The Paper Pulpit
Hypocrisy is an ugly word. It is even uglier when it moves beyond being just a word to describe a person’s lifestyle. Hypocrites are pious pretenders who preach by the yard and practice by the inch. They never intend to be what they pretend to be. We see them in every area of public life — in the business world, in politics, in education, service institutions, etc. But they are especially odious and destructive when they are found in churches. Paul said, “They have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof” (II Timothy 3:5).
Just when I think I have heard every excuse that people could possibly give for not attending church or choosing to become a Christian, I hear a new one. The most used excuse, however, is probably this: “I would attend church and become a Christian if there weren’t so many hypocrites in the church.” I usually say to those who use this excuse, “You are hiding from God behind a hypocrite. You can’t hide behind anything that is not bigger than you are. God’s Word says that on Judgment Day every person will have to give an account of his or her life — that includes the hypocrites in churches, and it also includes you!”
It goes without saying that Jesus had an intense dislike for hypocrites. He showed compassion and offered forgiveness to a woman caught in the act of adultery. He gave a Samaritan woman living water. He ate in the home of hated tax collectors. He associated with and healed lepers who were considered outcasts by others. But when He came into the presence of hypocrites He saw red. He called them “whited sepulchers which appear beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27).
As a Christian minister I have tried to pay close attention to how people present themselves to others. I am absolutely convinced that telling the truth and behaving truthfully in everything we do is healthier and more beneficial in the long run than intentionally or unintentionally conveying any kind of pretense or falsehood.
A piano manufacturer once sought to get a testimonial from Will Rogers for his pianos. Rogers, who never endorsed a product unless he totally believed in it, wrote this letter to the piano firm: “Dear Sirs: I guess your pianos are the best I ever leaned against. Yours truly, Will Rogers.” I doubt the piano manufacturer used this testimonial in his advertisements. It would not have sold a single piano.Rogers had a reputation of being an honest man. He was familiar with the definition of the word “hypocrite” — and he didn’t want to be one. He refused to say something he didn’t know by personal experience to be true. Refusing to be a phony, under any circumstances, may cost you for a little while in some ways, but the long-term consequences will be enormously positive.
There is something magnificently un-hypocritical about little children. They generally say the first thing that comes to their minds. They tell the plain, unvarnished truth as they see it — even if it is hard to handle! I suspect you have encountered situations like this one:
“How do you do, my dear?” said an elderly lady to a little girl.
“Very well, thank you,” was the quiet reply.
There was a pause and then the lady asked, “Why don’t you ask me how I am?”
“Because,” said the child calmly, “I’m not interested.” It wasn’t the answer the elderly lady either expected or wanted. Children are generally honest — even when what they say is not tactful.
If we could learn to avoid hypocrisy like it was the plague, we would save ourselves an enormous amount of trouble. This is true for two reasons:
First, our inner contentment as persons requires that we be genuine. We will always be happier and more satisfied with ourselves when our relationships with others are genuine rather than superficial. I have counseled with many people concerning their problems, but I have never found this principle to be counterproductive in any of their relationships with others.
Second, hypocrisy always violates and devastates relationships. When those with whom we associate recognize that we are presenting ourselves in false ways — ways designed to bolster our image or achieve some desired selfish goal — they lose confidence in us.
Lost confidence produces defensiveness. This, in turn, keeps personal interactions superficial. Intimacy is needlessly blocked. And our relationships fail to forge the kind of deep bond that is necessary in order to make them meaningful, long-lasting and fulfilling.
The best policy in life is to shun hypocrisy like the plague. If you do, your relationships will be genuine and enduring. Others will learn to trust and respect you. Oh, and one more thing: It is the only way you will ever fully become the wholesome and whole person God created you to be.
The Rev. D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of Frist Baptist Church of Sanford.