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Hypocritical: Part 2 – A look at Matthew 23

In part 1 we saw the perception the world has of us: we are hypocrites. Before we can consider how to reframe that perception, we must turn to Matthew 23, the seminal passage on the topic. Six times in this passage Jesus calls the Pharisees “hypocrites.” While the entire passage is relevant, we are going to focus on verses 25-28.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Matthew 23:25-28).

I love the pictures Jesus paints in these strong words of condemnation. Imagine going to get something to eat and drink in your kitchen and realizing all the dishes are dirty. You turn on the water and wash the outside of the cup you are going to use, but never clean the inside! You wouldn’t have to do that too many times before bacteria and mold would make you sick. And picture your local cemetary. They are usually very well manacured lawns with great landscaping. But underneath the surface are bones returning to the dust from which they came.

A few years ago, I attended the a conference on “Homosexuality and the Church.” It was a great learning experience for me. One quote in particular from the conference has continued to shape and inform my thinking. “The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality. It’s holiness.” The point: homosexuality is a sin, but change begins by being renewed in the grace of Christ, not merely by modifying outward behavior. Modifying outward behavior without inward change (cleaning the outside of the cup but not the inside) is legalism and part of the reason that we are in this mess of turning people away based on hypocrisy.

When I was with Young Life, people often asked why we allowed students to smoke at camp. (To be honest, it wasn’t so much as curious asking as chiding poorly disguised a question.) The answer was simple: before we worried about their behavior, we wanted them to experience the Christ can bring them life. Only then change true transformation and life-change occur. We could expand the idea that the opposite of homosexuality is holiness to include any sin. “The opposite of [insert my sin struggle here] is holiness.” And the path to healing and restoration from any sin is the same: the inner-workings of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us. As Karen referenced in her comment on part 1, 1 John 1:9 holds a key for us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Then, as the Holy Spirit cleanses us through the atoning work of Christ, our inner-beings will be cleaned and overflow into right actions.

Interact: In what area of your life are you busy cleaning the outside without asking the Spirit’s aid in cleaning the inside?


6 Responses

  1. Q-“In what area of my life am I busy cleaning the outside without asking the Spirit’s aid in cleaning the inside?”

    In general, I think it has to do with over-emphasizing my strengths and experiences. I have an extremely high regard for God’s Word, solid doctrine and gospel-centered theology, because for me this is the battleground where I feel most equipped – ie, the field of the mind and the intellect. It is also where my talents and spiritual gifts seem to lean most.

    The downside is that it is really easy for me to get out of balance and neglect other things like: loving people well, caring about how things I do or say make others feel, and even thinking about the tangible outcomes of my actions and words. Obviously, these so-called “strengths” can lead to sin, which I then justify because I see it as ‘how I am.’

    Does that make sense?

    Also, corporately, the church as the whole body needs balance and shouldn’t focus on or emphasize specific gifts or personalities over others. If we do, we polish part of the cup, while neglecting other equally important parts.

    To get a better idea of how this fits into your question, I think Drew Goodmanson’s (a la John Frame) assertion of a tri-perspectival approach for how churches best reflect Christ to the world. It is based on the offices of Christ: Prophet, Priest, King.

    When we over-emphasize one office and neglect the others, fail to reflect Christ correctly. Those who emphasize Christ’s office of “Prophet” (which evangelical churches do!), typically neglect the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and start to look like ‘hypocrits.’

    It’s not a perfect diagram, but I thought you might enjoy:


    • I agree with your assertion that we tend to prioritize the prophetic perspective. Interestingly, I would suggest that the much of the rest of the world prioritizes the kingly dimension (and virtually no one emphasizes the priestly perspective). Thanks for the chart from Drew Goodmanson. I like that. One of my PhD professors and I are working on a proposal to publish on “prophetic leadership” and that chart is actually very helpful.

