At a deeper level hypocrisy destroys our integrity

Chapter 3   PRETENDING to be what you aren't

The command in the law of Moses was "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God" (Exodus 20:7). Many interpret this to mean that God doesn't approve of swearing by using words like Jesus, bloody, damn, hell, or punctuating our conversation with four letter words. We can agree that swearing does not embellish or clarify the English language. But we cannot imagine God being shocked by bad language.

What is certainly immoral is using the name of God to back up what we say, especially if we are trying to deceive. "Cross my heart, I'm telling the truth." When we hear "I promise you in the name of God (Christ Jesus, Mary, or whatever) that I will pay you tomorrow" we are wise not to have confidence in the assurance. Which is why Jesus said "Let your word be 'Yes' which means Yes, or 'No' which means No: anything more than this comes from the evil one" (Matthew 5:37).

The command also condemns religious people who claim a special relationship with God, but this is merely outward pretense. Jesus quoted Isaiah's complaint "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Matthew 15:8, Isaiah 29:13). People often complain that churchgoers are hypocrites. But what Jesus said about the religious leaders of his day was far more severe. "They do not practice what they teach . . . You clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence . . .Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and all sorts of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matthew 23:1-28). So we can define religious hypocrisy as using pious language to impress and attain other ends.

But of course church hypocrisy is no argument against the God who hates every kind of hypocrisy. Jesus said "whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others." Here the end in mind is to receive approbation. Similarly there was prayer "to be seen by others" (Matthew 6:5) and fasting "to show others that they are fasting" (Matthew 6:16). In all three cases Jesus said "they have received their reward" (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16). The point is that the hypocrite always hopes to gain something from his performance. And the only alternative is total honesty with God the Father who "sees in secret" (6:4, 6, 18). We cannot expect to receive any of his blessings if we are only pretending to talk to him.

The situation is not much better in church congregations where everything that is done has to be recognized, applauded, given a vote of thanks. That is not to reject the common courtesy of saying "thank you" when someone does us a personal kindness. But the ideal is for every member of the body to recognize that everything that is done is "activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses" (1 Corinthians 12:11). "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

From the very early days of the church we have the story of Ananias and Sapphira. This was not ordinary badness but a deliberate collusion hypocritically to deceive the community of the Holy Spirit. As Peter pointed out, Ananias and Sapphira were free to keep any of the proceeds of their sale of land for any purpose whatever What went wrong was hiding what they had kept back, and trying to pretend that they had given everything for God's work (Acts 5:1-4). So Peter accuses them of lying to the Holy Spirit by trying to deceive the church community, "You did not lie to us but to God." The couple both died, presumably from a heart attack. Whatever the cause of death, the important lesson for the early church was that hypocrisy is a deadly cancer in the body of the church.

If the various organs of our human body ever began deceiving one another, we would quickly die. As Paul said "So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors (fellow church members) for we are members of one another" (Ephesians 4:25).

Jesus made clear that "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). An emphasis on the Holy Spirit without basic honesty is always very dangerous. In our spiritual warfare Paul begins with "Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around you waist" (Ephesians 6:14). A Roman soldier's wide leather belt protected his stomach, liver, spleen, digestive system. Without it, he felt vulnerable. And in any kind of service hypocrisy makes us hesitant and fearful, but integrity gives us the courage we need.

At a deeper level hypocrisy destroys our integrity. If we catch it, and confess it, no harm is done, but if we let it take over inevitably an inner corruption sets in. God can forgive and heal when we come honestly to God and admit our doubts, fears, temptations, failures, and hypocrisy. But the one sin that makes healing impossible is adopting a lie, especially a religious lie. The hypocrite can never love God with all his heart. He is constantly looking to see what others are thinking

We have exposed religious hypocrisy by noting Jesus' terrible words. But it is not just religious people who are hypocrites. Which is why we defined the universal moral principle as : Any kind of hypocrisy is repugnant. People despise hypocrisy in salesmen, fund-raisers, parents, children, and family members at a funeral. We are horrified when a man pretends he love his wife but is having an affair on the side. Political hypocrisy is making empty promises to get our party elected. Nations pretend they are allies, but they have another agenda in mind.

King David, who was a good and much loved king, fell into a hypocrisy which led him into deception, adultery, and murder (2 Samuel 11:2-21). His prayer would be a good antidote for hypocrisy, which those in any kind of leadership could use. "You desire truth in the inward being, therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:6,10).

Chapter 4   WORKING without relaxation