Beware the dangers of hypocrisy
I want to be liked. You probably do too. But there is a great danger when the longing to be liked drives us too much.
When the longing to be liked pulls on us too heavily, we end up doing whatever it will take to get people to like us.
I have been caught in this trap more often than I like to admit. I have laughed at jokes I am ashamed to have laughed at. I have exaggerated my achievements to impress others. I have compromised my convictions to fit in with others. I have put on masks that I thought would make me more likeable. I have hidden the truth about myself when I feared it would make others dislike me.
Such a yearning to be liked easily leads to hypocrisy, which poisons both the individual hypocrite and the reputation of Christ within the world.
The individual hypocrite: In his book, All Is Grace, Brennan Manning confesses, “The imposter is a fake version of yourself, and that’s exactly how I started living. I faked being happy when I was sad, I faked being excited when I was disappointed, I even faked being nice when inside I was really angry. I still looked and sounded like me, but I wasn’t me. I was a fake. I lived as an imposter of myself. But living as the imposter will do nothing but harm. Here’s a quick list of how the impostor functions:
- The imposter lives in fear.
- The imposter is consumed with a need for acceptance and approval.
- The imposter is codependent; in other words, out of touch with his or her own feelings.
- The impostor’s life is a herky-jerky existence of elation and depression. The impostor is what he or she does.
- The impostor demands to be noticed.
- The imposter cannot experience intimacy in any relationship.
- And last but not least, the impostor is a liar.” (p. 56-57)
Anne Morrow Lindberg adds, “The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere.”
The reputation of Christ in the world: John Stott states, “Hypocrisy is hideous. What cancer is to the body, hypocrisy is to the church. It is a killing agent.”
Dick Sheppard points out, “The greatest handicap the Church has is the unsatisfactory lives of professing Christians”
When Christians live with authenticity, people are drawn to Christ. But when Christians live as hypocrites, people are repulsed.
No wonder Jesus speaks out so often against hypocrisy. He hates what it does to us, and He hates what it does to those whom He is trying to reach.
The Alternate Remedy
Some years ago, Virginia Stem Owens assigned the reading of the Sermon on the Mount to her composition class at Texas A&M University, and she asked the students to write a short essay on what they had read. Some of her students wrote:
- The stuff the churches preach is extremely strict and allows for almost no fun without thinking it is a sin.
- I did not like the essay “Sermon on the Mount.” It was hard to read and made me feel like I had to be perfect, and no one is.
- The things asked in this sermon are absurd. To look at a woman is adultery. That is the most extreme, stupid, unhuman statement that I have ever heard. (Reported by Philip Yancey in The Jesus I Never Knew, p. 130)
Those responses seem to be particularly focused on Matthew 5:17-48, where Jesus declares that to call a person a name is akin to murdering the person, and to look upon a person lustfully is tantamount to committing adultery, and that if a person strikes us on the right cheek we are to turn our other cheek to our assailant. He concludes the section by telling us to be as perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
If we perceive this section of Scripture to be a formula, detailing what is necessary from us to be able to get into heaven, then we have reason for confusion, frustration, and despair. If we have to measure up to standards of perfection in order to get into heaven, then we are doomed.
But if we understand this section of the Sermon on the Mount to be more of a diagnosis of our situation than a formula for our advancement, then we have grounds for hope.
As a diagnosis, this section of the Sermon on the Mount reveals that we have a fatal problem (we are all sinners), that the legalistic approach will never work (none of us can come close to being as perfect as our heavenly Father), so we must look for an alternate remedy.
The alternate remedy is brought up in Matthew 5:17, when Jesus announces that He came not to abolish the Law or the prophets but to fulfill them. From a legalistic perspective, fulfillment of the Law would require personal, moral perfection. But from a Biblical perspective, fulfillment of the Law is the sacrificial system for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus came into the world to be that kind of fulfillment of the Law. He came to be the sacrifice for our sins.
On July 30, 1941, the guards at Auschwitz concentration camp assembled the prisoners because it had been discovered that one of them had escaped. To discourage anyone else from trying to get away, Sub-Commandant Karl Fritzsch ordered that ten prisoners be selected at random to die by starvation. One of the ten chosen was Franciszek Gajowniczek, prisoner number 5659. On hearing his number called, Gajowniczek cried out in agony over the fate of his wife and his children. At that, a Franciscan priest named Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and said, “I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.” After two weeks of agonizing starvation, Kolbe was eventually executed with an injection of carbolic acid.
Maximilian Kolbe became the fulfillment of the law for Franciszek Gajowniczek by taking his place in death. In deep gratitude, Gajowniczek spent much of the rest of his life telling people about the heroic love by Maximilian Kolbe.
Jesus did the same for us. He became the fulfillment of the Law by taking upon Himself the full weight of the Law’s judgment against sin. As a result, we do not have to strive to try to attain legalistic perfection but can rejoice that we have been welcomed into the realm of God’s grace through the alternate remedy of Jesus fulfilling the weight of the Law by dying on the cross for us.
