Are Christians Hypocrisy Hunters?

There are at least two reasons why the gospel writers give us such extensive material on the Jewish religious leaders of the first century (e.g., scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees). First, Jesus exposes the spiritual character of the Pharisees in order guard his disciples from becoming entangled with and influence by those who are in the grip of religious hypocrisy (see Matt 16:6-12; 23:1-12; cf 2 Tim 3:5). Second, the negative example of the Pharisees help uproot our own residual hypocrisy because Christians are all recovering legalists from one degree to another.

Both perspectives are vital. The first keeps us from becoming susceptible to the pervasive influence of religious hypocrisy. Religious hypocrisy spreads easily and can influence a true believer quickly, like leaven (Luke 12:1-2). The second guards us from self-righteousness, self-deception, and helps us maintain a humble heart before the Lord (Matt 23:12). Religious hypocrisy is deadly: we should call it out when appropriate, and avoid those who are ensnared in it.

Nevertheless, we must also be careful to not hastily diagnose another person’s spiritual condition (Prov 18:2; 18:13). It is possible for a true believer to be guilty of hypocrisy (Gal 2:12-14; 1 Peter 2:1). But this is different than encountering someone who has an appearance of godliness but, once you have a chance to see into their private and public lives, it becomes clear that they are characterized by the qualities listed in Matt 6:1-8; 23:1-35 and 2 Tim 3:1-9. We must let Scripture be our guide in determining what kind of person we are dealing with in a given situation. Sometimes, it will be difficult to tell (Matt 13:27-30) but over time, the truth will become evident (2 Tim 3:9).

Genuine believers, however, won’t be characterized by a penchant to locate religious hypocrites. Actually, hypocrisy hunting is characteristic of religious hypocrites! The scribes and Pharisees were constantly watching Jesus and looking for ways to undermine his authority and question his piety (see Luke 6:7; 20:20). A Christian isn’t naïve, but neither is he primarily concerned with identifying all the false Christians in the world. Nor will a mature Christian suggest that he can judge with certainty the spiritual state of professing Christians. “The true saints,” Jonathan Edwards observes, “have no such a spirit of discerning that they can certainly determine who are godly and who are not.”

A person who has experienced the love of Christ will be eager to find and rejoice in others who have received such a great salvation. When there is good evidence of a sound conversion in another professing believer, it is the spiritual bent of the mature Christian to gladly welcome such people into their fellowship. Edwards again:

When there are many probable appearances of piety in others, it is the duty of the saints to receive them cordially in to their charity, and to love them and rejoice in them as their brethren in Jesus Christ.

None of this is meant to suggest that Christians shouldn’t be diligent to exercise discernment and to guard themselves and others from Christian pretenders. And it is unkind to allow obvious hypocrisy to flourish in the life of another professing Christian. But there is also a sense in which the love that has been shed abroad in the Christian’s heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5) will bear the fruit of believing the best about others. This is how I take Paul’s statement, “Love…believes all things” (1 Cor 13:7).

Christian love is a discerning and knowledgeable love, to be sure (Phil 1:9-10), but it is not a love that relishes the opportunity to expose Christian posers. Religious hypocrisy should cause us sorrow (see Phil 3:18), and its discovery attended with an appropriate watchfulness over our own souls (Gal 6:1).

How to Pray for Your Pastor In Light of His Pressures and Temptations, Part 1: Anxiety over the Flock and Attacks from Professing Christians

How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Your Pastor is a Desperate Man
How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Why Should You Pray for Your Pastor?
Praying for Your Pastor in Light of His Qualifications, Part 1: The Necessity of a Qualified Ministry
Praying For Your Pastor According to His Qualifications, Part 2: A Holy Ambition and a Holy Life
Praying for Your Pastor According to His Qualifications, Part 3: Self-Control, Family, and Money
Praying for Your Pastor According to his Qualifications, Part 4: Humility and Teaching
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 1: The Pastor as Shepherd Leader
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 2: Feeding the Sheep
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 3: Protecting the Sheep
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 4: Leading the Sheep

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Since my conversion approximately seventeen years ago, I have had the opportunity to serve in many different ministry contexts. As a church member, I have led worship for children’s church, taught Sunday School to adults of all ages, served on the leadership team for men’s ministry, young adult ministry, and singles ministries. I have cared for little kiddos in the nursery, played drums for the music team, and helped the youth pastor disciple young students (while also receiving some valuable discipleship myself). While each of these areas of service elicited a certain amount of pressure and, at times, anxiety, none of them have compared to my experience in vocational, pastoral ministry.

Every vocational calling has its own set of pressures and temptations, and pastoral ministry is no exception. Indeed, because pastors are public Christian leaders who are tasked with guiding God’s people through an accurate and faithful handling of God’s Word, Satan has a special interest in attacking and undoing them. If your goal is to scatter and confuse the sheep, strike the shepherd (Zech 13:7).

