Identifying Hypocrites

November 5, 2017 – Pastor Doug Stratton

Matthew 23:1-12       

CCI: While we despise the hypocrite, God loves us in our hypocrisy.

Intro: What do you think about when you hear the word hypocrite? Have you ever known a hypocrite? When you encounter a hypocrite, what do you feel?

I guess it would be fair to say that we don’t like hypocrites very much. But I want to suggest that we are much quicker to identify significant hypocrisy in others than in ourselves. Is that fair?

In a study released early this year, the reality of hypocrisy was examined at length and the question was asked, “Why do we object to people telling us to do something that we think is good, when they themselves don’t do it?” Should we not want the message to get out? For example, if a person at the office is all about recycling paper, which we believe is a good thing, something we support, and we make a discovery that at their home they never recycle paper – Why does that bother us? A good message is being sent, people at work are changing their behavior, so why do we grate at their hypocrisy?

The researchers concluded that “the principal offense of a hypocrite is not that he violates his own principles, but rather that his use of moral proclamations falsely implies that he himself behaves morally. . . It’s not simply that he fails to practice what he preaches or that he criticizes others for transgressions he, too, commits. It’s that his outspoken moralizing falsely conveys his own virtue, earning him undue reputational benefits — and at the expense of the individuals whom he publicly shames.”

I think Jesus would have agreed with this research. In one the clearest statements that Jesus made about judging others and hypocrisy, he said, “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

As humans, we are quite adept at seeing the speck in another’s eye while missing the log in our own. We frequently give ourselves a pass as we condemn others. How do we get passed that?

As I read the scripture lesson we will be looking at, I quickly found myself identifying exactly who Jesus was talking about. Perhaps you may have the same tendency this morning, so, in order to help us personally hear the words of Jesus, I am going to encourage you to do something that may be difficult: As I read the scripture, the moment a name of a face comes to mind, I want you to take the mirror you received and look right into it.

Scripture:

       Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;  they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

The Word of the Lord for the People of God

How was that? Did you have to look at the mirror at all? I did. I am one of the best speck in the eye finders in the area! And I have to admit, preparing for this sermon has been really tough because I have had to keep my mirror in front of me all week. Hypocrisy is hard, and the worst part about it is when we think we are on top of it, we are probably being blinded by our own hypocrisy.

But as hard as it is, there are several things we need to hear from this passage.

First, Jesus said, “Listen to the Pharisees.” Did you catch that? “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you.” Our tendency is to discard the message if the messenger is a broken vessel. Let me say that another way. If Jim Bakker is accused of raping his secretary, we immediately distance ourselves from everything he ever said or touched. And that makes sense, he had placed himself on a holy pedestal and his fall undercut everything he had said, and tainted people who were near to him.

But Jesus took a different stance. Because they are teachers of God’s word, no matter what, we need to listen to them. Jesus made a distinction between the message and messenger. Jesus understood the nature of humans. He understood that people love attention and that each of us want to be up front at some level. (And even if we don’t want to be up front, deep down, we do want people to know that we are proudly in the background.)

When Jesus told the people to do what the Pharisees say, he was talking about the nature of Grace. He was reminding us that the Father uses broken vessels, in fact, all God has to use, are broken vessels.

But even though God will use a broken vessel to communicate the message, the messenger is still important. Listen to what Jesus had to say about the messenger: They put heavy loads on the shoulders of others, but will not lift a finger to help them.

The message these teachers were presenting was getting lost in their behavior. We are great at creating loads for others to carry. We have rules and expectations of others, but we find loopholes for ourselves. Whether it is tax law, educational standards or religious expectations we are able to establish them far more easily than we are able to keep them. If we want our message to be heard, we need to stop laying burdens on others and start living the gospel ourselves.

There was also a problem with the teacher’s desire to be honored. Jesus said “They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long. . .” The Phylactery is a small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law. Apparently the Pharisees created extra large boxes and wore them all day long. Since they were intended to remind them of the Law, they appeared extra righteous. Everything about them was about appearances. They wanted people to think they were righteous.

  A number of years ago Sheryl and I visited the home of our Korean Exchange student.  The family took us to many different parts of South Korea. However what I remember most was our trip to the 38th parallel, the Korean DMZ. One of the elements I remember well was a small city in the North that was visible from the border. The city gleamed with stores and lights and businesses. It was a picture for the world to see! However, the stores were only storefronts, the lights were among the few lit sites in North Korea, and the businesses were empty.

