Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Hypocrisy and Trust

Our soft-shell crab drowned, unhappily entangled in its miso noodle soup, as we sadly discussed a dear friend (DF) who had left church because of his perception of the hypocrisy of many fellow Christians. Unfortunately, in DF's experience, there were people in positions of authority and leadership who didn't walk the talk, who ministered to him out of obligation and ambition, not love and basically treated him as a project. He was sufficiently traumatised by these events to extrapolate this to be the character of almost all Christians. He said he would never trust another Christian again. Yet, he continues to beat himself up for not being godly enough to trust others.

Should a Christian feel this way?
Question of right/wrong = need to check Scripture.

From the Bible, several basic points about reality are that:
  1. man is sinful
  2. only God is perfect
  3. man is saved from slavery to sin by Christ
  4. man is sanctified to become more and more Christlike (and so less and less sinful) by the Spirit and the Word
Man is sinful
Sin takes many different forms. Sin is basically rebellion against God, not acknowledging our lowly position before God and trying to rule ourselves. One way of sinning is by hypocrisy.

In common modern English, a hypocrite is a person who pretends to be something he is not, or who by his words and actions professes beliefs and values he does not actually hold.

Hypocrisy in the Bible is more specific and is condemned as:
  • appearing to be in a position to judge but not actually having the humility to realise one's own lowly position (Matthew 7:5, Luke 6:42);
  • appearing to do the right things but doing these things for the praise of men not of God (Matthew 6);
  • appearing to be righteous but overriding the word of God by their own words (Matthew 15:3-9);
  • being concerned with only the legalistic requirements of the Law but not the main point of the Law: justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23);
  • appearing to be righteousness but being filled with wickedness (Matthew 23:25-28);
  • honouring God with their lips but their hearts being far from God (Mark 7:6);
  • appearing to welcome God's messangers but actually rejecting them viciously and thus rejecting God who sent them (Matthew 23:29-32);
  • ultimately, appearing to be wise in prediction but failing to understand the ultimate fulfilment of the most important prediction of all: the coming of Jesus Christ (Luke 12:54-56).
Many of us were guilty of rebelling against God in this way before we knew him: we might have thought (consciously or unconsciously) that we were righteous in our own eyes and saw no need to be saved or we might have been outwardly moral and good citizens but we did not acknowledge God as God.

Only God is perfect
Only God is not a hypocrite. He does not pretend to be someone he is not. Neither do his words and actions make promises he does not intend to keep.

God is trustworthy. He alone can be trusted because his words are trustworthy. Therefore, we are to trust in him/have faith in him.

How are his words trustworthy? What can we trust them to do?

His words can be trusted to be an accurate reflection of reality. That was the whole problem in the Garden of Eden: God's word was an accurate reflection of reality-if Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die (Genesis 2:16-17) and they did (Genesis 3:19, 5:5 for Adam). The devil's counter was they God was not trustworthy because his words were not an accurate reflection of reality and were not to be trusted: they would not surely die (Genesis 3:4). In the end, God was proven to be right and should have been trusted and his character was shown to be trustworthy, and death entered the world.

So we can trust that this is reality:
  1. man is sinful
  2. only God is perfect
  3. man is saved from slavery to sin by Christ
  4. man is sanctified to become more and more Christlike (and so less and less sinful) by the Spirit and the Word
and we can trust God's laws, statutes, precepts and commands (Psalms 19, 111, 119) not as dampeners which spoil our enjoyment of life but as part of the instruction manual from God (since he did create the world afterall) telling us the best way to live and the only way to get the most out of our lives.

Man is saved from slavery to sin by Christ
A hypocrite is saved from God's wrath by the same blood of Christ that saves every other sinner from certain destruction.

Man is sanctified to become more and more Christlike by the Spirit and the Word
Yet, a Christian is not made perfect yet in this life. He is still a sinner, but a sinner saved from God's wrath. Therefore, he does not fully think his thoughts after God, neither does he always act in the most godly and loving way, neither are his motives totally pure. Moans Paul in his letter to the Romans: "When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." (Romans 7:21-25)

The point of the matter
People are sinful and one of the ways of sinning is by hypocrisy, so DF is right in thinking that many people are hypocrites. Biblically, hypocrites are those who appear to be right with God but are not. Although this is primarily a matter between God and that person, their hypocrisy doesn't just affect God but also impacts on their neighbour as well. They may hurt their neighbour and discourage them in their Christian life. It is practical, wise and right to expect people to be sinners and hypocrites.

God tells us that he alone is trustworthy. We are to put our trust only in him, in his Son, in the light. Nowhere are we asked to trust our fellow Christians. We are asked to love them but trusting others is not a function of loving them. It is possible to not trust someone who has proven not to be trustworthy but at the same time love him and want the best for him.

It is again practical, wise and right to expect even Christians to be sinners and hypocrites. In fact, they are definitely going to continue being sinners till Christ comes again to make them perfect.

In relationships, there are many different degrees of trust. To function normally in society, in superficial day-to-day relationships, you need some fundamental trust of others. Deeper relationships require a higher level of trust.

So if the Christians DF had met early in his Christian walk had proved to be untrustworthy on this higher level, he was right not to trust them. It would have been naive to react otherwise and Christianity is not about being naive. Christianity is about reality and reality is about the sinfulness of man before and after they come to know Christ. If he was hurt because of their hypocrisy, it would have been human to feel this way since we are all made to be relational and relationships depend on trust (albeit at different degrees).

And DF must realise that the only trustworthy relationship he can depend on now is with God. To expect anyone else to be fully trustworthy and unhypocritical is to ask that people are perfect now. Over-realised eschatology.

Somehow, we are required to hold 2 separate and distinct truths at the same time: we are sinners and we are being sanctified. And so in relating to others, we can expect them to hurt us and yet we can expect them to become more godly and loving as they mature and grow in Christ.

Isn't this contradictory? Does this mean we relate to others schizophrenically? Sometimes looking over our shoulders pessimstic suspicion and sometimes being a chirpy idealistic optimist?

I think it's got to do with checking for that pesky plank in our own eyes
(Matthew 7, Luke 6)... There have been 3 main ways of interpreting this passage:
  1. IMHO, I don't think it means that you never point out anyone's sin: the verse says you can do it but only after you remove the plank from your own eye.
  2. Nor does it seem to mean you have to be perfect or examine yourself to ensure you do not sin in that particular way before you can talk to someone else about their specific sin. That might promote self-righteousness.
  3. On the contrary, in context, I think it means that you realise that you yourself are a sinner and given the opportunity, you too would have sinned in this way as you sin in many other ways. So you know your own condition and can come alongside and help the other person in the right spirit of humility.

Right. Conclusion
  1. Trust only God fully because only God is fully trustworthy.
  2. We need a basic level of trust to function normally in superficial relationships in society while acknowledging that everyone is a sinner.
  3. In deeper friendships with Christian brothers and sisters, we have to get our theology right: (i) they are still sinners; and (ii) they are being sanctified.
  4. Because they are still sinners, we can expect them to sin and sometimes, this means we will get hurt. So we should lower our expectations to reflect this reality.
  5. Because they are saved sinners, we can expect them to become more and more trustworthy and loving and they grow. Yet, because of Point 4, they have to show that they are trustworthy.
  6. But in any case, whether or not they previously seemed to have proven themselves to be trustworthy, if we are hurt by their subsequent untrustworthiness and hypocrisy, we can rightly feel hurt. Yet, while we can be discerning and wisely decide not to trust this person on a higher level again, we cannot self-righteously hand down a judgement on their ungodliness because we too are sinners.

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