Updated: Oct 8, 2019
Seven out of ten unchurched people would say, “The church is full of hypocrites,” preaching and exacting from others that which they don’t practice themselves (72% according to Barna research). It’s a common stereotype for a Christian… but why? Is it true?
Are the things going on inside of us consistent with what shows through our words and actions?
The start of Spring in Colorado’s high-altitude towns is beginning to reveal the ground around us that’s been hidden for months by a blanket of snow. The mountains, distributing their run-off, provide us with weeks of mud in Winter Park. As the snow piles shrink, our hearts start to bulge with hope and excitement for the beautiful summer that’s on its way.
During a recent afternoon of Spring cleaning, I took a look at my old philodendron (a reminder to me of how untalented I am at caring for living things) and thought I’d prune and rearrange it to give it a fresh start. I’ve had this special plant since the day I got married – a gift from my parents-in-law, who also received the SAME plant on their wedding day, giving us a cutting from it to enjoy in our home. (no pressure to keep it alive, right?)
I broke off the discolored and dead leaves, hiding the evidence of the poor plant’s lack of nutrition, leaving only the pretty green leaves on top, and then dug the tips of my fingers into the soil to see what was happening below the surface. To my amazement, every inch of the soil was packed solid with roots. You would never know it from the few signs of life poking out of the surface! It had been years since I had looked, and they had been busy growing and coiling, filling every space they were allowed.
It reminded me of something God’s been continually teaching me as a Christian, a wife, a Mom, a leader, a daughter, a sister, and a friend… we have no way of knowing all that’s going on under the surface of people’s lives. We can definitely come to a few accurate conclusions based on “the fruit” of the lives we see (Matthew 7:16), but the root systems in the hearts of even our dearest friends remain hidden from view.
The ways God is rooting and grounding each one of us is unique, and differs with our family backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, personalities, and even (maybe especially) our pain. He lovingly works to establish the foundational roots He knows we need - with the aim of growth, beauty, and even FRUIT!
When we look around at other believers, it’s tempting to take inventory of how many leaves are popping through the surface of their lives. Are they healthy leaves? Are there lots of leaves? Especially those of us who are female – we’re really, really good at the comparison game. I don’t need to ask you if you’ve ever done it. You have. I have.
Jesus tells a fascinating story in Matthew 7:1-5.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”
A couple years ago, I got a call from the Middle School in town where my daughters attended. I fear getting a call in the middle of the day from the school nurse! “What’s wrong?!” The nurse explained she had Niah in the office, and that Niah was in a lot of pain (I kid you not) because a small speck of something had lodged in her eye. Her eye was watering and red, and she could hardly open it.
I grabbed Niah and headed to the ophthalmologist. It was impossible to see the culprit “speck;” we were going to need some high-powered microscopes and specialty tools to fix this situation.
When I think about Jesus’ story, I imagine myself driving to the ophthalmologist with Niah in tow, her eye swollen and watering, and a huge 2x4 piece of wood sticking out of my own eye. I walk into the eye doctor’s office, struggling to fit my plank through the heavy glass door, knocking over all the glasses on display, and trying to usher my daughter into the back room where she can sit behind the high-powered microscope to deal with her “speck.” How ridiculous would it be for me to struggle into that store, saying, “Excuse me, everyone! My daughter has a real problem! Something is stuck in her eye! Please help her get it out!” Can you imagine?
The “root” of the problem is below the surface. Instead of a large, visible plank in our eye, we may have a huge inconsistency, even sin, in our hearts. Often we have to deal with the unseen problems (which can be much more challenging), for the seen problems to be helped.
I believe the root problem with judgmentalism, as well as perceived hypocrisy, comes down to the quality of our love for other people. We are very familiar with the concept of love – we love to be loved – we love ourselves desperately! But how well do we love other people?
Jesus’ love for others is described so vividly in Philippians 2:3-8.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross!”
My initial response, as I slowly read through this description of Jesus’ love, is... 😬!! Do NOTHING from selfishness!? Oh, help me, Lord!
A call to “humility” (verse 3 and 8) is a call to lower ourselves to a rightful place, considering others’ lives of higher value to us than our own lives. Even the INTERESTS of those around us should be more important to us than our own interests! We are to live as “servants” – without rights or payment! Jesus did. Is that how we live?
Romans 14:10-13 says, “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt?” (con·tempt [kənˈtem(p)t] NOUN The feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.) Do we really feel that way about each other? Hmmm. That’s how we are treating our brothers and sisters when we judge them without recognizing our own sin first.
Let’s look at the rest of this passage: “…we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: 'As surely as I live,' says the LORD, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.' So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another…”
Then, the challenge to love at the end of verse 13 - a call to action: “…Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” Can we love in a way that’s more concerned about building up each other’s faith than pointing out each other’s weaknesses? Would the world see hypocrisy in the church if we did?
I think of Isaiah’s words prophesying about Jesus: “A bruised reed he will not break.” (Isaiah 42:3)
I have had friends (and often my husband) come to me with a rebuke about the way I live my life and the choices I have made. It’s hard to face my own shortcomings (always), but when a friend values me and admits his/her own shortcomings in the rebuke, everything changes. I know I am loved, and valued, and that the rebuke comes out of a desire to see my faith flourish, not to bring guilt and shame over my life. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6)
I challenge you to spend a few minutes this week searching God’s Word concerning the things you are tempted to call out in your friends’ lives. I’ve created a worksheet to help you in the process… I know this isn’t for all of you, but I ❤️ worksheets (Imma Nerd). Often writing = processing for me, and I’m able to make conclusions and decide on courses of action that would otherwise get lost in my multilayered thoughts. (ADHD?) You may be surprised what you see when you dig under the surface of your own life!
For others of you, you may be helped by this article All Christians are Hypocrites by Relevant Magazine that I enjoyed.
I have found something to be absolutely true: Seeing sin in someone else’s life REQUIRES the prerequisite that I deal with the SAME sin in my personal life on some level. I beg you to look for this reality in your every day interactions, especially when you’re tempted to judge someone else… asking, “Where in my life am I struggling with the same root things?” (this truth is incorporated into the worksheet – for tomorrow morning, perhaps?)
You are loved, friends! We all have our stuff to deal with. So. Much. Stuff.
If you still have time after dealing with your own sin, and you still remember what was bugging you about your friend, be obedient to God’s Word and approach him or her in humility and genuine love.
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