Tag Archives: Hypocrisy

A different perspective on a controversial topic

Much has been written about whether state laws compel Christian business owners to perform services (e.g. cater, photograph, or bake) for gay weddings and if so whether states should pass new laws providing a faith-based exemption from such obligation. Instead of adding my voice to the thousands who already have expressed a view on this aspect of the controversy, I encourage Christian business owners to consider the following when deciding whether Jesus wants His followers to offer professional services at those weddings.

1] First, let’s remember our primary objective as Christians, especially Evangelicals, is to share the good news of Jesus Christ and His love and resurrection with a lost and broken world. A serious commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission compels believers to identify chances to connect with the lost and dying. For Christian business owners this should translate to pursuing enthusiastically opportunities to do business with those who do not know the Lord. Doing so allows them to demonstrate to customers the love, mercy, kindness, and grace of our Savior – by their behavior and the manner in which they conduct business.

It ought to excite us, then, when nonbelievers want to patronize our businesses because it allows us to establish and nurture long-term relationships with them. Such relationships can eventually lead to conversations about faith, the Bible, and Jesus. What a tremendous opening for the gospel.

Unfortunately, many Christian business owners refuse to capitalize on opportunities to build authentic relationships with nonbelievers, especially those in the LGBT community, simply because they disagree with their lifestyle. In doing so they do the gospel and the Great Commission a serious disservice and miss a prime opportunity to share Jesus’ love and truth with those who need Him. Their refusal to provide professional services at gay weddings also intensifies the animosity the LGBT community has towards Christianity and undermines efforts to reach them with the good news. Is that really what the Lord wants?

2] Second, let’s remember one of the most powerful lessons of Jesus’ ministry. When He joined Matthew the tax collector at his house for a feast attended by numerous sinners, religious leaders were horrified. How could anyone claiming to speak for God surround himself with such despicable reprobates? Didn’t He realize that socializing with such people condoned their sin and celebrated their lifestyles?

Jesus dismissed their concerns and explained that they (the religious leaders) were far from God, not those who invested time building relationships with sinners.

He reminded His followers, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32, NKJV). Sadly, many believers forget that lesson and refuse to associate with anyone whose lifestyle they disapprove of. Such actions directly contradict Jesus’ message. It is an important reminder for Christian business owners, too, who God may have blessed with a company for the express purpose of reaching the spiritually sick, not to make money, achieve success, and infuriate those who have yet to meet the Son of God.

3] Many Christian business owners argue that if they provide professional services for a gay wedding society will wrongly assume they approve of the gay lifestyle. They insist that such a misunderstanding undermines Christian principles and dishonors Jesus’ teaching. Surprisingly, they often fail to express similar concern that their refusal to provide professional services for gay weddings might be misinterpreted as hateful, judgmental, and laced with condemnation. If society’s misperceptions concern some Christian business owners, then society’s view that we’re hatemongers ought to alarm them most, since that represents the antithesis of Jesus and His message. How can believers make inroads with the LGBT community and a skeptical, secular society when they observe frequent acts of self-righteous antagonism instead of acts of humility, service, and compassion? We need to ditch the self-righteousness and redouble our efforts to humbly serve with compassion.

4] If Christian business owners genuinely believe it is inappropriate to provide professional services for any wedding that contravenes Scripture, they should refuse to photograph, bake cakes, or cater many heterosexual weddings as well. Jesus tells us: “Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32, NKJV). Adultery, of course, was proscribed in the Ten Commandments. Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that marriage between a man and a divorced woman (and presumably vice versa) violates God’s standard.

Christian business owners who refuse to provide services for gay weddings but happily offer services for heterosexual weddings involving a divorced party are acting inconsistently. Such hypocrisy suggests the refusal to offer services for gay weddings has more to do with their own attitudes and biases than it does with biblical principles. Of course, I’m not suggesting Christian business owners refuse to provide services to weddings involving a divorced party. I’m simply pointing out the hypocrisy demonstrated when they service those weddings but not gay weddings.

