I must confess concerning two previous blogposts, in that, we could easily spend a lot of time on each concept of what is “good” and “bad.” As I’ve said previously, I will likely return to both as time goes on. But as it is, it is important to not only talk about the good and the bad, but also the ugly. What I mean is this, if the good is what good there is in the local congregation, and the bad is what starts out as misguided good (leading to poor practice), then the ugly is that which we could question whether it has any proper place at all.
As such, this post will focus on, what I perceive to be anyway, issues that are quite ugly to behold. And who isn’t in the mood to talk about the most obvious which is hypocrisy. We all know the reality of it, we all see the broken witness that occurs because of it.
But what kind of hypocrisy am I speaking of? I suspect I am speaking of the kind of hypocrisy that would say in one breath, “Every person from the womb on has dignity, sanctity, and worth to life being made in the image of God” then in the next breath saying, “I can’t believe SHE’S having a baby! Have you seen her financial situation? How will she afford it? Not even married!”
What happens to such a person? What happens when everyone around her scorns her because of the situation she finds herself in? How does she overcome the torrent of whispers in dark corners jeering her? She likely feels alone, sorrowful, already recognizing the sinful act, and yet somehow is supposed to continue on with a big scarlet S on her chest and love this person who is now permanently attached to her in some manner. What happens with such a woman? I suspect that many simply find an abortion clinic.
But let me make another example of this. When we consider Romans 1 for the majority of the chapter Paul is furiously writing on the evil lifestyles of pagan cultures. Toward the end he says this, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” –Romans 1:28-32, ESV.
Now, notice a number of lifestyles which are seen as “manner of unrighteousness.” We know the obvious ones, “Evil, covetousness, malice” and “Envy, murder, strife, deceit…” But notice this other group, “gossips, slanderers.” My point is this, there are many who would probably begin highlighting particular sins in this list and say, “Ah yes! How dreadful!” Yet as soon as they come to what they deem as, perhaps, a lesser sin they will say, “Meh.”
Yet, is not all unrighteousness unrighteous? Indeed, are we not called to seek perfection as our heavenly father is perfect (Matthew 5:48)? Are we not to seek out the big and small sins our lives? Are we not to be consistent with our standards?
Because of these lapses in standards it leads to ugly appearances on our part. It leads to us looking more and more like those whom Christ critiques in Matthew 23 for being hypocrites. Indeed, are we in danger of being “whitewashed tombs” just as they? Do we allow certain sins because they are less obvious, or we consider them less sinful? Do we allow a gossip because we think gossiping is less ugly?
As it is, this is not a call to be either apathetic toward certain sins, nor a call to empathy toward certain sins. That is, all because we can be hypocritical in our inability to often attain the standard set before us it does not mean the standard should be lowered, nor does it mean we should simply allow sins to persist because of our weakness. Instead, we should seek to attain the higher standard found in Christ. We should seek, with our great Helper, to eradicate the sinful lifestyles in our lives, earnestly seeking to stand firm against any form of unrighteousness which we possess.
When we consider the greatness of our Savior it should cause us to feel sorrow over our sin. Not because of a sense of guilt (or at least not a sense of being guilty before God if we are in Christ, for we know those in Christ no longer have such guilt), but instead it should cause within us a desire to do better because our God deserves better. He deserves a people who bear good fruit by seeking repentance from our sinful lifestyles which dishonor Him. It doesn’t matter if it is a “small” or “large” sin. For all sin is worthy of death when compared to holiness and righteousness of God. Yet, for all sin Christ died so we might have life.
Yet this requires us to truly desire to honor God. It requires us to acknowledge those in our lives whom God might be using to say, “turn from this sinful practice.” It might require us, in humility, to submit to a God who knows far more than us, and has far more in store for us, than what our sinful desires have for us.
In other words, we should heed the words of Christ to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, but especially what we read here, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24, ESV). In particular, when he says, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
I think the lesson learned from this passage is to remind us of the significance of the Law and not to neglect some of it for others. I think this particular woe on the Pharisees is particularly important to us today because it reminds us to call sin, “sin.” But it also reminds us to not stop there either.
So how do we deal with the woman in first example I gave? I suspect the best thing to do is acknowledge the sin as such. Unmarried person falls into sexual sin and conceives. Yep, the sexual act is outside the norm and unfavorable in God’s sight. It is good, and right, to say this. What do we do then? Whatever we can to make sure that woman, and that person in her womb, knows that they have dignity, sanctity, and worth, and that they are both made in the image of God, and that redemption is found in Christ. Maybe making sacrifices for them financially or with your time, and maybe acting like Christ who sacrificed all for us even while we were in our sin? Is there a more wonderful endeavor?
Unfortunately, hypocrisy is not something that will ever be weeded out completely in our congregations. Why? Because I know every congregation is filled to the brim with people just like me, sinners saved by grace who struggle, fail, mess up, fall down, and are lifted back up. But, that doesn’t mean we do nothing. Instead, it means we continue to try as individuals and congregations to do better because our God deserves it. Because of His great love for us found in Christ. He deserves for us to root out the ugliness. Indeed we maintain hope even though there is ugliness here, because if we have learned anything from the Gospel of Christ it’s that even our ugliness can be redeemed, and praise God this is the case, because I know I have had plenty of ugliness in my life, and yet God has still redeemed me, so I have hope even here.
Soli Deo Gloria,