False fronts fool no one in the long run. No matter how good they look facades quickly are seen for what they are, mere window dressing. And when we wear the masks and facades of righteousness, people will see through them immediately.

That is why Jesus told them to do their deeds of righteousness for God’s eyes only.

Jesus also told his disciples not to go looking for the praise of people around them. He said, These people “love the place of honor and the most important seats and they love to be greeted with respect.” In another place Jesus put it like this: “when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” If you  know people like this, if a face comes to mind right away, it is time to take out that mirror.

A number of years ago, author and actor Curt Cloninger was with us for a Sunday morning service. As he shared these words of Jesus, he said, “they have received their reward in full.” He then raised his hands and clapped 3 times. That image stuck with me. It reminded me to not boast of my generosity, but it also became a quiet code for when I saw hypocrisy in the lives of others. In fact, since then, I have at times simply raised my hands and clapped 3 times. It was a symbol to the insiders that I had caught a hypocrite. (time for the mirror).

Hypocrisy is insidious, it both makes me feel important, and diminishes the people around me. I fall into it when I judge others and when I try to present myself as something I am not.

Why do we do this? Why is it so easy to fall into hypocrisy? Why do we need the mirror? It is because we want praise. We want approval. We want acceptance. Sometimes we live our entire lives seeking that approval.

The story is told a young violinist who lived in London many years ago. Although he was a superb musician, he was deathly afraid of large crowds, so he avoided giving concerts. But after enduring criticism for his unwillingness to give concerts, he finally agreed to perform in the largest concert hall in London.

The young violinist came onto the stage and sat alone on a stool. He put his violin under his chin and played for an hour and a half. No music in front of him, no orchestra behind him, no breaks—just an hour and a half of absolutely beautiful violin music. After ten minutes or so, the critics even put down their pads and listened, like the rest …. After the performance, the crowd rose to its feet and began applauding wildly—and they wouldn’t stop.

But the young violinist didn’t acknowledge the applause. He just peered out into the audience as if he were looking for something—or someone. Finally he found what he was looking for. Relief came over his face, and he began to acknowledge the cheers.

After the concert, the critics met the young violinist backstage …. They said, “You were wonderful. But one question: Why did it take you so long to acknowledge the applause of the audience?”

The young violinist took a deep breath and answered, “You know I was really afraid of playing here. Yet this was something I knew I needed to do. Tonight, just before I came on stage, I received word that my master teacher was to be in the audience. Throughout the concert, I tried to look for him, but I could never find him. So after I finished playing, I started to look more intently. I was so eager to find my teacher that I couldn’t even hear the applause. I just had to know what he thought of my playing. That was all that mattered. Finally, I found him high in the balcony. He was standing and applauding, with a big smile on his face. After seeing him, I was finally able to relax. I said to myself, ‘If the master is pleased with what I have done, then everything else is okay.'”

And that, my friends, is the cure for hypocrisy. Is the Master pleased? Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do the things I command, and this is my commandment, ‘Love one another the way I have loved you.’”

I have asked you to look in the mirror this morning to remind yourself that you and I guilty of hypocrisy. That does not feel good. But I want you to look again in the mirror as I read another passage of scripture, this is God’s God is speaking to you!

The Lord will manifest himself to you.
He will say, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.
That is why I have continued to be faithful to you.
I will rebuild you, my dear child,
so that you will once again be built up.
Once again you will take up the tambourine
and join in the happy throng of dancers.
You will plant vineyards
and will once again enjoy their fruit.
“Come! Let us worship the Lord our God!”’”

“Sing for joy
Make your praises heard.
I will bring you from the distant parts of the earth.
Blind and lame people will come with you,
so will pregnant women and women about to give birth.
A vast throng of people will come back here.
I will lead them besides streams of water,
along smooth paths where they will never stumble.
I will do this because I am you father;
You will be radiant with joy over the good things the Lord provides,
the grain, the fresh wine, the olive oil,
the young sheep and calves he has given to them.
You will be like a well-watered garden
and will not grow faint or weary any more.
At that time young women will dance and be glad.
Young men and old men will rejoice.
I will turn your grief into gladness.
I will give them comfort and joy in place of their sorrow.
You will be filled to the full with the good things I provide.”

 

      This is God’s word for God’s People, receive God’s smile!