In fact, a Christian business owner genuinely committed to following biblical principles in his or her business must extend those principles well beyond the issue of marriage. They also will avoid providing services to any event that celebrates unbiblical lifestyles such as greed, materialism, idolatry, and dishonesty. Such sins are far more widespread in our country and were consistently and unambiguously condemned by Jesus in Scripture. I wonder how many Christian business owners who refuse to serve gay weddings eagerly serve events at greedy hedge-fund offices, high-end car dealerships that promote materialism, marketing firms that celebrate excess, and political consultants where dishonesty is critical to success? Those Christian business owners who do, I would argue, possess a motivation far less noble than upholding the sanctity of God’s Word.

Again, I’m not suggesting Christian business owners decline to serve hedge-fund offices, car dealerships, marketing firms, or political consultants. I’m simply pointing out the inconsistency that exists in how many of them apply their principles.

5] Many Christian business owners who refuse to provide services at gay weddings insist they are not discriminating and do not hate gays. They simply want to defend the traditional view of marriage. But I wonder if any evidence exists to support that claim. Are they involved in reaching out to the gay and lesbian community and developing strong relationships with them? Far too few links exist between the Evangelical and LGBT communities. If these business owners are true to their word, they will prove it by leading the effort to address this deficiency. Otherwise it’s all talk.

6] Finally, we need to remember that people’s lifestyles and behaviors change after they come to Christ, not before. We need to avoid trying to force change in others before salvation. Such transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. Though Christians universally embrace this truth in principle, too often we operate as though we expect sinners to change before we share the gospel. That is unbiblical and counter-productive. Let’s remember our role is to love, serve, and minister to the lost and dying, while the Holy Spirit’s role is to change hearts.

I encourage believers, and especially Christian business owners, to reexamine how we fulfill our role as it relates to reaching the LGBT community with the good news of Jesus Christ. Is refusing to provide professional services at gay weddings really the best way? I don’t think so and doubt Jesus does either.

Church, Culture & A Nation’s Decline.

A growing tendency exists in the Christian community to assign blame for our country’s condition on a culture we view as increasingly wicked and immoral. From nationally recognized Christians who speak for millions to religious politicians seeking to galvanize voter support, from pastors preaching to congregations to individual Christians posting on social media accounts, there is more agreement than ever that society-at-large is responsible for the deteriorating state of our nation. These voices insist that the eventual collapse of our country will occur because society has turned its’ back on God and chosen to chase sin instead.

While this message enjoys broad support in evangelical and conservative Christian circles and finds an enthusiastic and receptive audience on talk radio, at conservative political events, and in many Christian churches, it suffers several serious flaws that ought to concern us as believers. First, it ignores any culpability of the church for the nation’s condition. Second, the message disregards relevant biblical truths that reveal the proper role the church plays in transforming culture. Third, it reinforces secular society’s perception that the church excels at pointing fingers and is filled with self-righteous hypocrites. Finally, it buttresses the misperception that publically castigating society is an effective strategy for igniting spiritual change.

I think one reason attacks on secular society’s escalating immorality are so popular is because it places the blame and focus on them, not us. If they did not reject God our nation would be better off. If they sinned less we would enjoy more of God’s blessings. If they were Christians like us everything would be grand. Implicit in this thinking is that society bears full responsibility for our nation’s moral descent and approaching moral bankruptcy. We (the church and churchgoers) are blameless. Our faith absolves us from culpability. Consequently, we need not examine our lives for ungodly behavior or ask God to reveal our hidden sins.

Unfortunately, such reasoning does not confirm our holiness or proximity to God. It simply fuels our spiritual pride. We convince ourselves that Christians are the only thing delaying God’s immediate judgment on the nation, not His grace or mercy. Such arrogance on our part does as much to separate the nation from God as the decadence of society. God hates vanity as much as any other sin. We would do well to remember Jesus’ advice to His followers.

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:13-16, NLT).

Notice two important truths in that passage. First, we are called to live in a manner that glorifies Christ and offers a visual contrast to the lifestyle embraced by the world. God uses lives of humility, service, love, forgiveness, and godliness to draw others to Him, as they witness our behavior over time. He calls us to live as lights on the hill and salt in the culture, not as bullhorns incessantly informing society how bad it is.

