How often have you heard a story like this?
“I work with a man who says he is a Christian, and he teaches Sunday school at his church. But he is probably the most negative and critical person in the office. He often gets into conflict with people and draws other people into his little battles. He drags the whole office down. He’s such a hypocrite.”
It’s an old story, isn’t it? The hypocrite who claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t back his words with actions. His life embodies the words of James 2:14, which tells us, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?”
Webster’s Online dictionary provides a pretty good definition of a hypocrite: It is “a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion,” or a “person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.” Our modern culture likes to link the word with Christianity—according to a survey of “unchurched” adults released last week by LifeWay Research (part of the Southern Baptist Convention), 72 percent said the church is “full of hypocrites.”
Let me state something very clearly at this point: I believe that hypocrisy is a human condition—it’s not confined to Christians. Anyone who holds strong convictions—whether in Christianity, or Communism, or in saving the environment—will be a hypocrite at times. His actions and choices will sometimes betray his words.
It does seem sadder to me, however, when I see hypocrisy in a follower of Christ … or in myself. I read in John 13:35 that others will know we are disciples of Christ “if you have love for one another,” and I know that we can show this love in the power of the Spirit. When we do not, our proclamations of truth become empty. As James 2 goes on to say:
If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Of all the places where we should show our faith by our actions, the home is foremost. But the home is also where we relax and take off the “masks” we wear each day to impress other people; that may make it the most difficult place to show the love and compassion of Christ on a regular basis. Applying the theme of James 2 to the home, “What use is it to say you follow Christ when you don’t show your faith in the way you love and serve your family?”
And so we hear about the man who helps people every day through his encouragement and his wise, biblical counsel … and returns home to emotionally abuse his wife with his relentless criticism.
We hear about the wife who says she is “saved” and grateful for God’s forgiveness, and yet cannot forgive her husband when he manages his money poorly and takes the family into debt.
We hear about the father who, in his anger and bitterness, causes his children to lose all interest in the Christian faith. Or the mother who thinks she is being a good model to her children because she attends a weekly Bible study, but doesn’t recognize the damage caused by her preoccupation with materialism and worldly success.
The home may be the place where it’s most difficult to live out our faith—and also the most important. What would happen in your marriage and your family if you were to ask God to reveal any hypocrisy in your own life, and then were willing to repent of that hypocrisy and begin walking in the power of God’s love and forgiveness?
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