Read an Excerpt
Developing the Disciplines of a Sincere Faith
By James MacDonald, Neil Wilson
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2013 James MacDonald
All rights reserved.
SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY HYPOCRITICAL PEOPLE
Let's be authentic! I'm as anxious as you are about digging into what it means to be real people, but experience tells me that we can't start examining authenticity until we've confronted hypocrisy. We won't take seriously the practices of a sincere faith until we see the danger of insincerity. And believe me, there is a lot of pretense out there. All of us know people who wear masks; acting like they're something they're not. But if we're not careful, hypocrisy is an easy act to put on ourselves.
It would be massively hypocritical and truly inauthentic of me to race into this subject without stopping to disclose my own battles with hypocrisy. While, by God's grace, there is nothing "behind the curtain" that would make you want to throw this book in the fireplace, I have had seasons in my life since high school where my "public" outpaced my "private" and led inevitably to relational fallout and bitter tears. Like Peter after his 3-peat denial "went out and wept bitterly," I have felt the sting of being for Christ and others far less than I desired to be. I have lost my cool with treasured staff. I have struggled to forgive when extended family has hurt me, and I have neglected my wife and kids for brief periods when the demands of opportunity outshouted personal sanity. I have seen a few things a man of God should not look at and handled pressure in ways that protected self instead of honoring others. I have even had some seasons where my neglect of the disciplines included here has ravaged my soul, requiring me to crawl back for fresh mercy and renewed pursuit. What I have never done, by God's grace, is refuse His discipline, or harden my heart to His calls for humility, confession, and reconciliation, both vertically (with Him) and horizontally (with others).
Nothing will shred your soul faster than acceptance of hypocrisy, so let's deal head-on with the matter of this authentic opposite. We can't read Matthew 23 attentively without feeling just a little uncomfortable, because Jesus didn't mince words when it came to hypocrisy. He went hard after it. The language of this passage is unparalleled in all of the words that came from the mouth of Jesus Christ.
The first verses are a backdrop for everything that happens: "Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat ...'" (vv. 1–2). In other words, Jesus recognized that the current religious leaders had inherited Moses's authority. They were supposed to be guardians of the Law, not reshapers of God's instruction. They had no license to revise or rewrite what God said.
Once Jesus acknowledged the leaders' position, He cautioned about thoughtless obedience: "... so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice" (v. 3). The Pharisees could quote Scripture with the best of them; but their personal lives were a contradiction, not to be imitated. "They tie up heavy burdens (one translation says, 'They bind up'), hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger" (v. 4). Picture someone filling a large backpack with rocks, tying odd but heavy stuff all over the outside of the pack, and then instructing you to pick it up and carry it joyfully while they stand back and watch you stagger down the road.
"They do all their deeds to be seen by others" (v. 5). The Pharisees were famous for putting on a good show in public while they exempted themselves from their own rules in private. Failure of integrity at the leadership level leads to a casual and even arrogant attitude toward integrity at other levels. If the leaders can get away with this stuff, why not the rest of us? Unchallenged, sham-living at the top results in sham-living all the way to the bottom!
"For they make their phylacteries ..." (v. 5). Devout Jewish people wore special headbands with a little box attached that looked like a headlamp. Inside were small scrolls with meticulously copied portions of Scripture. Their outfits were ostentatious, showing all who saw them they were set apart and special. "I love the Bible so much I'm wearing it!"
Over the centuries, the Israelites transformed Deuteronomy 6:8 from a vivid command into a hollow reenactment of God's truth. The entire context was about God's law and the fact that it was supposed to be the subject of continual meditation, conversation, and obedience:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Instead of being as signs or as frontlets (as in, always immediately accessible to you), snippets of God's laws had become trinkets worn for show. The symbols had replaced what they were intended to symbolize. Today's version might be, I love God's Word—I own fifteen Bibles—but no, I don't actually read any of them.
Jesus continued in Matthew 23:6–7, "... and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others." Their role as teachers had become all about them and the prestige that went with the position rather than their responsibility before God! Jesus shifted the emphasis back where it belonged. "But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers" (v. 8). The messenger is nothing; the message is everything. "And call no man your father on earth ..." No religious leader is to be called father. How clear is that? Don't call people "father" for "... you have one Father who is in heaven" (v. 9).
"Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (vv. 10–12). Now as Jesus was saying these things (remember from verse 1) to the crowds and to His disciples, the scribes and the Pharisees were listening in. And their mouths were falling open. Then Jesus turned His attention toward them directly and used the strongest language of denunciation in the entire New Testament to address Himself to the subject of hypocrisy.
Jesus said, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees...." He will repeat that word woe seven times in the verses that follow. The Greek ouai is not so much a word but a heart cry of anger, pain, and denunciation. It expresses grief and profound dissatisfaction. Yet here, from the lips of Christ, it's not an exclamation, as in "Whoa!" or a point of punctuation; it is a divine proclamation of judgment. As the second person of the Trinity, Jesus pronounces God's verdict upon the hypocrites and points to their sentencing in eternity.
The word woe on Jesus' lips that day meant, "How greatly you will suffer!" So when Jesus Christ says multiple times, beginning in verse 13, "Woe to you," we can't read those phrases softly or casually. It's "WOE to you, scribes and Pharisees!"
The Pharisees Jesus was chastising were the most religious people of their day. They were the Bible-carrying believers, the most into it of anyone. And if you consider yourself into God's Word as I do, then we—more than any others—are the possible contemporary parallel for the Pharisees. Of course their error was not their reverence for God's Word but their insistence upon adding to parts while ignoring others. We must check ourselves against the standard Jesus used.
Jesus was confronting men who were serious—even fanatical about their man-made religion. I could go on at length about the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the scribes, but I fear an extended description would be a distraction from the application of the message. Our goal is not to learn how hypocritical the religious leaders of Jesus' day were but to get a mirror and examine ourselves. Let me say at the outset that I have been thoroughly worked over by God's Spirit in the preparation of this chapter and have not failed in my search for significant areas of hypocrisy in my own life—gaps between what I want to be and what I actually am. I encourage you to do the same as you read.
Matthew 23:13 says, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" The word hypocrite is such a powerful term that instead of trying to translate it, we've simply borrowed it from Greek (hupocrites) into English. The expression originated from theatric practices in ancient times where actors wore masks rather than makeup in order to hide their true identities. So much so, that the word hypocrite was originally a compliment for actors with theatrical skills. We are all familiar with Hollywood stars who can vividly portray a beautiful, loving, selfless family. And then we learn that they are the very opposite in real life. They can act a role convincingly, but they are not truly the person they pretend to be. That disconnect between a part well played and a life poorly lived became the meaning of hypocrite—one who portrays himself to be what he is not. We are hypocrites when we assume a position of piety when in reality we are destitute of genuine faith; acting the part of being close to God when our heart is very far from Him.
Jesus said of the Pharisees, "[They] honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." This phrase describes the general attitude behind what I call the Seven Habits of Highly Hypocritical People. As we go through these seven characteristics, I want to encourage you to ask yourself these questions: Am I like that? Do I do that? Jot your self-assessment down in the margin beside each characteristic. Let me warn you that no one is entirely exempt from areas of personal hypocrisy. Admitting inconsistencies is a good sign, because none of us have arrived. I would be concerned about a person who could read this chapter and not experience a single moment of personal conviction about falling short of what we profess. We are all, to one degree or another, hypocrites or liars. It's one of the marks that confirm we are fallen human beings desperately in need of God's forgiveness and grace.
The Pharisees were spiritually and ethically blind. We are all like them to a certain extent when it comes to our own shortcomings. But we need a mirror that will show us who we really are and set us free. We can't give ourselves sight. Honest, accurate reflection is a miracle done by the Holy Spirit, bringing the truths of Scripture to bear upon our souls; God's Word wiping away the false and hypocritical.
Before we can move forward in the process of becoming authentic, we must have the crisis of facing what lacks. How can we work through chapters on developing the solutions to a problem we don't yet acknowledge? So that's the point of this chapter, to let God take away the masks of hypocrisy keeping us from being who He wants us to be. Our masks of hypocrisy are the habits of our lives that parallel the Pharisees' offenses.
» Habit One: Making salvation as complicated as possible.
"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces." The expression "the kingdom of heaven" is a reference to salvation; entrance into God's family. A hypocritical believer has the habit of making salvation as complicated as possible.
