Most preachers I know are scared to death of being labeled a hypocrite. It is a powerful word that conveys strong images and even stronger emotions. It is not a charge that I want leveled at me nor am I willing to throw it around lightly. But let’s think a little more about what a hypocrite really is and maybe we can come to a better understanding. Maybe preachers ARE NOT really hypocrites.
What exactly is a hypocrite? What does it mean? The dictionary definitions are all similar.
A person who pretends to have virtues he really does not possess;
One who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions or statements belie his or her public statements;
a person who pretends to be what he is not.
You get the idea. Inherent in these definitions is the idea of deliberate deception. Failing because of weakness despite our best efforts is not hypocrisy. It is, well, failing. And all of us fail, preachers and non-preachers alike. In other words, when a person sets out to deceive by speaking one thing while doing another he is a hypocrite.
Hypocrisy can be especially damaging when revealed. Hidden secret sin that suddenly becomes public hurts the sinner but also the people around him. The more respected the sinner, the greater the damage. So, when a man, like a preacher, in the public, eye sins, it has the potential to cause devastation to those around him. But that brings a question.
Do we expect to much of our preachers?
The Lord expects much out of those who preach and teach. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). Jesus was tough on teacher who did not apply the truth of Scripture to their lives. In John 3:10 he rebuked Nicodemus, who as a teacher of Israel, did not understand the things Jesus was teaching. Some of the strongest language Jesus used toward sinners came in his rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. In each case he called them “hypocrites!”
It may be that we have elevated our preachers much too high. It’s a cliche but preachers really do put their pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. The same things that tempt you will also tempt them. So it should not be surprising when preachers fail, just like every one else.
But a brother might argue, “If a preacher can’t live the Christian life then how can I?” Good question. The problem comes when we think any of us is perfect. We are not.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:7-10).
I like this verse for many reasons. But notice when Jesus bloods cleanses us. It cleanses our sin when we are walking in the light. The time when we “walk in the light” is the time we are in fellowship with Jesus. But it is also the time sins come into our lives and are taken away by Jesus. We actually sin while in fellowship with Jesus. That is the only conclusion we can draw from the text. Now the sin is not deliberate and we are not persisting in sin but we still stumble and so do preachers.
The hypocrite charge is best left for those who knowingly and willfully say one thing and the practice something else. To be sure, some preachers are hypocrites. They serve their own belly rather than the Lord (Philippians 3:19) and scratch the ears of those with an itch (2 Timothy 4:3). But be gentle with you preacher. If he hasn’t already stumbled, he will. But that doesn’t necessarily make him a hypocrite. Remember, Judge righteously (Matthew 7:1-5) and extend your preacher the same grace you desire.
If you haven’t read my disclaimer yet, please read it here.