Second, Jesus tells us that if salt loses its flavor it is worthless and will be discarded. A society awash in sin, then, says as much about us as believers as it does about the culture. We are losing our flavor, our light is dimming, and we are at risk of being trampled underfoot as worthless. But instead of falling on our knees before the Lord, repenting, seeking forgiveness, and asking Him to remove the sin from our lives, we choose to yell at society, disparage its’ immorality, and place on its shoulders the blame for our country’s condition. Why won’t we awake to our own sin and confess our role in weakening the moral foundation of the nation? For the same reason society refuses to accept its role or confess its sin: Pride.

That’s why we affect so little change when we point our collective church finger at society and issue accusations. It looks at us and laughs derisively. It knows the Bible well enough to know that Jesus did not take that approach to reform Israel. Instead, He invested His life serving others, loving the marginalized, discipling a handful of followers, and praying throughout the night on a regular basis. As a result, His life did more than change Israel it transformed the world. Once we embrace the radical, sacrificial lifestyle of Jesus, society will sit up and take notice. And we won’t have to shout a single word to get their attention.

While the church may find this message uncomfortable and challenging, I hope many view it as encouraging and hopeful as well. It is intended to awaken believers so we might be used of God to stir society. Sadly, if experience is any indication, many Christians will respond in a manner that mirrors society’s response to public rebukes from Christian leaders. They will take umbrage, disagree, and insist it is only an opinion (and a lousy one at that).

But if we are serious about bringing revival to this country and genuinely want to see our nation adopt God’s standards, we need to avoid shouting at society and casting it as the villain responsible for our condition (remember, the only yelling Jesus did was directed at religious leaders he described as hypocrites). Let’s instead consider the challenges above, examine our hearts, and do a better job following Jesus’ example. Once we allow God to turn our lives upside-down, we’ll be in position for Him to use us to do the same with our nation. And that’s something we can all get excited about!

Three Verses that Bible Literalists Ignore.

A significant number of Christians, especially in the Evangelical community, embrace a literal interpretation of the Bible. They believe God means exactly what His Word says and refuse to entertain any idea that some passages in Scripture employ literary devices such as metaphors, hyperbole, and allegories. Convinced of their position, they demand church doctrine align with a literal view; all other perspectives are heresy.

For example, literalists read Genesis and insist that God created the world in six 24-hour days. They read Revelation and contend that exactly one-third of the grass is burned (and not a blade more) when the first trumpet sounds, exactly two hundred million soldiers are saddled at the River Euphrates (and not one less) when the sixth trumpet sounds, and exactly a quarter of mankind is killed with the opening of the fourth seal (no more and no less). For them, orthodoxy requires rigid adherence to every dotted ‘i’ and crossed ‘t’.

Curiously, Bible literalists often ignore other Bible passages where a literal interpretation inconveniences them or disrupts their lifestyle. They employ a literal view of Scripture on an inconsistent basis. Let’s look at three such passages often disregarded by Bible literalists.

Jesus tells his followers, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12-14, NKJV).

The literal interpretation of this verse is quite clear. Yet, I wonder how many of those who claim to follow the Bible literally have obeyed this verse? How many have invited the homeless, destitute, and diseased into their homes and celebrated with a dinner party, social event, or celebration? We can all come up with excuses for why we don’t. It’s too dangerous. They’ll steal my stuff. No poor or homeless people live near me. They smell bad and behave boorishly. But Jesus doesn’t condition our obedience on convenience or safety. If you follow the Bible literally, then the next dinner or social event you host should include lots of strangers marginalized by society, not friends and family.

Some will argue that their church sponsors something similar during Thanksgiving, inviting the homeless and poor into the fellowship hall for a meal. Others will explain that they visit a homeless shelter once a month to help serve meals. And that’s all well and good, but it does not represent a literal application of Scripture. Those who claim to believe the Bible literally must invite “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” into their home the next time they host a social or family event. That’s literally what Jesus taught.

On another occasion Jesus told His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24, NKJV). The literal interpretation is clear. It is difficult for the rich to enter heaven. That’s a very straightforward and easy to understand message. Yet, I wonder how many Bible literalists strive to be rich, or are rich? If your goal is to spend eternity with Jesus why make things hard on yourself by being rich?

