– “Therefore accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7, NASB). And I have to concentrate on building others up (II Cor. 12:19). Because I can’t bless them and best them at the same time!