What About Those Hypocrites?
Today’s cynical society and culture presents a myriad of problems. One of the many problems comes into focus whenever a diligent disciple tries to do their duty in inviting someone to “Come and see” how we worship and observe the house of the Master’s brethren. “Oh yeah? I don’t want to go be around a bunch of hypocrites.” Depending on my mood, I may say something like, “We’ve got room for one more.” But, I readily admit that this is not an ideal reply to such a statement. But, it does remain a problem. So, what is to be done? Something? Nothing? Doubtless, many of us have experienced frustrations when trying to do our duty with the joy it deserves.
The word “hypocrite” is an interesting word, but its application is probably slung about today by some too broadly. Without going into a long etymology of the word, it comes from a word associated in its past to describe stage actors and thespians. When someone pretended to be something they weren’t, this word came into play. When Christ condemned the Pharisees, scribes, and others repeatedly in Matthew 23, He employed this word multiple times. Those religious leaders were pretending to be many things they were not by not doing things that they commanded others to do. I also submit that they had no intention of doing those things from the start. Enjoyment was had by them in commanding others, but they themselves felt free to do as they pleased.
Thinking about this word, are churches full of hypocrites today? While I would not discount the fact that actors of various kinds have inhabited houses of worship down through the centuries, observation seems to indicate that this word is wielded from the hip like a six shooter to fire at any stumbling that people see. For example, I know that church members have struggled at times with various sins that others see. Perhaps it is letting the mouth get loose. Perhaps it is an overindulgence of the bottle. Whatever the case, they may not be “acting” and “playing church” as much as showing that they are still sinners with problems.
The Bible is replete with examples of different types of sinners. Generally, they can be put in two groups: penitent and impenitent. You could make a case that the two groups are willful and ignorant. However, even if someone is ignorant, they will be either penitent or impenitent when knowledge is gained of their stumbling. So, what do we make of these two groups? In Luke 7 Jesus encounters both kinds. He is dining in the house of Simon the Pharisee when a woman of ill repute comes in and washes His feet with her tears. Simon is shocked that Jesus – reputed to be a great teacher and prophet – would allow such a tramp to touch Him. Jesus instructs Him through a lesson about debtors. Simon’s problem was that – even though just as bankrupt in the sight of God as the woman – felt less need than the woman did. In this lesson, Simon was impenitent about his sins, while the woman felt the weight and guilt over hers. Doubtless, she was seen as worse in the eyes of society, while Simon’s standing was likely very high. But, Jesus points out that Simon’s behavior was hypocritical, while the woman exhibited faith that delivered her from the guilt and sting that she experienced.
With this example before us, do church members stumble? Certainly, and the weight of that stumbling should cause a sting within us. Does our stumbling make us hypocritical? I suggest that it does not. However, if we willfully continue in our stubborn path thinking that we are doing ok, then our stumbling has led to a road that would be termed hypocritical. Consider the life of Jesus. He was accused of being a sinner repeatedly, and yet people still came to Him. Why? His life contradicted the reputation. Reputations don’t go away immediately, but people kept seeing a manner of life that dictated that the report was not true. When the blind man was given sight by Christ in John 9, the religious rulers tried to convince him that Jesus was a sinner. The man simply stated that he knew not whether Jesus was a sinner, but what he knew was simple and clear: I used to be blind, now I see. What you’re telling me about this man is of less importance than what I know for sure.
Translated to today, we have the awesome responsibility and service of love as the church of God to live in ways that contradict the reputation that people may have of our home church or religion in general. Sadly, our stumbling sometimes confirms for those observing that they are justified in their own mind to think the way they do. Yet, what power and impact can be had when they see us actively trying to do better than we have done in the past. Paul said in I Corinthians 13 that children act, speak, and think a certain way. When people that knew me as a child saw me speak and walk, they saw the manner of life of a child. Hopefully, they don’t still see me as a child, because enough “grown up” action has been observed that I am no longer in that category. People may have seen what they deemed hypocritical behavior coming from churches, but may they see in us something that defies everything they have ever thought about the matter before.
Actors have the tall task of making people believe they are someone they are really not. Sadly, our stumbling causes people to believe we are something we are not. While perhaps not our active intent, it is an unfortunate side effect. You and I – friends – are children of the King! He has given us rich garments to wear, and adornments richer than any earthly magistrate has ever known or owned. Yes, we still have pauper’s rags in our closet too. When we adorn these tattered ruins handed down through the ages from father Adam, we may play the part of the beggar. But, let us who are of the day, put on the garments of the day along with the breastplate of faith and love coupled with the helmet of salvation. (I Thessalonians 5:6-8)
“Oh yeah? I don’t want to go be around a bunch of hypocrites?” Yes, we are sinners, regrettably so. However, we’re trying as much as we know how to do better than we’ve ever done before. No, our church isn’t perfect, but she has a perfect Ruler. We don’t get everything right, but He gave us perfect rules to follow. Come and see friend. Come and see. We’re trying. Come try with us.