Saturday, September 13, 2014

H-Words: Hypocrisy Vs. Honesty

Closely related to my last post, I'm sure that I'm not the only person who knows this feeling:  You're a practicing Christian, who really takes your faith seriously.  You don't believe in picking and choosing which parts of your religion to believe in, so if the Scriptures and Church say that something is wrong, then you accept that.  Not only do you accept it but, taking seriously your Christian duty to share the truth with others, you strive to warn others that these sins lead to destruction and eternal loss.  But there's something that scares you.  You too are a sinner.  Some of the very things you warn others not to do, you do yourself.  You know, all too well, that the modern world has a word for people like you:  "Hypocrite."  "Who are you to tell anybody right from wrong?" they'll ask, "You do the same thing you condemn!  You hypocrite!"

Suddenly, your credibility has been called into question, and the very thing you wanted to accomplish--being a witness for Christ--seems to have been sabotaged in one single insult.  Are your accusers right?  Jesus did a lot of preaching against hypocrisy.  That was one of the titles He applied to the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day with righteous abandon.

Sounds like a rock band:  Get your tickets to see "Righteous Abandon" live!

Actually, the "H" word is used way too lightly these days.  It's nonsense to say that anybody who does X has no right to say that "X is a sin."  If that were the case, the only way you could avoid being a hypocrite would be to think you were perfect.  Think about it, if you never say that anything you do is a sin, the implication is that you don't sin.  The irony of this is that that's exactly what the Pharisees did.  That's right:  The people that Jesus called hypocrites were doing the exact opposite of those against whom the word is often used today.  The Pharisees didn't condemn sins like pride and hardness of heart, in spite of the fact that they did those sins.  No, they conveniently ignored the duty to speak out against those things, and focused only on condemning sins that they didn't struggle with.

To be sure, there is a kind of hypocrisy that involves criticizing others for doing something you yourself do, but that's only if you think the rules to which you hold others don't apply to you.  If I struggle with kleptomania and steal everything in sight, it doesn't make me a hypocrite if I simply warn others that stealing is wrong.  It makes me a hypocrite if I insist that it's wrong when others do it but not when I do it; or if I say that thieves should all be punished by law, but yet if I get caught, I backtrack and say that I am a special exception, rather than admitting that I deserve the same punishment that I say anyone else should get.  Religiously, I am a hypocrite if I tell other people they may go to hell for a sin if they never repent, but I think that if I died without repenting of that same sin "God will understand."  Basically, you're not a hypocrite just because you commit the sins you preach against, but only if you have a double standard about whether it's wrong when you're the one committing it.  Otherwise, it's not hypocrisy; it's another "H" word:  Honesty, namely about right versus wrong. 

It's true that Jesus said we should remove the beam from our own eyes before attempting to pull the speck out of our brother's.  However, this is something very practical.  This has less to do with telling your brother he's sinning--if he is, that's a fact, and there is no hypocrisy in saying so--and far more to do with attempting to "fix" your brother when you yourself have issues of your own.  If I struggle with alcoholism, for example, it's okay to tell my fellow alcoholic that drunkenness is a sin.  But until I myself have conquered my own habit through God's Grace, it just stands to reason that I can't hope to show my brother, or especially a sinner less overwhelmed by his sins, "how it's done."  How can I, if I haven't done it myself?  But that doesn't mean I'm doing my brother a disservice in calling a spade a spade...just as long as I realize it's a spade in my own life too.

Hey, if I call this a spade, but I inwardly mean the playing card,
does it count as a lie?

This is especially relevant to me.  Some of the sins that have claimed me time and again, in some capacity or other, are hot-button issues in our culture today.  They are precisely the sort of sins that people who hate the Church's values love to dig up on Christians, so as to invalidate the message of a believer who happens to be exactly what he says he is:  A fellow sinner.

I hope, as time goes on, to have the courage to speak the truth openly (in love, of course), even when I myself have sinned against that truth.  Because honestly, which is more selfish?  To tell people that a certain path leads to destruction even if I myself have a tendency to flirt with that destruction, or to decide that, if I'm willing to risk my soul, I shouldn't warn anyone else of that risk?

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