The days in which we live are a challenge for young believers as they seek to live a godly life before their friends and fellow students. Witnessing about the power of Christ to change lives becomes difficult when their peers bring up the fact that within Christendom there is so much hypocrisy and scandal, and so little unity. How will the young, sincere believer answer his friends?
The wise king said many centuries ago: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Eccl 1:9). Hypocrisy and scandal are nothing new. Division did not begin in the 21st century.
Hypocrisy simply means an actor, or a stage player; one who pretends to be what he really is not; one who puts on a mask to hide what he truly is. Matthew’s Gospel records the message of the Lord Jesus concerning hypocrisy, with particular emphasis in chapters 6 and 23.
Scandal is a word that, as such, does not appear in our Bible, but skandalizo is translated many times by the word “offense.” The Jewish leaders considered the Lord Jesus to be an “offense,” that which caused them to stumble as they considered His person. A scandal then is that which causes a person to distrust the person in whom he should trust, or, in this context, that which hinders a person from trusting the Lord Jesus (see Matt 11:6; 13:57; 17:27).
Three times in the Gospel of John we find that there was a division among the people due to the Lord Jesus and His teachings (7:43; 9:16; 10:19). Three times in 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul speaks against division (1:10; 11:18; 12:25).
We can admit to our unbelieving friends that Christianity has been affected by these three sins. It is pointless to deny the evidence. At the same time we need to be very careful not to be drawn into a conversation concerning those who have failed in these varied ways, as that could lead us into the very same sin, especially that of hypocrisy! The Lord tells us to remove the beam from our own eye before dealing with the mote in our brother’s eye! (Matt 7:5). We can become so occupied with the wrongdoing of others that we fail to judge correctly our own motives and actions.
Bringing these three words into the 21st century, we understand how hypocrisy, scandal, and division can raise questions in the minds of unbelievers. However, we need to present to unbelievers the truth of the Word of God concerning these attacks.
In no way does God or Christianity condone hypocrisy. Seven times in Matthew 23 alone the Lord Jesus pronounces “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” (vv 13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). What God condemns, we must condemn as well.
Was the Lord Jesus any softer in His condemnation of those who offend? Absolutely not! “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt 18:6). He tells us that there is a tremendous danger in causing others to stumble as they consider their faith in Him. This is precisely what a scandal does to unbelievers! Many point to “church scandals” as their reason for not believing in Christ.
Paul reminds us that division among believers is also what God does not desire: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1Cor 1:10). Unity is produced by Christlikeness; division is produced by carnality. We do understand that as believers we need to seek after unity, but not at the cost of sacrificing doctrine. Sadly, much of what Christendom teaches and practices today is far from what the Word of God plainly teaches. We do need to separate ourselves from such systems.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1Cor 1:22-24). As believers we are not preaching Christianity, but Christ crucified. We are not telling unbelievers to look at men whose lives have been transformed by the power of the gospel, but are “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2). We do not declare that there are perfect Christians in the world today, but rather that there is One Who should be considered: “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself” (Heb 12:3).
In other words, the message of Christianity is not Christians, but Christ! We can point to One Who was always pure in His motives, with not even a shade of hypocrisy. It is true that His message caused some to stumble, but His actions were not scandalous, and no one could ever accuse Him of sin. The division that He caused had to do with differing reactions to His teaching and His miracles, not with a fleshly desire to divide.
Today it behooves us as believers to live before men so that the accusations are not true of us. If we read the letter to the Philippians, we will see the perfect example of the Lord Jesus, as Paul exhorts us to “let this mind be in you” (2:5).
If sincerity is the opposite of hypocrisy, and if we wish to avoid scandal, we will remember, too, that Paul wrote: “that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:9-11).