So, while I do not want to take away from the trouble that often befalls faithful Christians in all lines of work, my goal in this chapter is to highlight the unique trials that attend pastoral ministry in light of a pastor’s special vulnerability to Satan and his evil strategies. A congregation faithful to fight for their pastor through prayer will do much to protect him from temptation and comfort his soul in the midst of trial.

Anxiety Over the Flock
In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul had to engage in a little self-defense. He didn’t want to do it, but some members of the church Corinth had started to believe what the false teachers were saying about Paul—that he was unqualified as a pastor, unskilled in teaching, and motivated by greed and lust for power. In order to maintain the integrity of his ministry and the gospel, Paul had to establish his apostolic credentials.

These credentials, however, were not what we might think of today. In order to convince those few fickle Corinthian Christians that he was a trustworthy minister of the gospel, Paul pointed them to his suffering (2 Cor 11:23-27). Because of his unwavering devotion to Christ and his countless labors on behalf of the gospel, Paul had endured massive amounts of physical injury, deprivation, persecution, and danger. He had been stoned, whipped, and beaten with rods. He had been shipped-wrecked multiple times and experienced hunger and thirst on more than one occasion.

Yet, these physical trials did not overshadow another area of suffering Paul endured. Because he loved Christ’s people with the very affection of Christ (Phil 1:8), Paul’s heart was knit to the Christians throughout the various churches in such a profound way that their pain became his pain, and their spiritual welfare was utmost in his daily thoughts. “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” the apostle confesses. “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant” (2 Cor 11:28-29)?

Similarly, a pastor who genuinely loves his people will attest to the reality of this kind of anxiety and pressure. When his sheep are caught in the jaws of a wolf or in the snare of their own sin or found wandering off into a dangerous wilderness, the good under-shepherd cannot act fast enough. And after he rescues the injured and wandering sheep, he fears for their future safety. When he is tending to the healthy and happy sheep, he is wondering about the others while keeping a keen eye on the nearby countryside for potential enemies. He is always on guard; always concerned; always watching; always praying.

As we pray for our pastors, we should not pray that God remove this pressure and anxiety. That may sound unkind, but it isn’t. To ask that God remove these emotional trials would be to ask God to stop a pastor from loving his people. With true love comes great cost, and pastors bear the burden of watching over sheep for whom they feel deeply.

But we can pray that our pastor would be anxious over the right things. We should pray that the Lord would enable our pastors to trust wholly in the Holy Spirit for the spiritual growth of the congregation and for the salvation of once-professing Christians who have defected (1 Cor 3:6-7; 2 Tim 2:25-26). The burden to produce spiritual fruit and repentance in the hearts of people was never the pastor’s to bear. One of the paradoxes of the ministry is that a pastor can be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor 6:10); he can be anxious, yet remain at peace (2 Cor 11: 28-29; cf. Phil 4:6-9). We do our pastors much good when we pray that their affections for Christ’s sheep would be strong and their trust in God would be steady and deep.

Attacks from Professing Christians
Pastors, perhaps more than anyone, must endure attacks from professing Christians—even those with whom they may have walked and served over several years. Although personal and physical attacks from those outside the faith are painful, the grief caused by those who profess Christ and then turn their back on the church and aim their discontent at the pastor can be, at times, nearly unbearable. One can almost hear the anguish in David’s voice when he laments, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Ps 41:9). Sadly, pastors, if they have been in the ministry for any time at all, can attest to David’s agony, for it is not uncommon for those who have been the pastor’s biggest fans to become his most vigorous opponents.

What I am referring to here is not the well-timed and thoughtful rebukes of godly church members. A pastor who desires to grow in wisdom will welcome such correction and instruction from his people (see Prov 12:15; 13:10; 19:20). What I am talking about here are those unwarranted, unprovoked, and unkind confrontations from those who profess to know Jesus Christ yet appear to find delight in verbal sparring and conflict.

While it is true that an overbearing pastor may reap the fruit of his own tendency to quarrel (see Prov 15:1), it is equally true that pastors who desire to guide the members of Christ’s church into lives of deepening repentance and faith will occasionally encounter opposition from immature Christians, and such a ministry will eventually expose the spurious faith of false Christians. When false religion is exposed, it can react in hostile, even violent ways (as was the case with the Pharisees; see Luke 6:11) and the courageous pastor who holds professing Christians to the standard of God’s Word will bear the brunt of such opposition.

Our regular supplication for our pastors, then, should consist of prayers for endurance. Nothing tends to take the wind out of pastor’s sails more than harsh opposition from professing Christians, so a pastor needs supernatural strength and stability.

In the next post we will consider the pastor’s family life and his battle with sin.

