“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” ~ Matthew 23:27-28
Originally posted on Facebook–October, 2011
The following scripture has been ruminating within my heart, and spilling into my conscious thought. The gospel of Matthew always seems to speak to me about my heart, and I have been spending much time evaluating its intentions.
While not always the case, the way we view God and others is often a reflection of how we view ourselves. The late, great C.S. Lewis says it well in his work Mere Christianity:
“When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others—not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one.
You can put this another way by saying that while in other sciences the instruments you use are things external to yourself (things like microscopes and telescopes), the instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred—like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope. That is why horrible nations have horrible religions: they have been looking at God through a dirty lens.
God can show Himself as He really is only to real men. And that means not simply to men who are individually good, but to men who are united together in a body, loving one another, helping one another, showing Him to one another. For that is what God meant humanity to be like; like players in one band, or organs in one body”
Lately, I have been astutely aware of the hypocrisy surrounding me; my own being a substantial portion. Therefore, it has become a priority for me to examine those hypocrisies that I tend to practice frequently. The biggest one I have found staring me in the face is that of the perfect Christian.
It goes without saying that while professed Christians strive to emulate Christ and bring others into the body of believers, there are occasions where I believe we fail to an epic degree as result of how we choose to present ourselves. As Christ was, is, and will forever be perfect, it is easy to pretend that I can be too. However, anyone who knows me—even on an acquaintance level—can attest to my imperfection. And yet, there are times that I try to create that perception regardless.
In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning highlights the folly of presenting oneself as perfect:
“You know, in spite of the fact that Christianity speaks of the cross, redemption, and sin, we’re unwilling to admit failure in our own lives. Why? Partly because it’s human nature’s defense mechanism against its own inadequacies. But even more so, it’s because of the successful image our culture demands of us. There are some real problems with projecting always happy, optimistic, in command. Second, projecting the flawless image keeps us from reaching people who feel we just wouldn’t understand them. And third, even if we could live a life with no conflict, suffering, or mistakes, it would be a shallow existence. The Christian with depth is the person who has failed and has learned to live with it.”
Interestingly enough, the people that have most often shunned me when I leave visible my imperfections are fellow Christians. Sometimes, I have been that Christian—more often than I would like to admit. It seems to me that there is a frequent failure for Jesus’ believers to look upon His lessons through the proper lens. I would suggest that many believers, of which I am one, can find themselves staring at the teachings of Jesus through a lens focused on the idol of self.
Amazingly, a lens that focuses on the idol of self tends to diminish our failings and enlarge our achievements. With our eyes viewing our performance through such a lens, we can become prideful. Eventually, it is possible for our intentions to be so significantly skewed that our Lord is exploited; employed in correspondence as nothing more than false modesty. If any believer is compelled to continually and unabashedly espouse self-righteously about “What God is doing through me,” or “What I have accomplished through Christ,” then there is a possibility that they have succumbed to the idol of self. This is not to say that a believer should not freely share the great blessings God has provided to them or through them for others, but that their heart is sharing these words with others in a state of earnest meekness and humility.
I am encouraged to be bold in the Lord (Joshua 1:9), for “nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37).” Am I truly living boldly and believing in the definitiveness of God’s dominion? When scripture states that “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) do I unequivocally trust that statement to be true in a literal sense?
This leads me to consider what I believe the devil tries to keep from our thoughts; realizing that the Pharisees and scribes still hold clout in the worldly presentation of our Lord’s kingdom. We are not all that different from those Jewish men and women that condemned our Lord and Savior on the cross when we take His Word and choose to interpret it outside of anything other than the perfect love modeled to us by Him.
God truly is Love. Jesus is the manifest God, who exemplifies what it is to live in perfect love. It is for this reason I believe that Jesus called us to hold one commandment—well, actually two—above all others:
Matthew 22:37-39 (NASB)
And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Without looking through the lens of the greatest commandment, it is quite easy for Satan to twist our Lord’s sacred Word into self-righteous zealotry. For instance, if we define “love” outside of that modeled by Jesus, how easy would it be for us to twist the meaning of the below scripture?:
John 14:21 (NASB)
“He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose myself to him.”
Quite easily, I could choose to walk along the path of pride-seeking performance, and foolishly depend on a life of failed perfection to lead me into an eternal relationship of perfect love with God. Jesus warns us frequently of such folly, through his rebuke of the Pharisees. It is my belief that our inspired Word shares these warnings, because the idol of self will always be a threat to His kingdom on Earth until the time when He comes again. We must take heed to be promoters of our Lord and not ourselves:
Matthew 6:1-2 (NASB)
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”
While ultimately, the sole purpose for Jesus to become man, live among us in our sin, and be crucified in His innocence, was to glorify His Father in heaven; its “soul” purpose was to serve as a loving sacrifice for our salvation—which brought glory to His Father through that act of ultimate love.
