Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”
Meet Bravo. Bravo is my special friend for the week.
Bravo knows me intimately. He knows my feelings even better than I know them myself. Bravo can’t bear for us to be apart. When we’re separated, even by a few feet, he wails and whines until we’re back together.
Sadly, Bravo and I won’t be friends forever. Later this week, he’ll wind down his work and I’ll have to send him home.
It’s like this: Bravo spends most of his days at Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls, SD. From time to time, people like me get to take Bravo home for table fellowship and nights on the town. But in the end, Bravo always goes back to Sanford, where he shares detailed information about the people with whom he’s lived.
Bravo is my esophageal pH monitoring system. Because I’ve been having a few incidents of acid-related spasms and shortness of breath, my doctors have suggested that I allow Bravo to assess me for a few days. As I type, he is running realtime scans of my insides, checking for clues to the cause of my discomfort.
There are two parts to the Bravo system. The dangling computer-like thing you see in the picture is the external recorder. If I take this device off, even for a few seconds, it beeps and blurts at me. So I wear it around my neck, lanyard style. (If I get really comfortable with the whole “wearing a 5 pound necklace” thing, I may see if Flava Flav has some sort of loaner program.)
The other component to the Bravo system is a small capsule currently tabernacling deep inside of my esophagus. If I eat an orange or some salsa or a hamburger, this little sensor knows about it. After assessing the chemical implications for my body, the capsule relays a message out to the monitor. That means that there’s nothing going on in the innermost parts of my body that Bravo isn’t tracking on the outside.
What’s happening on the inside becomes known on the outside. It’s true with Bravo; it’s also an important reminder that shows up regularly the Bible.
In Luke 12, Jesus offers up some specific, intimate instructions for his disciples: “Beware of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees,” he says, “Because nothing that happens behind closed doors won’t see the front page of the newspaper.”
Hypocrisy was a known problem for the Pharisees. They made a habit of saying one thing while doing another. They comported themselves as holy and wise, but behind the smiling aphorisms and grandiose displays of benevolence were coiled vipers, manipulating their neighbors and destined for hell (Matthew 23:33).
Jesus’ point on the religious honchos was pretty clear: While they can get away with the phony-baloney act for a while, in the end they’ll be found out. Covers will get blown. And when covers get blown, stuff gets broadcast.
Now, it would be pretty tempting for us to take this moment to name and tisk tisk at the wake of fallen-from-grace bigwigs in our time. Folks like Harvey Weinstein and Hugh Freeze make for easy targets. Even megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll couldn’t maintain the subterfuge.
But Jesus’ words aren’t for “them.” They are for “you” – as in “you disciples.” He continues “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”
That’s the problem with hypocrisy. It pops up in everybody. Nose-in-the-air legalists and high-and-mighty leaders get exposed, so do well-meaning apostles. There’s bad pH inside of us all. All it takes is the right level of stress, a certain combination of circumstances and pressures, and who we are inside comes to light.
As a guy who has pastored for a few years now, there are a few sticky-note principles that I minister by. One of them is “never be surprised.” By that, I mean that I’ve learned to cease being amazed at what people are into, sympathetic about, or capable of. There’s much more to the people among whom I live. And a lot of it ain’t pretty.
I know this in part because I know what I’m sympathetic toward and capable of. And that ain’t real pretty either.
Imagine, if you will, that we’re all wearing spiritual Bravo systems. Anytime we lust or covet, the machine pings the outside world. Whenever we give compliments but don’t mean them, an indicator blinks and our real feelings show up in red lights. Cut a corner, wish someone ill, misrepresent an opportunity, manipulate a situation: Suddenly it’s rooftop news.
Look, we’re all hypocrites. Christians included. Pastors most of all, given that we do a disproportionate amount of explaining to people how they ought to live.
But that shouldn’t paralyze us. It should humble us and level us, but it shouldn’t paralyze us. I love the old line – “Don’t stay away from the church because of the hypocrites. There’s always room for one more.”
That’s exactly it. In a sense, the church at its very best is a place that acknowledges the hypocrisy in the room.
Let’s be honest, churchgoers: Our deeds fall miserably out of line with our words. We sing, pray, speak, and read about the way it’s supposed to be. We affirm justice, preach kindness, extol grace, and celebrate a new creation. But all the while we’re stumbling, judging, and relapsing into sin and cynicism.
In our moments of clarity and confession, Christians admit this. And we place our hope in Jesus, the one in whom no hypocrisy was found.
What’s the opposite of hypocrisy? Integrity. And Jesus had pure, perfect integrity.
There was never any reason for Jesus to manipulate situations, put on a show, or misrepresent the truth. Why? Because his whole mission was about emptying. The Pharisees (and the rest of us) can in many ways gain from dishonest acts. Sometimes false pretense and posturing works! But there was nothing more for Jesus to gain than what he had already given up in order to save the world.
Integrity. It is the call of all those who are trying to live like Jesus.
How can we grow in combat hypocrisy and grow in integrity? The doing is a great task, but the idea isn’t hard at all. We have to be on the inside who we say we are on the outside. The Greek philosopher Socrates said it straight: Be as you wish to seem.
First, then, we have to get honest about the issues we have inside. And before we can be authentic with others, we’d better be real with ourselves. Jean Larroux put it like this: “If the biggest sinner you know isn’t you, than you don’t know yourself very well.”
There’s a lot of coming clean that has to happen after that. And it’s actually a pretty liberating thing. Hypocrisy can be hard work.
Rene Schlaepfer, pastor of Twin Lakes church in California, tells the story of an acquaintance who had an extramarital affair over a period of years. And in order to maintain his cover month after month, he maintained a written list of lies and false alibis to present to his wife.
When, due to time and circumstance, some of those false narratives became jeopardized, the man was forced to invent new ones. More lies were required to cover the originals. The chronicle of deceit grew and grew. Finally, Schlaepfer says, the man lost his list.
Being forthcoming about the deep acid is not easy. But it’s worse to live with it chewing you away from the inside out.
Honesty matters. But even more, Christians need to seek purity. Getting real is good. Getting right is better.
Proverbs 30 consists of wise sayings and prayers written by a man named Agur. In verses 7-8, he approaches God with two requests. Before he dies, he wishes God to grant him two things. Number 1 on that list: Keep falsehood and lies far from me.
Why put purity #1? Because if God grants it, everything else will fall into place.
Alan Simpson, the former Senator from Wyoming, agrees with Agur. Simpson says: If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.
That’s dead-on. A life of cover-ups and lies is going to fall apart. Your bad pH will end up showing. But a life of heartfelt integrity and truth, modeled after Jesus, will be liberating and lasting.