Book Notes – July 2018 (Books on Ecclesiastes)

The 2017-18 academic year in our ministry at Stanford University was a “Year of Wisdom.” In the fall quarter we studied Proverbs. The spring quarter was Job. But it was during the winter quarter that we quarried Ecclesiastes.

At first blush, the book of Ecclesiastes seems like a cynical rant; something you might find written by a disgruntled philosophy major at a large university (like Stanford!). Upon closer examination, Ecclesiastes is a book of profound wisdom, offered to all with arresting honesty and candor. A thorough study of this book will, I trust, bolster your contentment and deepen your appreciation for Christ and the gift of earthly life.

Although there are many other commentaries on Ecclesiastes (many of which reside on my shelf), below are the books I found most helpful in my teaching preparation. I believe they will serve you well as you trek through this great book. Continue reading “Book Notes – July 2018 (Books on Ecclesiastes)”

Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 4: Leading the Sheep

How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Your Pastor is a Desperate Man
How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Why Should You Pray for Your Pastor?
Praying for Your Pastor in Light of His Qualifications, Part 1: The Necessity of a Qualified Ministry
Praying For Your Pastor According to His Qualifications, Part 2: A Holy Ambition and a Holy Life
Praying for Your Pastor According to His Qualifications, Part 3: Self-Control, Family, and Money
Praying for Your Pastor According to his Qualifications, Part 4: Humility and Teaching
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 1: The Pastor as Shepherd Leader
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 2: Feeding the Sheep
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 3: Protecting the Sheep

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A pastor is not only responsible to feed the sheep and protect the sheep, he is also charged with leading Christ’s sheep. Much of the pastor’s leadership will come through his preaching and teaching as he guides Christ’s people with Christ’s Word. But there are other specific areas in which the pastor must exercise leadership. He is, for example, called to set an example of godliness for the flock (1 Tim 4:12; 6:11; 2 Tim 3:10). Paul does not give pastoral qualifications to Timothy and Titus in order to exempt members of a congregation from pursuing such character qualities. Rather, God’s design for enabling his people to grow in Christlikeness is to put living examples before them, and a pastor, even imperfectly, is intended to serve as this example. Continue reading “Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 4: Leading the Sheep”

The Stone that the Builders Rejected: A Reminder

When Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the church (Acts 4:11; Eph 2:20), it means that his person and work (sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection) is the basis of our relationship with God and fellowship with one another. The “building” that God is constructing today is not a inanimate building (like the temple in the OT), but a spiritual building, consisting of individual people who compose the very structure of this building. Christians are little “stones” that rest upon the cornerstone, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-6). Continue reading “The Stone that the Builders Rejected: A Reminder”

Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 3: Protecting the Sheep

How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Your Pastor is a Desperate Man
How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Why Should You Pray for Your Pastor?
Praying for Your Pastor in Light of His Qualifications, Part 1: The Necessity of a Qualified Ministry
Praying For Your Pastor According to His Qualifications, Part 2: A Holy Ambition and a Holy Life
Praying for Your Pastor According to His Qualifications, Part 3: Self-Control, Family, and Money
Praying for Your Pastor According to his Qualifications, Part 4: Humility and Teaching
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 1: The Pastor as Shepherd Leader
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 2: Feeding the Sheep
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Corresponding to their responsibility to feed God’s flock through the teaching of God’s Word is the pastor’s task of protecting God’s people from false teaching and false teachers. Multiple times throughout the pastoral epistles Paul’s command to teach the church is coupled with a charge to protect the church by correcting and rebuking false teachers. For example, in his letter to Titus, Paul includes competence in correcting unbiblical teaching among the list of an elder’s spiritual credentials. “[The overseer] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9; also 1:13). Continue reading “Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 3: Protecting the Sheep”

Review of ‘The Divine Authenticity of Scripture’ by A. T. B. McGowan – Extended Article

McGowan - DASA. T. B. McGowan’s The Divine Authenticity of Scripture: Retrieving an Evangelical Heritage contributes to evangelical discussions on the doctrine of Scripture (9). According to McGowan, evangelicals are in need of renewed examination of our theological language so that we might “clarify precisely what we mean when we speak about Scripture as the Word of God” (9). Specifically, “spiration” will now replace “inspiration”; “illumination” will yield to “recognition”; and “infallibility” will take the place of “inerrancy” (38-49). In order to establish the basis for this latter proposal concerning inerrancy, he first traces how liberal theology, fueled as it was by the Enlightenment’s turn to the subject (51), shaped two respective responses concerning the truthfulness of Scripture from neo-orthodox and conservative evangelical theologians (50-83). According to McGowan, the doctrine of inerrancy grew out of the conservative evangelical response, developed and articulated chiefly by Princetonians Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield. Continue reading “Review of ‘The Divine Authenticity of Scripture’ by A. T. B. McGowan – Extended Article”