Let your light shine
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus pays His followers an incredible compliment. He tells us that we are the light of the world. He tells us that we bring to this world a vital quality that people are in deep need of.
Light is essential for vision. We need light if we want to see what is around us or before us.
According to The Physics Classroom, “The bottom line is: without light, there would be no sight. The visual ability of humans and other animals is the result of the complex interaction of light, eyes and brain. We are able to see because light from an object can move through space and reach our eyes…. If you were to turn off the room lights for a moment and then cover all the windows with black construction paper to prevent any entry of light into the room, then you would notice that nothing in the room would be visible. There would be objects present that were capable of being seen. There would be a brain present which would be capable of deciphering the information sent to it. But there would be no light! The room and everything in it would look black. The appearance of black is merely a sign of the absence of light. When a room full of objects looks black, then the objects are not generating nor reflecting light to your eyes. And without light, there would be no sight.”
In a dark room, our inability to see something may not be the absence of its presence but the absence of light to reveal its presence. In a dark world, our inability to see God may not be the absence of God but the lack of light to reveal His presence.
If you were to be submerged deep enough into the ocean—beyond the reach of the sun’s rays—you would find a world of sea life in absolute darkness. But you would also find a myriad of creatures who can see because of the miracles of bioluminescence (the ability in certain organisms to generate and emit light through chemical reactions with oxygen) and biofluorescence (the ability to reflect the blue light hitting a surface and re-emit it as a different color, or as a glowing color). Deep sea creatures can see and/or be seen because a light-emitting or light-reflecting force has been designed into them. Even in the depths of the dark sea, life is revealed by the light that lives within these creatures.
Because of the darkness of this world, people cannot see God. They doubt His existence. They rail against God. But, perhaps, the issue is not the absence of God but the absence of light by which God can be seen. That’s where you and I come in. Jesus claims that a light-emitting or light-reflecting power has been set within His followers. According to verse 16, as people see our good works, they see the light that shines within us, and they see God. Madeleine L’Engle points out, “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
When we love people, when we contribute to the well-being of this world, when we comfort the hurting, when we stand up for the less fortunate, and when we do what is good, we reveal the light of Christ within us, and people are drawn to God.
No wonder Jesus stresses that our light should not be hidden under a bushel basket but that we should let our light shine. As Christ’s bioluminescent and biofluorescent ambassadors to this dark world, we should let Christ’s love and goodness be seen by all.
May we heed our conscience
I hate to admit it, but I prefer to read Mathew 5:9 without Matthew 5:10-12. In Matthew 5:9 Jesus announces, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” I like that beatitude—with one slight modification: I tend to be a peacekeeper rather than a peacemaker.
A peacekeeper, as Kaitlin explains in The Barefoot Blog “desires to maintain peace by avoiding conflict. They typically give in to the tension or steer clear of disagreement to keep others happy. Peacekeepers hate rocking the boat; therefore, they will sacrifice their own inner peace to maintain the “facade” of peace with others.”
Sadly, that is often me.
But Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 5:10-12 that He is not one to encourage His followers to avoid conflict for the sake of not “rocking the boat.” Matthew 5:10-12 states, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Evidently, from Jesus’ perspective, peacemaking is not devoid of conflict. Indeed, the New Living Translation renders Proverbs 10:10 as “People who wink at wrong cause trouble, but a bold reproof promotes peace.”
The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines shalom as “completeness, soundness, and well-being of the total person.” So a peacemaker would not be a person who is skilled at avoiding conflict but a person who contributes to the soundness, completeness and well-being of others. A peacemaker would be a person who works for the establishment of what is right and good and healthy for people.
William Barclay suggests that peacemakers are those who are “engaged on the very work which the God of peace is doing,” then he adds that peacemakers are “those who make this world a better place for all men [and women] to live in.”
This is why it is essential that we not separate Matthew 5:9 from Matthew 5:10-12.
In an article in Relevant magazine Stephen Arterburn comments, “Southern white men and women who were complicit in Jim Crow segregation were peacekeepers. They wanted to maintain things as they were without discord or change; they wanted to keep the peace as it was—racism disguised as peace. Civil rights activists had to sometimes disturb the peace in an effort to make room for real peace.”
Sometimes peacemaking—making “this world a better place for all men [and women]—demands conflict and means that we might be “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. once remarked, “Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe? Consensus asks the question: Is it popular? Conscience asks: Is it right?”
Our country needs more people who will heed their conscience, who will ask themselves more than whether it is safe or popular, and who will strive to “make this world a better place for all men [and women] to live in.”
I pray that God will protect me from divorcing Matthew 5:9 from Matthew 5:10-12, and I pray for God to give me strength to be guided by the question: Is it right?