unChristian: Week 4

This past Sunday was our 4th and final week in our unChristian series. This week we covered the last two perceptions that people have regarding Christians. So take some time to read the message that I gave yesterday as well as the discussion questions that we talked about after. This is our 4th and final week in the unChristian series that we have been doing. Over the last 4 weeks we have been looking at the perception that young Americans (16-29) have towards Christians. We have used the research done by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in the book unChristian as the basis for our series. Kinnaman and Lyons found that when asked what the perceptions of Christians were, many young Americans answered in very much the same way. In fact, when all of the findings were done, the perceptions could be broken down into 6 different ones.

The first week of our series we cover the fact that people’s perception is their reality. That what they perceived about Christians, whether accurate or not, was their reality. Then we did a week on two of the 6 perceptions. Two weeks ago we covered the perception that Christians were judgmental and anti-homosexual. Last week we covered the perception that Christians were too political and too sheltered. And this week we cover the perception that Christians are hypocritical and too worried about getting others saved.

So one of the most common issues that people raise when it comes to Christians is this idea of hypocrisy. All too often we see this come to light, when a Christian leader has a moral failure. We saw it this week where a former Pastor in Lancaster County was charged with the murder of his 1st wife. We also saw this week the story where the former Lancaster Mennonite administrator got 3-9 years for molesting 3 male students. But if we are honest with ourselves we see it in smaller ways in each one of our lives. None of us live perfectly congruent lives with the faith that we profess. So when people say Christians are all hypocrites, they are totally being truthful, because we are all hypocrites, Christian and non-Christian alike.

One of the other common perceptions that people have of Christians is they are too concerned with getting others saved. People believe that there is always this hidden agenda with Christians and they bring it into every relationship. Reminds me of the time that a former youth pastor that I hung around with when I was a youth pastor, called me after leaving youth ministry and wanted to catch up and grab lunch. So we had lunch and after we were finished he made a sales pitch to me regarding finances, insurance, and a bunch of other services. I was rather ticked off because he scheduled the lunch not because he was interested in catching up with me but interested in me as a client of his business. It was his agenda. And that soured my relationship with him.

One thing that we all hate is when someone isn’t authentic and genuine. We hate it when they don’t practice what they preach, or when they only care about their agenda and what you can do for them. It really comes down to an issue of integrity.

We all long for people to have integrity in how they live and how they relate to us. That’s the image of God in all of us, not just believers. And that’s why so many non-Christians are so frustrated with Christians who are hypocrites or who only care about one thing: trying to convert them. The research from the book unChristian shows us that the perception regarding Christians is that we are hypocritical. They say that we say one thing and do another and they are very skeptical of our morally superior attitudes. They also say that Christians pretend to be something unreal, conveying a polished image that is not accurate. And all too often Christians think the church is only a place for virtuous and morally pure people (though none of us are virtuous and morally pure).

Also those interviewed for the book wondered if Christians genuinely cared about them. They felt like targets rather than people. They questioned Christians motive when we try to help them “get saved” despite that many of them have already tried Jesus and experienced church before.

So let’s take a look at some Scriptures that seek to address these two perceptions that people have towards Christianity. Because you see Jesus had plenty to say about being hypocritical and the Scriptures have plenty to say about seeing people as more than a project and/or an agenda. He even reserved his harshest condemnation for those religious people he considered hypocrites. Just look at Matthew 23. But the first text we’ll look at together regarding hypocrisy is found in Matthew 7:1-5, which says, ““Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

This text is all about hypocrisy and trying to remove the sin from someone else’s life while totally ignoring your own issues. Or pretending that you don’t have any issues. Jesus does not prohibit judgment of others, inside the family. He does prohibit judgment of others outside “the family”. He only requires that our judgment be completely fair, and that we only judge others by a standard we would also like to be judged by. Most of our judgment in regard to others is wrong, not because we judge according to a standard, but because we are hypocritical in the application of that standard - we ignore the standard in our own life. We judge others by one standard, and ourselves by another standard - being far more generous to ourselves than others.

Now according to the teaching of some rabbis in Jesus' time, God had two measures that He used to judge people. One was a measure of justice and the other was a measure of mercy. Which measure do you want God to use with you? Then you should use that same measure with others. That’s what Jesus was getting at when he said “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Then Jesus uses a metaphor for our hypocrisy. He uses the figures of a speck and a plank. And the speck and plank are real figures used humorously. Jesus shows how we are generally far more tolerant to our own sin than we are to the sin of others. Our hypocrisy in these matters is always more evident to others than to ourselves. We may find a way to ignore the plank in our own eye, but others notice it immediately. And that is what drives people in our culture up a wall. It is like we don’t even see our own issues, and are far more concerned with others issues. At the same time, Jesus doesn't say that it is wrong for us to help our brother with the speck in his eye. It is a good thing to help your brother with his speck, but not before dealing with the plank in your own eye. Maybe we need to worry more about taking care of the issues in our own lives before we turn our attention to others? Maybe the saying should be love the sinner, hate my sin, instead of love the sinner, hate their sin? This also applies to how we interact with others and to see them more as a project or as someone who needs saved, because if we are all honest with ourselves we all need “saving” in some way, even if you are a follower of Jesus. And these issues are, as I said, not new. They were important in the early church as well and Peter gives us instructions about how we are to make the most impact in culture and in the lives of those around us. 1 Peter 2:11-12 says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Peter tells us that this world (the Kingdom of the world) is not our home, we are foreigners and exiles in this place. And since this isn’t our home we have to abstain from sinful desires, which attack our very lives and souls. To live out the Kingdom in this world, we need to make our spiritual lives a priority. As followers of Jesus our main priority needs to be the Kingdom of God and one way to live out the Kingdom is found in verse 12, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God in the day he visits us.” Unfortunately we have all seen the past 4 weeks that all too often we haven’t lived such good lives. We will make the biggest impact on others through our good works toward others. This doesn’t devalue evangelism—there is a time and a place to, as Peter says a few verses later, “to give the reason for the hope we have.” But our words should be an outflow of our deeds. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”

And I truly believe when we get the message of both Matthew 7:1-5, and 1 Peter 2:11-12 into our hearts and minds and into our lives, the perception that we are hypocrites and have an agenda with people will be brought into question. They will be brought into question because they see us dealing with our own sin or own planks in our eyes first. They will see that we truly care about them, whether or not they ever come to know Jesus. That they aren’t a project to God and they aren’t a project to us.

But again what does this look like on the ground lived out and fleshed out in the every day? Let’s spend some time talking through some questions about hypocrisy and too concerned about getting others saved.

1. What do you think the true definition of hypocrisy should be? What are examples of hypocrisy in your life that you should be more transparent about? 2. Only 34% of young outsiders believe that Christians genuinely care about them. But among Christians, 64% said outsiders would perceive their efforts as genuine. Why do you believe there is such a huge gap? 3. Read 2 Timothy 2:24-25. Discuss the role of the Christ follower and the part the Holy Spirit plays in someone choosing to follow Christ. 4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?