John 15:13 (NASB)
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
Time and again, Jesus shares with us the love of His Father through his life, death, and resurrection. If we choose to have faith in our Lord, He has provided us a way to experience an eternal win-win. There need not be fear in failure, because accepting and living in the perfect love of our Lord eliminates the possibility of failure. Scripture says as much, when it tells us that, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).”
It is difficult for me to believe that it is coincidence society represents love with the symbol of a heart (albeit one that is not anatomically correct). The heart has long been synonymous with love. It is my belief that the following scripture is telling us to live in the Lord’s love faithfully, and in treasuring love (both through giving and receiving) within all our relationships, we will be blessed with a treasure that will follow us into eternal life.
Matthew 6:20-21 (NASB)
“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In the past few months, I believe that my loving Lord has answered some of my hard prayers with the realization of how poorly I have loved with that which He provides us through the Holy Spirit. Moreover, He has humbled me with the same scripture interpretation that I have frequently confronted others for misusing in their relationships time and again. It had subconsciously been adopted by me!:
Proverbs 4:23 (NASB)
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.
In my six years living in Georgia, many friends have used this convenient verse in Proverbs to justify putting up walls towards others—sometimes me. By no means am I a proponent for a life without “healthy boundaries,” but I have frequently seen this used between genders as an excuse to avoid vulnerability and risk depth in relationship when fear of being hurt enters the heart. I am a guilty party.
As someone who personally holds true to the conviction that the entire Bible points to Jesus, I have long believed that “the springs of life” referred to in Proverbs 4:23 represent the Holy Spirit within Christians, given to us by our Lord. It provides us access to our Lord’s limitless love, enabling us to serve Him in the ministry of building His Kingdom. Furthermore, while people place heavy interpretive emphasis in relationships, when read in context, it is speaking more specifically (and broadly) to wisdom.
When held in context with Matthew 6:20-21—provided earlier—it is hard for me to not find that particular piece of scripture encouraging us to trust in the love of our Lord, and that while we are strong in faith, to boldly love others; allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Such behavior encourages reciprocation, and generates positive, God-honoring relationships among His children.
C.S. Lewis, the wise man of God, speaks about the necessity of vulnerability within the action of loving others:
“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
It is true that Christians are to recognize that they are “sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).” However, that encourages us to understand the needs of people to whom we are commanded to love, so that we do not succumb to temptation. And as we are “sent in the midst of wolves,” it seems to me that we are still to have a level of relationship; albeit exhibiting healthy boundaries.
What scripture does not seem to suggest to me when looking through a lens of my Lord’s perfect love is to avoid others completely. How can you “love your enemy” if you avoid them? And in many of the instances that I have seen, it was one Christian avoiding another Christian out of fear (and why fear in perfect love?) of conflict and the possible need for loving confrontation later. Conflict and confrontation will be present, whether we hide behind walls or stare it straight in the eye. It too can be resolved and overcome with love. It will most likely require forgiveness. When Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive a brother that has sinned against him, Jesus told him, “…up to seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-35).”
I always seem to sell short the limitless love of God! It is necessary to meditate on His Word constantly (Joshua 1:8) to remind me that He is with me always. And if He is with me, then “whom shall I fear (Psalm 27:1)?” Christians need to trust that they are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. They must allow the Spirit to lead them wisely in loving others.
We are told that He is sufficient and are repeatedly reminded that “God is Love.” We then go against the grain of such logic, and avoid the risk that needs to be taken for the reward of the freedom offered by God. We fail to love out of fear.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Therefore, as I conclude this written discourse on my greatest hypocrisy, I must remind myself and anyone that has read these thoughts in their entirety to avoid viewing scripture through the lens of self-idolatry. Our understanding is a drop in the ocean when compared to that of our Lord. If we trust in Him (Proverbs 3:5-6) and love as He loves us, we will ultimately glorify Him…regardless of the hardships we may encounter along the way:
Sirach 2:1-6 (NAB)
My son, when you come to serve the LORD, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, cling to Him, forsake Him not; thus will your future be great. Accept whatever befalls you, in crushing misfortune be patient; for in fire gold is tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation. Trust God and He will help you; make straight your ways and hope in Him.”