I’ve heard this passage taught dozens of times by pastors and church leaders across the country. Curiously, the focus is almost always on what Jesus isn’t saying rather than on what he is. Ministers tell their congregations that Jesus isn’t telling us it’s wrong to be rich. He isn’t telling us that wealth is bad. He isn’t telling us that no one who is wealthy can make it into heaven. And so on, and so on. They want their flocks to understand that they can continue living prosperous lives of comfort, luxury, and excess and still experience eternity with Christ. They use the passage to teach the exact opposite message of what Jesus is communicating to His followers: Quit wasting your time pursuing wealth and the things of this world. Why? Because those who do become distracted from following Him and their faith never blossoms. Anyone serious about following Scripture literally will have a much different understanding and application of this passage than what we hear from the majority of pulpits on Sunday. Jesus’ words could not be clearer. Literally.

Finally, Jesus also informed His disciples, “You will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22, NKJV). Too often we hear that following Jesus will make things easier in life. Jesus rebukes that nonsense here and explains that things will actually get tougher. People will hate us for no other reason than our love for Him. To experience salvation, though, we must endure to the end. It is not enough to make a profession of faith and then succumb to the temptations of the world or renounce our faith in the face of persecution. Jesus declared we must endure. Only then will we enjoy eternity with Him. Too often we hear that as long as someone professes faith in Christ, he or she is guaranteed eternal salvation. But that is not what Jesus teaches here, or in any other passage. If we really believe the inerrancy and literal interpretation of the Bible, we must recognize that God calls us to remain faithful until the end.

Sadly, few Christians embrace the literal (and intended) interpretation of the above passages. Instead, most of us perform all sorts of intellectual gyrations to avoid arriving at the application Jesus intended when He taught His disciples these truths. Surprisingly, even Bible literalists reject the literal (and obvious) message of Jesus’ teachings because doing so will burden or inconvenience them. It will force them to live lives they have no interest in living and follow a faith they cannot reconcile with their current lifestyles. So to ensure their doctrinal purity they proclaim themselves defenders of Bible truth and insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible – but only when it’s an intellectual exercise that doesn’t disrupt their daily routine. But that’s not Bible literalism, that’s hypocrisy.

I’m not suggesting a literal interpretation of Scripture is wrong. Generally, I take that approach myself, except when it is clear a literary device is being used. However, when Bible literalists apply their rigid interpretation only to verses that require nothing more than intellectual assent and refuse to apply it to verses that inconvenience, discomfort, or disrupt their lives and lifestyle, then that is not only wrong, it is dangerous duplicity. And that could cost them in the end.

Are Evangelicals Modern-Day Pharisees?

Jesus’ teaching on love, mercy, and forgiveness has drawn people to Him for two millennia and enjoys universal appeal both within and without the Christian community. His message of hope, peace and joy has comforted those awash in despair, victimized by conflict, and burdened by suffering. But not everyone in Jesus’ day agreed with His revolutionary ideas. His most strident opponents, the Pharisees, were self-proclaimed guardians of religious law who pontificated right and wrong. They demanded the masses follow their directives or risk God’s wrath.

Not surprisingly, Jesus employed fiery rhetoric to excoriate these religious frauds and pulled no linguistic punches. He addressed the sin embedded in their lives and unveiled the hypocrisy of their faith. He exposed them as caretakers of a religious scam perpetrated on a public desperate to know God.

It is tempting for modern Christians and, especially, leaders in the evangelical community to ignore potential similarities between us and the Pharisees. Too often we refuse to consider the possibility that we practice faith in a way that mirrors how those religious imposters practiced theirs. We believe ourselves exempt from the lessons of Jesus’ scathing attacks on religious phonies because we view our faith through a self-righteous lens. Jesus’ insight on the subject applies to others but not us, we tell ourselves. Our faith is beyond reproach. Such dismissive treatment of Jesus’ words, however, proves how much we resemble the Pharisees. We disregard this likeness at our own peril.

While a thorough and detailed examination of this topic requires a treatise, this blog aims to identify several areas in which modern evangelicals often mirror First Century Pharisees. Please keep in mind the topic is addressed out of love for the church and concern for its spiritual health. I encourage readers to heed Paul’s words to “examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NKJV). The Pharisees were certain they possessed genuine faith but did not.