  2. I hope you don’t mind me dropping in and saying something here. I found this link on Facebook.com. I know Steve from high school but pretty much have not spoken to him since. Everything I am about to say is meant to come off respectful so please take it that way (I know the net does not really make it easy to “hear” tone).
    Reading these two articles was really frustrating for me. While what Steve has said may have some truth to it, it is not the whole truth on the matter. As someone who has left the church due to the hypocrisy and whose faith is dying because of this very issue I can speak with some perspective on it.
    If I know anything about the bible it is this; it defines love and compels us to live that life. Love fulfills the law (Rom. 13:10) and there is not greater love than laying your life down for another (John 15:13). The church has spent so much time kicking people around for things like smoking, using “foul” language and having a beer that it is ridiculous. Smoking is as much of a sin as drinking coke or eating at McDonalds (if you choose the “your body is a temple” argument). It’s wrong to say damn but okay to say darn even though they are used in the same context therefore giving them the same meaning. So basically the difference is the way the air vibrates to create the sound. Jesus drank wine, yes wine not juice. The process to stop fermentation from occurring was not discovered until the 1800’s. Beer has less alcohol than wine. All this effort put into things like this and yet you can rarely find one to lay down his life for you, figuratively or literally. As a matter of fact the only place in my life that I have found people that are willing to do just that was in the military. Infantry soldiers, who smoke, drink and use “foul” language. In my eyes they fulfill the law of God better than any church I have ever been a part of. They get it and they do not even have a M.Div. degree.
    The church has become so concerned over the petty things running around telling everyone what to do, making up sins based on the rules of man and treating people like dirt, that quite frankly, can you blame anyone for being disgusted with the church? It is suppose to be different there. The sanctuary is no longer a sanctuary. It has become a place of illusions, always pretending to be better by pointing out the flaws of others. Why do people see no difference between the church and “the world”? Put simply because there is no difference. It’s a rarity to find someone who will lay there life down for you. It is not so much that the church fails to live up to its standards. It is that few ever experience grace from the church.

    Sorry this is long. I tried to abbreviate it quite a bit. I could say a lot more and expand on quite a few things but I won’t. Thanks for your patience. Take care…

    • Greg, thanks for jumping in. Sorry about the slow reply, but internet access is limited on vacation, and blogging from my phone is less than ideal. Anyway, there are so many things you bring up. I would encourage you to hang with the next few posts as well. Ask any of the regular readers who know me and they will confirm that it is this disconnect that drives me. All the good theology in the world is for naught if we are more worried about being right than we are about extending the love and grace of Christ to hurting people. It pains me that “liberal” churches who have forsaken sound doctrine do a better job at helping the poor and welcoming people regardless of where they are coming from than do most evangelical, biblical churches.

      You said, “It is supposed to be different there.” And to that, I couldn’t agree more. My encouragement to you is this: If what Christians believe is true (which, of course, I believe it is), then hang in there with us. We need people of grace to help us make the church a place of grace once again.

      Finally, to your comment, “It has become a place of illusions, always pretending to be better by pointing out the flaws of others,” yes. Read my previous post on Taking off the Mask and then keep reading the next several posts in this series.

  3. Steve,
    Greg B reminded me of a conversation that I had with women from a bunch of different churches. We were talking about how AA knows how to love people and create true fellowship with each other sooo much better than most churches do.

    People in AA know what grace means first hand and they remind each other of it daily. They know that they have to give away the grace that they’ve received in order to keep it. In fact, sharing their burdens with one another is a matter of life and death. Sharing their experience, strength and hope with each other, along with reaching out to newcomers are also matters of life and death. Life and death. Life and death!!

    I do miss very much the fellowship aspect of AA. Even though the church might have a better intellectual grasp of God and the scriptures, I think they get the “one anothering” thing a lot better than we in the church do.

    As one who has been on both ends, I am one of the most guilty of the hypocrits for not sharing this within my church. Definitely, an area of sin and conviction on my heart.

    • I actually just borrowed the AA book (can’t remember what it is called right now) for just that reason Deb. The issue is hand is one of depravity. We preach a gospel of total depravity, but, we don’t believe it. It makes me feel better to point out how depraved you are so I don’t have to deal with the reality of my own depravity.

      The path to being full of radical love is to grasp how radical is our forgiveness. AA people understand that. I have a friend whom God delivered from drug addiction who has said to me on numerous occasions, “I should have been dead.” Few of us live like that (though that is exactly how Ephesians 2:1-3 describes us). It is at this point that the words of Jesus to Simon are so powerful, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). AA people grasp how bad it was. Many of us don’t. The grace and love we extend is proportional to the amount of grace and love we believe we have received. Until we truly recognize the depth of our own depravity, we will be limited in extending the life-giving love of Christ to others.

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