So, my sermon today was on hypocrisy. You can listen to the full sermon at this link. Specifically, today’s message was on the first half of Romans 2. Paul is addressing the Roman church, and specifically addressing a problem with hypocrisy. For reference, here is the text:
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
(Romans 2:1-11 ESV)
Last week I preached on God’s wrath from the end of the first chapter, and one of my fellow learners said “Man, this is a downer. Is it going to be better next week?” I started to look at the text from the same angle, especially when so much time is spent on God’s wrath and divine retribution, and started to question why Paul spent so much time on the subject. A cursory glance at 20th century history, though, gives startling evidence as to why Paul spent so much time on wrath. The combined regimes of Joseph Stalin, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and Adolf Hitler combined for over 100 million dead. Then, toss in various other genocidal tragedies such as Rwanda, and you start to get the picture. Throw in the fact that we have 40 million fewer Americans than we should thanks to abortion, and you really see why this is so important to get. Paul spends a lot of time on how evil we are and how wrathful God is because we, as a species, are just really … really … really BAD. And look, I didn’t even get into our current post-modern quagmire of relative moralism, so I’m really cutting the common person a lot of slack here. But, the point stands, that Paul spends a lot of time talking about evil because we ARE evil.
So how does that relate to this passage of Romans? Well, the key to understanding here is that, in order to fully get the benefits of reading from this passage, we have to realize that, rather than being separate from the previous text, it is an admonition aimed at a particular group of people, namely, those who do not do God’s will, but judge others for the same sins they commit. We like to call people like that hypocrites.
I posed this question today: Do you know, or have you ever known, or have you yourself, ever felt like hypocrisy was a valuable trait? Of course, the answer was no. Hypocrisy is without a doubt, universally condemned. But, it runs rampant in our church today. It’s one of the many reasons trotted out why people don’t have a personal relationship with God. But, if any passage in the Bible should speak reassuringly to those who do not like hypocrisy, it should be this one.
The situation Paul is speaking into is this: the common tendency in the time of Jesus (and ours as well) was to believe that those who were blessed with material/physical blessing were being blessed for their obedience to God. So, the formula was simple: wealth good, poverty bad. blessings good, lack of blessings bad. And when you think for a moment, it doesn’t take long to realize that our society still operates off of the same guidelines. So, rather than evaluating their standing before God, people had a tendency to justify themselves based off of their blessings. The result of that was this: lots of people failing to follow God’s will, but feeling as though they were righteous simply because of their blessings, rationalizing with the idea that if they were outside of God’s will, He would not bless them. Hence, the root of hypocrisy. Because it’s easy to judge others for their sins, then glaze over your own, because if you are living a “blessed” life, that’s all the proof you need that you are doing God’s will.
Doesn’t that sound familiar? Don’t we still measure our own favor before God with our success? I mean, I’ve heard many Christians say things like…
God has blessed us for our obedience with a big house for ministry…
God has blessed us for our faithfulness with a raise at work…
And don’t we do that with our churches? Don’t we make the assumption that because our ministries are just so stinking successful, that we must be living right, doing right, and making God super happy? The thrust of Romans 2 is this: Don’t be so sure. For those of us who have been blessed by God, His blessing is not proof of our righteousness. That’s sheer and utter foolishness. It’s proof of nothing more than the fact that God is overflowing with kindness, and we have to be aware of that. The only way we can accurately measure whether or not we are in relationship with God, and actively seeking His will, is to… be in relationship with God and actively seek His will. I know plenty of folks that think they are in God’s graces because He has blessed them. I know churches that operate in a way that is totally ungodly, who cover up their dirt under the nice fat blanket of “being successful.” Paul’s warning is simple:
If you are being a hypocrite, judging others for your own sins, being a fan of Christ instead of a follower, using God’s kindness as carte blanche for your sins instead of humbling yourself before Him, you are going to experience the exact same wrath that will befall every pagan and sinner that you so ruthlessly judge!
Let me say that more clearly. God’s response to hypocrisy is to lovingly try to steer you in the right direction. If you are so proud and hard-hearted as to not humble yourself before God’s mercy and grace, He will justly deal with you in your sins.
Where is your heart? If it’s set on yourself, and you view God’s blessing in your life as your own stamp of approval, BEWARE. Your sins will find you. If it’s set on God’s will, then God will be with you both in times of plenty and in times of little. He will nurture you, initiate you into life with Him, and will conform you to the image of His Son Jesus.