Practice What You Preach

Text:  Matthew 23:1-12

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

When I was much younger one of my favorite shows was 60 minutes. I especially liked when they would catch someone in the act of being less than honest. I remember the disability scam they undressed when they would record people who were getting payments from their insurance company for total disability doing things that no fully disabled people should be able to do like building houses and waterskiing. One of my favorites was when they would make a minor change to a car engine so that it wouldn’t work properly, and they would record through hidden cameras the mechanic finding the problem and fixing it in seconds but charging exorbitant prices for work they didn’t even do. That’s why I only get my car fixed at Willand’s, because I know he’ll always treat me more than fair.

In thinking about this, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of story they might uncover if they put those hidden cameras in the cars of many people who claim to be Christian. What would that tape show when they were in their cars or at their jobs or talking with their friends or even in their homes. Would they record the Christian they claim to be? Or would the scam be on? What if those hidden cameras were to record your lives?

If we were to record the lives of many Christians, that would be must see TV I think. I can see it now. Morley Safer starts with the headline, “Pretend Christians, The Real Lives They Lead.”

I’m afraid it would confirm what most non-Christians already believe. That our churches are full of hypocrites. It’s difficult to believe in Christianity when so many of our heavenly followers choose to live worldly lives.

God is talking to the church in Laodicea in Revelation chapter 3 about their hypocrisy, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.” Revelation 3:15-17

He is scorching them because they are neither believers nor unbelievers. They are like the Pharisees that Jesus is speaking about in our Gospel lesson. They speak correctly but their lives show another line. They claim to love God but, by their actions, they show that they despise Him. They have neither surrendered their full lives to Christ nor have they abandoned Him completely. They simply stay in the middle where its safe, neither hot nor cold. They do as little as they think they have to do to retain the Christian family name.

According to the dictionary, a hypocrite is, “A person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.” The term itself comes from the theater in ancient Greece when an actor would play two parts. When playing something funny, he would use one side of a mask that showed a smiling face and when he played something tragic he would switch the mask around to show a sad face. That’s where we get the comedy/tragedy faces we sometimes see when someone is promoting a play. A good actor could make it seem as if he were in a comedic scene or a tragic scene by having the voice, mannerisms and conduct of whichever character he was playing much like the Christian who acts one part but lives another.

One day when they had guests for dinner, a mother asked her four-year old boy named Johnny to say the blessing before the meal. Johnny didn’t really want to and complained, “Mom, I don’t know what to say.” His mother sweetly replied, in front of her guests, “Oh, just say what you hear me say.” Obediently, Johnny bowed his head and mumbled, “Oh Lord, why did I invite these people over on such a hot day?”

Acting the part of a grateful host doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a grateful host, especially if your actions outside the realm of your guests tells another story.

Neither does coming to church for worship make you a Christian if outside the church your life shows another side of you. I read somewhere, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you a car.” Some people are no more Christians than I am Chinese, just because I love to eat Chinese food. They just look like Christians when they go to church on Sundays.

Our Gospel lesson for today paints this same picture. “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”

You see, they were piling requirements on their people they were neither willing or able to do themselves. They required a heavy burden to be put on people for promised salvation but were often unwilling to carry the load themselves, worried more about appearance than action.

I believe this is why so many live a hypocritical life. They find the talk easy but they imagine the actions to be too extreme.

They have good intentions but think they unable to deliver so they don’t even attempt to live a godly life outside the church. They want to stay true to their beliefs but they fear the repercussions of acting out in the world what they proclaim to be in the company of other Christians.

People want to be real Christians but they let life in the world get between their faith and their good intentions so much that they no longer find themselves worthy to live the Christian life so they don’t even give a good effort in their attempts.

What all wannabe Christians need to understand is that real Christians are forgiven sinners. I read a bumper sticker that I wish I had in my collection on the back of my old pickup. It read, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” The Bible makes it quite clear that none of us are perfect but it does say that if you surrender your lives to Jesus Christ that you will be perfectly forgiven.

God understands that many of our attempts to lead the perfect Christian life will ring hollow, but He smiles all the same when we’re using every effort to lead the perfect Christian life. He understands that all of us have a long way to go to be the people He created us to be but He’s willing to help us get over the bumps in the road along the way to finding our true selves.

We no longer have to be hypocrites and there is a big difference between a sinner and a hypocrite. People perceive that Christians never sin but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

1 John 1:8 -10 puts it very clearly, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.”

The sinner knows His shortcomings but the hypocrite hides from them. The sinner, in humility, sees himself broken and in need of God’s grace and mercy, while the hypocrite thinks as long as they act the part of a Christian now and then they’ll be all right. A sinner enters their relationship with God as a willing servant. The hypocrite waits to see what’s in it for them. The sinner confesses their battle with sin but the hypocrite believes they can win the battle without acknowledging their sin.

Our church is not a place for perfect Christians, it’s a hospital for sick sinners. We shouldn’t come to put band-aids on only those sins we admit. We should come ready to do surgery on our very souls using the only perfect surgeon who could possibly make us well again.

God is not asking us to do the impossible by being the perfect Christian in the world. That would be a burden to heavy to bear, just ask the people who bared that burden under the guidance of the scribes and Pharisees. He simply asks that we acknowledge who we truly are, sick but saved none-the-less through faith.

We all mess up. We all are in need of things that only God can provide. The first step in living your life as a Christian full-time is to understand your shortcomings. Paul showed this kind of character as he spoke to his student Timothy. In Timothy 1:15 Paul writes, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” First he acknowledges his sinfulness but then he admits to something greater in the next verse. It reads, “But I have received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.”

Isn’t that glorious? To be the person that Christ asks us to be in the world, we simply have to trust in His patience. It’s not about screaming from the rooftops, it’s about living a humble life with the full knowledge that you need Christ in every breath. He’s not expecting everyone to be pastors or apostles or evangelisits, He simply wants you to admit your need for something greater than yourself that only He can give.

We play the part of the hypocrite when we say we need God in one setting but act as if we have no need of Him in others. We act the part of the hypocrite when we put on our nice clothes, come to church, listen to the sermon, put our tithe in the plate and have a little fellowship on Sunday morning but forget about God the rest of the week.

My challenge to you is that you stop playing the hypocrite if, in fact, that is what you’re doing. Make everything you do a ministry. Live your life in humble service to the one who promises you everlasting life. Don’t be afraid to mess up now and then in your attempts to live the perfect Christian life because the perfect Christian life will never be yours. God simply wants you to try, and you can only find success if you surrender to His will for your life and trust Him to lead you to be the perfect example of you.

God has so many great plans for all of us, but we’ll never get there if we continue to live our lives wearing masks. Be proud of who you are in Christ and resist the urge to be something you were never created to be. Let God be a part of your life in every moment so that one day he might proclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Don’t give the unbelievers more reason to resist the one true faith by your actions. Show them how awesome their lives could be in surrender. Amen.

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