The British evangelist, preacher, leading Bible teacher, and prolific author G. Campbell Morgan once said, “Probably the vast majority of people are more influenced by what men will say, than by what God Almighty thinks.” Even though he died in 1945, I think his words still hold true today. It can often seem easier to do the right things when we gain recognition and praise can’t it?
I once knew a woman who, for many years, had dreamed of being able to read the set reading from the Bible in a Sunday service. It was a huge thing for her, and she approached Scripture – God’s Holy Word – with reverence. One day she finally got an opportunity to do a reading. Unfortunately, that morning she forgot her reading glasses, and although she completed the reading, it didn’t flow as she read it, and the ‘team’ of people who usually did readings all pointed out how badly she had done the reading. The woman was distraught, and it really knocked her confidence. The simple truth was that even though her heart had been in the right place, she allowed herself to become more influenced by what other people thought rather than taking comfort in knowing she was right before God who knew her heart.
The bottom line is this…if we’ve done an act of service to the best of our ability, in a way that is honouring to God, with a servant heart and in a way which we show integrity then we should be prepared to question the motives of the people who have brought discouragement. Also, if the criticism we receive absolutely saps our confidence crushes us to the extent that we lose sight of what God is saying to us, then that is tragic.
In a similar way, I once had a friend who for many reasons was deeply insecure and craved affirmation. When he helped out at Church, he used to tell everyone all the things he’d done after the service because he so desperately needed to hear those words of affirmation. The difficulty with this is, it’s all too easy for the pursuit of recognition and praise to become an idol in our lives, as a result of which we begin to lose sight of God, we lose our integrity and we fall into hypocrisy. It’s fantastic if we engage in acts of righteousness, but there’s no need for us to make a song and dance about it.
I think it is both wise and helpful if we are prepared to give ourselves a spiritual health check and honestly and candidly examine ourselves and examine our motives, whether relating to the generosity of time, resources or talents, prayer or fasting. It’s good to ask ourselves “Would I still do this if no one would ever know that I did it?” If we do anything, we should do it that people might “give glory to our Father in heaven”. It’s not about us – it’s about him.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t enjoy being encouraged – for example, if you’ve set out all the chairs ready for a Sunday service or been preparing refreshments for after a service and someone says to you how much they appreciate it, that’s great! What is important here is the motive or reason WHY we do the things we do. With the wrong motives, or if presented in the wrong way, our acts of service become empty and shallow and we are nothing more than hypocrites. Whether we face encouragement or discouragement the key point is that we should act with integrity and humility, in a way that is honouring to God, and in a way that is free from hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy is toxic, and in our faith and life it robs us of 3 things:
- It robs us of REALITY in Christian living and diminishes our character. We substitute reputation for character, mere words for true prayer, money for the devotion of the heart. No wonder Jesus compared the Pharisees to tombs that were whitewashed on the outside, but filthy on the inside! (Matthew 23:27-28) We lose perspective, we lose sight of God.
- It robs us of spiritual rewards. Instead of the eternal approval of God, we crave the shallow praise of people. We pray, but there are no answers. We fast, but the inner person shows no improvement. The spiritual life becomes hollow and lifeless. We miss the blessing of God here and now, and also lose the reward of God when Christ returns. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to be appreciated and to see lives changed as a result of serving God and his people. But ultimately, do we do what we do with a heart’s desire to bring glory to God? Oh, that when we die we might hear the words “well done, good and faithful servant.”
- It robs us of spiritual influence and integrity. The Pharisees were a negative influence; whatever they touched was defiled and destroyed. The people who admired them and obeyed the Pharisees’ words thought they themselves were being helped when in reality, they were being hurt. It’s like standing on a hill of moral righteousness preaching about love, but never being prepared to share it.
The first step toward overcoming hypocrisy is to be honest with God in our secret life. We must never pray anything that we do not mean from the heart; otherwise, our prayers are simply empty words. Our motive must be to please God alone, no matter what others may say or do. We must cultivate the heart in the secret place. It has been said, “The most important part of a Christian’s life is the part that only God sees.” When reputation becomes more important than character and integrity, we have become hypocrites.
I think that if we have the right attitude it also helps us to deal with criticism. Sometimes people can be very critical. But if we know in our heart we have done the right thing before God in all sincerity then we can give that criticism to God because we seek to do what we do to bring honour and glory to God.
I look upon the season of Lent as a golden opportunity to refocus and rebalance our lives. We can consciously and intentionally try and strip away all that impedes us, all that distracts us and all that robs us of the richness of that relationship with the Lord. God is an inviting God. He invites us to return to Him with all our heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning to rend our heart and not our garments. And we can do this because he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
The Gospel reading ends “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So Lent presents us with an opportunity and an invitation. An opportunity and an invitation to respond to that question…“where is our treasure?” An opportunity to examine our lives and come before the Lord with a humble and penitent heart and to “get right” with Him. As you come forward today should you wish to have the sign of the cross made on your forehead in ashes, you may wish in that moment to simply say to God in silence “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner” with expectancy and hope, as a way of refocusing and rebalancing knowing that you are forgiven. Then later to receive Communion, mindful of what Christ did for us on the cross that we might approach the throne of grace.
Let’s use this time to bring our confession to God and ask him to free us from hypocrisy. Amen