Becoming an Authentic Christian – Dealing with hypocrisy
Sunday School, MBC, March 30, 2014
What does it mean to be a hypocrite?
We live in a society in which so much is artificial.
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF ARTIFICIAL THINGS IN SOCIETY TODAY? Christmas trees, wood laminate, brick or stone façade, hearts, sweeteners, plastic surgery, etc.
WHAT, THEN, WOULD AN ARTIFICIAL CHRISTIAN BE? WHAT EXAMPLES CAN YOU THINK OF WHERE SOMEONE WAS AN ARTIFICIAL CHRISTIAN? They act pious in church – but during the week they live a double life. They say all the right words, but when you turn around, you get stabbed in the back.
In this lesson, we will look at a passage where a couple of Christians tried the route of being artificial.
READ Acts 5:1-11
Ananias and Sapphira learned that God does not tolerate artificiality. In their negative example, perhaps we can learn a little of what it means to be an authentic Christian.
There are times when we idealize the early church. I have even heard of pastor speak of their churches being like a New Testament church. We talk of all the great miracles they did. We envy their intense sense of community and caring. It really seemed like a powerful time. Sometimes, however, we forget about THIS story. You won’t hear too many sermons on Ananias and Sapphira. On one hand, it is a story of one of the great scandals of the early church, while, on the other hand, it is a story of punishment that many find harsh and excessive.
Nonetheless, we sometimes learn best from negative examples. I learned the negative side effects of excessive consumption of alcohol from my brother. One night he came home and threw up all over our front door. The next morning, my dad woke him up early and made him clean it all up. I can honestly say that from that day I chose to never get drunk. It had that much impact on my life.
THIS story can’t help but shock us into thinking about the severity of sin. To fully appreciate all the parts of this story, we need to get some background. The church, at this time, did have a very intense and caring fellowship. They not only met together frequently, but they also shared meals and something else that is still profound today – $ HOW WAS THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH USING PROCEEDS OF PROPERTY THAT WAS SOLD AND DONATED BY MEMBERS? They pooled their financial resources and sold their belongings; using the money to help those in need.
Ananias and Sapphira wanted it to look like they were doing this as well. However, they hedged and decided to reserve a portion of the money from the sale while saying that they gave all the money.
WHY DID THEY DO IT? WAS IT GREED? DID THEY JUST WANT THE PRAISE? We don’t know why they chose to lie; only that the sin was so severe that the death penalty was enforced.
WAS THIS PUNISHMENT HARSH? WOULD IT BE APPLIED TODAY?
WHAT IS GOD’S VIEW OF SIN – ALL SIN, ANY SIN?
The judgment on Ananias and Sapphira would certainly have sent forth a message that God’s power was with this group of believers. Consider the fact that it sent “great fear” to the whole church and ALL WHO HEARD ABOUT IT. They were not afraid that the same thing would happen to them. Rather, this FEAR that filled the church was a reverence or awe for the power of God.
We also need to consider the unique situation of the early church. It was just getting started. People were looking at this group and asking things like, “Can we trust these people?” “Is this just a passing thing or a real movement of God?” “Are these people for real?” (Are they authentic?)
The questions the people asked then are just as important today. Nothing destroys a religious movement quicker than hypocrisy.
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF HOW HYPOCRISY HAS HURT THE CHURCH IN MODERN TIMES?
Jimmy Swaggert, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Peter Popoff, Mike Trout
On May 3, 1987, the story of Gary Hart’s fling with blond model and actress Donna Rice finally erupted into a national scandal.
As it unraveled, the tale included accounts of her visit to his townhouse in Washington, a boat trip to Bimini, off the coast of Florida, as well as assorted reports about the promises he had allegedly made to her about their future together.
Gary Hart showed no remorse.
On May 5, he admitted he’d made a “big mistake” but insisted he had done “nothing immoral.”
On May 8, Hart announced he was withdrawing from the Presidential race.
On May 25, Hart’s picture with Donna Rice sitting on his lap appeared on the front page of a national weekly — along with an account of their overnight trip to Bimini.
On Sept. 22, Hart told Ted Koppel on ABC-TV’s Nightline that he had not been “absolutely faithful” throughout his marriage.
On Dec. 15, Gary Hart announced he had decided to re-enter the Presidential race.
On Jan. 9, he told a newspaper in Des Moines, Iowa, that, if elected, he “wouldn’t be the first adulterer in the White House.”
By Jan. 13, he had received almost $1 million of taxpayers’ money for his campaign.
On Jan. 15, at the Democratic Presidential candidates debate in Iowa, he maintained that “there is a difference between public morality and private morality.”
At this critical time in the history of the church, ANY sign of hypocrisy had to be dealt with swiftly and surely. God certainly does not execute those who lie or practice deceit today. If He did, people would be dropping like flies all around us. But this story emphasizes the importance of authenticity in the life of the church and in the lives of Christians. We have to be people who are what we say we are.
A man sat down to supper with his family, saying grace, thanking God for the food, for the hands which prepared it, and for the source of all life. But during the meal he complained about the freshness of the bread, the bitterness of the coffee and the sharpness of the cheese. His young daughter questioned him, “Dad, do you think God heard the grace today?”
