“Woe Unto You!”

Lou Coleman

Lou Coleman

By Lou Coleman

“Why don’t you practice what you preach?” Have you ever said those words? Maybe someone has said them to you. Hypocrites are people who pretend to be something they are not. They may say one thing and then do the opposite. They may act one way in a certain setting and then act another way in a different setting. It is very important that as Christians, we follow the example of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter where we are or who we are with. The words we speak and the things we do should always reflect our faith. Sometimes we are good at telling other people what they should do and how they should live, but we fail to follow our own instructions. We need to, as the saying goes, “walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Listen carefully to Jesus’ feelings that are boiling and roiling against the Pharisees in Matthew 23. They preach but they do not practice.  They lay burdens on others shoulders but they do not lift a finger to help.  They do all their deeds to be seen by men.  They love the places of honor at feasts and greetings in the market places and being called rabbi.

Then the gospel text switches from “they” to “you.” (Note that in both English and Greek, there is emphasis on the “you” in each of these statements.) Talk about being in your face. Talk about calling a spade a spade. Talk about boiling and roiling. A person can hear the “you” that drip with sarcastic indictment.  “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees for you shut the kingdom of heaven. You do not enter the kingdom and you prevent others from entering it. Woe to you Pharisees, you blind guides, you blind men.  Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you tithe on the trivia but you neglect the weightier issues of law, justice, mercy and faith. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for outwardly you appear beautiful but inwardly you are full of dead men’s bones.  You are the sons of those who have murdered the prophets. You serpents and brood of vipers how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” 

If anyone was a religious fake, it was the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They pretended to be genuinely religious but it was all a sham, a charade. It was a deceit, a deception. Like any good actor, they were all “make believe.” Jesus was deeply offended by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a bunch of phonies who did not do what they preached. So it is with many people of faith: on the outside and the showy parts of their lives, they give a good performance of being a Christian, but it is all “a front.” Inside, their hearts are far from the love of God/Jesus and neighbor.  They talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.

Why is it important to practice what we preach? The most basic reason is the integrity of our faith; we are the body of Christ for the world. We are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. People should be attracted by the light of the way we live and the words we speak. Whether we like it or not, people are watching us and seeing how we respond to the ups and downs of everyday life. Children watch adults and then imitate what they see and repeat what they hear. Are our words and actions something we want repeated by our children? Our friends, neighbors, coworkers, family members, and classmates are watching us. What evidence do we offer of our profession of faith? Are our responses any different from those of persons who don’t profess to know Christ? Not only are nonbelievers watching us, but so are other Christians. Do our words and actions encourage and build up other Christians?

How do we practice what we preach? One way is to be careful about the words we speak. You can tell a lot about a person by the words they use. You can tell even more by the words they use when they are distressed, angry, or threatened. James tells us the tongue is very dangerous. It can set a great forest ablaze. We can tame all kinds of animals, but we cannot tame the tongue (James 3:3-6). People are listening to the words we speak. Do our words build people up or cut them down? Do our words bring peace and calm to a situation or do they add fuel to the fire? The words we speak should match the person we claim to be. If we profess that we are followers of Christ, then our words should be a reflection of that relationship.

We practice what we preach when we live our lives as reflections of the life of Christ. The way we act at work should be the same way we act at home, at church, around other Christians, in the supermarket, or waiting for a bus. When people see us, they should see a reflection of Christ. Can I tell you that, Jesus is pulling the masks off the hypocrites.  It is His job!   {Romans 3:4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, that thou mightiest be justified in thy sayings, and mightiest overcome when thou art judged.} And can I just add that if you are sincere in your walk with Jesus, don’t let hypocrites keep you from being the real thing.

As Christians, all glory, honor, and praise belong to Christ. We must check ourselves because pride sneaks up when we least expect it to wag its ugly head in our lives. We are but His servants sent into the world as salt and light, and as ambassadors of His kingdom. May He find us to be faithful, humble servants.   Greatness is not found in being served, but in serving others. Walk the talk!

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