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Our Nebraska District Mission Board met this week with a pastor who was doing canvassing around the church. When we asked him what objection most of the people he talked to had about church or organized religion, he said that the objection mentioned most often was hypocrisy. When asked how he responded to the accusation of hypocrisy he said that after trying a number of responses he had settled on this one. Everyone has some hypocritical views, the important question is how strongly you cling to them?
Hypocrisy is openly on display in our world and not just in the church. People have noticed that many people, from politicians to next-door neighbors have made rules for Thee but not for me, rules that they want to impose on others but want to be free to ignore for themselves when they are inconvenient. We know where this attitude comes from. It’s a manifestation of the sinful nature that is all about self-gratification. The sinful nature loves to have us look at the speck in everyone else’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own eye. It moves us to judge ourselves better than others, to think they need the rules, but we don’t because we are so much better or smarter than they. The sinful nature moves us to only and always think about me, myself and I. If it moves me to do something nice for someone it’s only in anticipation of receiving some benefit in return.
So, what do people see about the church that seems hypocritical to them? I’m sure you have seen or heard the accusation in connection with abortion. The church, some Christians, want to outlaw abortions but they don’t do anything to help those who are pregnant and in difficult circumstances. The church, Christians, are opposed to divorce, but just as many churched people are divorced as there are in the general population. The church, Christians, condemn homosexuality, but a lot of church people break the same commandment by having multiply partners, or living together before they are married. They say Jesus loves everyone but the church, Christians, are often unloving to people who don’t look like them.
There is some truth to all these objections. But that’s where the pastor’s response fits so well. Everyone has some hypocritical views, some hypocrisy. The question is how strongly do you cling to those hypocritical views? When your hypocrisy is pointed out do you continue to hold to it, or do you admit it, confess it. Yes, the church is full of hypocrites. The world is full of hypocrites. The difference in the church should be that we recognize our hypocrisy, confess it as sin, and look to Jesus for forgiveness and strength to overcome it.
The hypocrisy that flows from the sinful nature’s desire for self-gratification is overcome by selfless love, and selfless love brings glory, not to self, but to God.
God is love, selfless love.
You know the passage. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. Who can even imagine that! God helped Abraham imagine giving up the son he loved when he asked him to sacrifice him, but Abraham didn’t have to go through with it. What Abraham didn’t have to do God did. He sacrificed his beloved Son, not for people who loved him, but for a world who constantly rebelled against him. We see God’s glory in the selfless love that motivated him to sacrifice his beloved son for us while we were still sinners.
God is glorified in his son, Jesus, who because he is one with the Father demonstrated the same selfless love as the father. He was not forced to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. He volunteered. He willingly gave up the glory of heaven so that he could live on earth as our substitute. He prayed in the garden, not my will but your will be done. If there is no other way to save sinners than by suffering a painful death on the cross, I willingly offer myself as a sacrifice in their place.
God is glorified when we see his selfless love in being willing to sacrifice his beloved son. God is glorified when we see his son, Jesus, willingly sacrifice himself for a world full of sinners, hypocrites. There was no self-gratification in Jesus. He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for all.
With that in mind, Jesus says to his disciples, and us, a new commandment I give you: Love one another. If you know the Bible, you might wonder about that statement. You might wonder what is new about that? The Bible clearly taught from the very beginning that people are to love their neighbor as themselves. Jesus makes clear what he means by new. As I have loved you, so also you are to love one another. What’s new is that we get to see more clearly than anyone in history before Jesus what is meant by loving one another. As Jesus had explained in his sermon on the mount, it’s not love those who love you, or love your neighbor and hate your enemy. It’s love even those who hate you and who persecute you and who do all kinds of evil things. It’s remembering that Jesus loved you even when you were still a sinner, breaking all his laws, rebelling against him, hating him. When there was nothing lovable about you Jesus loved you anyway. And he didn’t just say it, he showed it. He loved you even though loving you cost him dearly – giving up heaven for a while, being betrayed, rejected, beaten, and crucified, all because he loved you.
Love, selfless love, the kind of love Jesus showed for us, overcomes self-gratification that shows itself in hypocrisy.
We saw how Peter learned that lesson in our first reading. Jesus used a sheet full of unclean animals to remind Peter to show selfless love. He told him that the message of the vision was not to call anything clean that God had declared clean. When the invitation from Cornelius, a Gentile, came Peter would be tempted with self-gratification, with the thought that his record of cleanliness was more important than accepting the invitation to go and share God’s word with Gentiles. The vision made it clear that he would be a hypocrite if he were to say no because he wanted to hold on to his record of cleanliness at the expense of sharing God’s word with others. The selfless love Jesus showed him overcame his objections and later, the objections of some in the church. In selfless love they were led to praise and glorify God and rejoice that God had granted repentance that results in life also to the Gentiles.
Paul talked to the Corinthians about how even good things can become forms of hypocrisy and self-gratification. If you speak in tongues, or proclaim God’s word powerfully, in a way that shuts down all arguments and speak God’s truth about the beginning of life and gender and marriage; if you have faith that can move mountains, or that enables you to suffer martyrdom; but you do those things looking down on others and judging yourself better than others you are not loving others as Jesus loves you. You will be rightly seen as a hypocrite. Instead of bringing glory to God you will distract people from seeing the glory of God.
What God says through Isaiah is clearly true. Even all our righteous acts, even the good things we do are like filthy rags in God’s sight. Everything we do is tainted by sin. Nothing we do is done 100% in selfless love. We never have a reason to judge ourselves better than others. With Paul, we see ourselves as a chief of sinners. With the tax collector in the temple we pray, God be merciful to me, a sinner.
Paul tells us to speak the truth, never compromise God’s truth no matter how unpopular it might be. He tells us to speak the truth of God’s word in love, in a way that reflects the selfless love of Jesus, in a way that shows that we are more concerned about others than we are about ourselves, that we are not just trying to make a point or show our superiority, but we are just as sinful as anyone else and are truly concerned for everyone’s soul – tattooed or not, long hair or short, well dressed or dressed in rags, gay or straight. See everyone you meet as a sinner like you for whom Jesus lived and died. Love them as Jesus loved you.
When we realize that we are all too often motivated by our sinful nature, by self-gratification, seeking to show ourselves better than others, instead of holding stubbornly to our hypocrisy, may we humbly confess our sins. Then, as we see the selfless love of Jesus who died for us while we were still sinners, and we see God glorified in Jesus, our desire for self-gratification will be overcome. We will be moved by the Spirit to love others, both those who love us and those who hate us, in the same way that Jesus loves us.