Although many Christians may have the best intentions, they all too often judge and reject others without even realizing it. In doing so, they push people further away from Jesus rather than bringing them closer. Most non-Christians say Jesus stood for love more than anything else and they are right. Jesus said the world will recognize Christians as His disciples by their love for one another (John 13:35). But there doesn’t seem to be much love going on when those who claim to be Christian speak with judgment or in disparaging ways towards others.
A careful reading of the Gospels, reveals that Jesus didn’t get angry with sinners and he never turned them away. Jesus actually drew them to himself…by the multitude. He even made them feel at ease and was known as the “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19). Jesus had harsher things to say to the religious folk of the day because they were judgmental hypocrites who failed to extend any measure of grace or love. They believed God was about regulatory compliance (i.e. rule keeping). Jesus taught the people that God’s greatest “rule” was to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind and to love others as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). God didn’t send Jesus to condemn sinners, He sent Jesus to save sinners (John 3:17).
The Pharisees loved rules and laws and were devoted to keeping them and they thought everyone else should be “rule keepers” too. Oddly, the greatest opposition Jesus faced came from the Pharisees, because they missed a crucial point, God wasn’t concerned with all their rule keeping, He was concerned with people. So while the Pharisees were busy crushing people with their unbearable religious demands while never lifting a finger to ease the burden, Jesus was drawing crowds and teaching about the kingdom of God. Jesus’ teachings were a radical departure from what ordinary men and women were used to hearing from their pious leaders. Grace, love, mercy, forgiveness…all wonderful new concepts and these teachings were turning people away from organized religion. The Pharisees should have celebrated this renewed interest in God because the citizens were coming in droves to hear Jesus preach. Instead, they were disgusted that Jesus was so willing to associate with lowly sinners. In response, Jesus had some intense things to say to the religious leaders. Jesus used names like hypocrites, blind guides, filthy and full of greed, whitewashed tombs, snakes and sons of vipers (Matthew 23) to describe these leaders.
The religious leaders didn’t love God, perhaps they thought they did, but they weren’t fooling anyone, certainly not Jesus! Oh, they loved the Scriptures and searched them diligently because they believed eternal life was found in the written word, but the Scriptures they so loved, pointed straight to Jesus (John 5:39). In short, the Pharisees and other religious leaders were really just putting on an act; they weren’t authentic lovers of God. Truth be known, we too are sometimes guilty of faking our affections for Christ. We fake our affections when we just go through the motions at church or when we judge someone because they don’t share “our values” or when we intentionally fail to extend love and grace. When we deceive others and lie about the motives in our heart or when we think we are superior to other people because we are more “mature in our walk with Christ,” we are faking our affections.
Jesus warned his followers numerous times about such hypocrisy and judging others in four broad expressions.
1. The Motives of a Person’s Heart
You can really tell the motive of a person’s heart if after doing a good deed for someone, it is kept in confidence or broadcasted to the universe on Facebook or some other media outlet: “I helped buy groceries for a needy person today!” “I sponsored an orphan in Africa!” “My family adopted a huge family at Christmas and donated 10 Operation Christmas Child boxes!” Such a person is really using God rather than allowing God to use them and stands in stark contrast to the way Jesus told his followers to give when helping the needy, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:2).
2. Judging the Sin of Others
Believe it or not, there are plenty of “Super” Christians who go around judging the sins of other Christians as well as non-believers. These “Super” Christians see themselves as the standard for everyone else to follow. They believe they should be emulated in word, deed and action. This is nothing more than spiritual pride and they are practicing “a more sinister and deadly sin than the sins of those they are denouncing” (Hamilton, 2010, p. 15). Jesus said if you are going to judge the speck of dust in your brother’s eye to first get the log out of your own (Matthew 7:1-5).
3. Getting Sidetracked
In their quest for rule following and keeping the details of every law, the Pharisees forgot how to love people. Sometimes, God’s children do the same when we argue, divide and split over matters such as female preachers, who can partake in the elements of communion, forms of baptism, speaking in tongues, homosexuality, science, politics, other religions, and interpreting the Scriptures. When we get sidetracked on these issues, we are pushing would be believers away from Jesus rather than drawing them closer. Jesus said our love for one another is how the world will know we are his followers (John 13:35).
4. Backstabbing Other People
Have you ever met someone who presented as a warm, kind and loving soul, but the more you got to know them, you realized they were the antithesis of who you first believed they were? Jesus knew a few people like that too and he had this to say, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean” (Matthew 23:25-26). You would think Jesus was speaking to the unchurched, the sinners, but he was speaking to the religious people and his message still applies to some Christians today. They are adept in “religious” talk, they raise their hands in worship and go around talking about “God’s will be done” and they’re always “praying” for someone. However, their religion doesn’t change their values or how they live their lives. As an example, these are the folks who are gossiping about other people’s business, or slandering another sister’s name behind her back while hugging her on Sunday morning, or sharing confidential details that were sworn to secrecy. Their religion is for show- it’s an act.
We need to clean the inside of our cup to match the outside as Jesus commanded the Pharisees and live out our faith and beliefs caring about what God cares for: people, grace, mercy and justice. Most people including atheists struggle with hypocrisy and judging. It’s all too easy to do the right things for the wrong reasons and it’s easy to point out the sins of others while neglecting to see our own. Most of us has pretended to be someone we are not, but it is only when we recognize our penchant to be as Pharisees that we have any hope of getting it right.
When Christians act in ways that are hypocritical, compassionless, hurtful, and cold hearted, we are behaving in ways that are unchristian. Paul used these words when describing how Christians should behave: loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle and self-controlled (Galatians 5:22-23). When Christians get it right, love is the motive. We are most like Jesus when we are building friendships with those who are outside the church rather than condemning them and preaching sermonettes on all the things they are doing wrong. As Christians, we should remember that it isn’t our job to offend others- that’s the job of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). When Christians get it right, people are drawn to rather than repulsed by our faith. They want what we have and they want to serve the God we serve.
Reference: Hamilton, A. (2010) When Christians Get It Wrong. Abington Press: Nashville.