That little hypocrite

If there’s anyone who’s universally despised, it’s a hypocrite.

The story’s all too common. The preacher walks slowly to the front and faces the church with his head bowed. His voice is quivering and his hands are shaking and his heart is racing as he tells the story that by now has already made the church-gossip rounds. He dodges the most scandalous words, but everybody knows what he’s saying. He made some mistakes. He let everyone down. He broke his vows. He begs for forgiveness.

He shuffles to the back of the church, the elders make a short statement, there’s a lot of hugging and crying, and then the talking really starts.

How could he? He was my preacher. He baptized my kids. I shared some of my struggles with him.

After people calm down and the shock wears off, they ask good questions. The most important, I think, are these: How? How did our preacher, a minister of the gospel, a man of God, a lover of Jesus, let this happen?

Those are questions that I’ve asked many times, especially after it happens to a friend, someone I ate lunch with, laughed with, prayed with, talked about ministry with.

But this devotional isn’t about preachers, really. It’s about all of us. It’s about the temptation we face to put more emphasis on the outer us than the inner us.

I’m more interested in how it happens to us, us Christians, us “normal,” just-trying-to-get-by Jesus-followers.

And by “it” I don’t mean an affair, but rather the duplicity, the two-facedness, the difference between the me who goes to church and the me who goes home, to school, and to work.

We all do it, don’t we? Is there anyone out there who hasn’t had a family fuss on the way to church and then greeted everyone in the building with the I-love-Jesus-so-much smile? Truth is, there’s a little hypocrite in all of us.

But the call to follow Jesus is a call to think a whole lot less about what people think of us and a whole lot more about what God’s doing in us, to us, and for us. Even when Jesus told us to let our lights shine and our saltiness taste, he wasn’t encouraging us to think mostly about creating good will in the people around us. He was reminding us that when we give him our hearts it’ll show through.

He was concerned more about the heart than he was the hands, because he knows if he gets the heart he’ll get the hands. Remember his scathing rebuke of the Pharisees?

You’re all spit, polish, and shine on the outside, but you’re filthy inside.

You’re like a marble tombstone whose beauty and elegance keep us from thinking about what’s in the ground below.

Those words ought to hit pretty close to home because it’s easy to think that the person everyone thinks we are is the person we really are . . . and that’s simply not true.

At some point the vow-breaking preacher forgot to protect his heart, and he did something he’d promised himself he’d never do. Somehow, once he started down that path, he was able to compartmentalize his life—preach the life-giving gospel on Sunday and deny its truth on Monday.

But as easy as it is to demonize him—and we shouldn’t excuse him—pointing out hypocrisy in others might be an easy way to avoid the tendencies in ourselves.

None of us—no matter who we are—can neglect our hearts without the inevitable consequences.

Spit-shining our boots does little good anyway, but letting God clean our hearts changes everything.

So that’s where we must focus. Ask God to change us on the inside and the outside will take care of itself.