A Prime Minister once went to a party. Sorry, I’ll try that again.
A Prime Minister once went to a work event . . .
My apologies. Couldn’t resist. 😀
Hypocrisy is one of those words that generates an immediate visceral response. Sometimes defensiveness. Sometimes fear. Sometimes judgementalism.
It’s a hot word in the New Testament – one of those that produced strong emotions in Jesus. Oh, he was ticked when he saw it. Incensed. Table-smashing furious. But what is it about this word that caused such an irate response?
For Jesus, this was all about his love for the people. He enjoyed hanging out with people who ‘didn’t fit.’ He preferred scruffy sinners to salubrious saints. He wanted everyone to know that God was accessible, and that God was for them. The religious were preventing the people from understanding this. They were putting up unnecessary barriers which kept the poor and the lowly out of the religious life of the nation. Shame on them! Hence the anger. Righteous anger.
The word hypocrisy is based on two Greek words – hupo, meaning ‘under,’ and krino, meaning ‘to judge.’ The idea is that a person is offering judgement from behind something. From behind a mask. Their true identity is kept hidden. In short, the person is pretending.
Matthew 23 is an oft-quoted text on hypocrisy.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
Notice those loads he mentions. They are additions to the law, developed over time by Jewish rabbis and commentator, seemingly in a misguided attempt to ensure that the requirements of the law were followed. Essentially, they were extra laws, and they alienated the people from God instead of drawing them close. Which is why Jesus was so upset.
The question for us is this:
As leaders, do we create non-biblical conditions in our churches that make it hard for people to approach God? Do we impose unspoken rules and cumbersome cultural norms on our community?
We may think we’re all about authenticity and inclusivity, but in reality, ALL cultures (groups) have rules. It’s just that we’re not honest with ourselves about what they are. For those who minister in middle class settings, there are a whole raft of expected behaviours, which, if departed from, will cause all manner of tut-tutting. The way we dress, the language we use, the way we run meetings, the way we greet each other, all these things are part of our culture. They cannot be avoided.
So how can we avoid hypocrisy, the kind of hypocrisy that excludes people?
1) Grace of God
3) Equip and release
Grace must characterise how we live and how we relate. Not law. Grace. If God loves and accepts us, then we will, at times, need to forgive and accept those who contravene our social norms. Without making a big fuss. Law-keeping (following our cultural norms) is not the heart of our Christian gospel. Grace is. Unmerited love and favour from our gracious God is the jewel in our crown. Celebrate it, explain it, invite its wonder to fill your people with praise.
Church cultures are homogenous when we all look the same, behave the same, talk the same way. So, the more variety – class, race, socio-economic, nationality – the better. In all areas of ministry. This new society of which we’re a part, it includes all people who love and follow the Lord Jesus. From the scruffy ex-addicts to the university professors. In truth, not all churches have a wide variety of backgrounds, but the more open we can be to ALL people, the richer our experience of community will be.
Equip and release people to lead out of grace. These won’t always be the best communicators, they won’t always look right or sound right, but we enrich our communities when the ones who’ve experienced the deep impact of God’s Spirit share fully in all areas of ministry. Spirit-led people, not just those who tick the cultural boxes. It may be messy at times, but if grace is the highest value we have, then God will be praised as we navigate the challenges ahead. The alternative is a straitjacketed, law-driven approach to communal life. We’ve all seen this, and many are surrounded by it. Bound tightly by a church community’s strict expectations. Imprisoned. Not free.
We become hypocrites when we talk about grace, but we don’t actually live it out. We are hypocrites when we value cultural rule-keeping above the expression of God’s extravagant grace.
But here’s the good part. The leader is a trend-setter in this respect. The way we mix with every kind of person in the church – not just the popular ones – the way we invite all manner of people to give presentations and testimonies – not just the polished – these behaviours will tell your people what they need to hear . . .
God’s grace is available to everyone!
He loves you, all of you, and he doesn’t care where you’re from or how talented you are, or what job you have, or your strange wardrobe. He certainly doesn’t expect you to be the finished article. The pharisees may have placed obstacles in front of people which blocked them from connecting with God.
Are you listening, everyone? In this church, that will never, ever happen! God’s grace, his compassion, his love, is freely available to ALL who draw near.
You know what, he’s even gracious towards hypocrites!