One of the defining attributes of the Pharisees’ faith was hypocrisy. They insisted others follow a rigid set of rules but refused to cleanse their hearts from wickedness. Jesus said they “outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28, NKJV). This inconsistency between outward appearance and inward holiness destroys ministries, corrodes faith, impedes the work of the church, and leads to spiritual darkness. God is far more concerned with the condition of our hearts than any verbal profession of faith we make. The Pharisees prayed long, eloquent prayers in public, could quote the Torah with ease, and possessed impeccable religious credentials. Yet Jesus quoted Isaiah in describing them as people who worshipped God in vain because their hearts were far from Him.

Jesus explained that the heart defines a person’s faith not what proceeds from his or her mouth. Hypocrites honor God with their lips alone while true believers honor Him with the heart as well. What flows from your heart? Do deceit, materialism, hate, jealousy, adultery, and gossip reside there and rule your thoughts? If so, ask the Lord to remove those desires and replace them with the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).

The Pharisees also reveled in proclaiming judgment on others. John captures an excellent example of this in his gospel account. The Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. Her guilt is certain. Witnesses will testify of her sin. Mosaic Law required death, by stoning. They gleefully want her condemned. She is wicked, contemptible, and worthless they believe. Surely Jesus will agree. But He doesn’t. He tells them the one without sin should throw the first stone and the entire group disperses, aware of their sin. Jesus shows the woman mercy, reveals Himself to her and refuses to condemn her. That is the pattern for us as we interact with a fallen world, instead of rushing to judgment, pointing fingers of condemnation, and proclaiming “Sinner” to those practicing ungodly behavior.

That’s an important lesson for evangelicals and church leaders who insist on decrying the wickedness of Hollywood, public school curriculum, gays, abortion providers, and illegal aliens. Like the Pharisees, many are quick to proclaim the sin of people and want to remind them of God’s pending judgment for their conduct. In the process they forget about Jesus’ example. If we followed His model I suspect we would impact the nation more powerfully. We need to extend mercy, build relationships, and share Christ’s love with folks. Over time we earn the right to speak candidly about Scripture and what it says about specific topics and behaviors. Also, our voice carries far more weight when spoken as a caring friend than as a judgmental stranger. The Pharisees adopted the approach of the judgmental stranger and secured Jesus’ rebuke as a result.

Finally, pride marked the Pharisees’ lives. Consumed with self-righteousness, they demanded the best of everything, insisted on respect, and basked in prestige. In doing so they revealed the condition of their hearts. They desired the things of the world as much as the secularist. But instead of pursuing such lusts via commerce, academia, or government, they used religion as the means to achieve their objectives. Religion was an avenue to secure the status, lifestyle, comfort, and esteem that appealed to them. Rather than pursue genuine humility they exalted themselves. Instead of living selfless lives serving others they required others serve them.

Sadly, a segment of the evangelical community suffers the same fatal flaw. Pride is endemic within the church, perhaps more than any other sin. More than just tolerated it is often celebrated. Increasingly, Christians toot their religious horns. We love to proclaim the depth of our relationship with God, emphasize how He is at work in our lives, and inform others that He revealed some insight to us during a devotional. We neglect Jesus’ counsel to avoid calling attention to our spiritual growth and instead declare it to Christian peers, often in exaggerated terms. Pride prevented the Pharisees from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and having an authentic relationship with God. Similarly, it prevents us from hearing the still, small voice of God and enjoying genuine faith in Christ.

Take time to examine your heart. Do you demonstrate a Pharisaical heart? Do your thoughts and desires reflect the faith you profess or does an inconsistency exist between the two? Are you quick to condemn others and denounce sinners or do you build relationships with them predicated on love, mercy and compassion? Do you exalt your faith before others or is it grounded in humility?

The Pharisees were convinced they were closer to God than others. They were certain of God’s favor on them; that He was well pleased with their faith. In reality they were further from God than anyone because of the hardness of their hearts. Anyone confident he or she bears no resemblance to the Pharisees is likely the one most similar. Pride deceives such individuals.

Take a moment to ask God to show the true condition of your heart. As He does, repent from any sin He reveals. Pray He removes any hypocrisy crippling your faith and any pride corroding your relationship with Him. Request He replace any judgmental attitude with a spirit of gentleness. If you do, He will answer your prayer and you will experience revitalized faith.