He answered confidently, “Of course.”
Then she asked, “And do you think God heard what you said about the coffee, the cheese, and the bread?” Not so confidently, he answered, “Why, yes, I believe so.”
The little girl concluded, “Then which do you think God believed, Dad?”
The man was suddenly aware that his mealtime prayer had become a rote, thoughtless habit rather than an attentive and honest conversation with God. By not concentrating on that important conversation, he had left the door open to let hypocrisy sneak in.
HOW CAN WE BE AUTHENTIC? WHAT ARE SOME WAYS OF DEALING WITH HYPOCRISY? Let me suggest three ways:
1. The aim low approach. If you keep your standards low enough, it is much easier to hit those standards and you won’t be considered a hypocrite. In marriage, that equates to the following change: instead of as long as we both shall LIVE; it would be as long as we both shall LOVE. In politics, the change is from honesty to plausible deniability (Clinton).
2. The live and let live approach is a variation of the aim low approach. The most important part of this approach is to never say or even imply that there is a right or wrong in the behavior of a person. If you do, then it is being “judgmental” and if there are any flaws in what you are doing, then you will be a hypocrite for pointing out flaws in another. The reference for this is in Matthew where Jesus tells us to remove the plank from our eye before we notice the speck in another. But, IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING JUDGMENTAL AND CONFRONTING WRONG BEHAVIOR? Jesus confronted people all the time. The key is not being blind to our own faults.
WHAT PROBLEMS DO YOU SEE WITH THESE TWO APPROACHES?
Both methods avoid hypocrisy, but do so by destroying the values on which a healthy society is based. What kind of society would we be if we never questioned wrong behavior? We couldn’t confront racism, abuse, neglect, anger, or anything else!
3. A healthier way to avoid hypocrisy is with spiritual honesty.
HOW DOES IT HELP US? It allows us to be open about our own shortcomings and confess that we are sinners. We never pretend that our sins are any worse or any better than anyone else.
The following words are from an old engraving on a cathedral in Labeck, Germany:
Thus speaketh Christ our Lord to us:
You call Me master and obey Me not.
You call Me light and see Me not.
You call Me the Way and walk Me not.
You call Me life and live Me not.
You call Me wise and follow Me not.
You call Me fair and love Me not.
You call Me rich and ask Me not.
You call Me eternal and seek Me not.
If I condemn thee, blame Me not.
When we confront someone, we do so only after prayerful self-examination, and we give the other person the right to confront us in a similar way if they see us doing something that is wrong. We don’t present ourselves as better than we are – or better than the other person is. We confess we fall short at the same time we are trying to leap ahead.
Because of people like Jimmy Swaggert and the Bakers, we know that every era will have hypocrites. But if more of us reach for spiritual honesty, our witness will survive their falls, and God will bless the faithful witness of His children.
The expression “face the music” is said to have originated in Japan. According to the story, one man in the imperial orchestra couldn’t play a note. Being a person of great influence and wealth, he had demanded that he be given a place in the group because he wanted to “perform” before the emperor. The conductor agreed to let him sit in the second row of the orchestra, even though he couldn’t read music. He was given a flute, and when a concert would begin, he’d raise his instrument, pucker his lips, and move his fingers. He would go through all the motions of playing, but he never made a sound. This deception continued for two years.
Then a new conductor took over. He told the orchestra that he wanted to audition each player personally. One by one they performed in his presence. Then came the flutist’s turn. He was frantic with worry, so he pretended to be sick. However, the doctor who was ordered to examine him declared that he was perfectly well. The conductor insisted that the man appear and demonstrate his skill. Shamefacedly he had to confess that he was a fake. He was unable to “face the music.”
In the realm of Christian service, many professing believers go through the motions, but they are only pretenders. Someday they will be called upon to stand before the Judge of heaven and earth, and their deception will be revealed. God will then separate the “phonies” from the real Christians. No one will be able to hide in the crowd. Each will be made to “face the music.”
As mentioned earlier, the church will always have hypocrites. But each of us has a choice in how we will respond. Let me give you some applications to consider:
1. Find a person to be your spiritual advisor. This should be a mature Christian of the same sex who you trust and can be vulnerable.
THE BIBLE PASSAGE THAT ADVISES US TO CONFESS OUR SINS TO ONE ANOTHER IS James 5:16. Do not confess because you are searching for absolution or forgiveness. Do it because it helps you become accountable to another person. Do it because God’s forgiveness can be best felt through another human being. Do it because it will reduce the temptation to be a hypocrite.
WHY DOES CONFESSING TO ANOTHER HUMAN BEING REDUCE THE TEMPATION TO BE FALSE? When you confess to someone else, you realize that another person know you exactly as you are, and this reduces the temptation to be false. That is the essence of vulnerability.
2. Read scripture daily, remembering to apply it to yourself.
Each time you read, ask “what is this saying to ME?”
3. Encourage Christian friends to give you both supportive and developmental feedback. This can only be done in small groups or though intimate relationships with other people. We all need affirmation and accountability. Feedback helps us to grow to be authentic.