The other day I was reflecting over all the years of ministry, recalling the joys and the sadness-es that my bride and I have encountered throughout our lifetime of serving the Lord in various churches in various places.
Those memories, for the most part, are pleasant ones. Aside from the obvious – people in each area deciding to follow Christ and accepting Him as their personal Lord and Savior – there have been multiple young couples making life-changing decisions of another sort –dedicating their lives not only to the Lord, but also to each other in marriage.
I even looked up the phone number for the very first couple for whose wedding I officiated. I wanted to see how they were doing after all these (42) years! I was not surprised to locate them fairly easily – they were still living in the same town where they had settled after the wedding.
And yes, they were still married! – with kids and even grandkids! And even though we had not spoken in all these years, they still were very complimentary about the time we spent with them in preparing them for a lifetime together.
Their comment to me during that phone call that day was in unison: “We’re still in love and we are still walking with Jesus… together!”
I wish I could say that all the couples I married were still together. But then I also wish I could say that all the people I have prayed with and baptized and discipled and encouraged to follow Jesus closely were still doing those things as well.
In fact, there are times when I wish that I had done things in my own life better! And, if we are all honest with ourselves, God knows there is at least a little bit of hypocrisy in every one of us. We cannot avoid it – this side of heaven!
And for those who are not yet followers of Jesus, one of the biggest reasons I hear for them not doing so is because of all the hypocrisy and hypocrites that are populating our churches today! I only have one thing to say to that charge – GUILTY!
But that should not surprise any of us, should it? Ever since the days of Adam and Eve, mankind has been in the business of covering up our sin (See Genesis 3:7).
When I think of what it means to be a hypocrite, I am confounded by two broad categories: First, there is Common Hypocrisy – that hypocrisy that all of us possess. You know what I mean. It is behaving like a caring friend when all you are interested in is the latest news so you can be the source of the gossip.
It is insisting on always paying the check so you can make yourself out to be the hero. It is losing your cool at the confused driver in front of you because you have someplace important to be. Secondly, there is also Religious Hypocrisy.
C.S. Lewis once quipped that “Of all the bad men, religious bad men are the worst.” Religious hypocrisy could be defined as “pretense with the intention of leaving a false impression.”
In the days of Shakespeare, there were not a lot of costume designers or actors. Actors often had to play multiple parts in a production, and without the benefit of costumes in which to change in order to distinguish their characters.
So instead of changing their entire costume, when they would play a different part in the play, they would simply hold up a mask in front of their faces and speak their parts that way.
These actors were called hypocrites because they were hiding behind a mask. In religious terms, that simply means that a hypocrite is someone who walks around hiding behind the masks of false piety and self-righteous legalism.
The only person to ever live without doing that is a man called Jesus. In Philippians 2:6-8, we are told that he was the holy one who stepped into his own creation and, void of himself, gave himself up to die for that very creation.
Throughout his life on earth, Jesus seemed to constantly find himself at odds with the scribes and Pharisees. In Luke 11 and 12, he finally confronts them in their hypocrisy. In those verses, Jesus lowers the boom on them and exposes their ultimate sin of keeping salvation from people because of their self-righteous attitudes. He declares six “woes” against them and declares that they are leading people into darkness rather than light by their hypocrisy.
His point is clear: Unless Christ has all of us, there is hypocrisy in each of us, and that hypocrisy has the devastating power to not only ruin our reputation, but also to keep people from the Savior and from the Savior’s church.
When the magnificent ocean liner, the Queen Mary, was docked permanently in Long Beach, California in 1967, and was being converted to its new function as a floating hotel and museum there, the workers had removed the three gigantic smokestacks from the massive hull of the ship in order to restore them.
But upon closer examination, the restorers discovered that the smokestacks had hardly any steel left in them, that the only thing holding them together was layer after layer of paint! While they looked good and functional on the outside, the inside of those smokestacks revealed disaster just waiting to happen.
That same thing is true of people who appear on the outside to be followers of Jesus. They are being held together by little more than several coats of paint. They are hypocritical.
What about you? Does that describe where you are?
Or can you say, like that first couple I married, “I’m still walking with Jesus – step by step and day by day!”
I surely hope so.
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the News Journal and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.