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The Disease Mechanisms of Defensiveness and Contempt

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
Why People in Church Fight? Part III

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall...

Why People in Church Fight? Part III

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18

The Root of Pride

If it is your idea and plan to destroy your church, them have and exercise pride! Pride is defined as the attitude that one is superior to others, even to the extent of regarding others with contempt as if they were unworthy of any relation or interaction. Pride shows the basic thinking that "I am better than you are!" Other Biblical synonyms for pride are arrogant, insolent, boastful, stiff-necked and haughty. These aspects of pride clog us up and away from our loving Savior as they restrict the flow of His character in our lives and inhibit goodness from flowing to others through us. Why is it so bad? It does not allow Jesus Christ to be the ultimate plumber and unplug our spiritual drainpipes. So, all we can do is pour our waste all over the floor of life, and refuse to allow godly characteristics to flow in our relational pipes and thus have a church like an overflowing toilet, a stinky mess that gives God no glory.

Pride is evil because it unveils and lifts our self-interests and our self-sufficiencies, which seem necessary and good. But, when we are self-sufficient, we will not only fail to see our need for redemption, but also fail to see our need for growth in spiritual matters. Therefore, self becomes the god, and any work of the One True God is muted and put aside. When this happens, all of our relationshipsâ€"from church to family to workâ€"will be distorted and eventually, utterly destroyed. A person’s pride comes between him and God and distorts the Word and work He has for them. It cancels out relationships, growth, and purpose in life. People who practice arrogance and condescension toward others will not surrender to God as Lord. They think of themselves as self-reliant, which is a slap to the face of God. Self-reliance is an oxymoron and has no place in healthy relationships!

We need to see the imperative God warns us of in regard to pride. Why? Because, we are still in rebellion against His decrees and His best for us when pride rules our thoughts and actions. We cannot see the value nor get a grasp of the promises of God until we surrender our pride and will to His preeminence. Make the determination to be His; do not allow your self-will to be in His way! Allow Christ to take you beyond your hopes and dreams (John 3:5).

Pride creates our Defensive Mechanisms

A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue. Proverbs 17:4

Pride combines with our hurt and fears to create our defense- mechanisms. Therefore, our hurts and fears motivate our words and deeds. Thus, as hurting people, we hurt other people. If you think this does not apply to you, consider this:

1. Do you cover-up your frailties by attacking and criticizing others, to throw the dogs off your scent?

2. Are you grateful for what Christ has done or do you take it for granted?

If you still think you are immune, then you have a problemâ€"pride! As human beings, we get hurt, we all have fears, and we all engage in defense mechanisms. The difference is that the mature person, the Christian who wants to please God, will do something about it. That something is the seeking of reconciliation and harmony.

What can I do?

Pay attention to yourself and how others react to you. When we are focused on seeing the failings, disappointments, corruption, and deceit in others, usually it is because we are filled with it ourselves, and we do not take the Word of God seriously. What if God judged us as we do others? So, the answer is, don't!Yet, some Christians can be some of the most critical and arrogant people on earth! As Christians, we need to be an example for Him wherever we are, set ourselves above pettiness, and let God remove our pride! Let us look at the first four big relationship killers: Don’t play these games; your church and relationships are too precious and valuable to destroy them with our whims or hurts.


Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out. Proverbs 17:14

Do you have the passion to always defend yourself, have an excuse for every occasion? Do you always use the phrase “I” or “me” to the point “we” and “us” never come up? Do you have an excuse for every possible occasion? Are you the type of person who rarely apologizes or admits any fault? Do you ward off people’s attacks by attacking them first? Then, you may have a problem with defensiveness! Believe it or not; what you have to say is not more important than hearing what they have to say!

1. How does this play out in your church?

2. What about if you are the pastor or a leader?

Defensiveness is a weapon that allows you to be negative to others. It fools you into not taking responsibility. This weapon comes into play in our church communication by warding off of a question we do not want to answer, or a verbal question or an attack from another person by attacking them first. It permits you to over explain your position to the determent of the other person. You will not be able to listen, see facts and see your role in the conflict. It is projecting blame on someone else and causes you to be skeptical of others motives and intentions. While the blame is on them we are ducking out of it ourselves.

When we do this we will not be able to see the positive, other options or the hope Christ brings. You will then not allow trust to be built, so you will defend yourself so you do not have to be intimate. Yes, it seems to protect us from hurt, but all it does is bring more strife. When we are only seeking responsibility in the other person and commit them to the issue while we ignore, them then no resolution or healing can take place. All this does is pour gas on a fire. This also negates the personal responsibility which God calls us to have. We think we are being proactive and protective when, in fact, we are destroying relationships by using our personal WMD’s (verbal Weapons of Mass Destruction).

Proverbs, chapter 17, has some very important instructions for us on how not to deal with problems. What are we not to do? We are not to be quarrelsome, in other words, defensive. Being defensive is deliberately or unconsciously attacking another person. We do this by arguing needlessly, making up issues, covering up with pretext and pretense, distorting situations and escalating problems, over- reacting, as in making a mountain out of a molehill, dominating the other person, being in denial, rationalizing that only you are right, making up situations, or rejecting any reconciliation or ideas from anyone else. This can be taking over the conversations at a Bible study or small group, always pointing to yourself and problems and really if ever give credence to another. Life and church is all about you! This is bad! Defensiveness can also include intimidation, one-sided conversations, not listening, being emotionally draining on another by only exposing our issues and not caring about theirs, being dictatorial, being in denial, and rationalizing that only we are right.

