"Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:" 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'" Matthew 15:1-9
I have to confess to a passionate love affair that has been happening in my life for a long time. I am madly in love with the local church. I have devoted my life to it. If I had a second life I would also devote that life. Healthy local churches are the hope of the world. If God is ever going to transform our world, it will happen through local churches. That is why I am still leading the charge in a local congregation after all these years.
However, true love never runs smoothly. The majority of heartbreaks I have experienced in my life have happened in the local church. I have seen it at its worst and grieved.
But, I have also seen it at its best and there is nothing like it! I have seen lives transformed through salvation, through being filled with the Spirit, and through miraculous healings and deliverance. When a church is unified and focused and Spirit-led, the gates of Hell cannot prevail against it.
What makes the difference?
Primarily, it is this issue of hypocrisy. That is why Jesus was so hard on the religious leaders of His day. He had a vision of what the Church would become and their attitudes and actions were destructive to that.
Jesus summarized the problem of hypocrisy this way, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me."
That is the climate which breeds hypocrisy. Where rules and rituals are allowed to trump relationships, there is an unhealthy atmosphere of judgmentalism and a noticable lack of love. The church degenerates into an organization rather than a living, breathing organism. Playing the part without having the heart will kill you and harm the church where you belong. Saying the right sounding things without sincerely believing them confuses people and hinders true fellowship.
If healthy local churches are the hope of the world, as I believe. And if hypocrisy is an illness that infects a church and threatens its health. Then it is no wonder Jesus was so aggressive in attacking it. We should be, too.
Your local church is made up of people like you. If you want to improve the spiritual climate of your church stop giving lip service to your faith and give it life service. Surrender your heart to God and allow His Spirit to fill it. Seek Him passionately and serve Him humbly. When you do, suddenly relationships will be a priority and rules will become servants of love.
Hypocrisy is an issue of the heart. If you want to defeat hypocrisy, transplant your heart.