Today’s Reading: Matthew 23
Today’s reading is an intense chapter. It’s about hypocrites and religion—hypocrites in religion. In fact, Jesus said, “Woe to you hypocrites and religious people” eight times! (See verses 13-16, 23, 25, 27, and 29.) The word woe is an expression of how dreadful and how awful this is—to take something as powerful as God and pretend.
This is the argument of so many people who don’t want to go to church or be a Christian: “The church is full of hypocrites! That is why I don’t believe, that is why I don’t go to church.” To put it another way: “Christians say they have Jesus, but we don’t see much of Him in their lives. If Jesus is in them, then He must be hiding.”
In his autobiography Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” Later Gandhi admitted, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” In his prejudice, that usher not only betrayed Jesus, he also turned away a person from trusting Jesus as Savior.
What exactly is a hypocrite? A hypocrite is someone who does not practice what he believes. He can talk the talk but he doesn’t walk the walk. His lifestyle doesn’t equal his profession. Mouth and action are inconsistent.
And yet, let’s consider a couple things:
1. If there are hypocrites, then there must be genuine Christians. A counterfeit always implies a genuine. Christ said there would be hypocrites in the church. He called them wheat and tares growing together (see Matthew 13:24-30).
2. There is a difference between sinner and hypocrite. Hypocrisy is just one of many sins that all of us have committed. Full of it, no; in it, yes. Better to say the church is full of sinners.
The answer to the hypocrite problem? Look at the Savior! You don’t start by looking at the church, you start by looking at Jesus—and Jesus is not a hypocrite.
Since Christianity depends on Jesus, it is incorrect to try to invalidate the Christian faith by pointing to horrible things many have done in the name of Christianity. If this is your argument then be consistent with it.
What do hospitals do? Make sick people well. So, if sick people are in the hospital, is it full of hypocrites? You have mistaken what the church really is. It’s not a museum or a hall of fame, it is a hospital with a lot of sick people getting better . . . and you are looking at one of them.
So what is a Christian? A Christian is not a perfect person but is someone who is a continually-growing work in progress. When you get saved you don’t receive maturity all at once, you are not a theologian, and you do not have it all together. You got born again because you don’t have it all together.
Christianity is Christ. We are not perfect—but He is. When you take your eyes off of Him, you will see our issues. The church is like Noah’s ark: the stench on the inside would be unbearable if it weren’t for the storm on the outside. Many times we stink and the world is stormy.
I love what Ruth Graham made her family put on her gravestone long before she was bedridden and passed away. She was driving one day and entered into a construction zone on the highway. When she reached the end, the sign said, “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.” That was it! That is what she wanted chiseled onto her headstone long before she needed it.
And this is true of all of us as we grow to be like Jesus. We are all one big construction zone—but one day we will reach the end of the construction and then: “We will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). There’s no hypocrisy in that.
John Newton, author of the famous hymn “Amazing Grace” said it best: “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”