This basic diverting attention from ourselves by attacking the other person is to protect us from attack. Or be the dominate persona. This is a natural defense mechanism that psychologists tell us seeks to protect ourselves from worry that turns into anxiety (which is worry out of control) and stress (the inability to control our life that turns into trauma). We escalate this by causing stress for others. You can see how this can easily spiral out of control; two people can start with a simple misunderstanding and escalate it into a murder. In marriage, this builds and builds until the cap off the toothpaste escalates into divorce. In a church it can be a polite disagreement that turns into gossip and escalate into warring factions. I have seen this happen more than once. We keep up the attacks and never take a breather to think the issue through, or pray, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. Our only care is self protection. And most people who do this may not even know that are doing it. This is why seeking a third party, such as a pastor or counselor to moderate a troubled relationship, is essential to uncover such tendencies.

Defensiveness can also be a form of selfishness as the concern is only on us and not the other person. We need to see the other person as a child of God, too! We need to see His love for us and them! Then, we can grasp the wonders He has for us. When we are only considering ourselves we will not see the other person or Christ work in us both. Seek the application of love and practice it in the other person regardless of how they treat you. It takes two to tango; when you are the one to sit down, seeking God’s promises and love, and prayer and love, then, the other person is dancing alone, being the lone carrier of the argument or issue. Then, you can work on yourself and model for them that perhaps they need to do so, too. Remember, this defense mechanism is usually unconsciously done; that is, most people are not aware they are doing it. So, be open to hear instruction from God’s Word and godly people. Then, and only then, will you, by the Spirits leading, humble yourself and stop this malignancy to relationships!


Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 2 Timothy 2:22-24

1. Do you or others in your church like to consciously or unconsciously, deliberately or instinctively push people with your agenda and issues? Do you like to “rub it in?”

2. Do you think you always know what other people’s motives are, or that yours are always better?

3. Do you feel you are entitled to special favor and response from others, even your spouse?

4. Do you ignore the feelings and needs of others and insist on having your own needs fulfilled?

5. Do you feel you have to put others down to make yourself look or feel good?

Then, you may be a person who is steeped in condescension. Contempt is a weapon that cancels out the other persons value, It declares that they are not worthy of you, so you treat them with arrogance and put them down. It is a defensive weapon to protect your insecurities by claiming others as insecure. So you put them down before they may put you down. This symptom tells you that the thoughts and feelings of the other person are worthless. That way you do not reach out or take risks. It is usually rooted in low self esteem and not realizing who you are in Christ. This devalues people!

Being condescending is saying that the other person is invalid. This creates frustration and sorrow in another that their thoughts, feelings, and experiences are unimportant. This is a cover-up, the effective communication with putdowns to elevate yourself or protect your feelings. Being unfairly negative or having unfair expectations is extremely damaging to relationships, especially with children. You cannot live your life vicariously through others such as fellow church members or your children or put too much burden on them. They must be loved and encouraged with realistic expectations tempered with the example of love and responsibility from you.

Because being contempt is the attitude of regarding someone else as inferior or worthless it devalues God’s work in them as well as the validly of the purpose and function of your church. It is a form of arrogance and pride that turns into your being condescending, showing your disapproval, and being judgmental in that you only see yourself and your personal needs, ignoring the worth that God has given the other person. With this attitude, we will harbor resentment and create factions and divisionsâ€"not connections. Contempt is actually mocking another person or group, making fun of them and putting them down by words and deeds. Their feelings, contributions, and worth are negated by your disrespect and scorn. This is done by always correcting someone just to be superior to them, or treating another person as worthless. This trait can be used against people in authority and even in our view and treatment toward God. It is taking our anger or fear or dislike and using this attitude of being condescending as a defense mechanism. Dr. Gottman calls contempt “the sulfuric acid of love.” And, I believe he is totally right; it will dissolve any relationship fast and furiously! In my counseling experiences, I never found this trait in a loving relationship, but only in dysfunctional situations, divorces, and lawsuits!

So, what does God have to say about our being contemptuous? It is not good! In Romans 2:1-16, we are told that those who judge others, and disobey God themselves, are inexcusable, and will not escape the judgment of God. Being judgmental will not work; it will only backfire on you. Our guilt and sin is personal and individual; thus, our evil desires to judge come from our being self-seeking as opposed to being Christ-seeking. God does not care about our deeds or pedigree, and no one is immune! It is ONLY by what Christ has done that we can be saved. Our sins have been neutered on the cross and covered by His righteousness. Thus, we have been judged by God’s standards of holiness with Christ taking our place in judgment (John 5:24). Because of our sin and what Christ did for us, we have no right or basis to judge others. This transpires to how we treat others.

We have to realize that even though these responses may come naturally from us and we see them as funny on TV, in real life and in His House they are not OK. They are disruptive to any relationship or church which is a community of relationships and a deathblow to a marriage or a leadership team! When we are willing and able to see ourselves engaging in these behaviors, we can commit to prayer and self-discipline to start to get over them. In a healthy relationship, especially a marriage, there has to be a mindset of equality. There is not to be a dominance of one person over another unless it is in the military or a workplace between a boss and employee. Even in these situations, successful relations are keyed by encouragement and complements. Bringing out the best in another is bringing them out with encouragement, not by subjugation.

Being a person who is contemptuous to others is being judgmental; this is extreme foolishness, because you are, in fact, throwing a boomerang of condemnation that comes back to hit you harder than you threw it. God judges according to truth; we judge according to personal agendas, greed, and misunderstanding. Do you value others in the same way you do yourself? Is the scale balanced?

© 2008, Research from 1980- 1998, 2007-2008, R. J. Krejcir, Ph.D., Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development

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