You are the best! (Jesus and compliments)

February 11, 2007    By: Geoff J @ 3:13 pm   Category: Scriptures

Everyone loves being complimented. I know I do. And I like sincerely complimenting other people too — everybody wins with a good compliment.

Jesus knew people love being complimented too. In our Sunday school lesson today I noticed an odd compliment that Jesus seemed to pay to some rather trollish Pharisees. Here is the passage from Luke 5:

30 But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?
31 And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.
32 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Though the record of this exchange is scant, my assumption has always been that these scribes and Pharisees backed down after this explanation. After all, Jesus’s response makes sense and the scribes and Pharisees were probably pretty pleased with themselves after assuming Jesus just called them “the righteous”.

But did Jesus really call them righteous? Was this really a compliment? I doubt it. (See Matt 23 for what Jesus later said of these hypocrites.) It seems more likely to me that Jesus was showing by example how to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”. That is, there is nothing untrue about saying “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”. If the scribes and Pharisees in their pride assumed they were the righteous ones Jesus was referring to then that was their problem. If these trolls left Jesus alone because of that assumption then nothing but good came of the exchange. So Jesus, as the great spiritual physician, was apparently attending to the sick who were willing and able to be healed by him. Those who were not prepared to be healed by Jesus (like the Pharisees) would have to wait. In the meantime Jesus seems to have worked the compliment/flattery angle a bit to temporarily keep the scribes and Pharisees out of his operating room.

Wise yet harmless.


  1. See also Luke 18:9-14.

    Comment by Kurt — February 11, 2007 @ 9:02 pm

  2. Good call Kurt. This line from that passage seems to be a key:

    for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

    Jesus seemed to know that he couldn’t help the haughty until they became teachable.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 12, 2007 @ 9:01 am

  3. This is a good example. I sometimes wonder at the parallels of my recent Carnegie training and christlike character. Giving a sincere compliment once in a while can work wonders. But this does not mean we should be weenies all the time either. People skills come in real handy sometimes. It should not be surprising that Christ would have good people skills.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — February 12, 2007 @ 9:47 am

  4. Everyone struggles with a righteous complex. But Jesus doesn’t clothe with His righteousness the “righteous”. He clothes the spiritually bankrupt . . . those in absolute spiritual poverty.

    Geoff, your reference to Luke 5 makes me think of the reference by Jesus in his sermon on the mount in Matthew. “Unless you exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees . . . “

    Comment by Todd Wood — February 12, 2007 @ 10:25 am

  5. I figured this post was going somewhere else based on the title. “Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.”

    As to the points you raised, I always thought the JST on the verse you cited (Matt 10:14 in the Inspired Version) is interesting. “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise servants, and as harmless as doves.” It seemed like a strange correction that didn’t make it into the footnotes of our scriptures.

    I’m still not sure exactly what this verse means, but I think your interpretation is an interesting one.

    Comment by Bradley Ross — February 12, 2007 @ 6:56 pm