For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
. . . . But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth. 2 Corinthians 10:12, 17-18
“In a Connecticut city, fifty-three residents of a certain neighborhood signed a petition to stop reckless driving on their streets. The police set a watch. A few nights later five violators were caught. All five had signed the petition.”1 Hypocrites are the best hypocrite-finders. It is their nature to be such. No one can walk into our church and spot hypocrisy faster than a total stranger who does not want to be there in the first place. These hypocrite-finders have a real advantage from the start. Being unfamiliar with the teachings of our church (and probably Christianity in general) they are at liberty to evaluate everyone there by their own standards, and not by the doctrines of the church. They have a preconceived idea of what a church should be and when it doesn’t measure up, the hypocrite-finder spots the inconsistency.
Such people are unencumbered by years of study about what the Bible teaches concerning human nature. Nor do they care that, being a stranger, they may not know many of the facts behind each person’s situation. They are much like an anxious fan watching a ball game he knows nothing about and yet criticizing the players for not performing the way he thinks they should. I might criticize a Christian for not being a good Orthodox Jew, but to criticize him for not being a good Christian is another thing entirely.
After two centuries of being criticized by the world, Christians have gotten used to this routine and should seldom be very upset at it. “The charge of hypocrisy is the unintended compliment that vice pays to virtue.”2 If there is an opposite to the Christ-centered worldview, it is the self-centered worldview. That is why true repentance turns us exactly around! Before we knew Christ, everything was intended to make us happy, to please us, to bend over backward to accommodate us. And by all means, nothing should intrude into our world so far as to tell us we are wrong and ought to change. When such a person as that comes into a group of people who believe that the basic nature is corrupt and needs to be changed, and who are constantly being changed from the old natural way to the new spiritual way, that person cannot help but feel the immediate pressure!
Two things are true when this happens. The stranger is not like the church and the church is not like the stranger. But being on church ground, the stranger is under the pressure to change (just as the church comes under pressure to change when she is in the world). The stranger, at that moment, employs the age-old defense mechanism that is the basis of the hypocrisy charge. He determines that a Christian ought to be what he imagines him to be! But since the Christian will not and can not be that, the stranger is obliged to call him a hypocrite.
If that were the end of the story, the evangelism of the church would work very well. But an irony almost always occurs. This hypocrite-finder finds someone in the church who agrees with him! Of course, this new comrade is truly at odds with the church and has been unwilling to conform all along. But now the coterie is complete. These two can be perfectly consistent between themselves and pronounce all others who are unlike them “hypocrites.” As long as the stranger has this new ally, and their self-view can be bolstered by one another, the stranger will never change. “Falsehood is never so false as when it is very nearly true.”3 Now, if a third member joins the gang, a three-fold cord cannot be broken. Had the stranger been left alone without an ally, change might have occurred out of necessity. Ron Mayers wrote, “The individual who says he is a Christian, but does not live like a Christian, actually gives the lie to his own testimony. Unfortunately, unbelievers interpret this contradiction as an indication of the absence of truth in the claims of Christianity.”4
We might recognize one more irony as well. Down deep, those in the church know they are all hypocrites to some degree. That is why they have learned not to criticize very quickly. They know that all believers are in the process of being conformed into the image of Christ, which process will continue until death. But one thing is sure for them, the original self-life is not satisfying nor desirable. To go on comparing oneself to oneself gets oneself nowhere. But to compare oneself with Christ is to begin a life-long and life-changing journey. And each of these travelers is forever thankful that when they were that stranger in the church, no one agreed with them and prohibited the necessary change. Rather, with the love of an observer during a birth process, they encouraged the leaving of the old life and the coming of the new.
The hypocrite-finders will always be coming among us. Bonhoeffer wrote of hypocrites, “He looks like a Christian, he talks and acts like one But it is not faith in Jesus Christ which made him one of us, but the devil.”5 We must remember that the hypocrite is not living in the “real” world. He is living in a world which he has imagined exists but in actuality does not. The thing he needs most of all from churches and from Christians is to see what Christianity really is, a reality that will contradict his preconceived idea. Stealth tactics that take pains to agree with the hypocrite in order to draw him in will, in the end, keep him from coming in.
Paul won Onesimus to Christ when all he had to show for his faith was his chain! Yet he wrote to Philemon encouraging him in evangelism, “That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” (Phile 6). It is hard to acknowledge it until you have seen it clearly.
Notes: 1. Charles Swindol, The Grace Awakening (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996) 169. 2. Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996) 118. 3. G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas (New York: Doubleday, 1956) 91. 4. Ron Mayers, Balanced Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1984) 58. 5. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1959) 191.