Salvation is not easy, but it is simple. It costs everything, but it's uncomplicated. Jesus said it is so simple that even a child can understand it. Someone very young can grasp the gospel that God loves sinners and that we need His forgiveness. They can put their faith in Jesus Christ who died to pay the penalty for our sins. Even a small child can receive Christ by faith. That's the gospel.
It's not easy (it wasn't easy for Jesus to provide our salvation and it's not easy to turn away from pride and sin to receive the gift with open hands), but it's simple. Hypocrites go out of their way to make it complicated. "You've got to do these fifteen things. You've got to follow these steps to enlightenment—maybe. You've got to go through these seven sacraments perfectly or you can't be saved. And if the system fails, it's your fault. And you had better come to church and keep all the rules."
Hypocrites leverage people into religion and out of personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the power and the simplicity of the gospel. Paul said to the Corinthians, "I fear ... your minds may somehow be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." Hypocrites, though? Their attitude and response if someone should ask, "What must I do to be saved?" is, "It's complicated ..." Talk about shutting the kingdom in someone's face! I love the kind of testimony that reveals people who want to share the joy of salvation with others. All it takes is one person reaching out to another person in love. The invitation can be as simple and direct as, "You know, I want to pray with you to receive Christ as Savior and Lord." That's what sincere people do: love and care for those who are lost and hurting, while not making it some religious complicated you've-got-to-do-all-these-87-things to get the free gift. What a tragedy when people accept Christ simply and then gradually come to view the gospel as something so complex they don't pass it on. I got saved but I can't possibly tell you how to get it. It's so complicated, I might get it wrong. God help us to keep the message of Christ's love and forgiveness simple and available to everyone. Anything else is hypocrisy.
» Habit Two: Getting what I need from people even if it hurts them.
Christ said this: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses and for a pretense you make long prayers. Therefore, you will receive the greater condemnation." The idea behind the word devour is, "you consume for personal gain," like a wild dog eats a rabbit. Jesus said, "You devour widows' houses." The word widows represents those with many needs and few resources. We are challenged throughout Scripture to care for the widows in our church, to love them, to help them out. Everyone who has many hardships and few resources is our responsibility. But a hypocrite does the opposite. Jesus was describing a religious person seeing someone in poverty then going and devouring the little bit they have out of an arrogant sense of, "Even though you don't have much, God wants me to have your meager supply for my uses." It's the idea of personal gain even if it hurts others, which brings us to the second part of this highly hypocritical habit.
Jesus goes on, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land (go way out of your way) to make a single proselyte (convert), and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves." Can you believe Christ said that?
"That's not my mild-mannered Jesus ..."
Well, this is Christ speaking. This is who He is. He pulls out the big guns for hypocrisy. "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." Jesus was doing a spiritual electrocardiogram on the Pharisees and the results were not good. Supposed spiritual leaders but so consumed with self: "My situation, my needs, my desires, and my plans. And if I don't get my way, don't cross me. Don't show me up or you'll pay for it." Hypocrites hurt people; they don't help them. They do damage in the name of God. That's not the heart of a Christian.
I have to live with the memory of how often I have hurt people without meaning to while leading our church through the years. I've done things I could have done better. I've made difficult decisions that had to be made that I know hurt people, but were in the interests of what God was doing in our church. But every time—regardless of whether the error was mine or theirs—I have felt deep grief in knowing someone was injured.
But unintended hurt is not what Jesus is talking about—the way truth sometimes hurts, or the ways we sometimes unintentionally hurt people. "We all stumble in many ways." He is talking about people who callously and indifferently set out to take from people. Jesus is talking about a person who couldn't care less about who they injure. "I'm going to have what I want. And no one is going to stop me."
I wish I could say I have never met some people like that, but in reality I have: ruthless in the marketplace; vindictive and petty in the neighborhood; and self-serving and demanding at church. Take. Take. Take. That's hypocrisy committed by people still coming to church and singing the songs, raising their hands, and carrying their Bibles. I am always amazed by Christians who can claim to love the Lord but leave a trail of hurting people in their wake and never seem to give a second thought to the damage they have caused.
Excerpted from Authentic by James MacDonald, Neil Wilson. Copyright © 2013 James MacDonald. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.