May 14, 2018
In many ways, the Christian community has become its own worst enemy. In many communities in America and around the world, the reputation of the Christian church is that of uncompassionate culture warriors, quick to shout about the sexual revolution, or abortion, or undesirable political candidates, but slow to show grace and mercy in everyday life to the people in their community. If this is true, does a lack of grace and compassion by Christians have a damaging effect on all Christian’s reputation and influence in the community? I believe that hypocrisy has always been a significant barrier that drives people away from the Christian church and from hearing the truth of a loving and caring God who sent His son Jesus to sacrifice himself so that lives could be transformed and sin could be defeated. I also believe that it does play a part in driving people away from the church and it does damage the influence that believers should have in society.
The individuals in Jesus day, who were most like the hypocrisy in the church today, are the Pharisees, whose idea for stopping the moral and social sins of the people in Israel, was to avoid the sinners. The Pharisees banded together, prayed together, shunned “sinners” in public, and generally avoided any contact with people in an attempt to uphold the morality of their nation, and they were despised for it. If we fast forward to the 21st Century, the opinion many people have about Christians is similar to how people felt about the Pharisees. Christians in the world today typically band together, pray together, avoid “sinners,” and socialize only with people who believe like they do. Not unpredictably the term “Christian,” has become a negative label in many parts of the world including this country, and the result is that many people despise Christianity because they view it as a religion filled with hypocrisy.
During Jesus three-year ministry his harshest words were often aimed at the most religious people of the day, the Pharisees. Matthew 23:29-33, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. Then you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.’ “But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started. Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?” Why was Jesus so adamant in his condemnation of the behavior of the Pharisees? Were they wrong to oppose immoral behavior and the breaking of the law? The answer to that question is relevant to Christianity today as we live our lives in the middle of a morally flawed society.
When referring to Christianity, the majority of people in the world today immediately envision a set of rules which prevents them from enjoying life, or an outdated philosophy that has no meaningful place in modern society. During Jesus ministry on earth the majority of the world looked at those who believed in the Hebrew God as out of touch and unsophisticated, and they despised religious people because of their hypocrisy. Jesus took a different approach than the “religious” people of the day and successfully communicated to people of all ages and walks of life the truth of who he was and what God wanted to do for them.
We can get an insight into how we as Christians can follow the example of Jesus in reaching out to a world that doesn’t believe in what we have to say. Remember the story of Peter’s encounter with Jesus following the resurrection. “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:15-19.
It is interesting that when Jesus instructed Peter in how to continue his ministry, he talked about taking care of the sheep. He instructed him to feed and tend the sheep, not to change the way they look or how they act. Jesus genuinely cared about people and loved them just the way they were. Our task in this modern age is still the same. The Gospel is not about morality it is about communicating that Jesus loves people. Our job as Christians is not to be better than others, it is about accepting people in the same way Jesus did and helping them become followers of Jesus Christ.