The Apostle Paul once promised to visit the congregation at Corinth. However, God changed his plans. Now, he must restore their confidence.
He wrote, “Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’ at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been ‘Yes’ and ‘No’” (2 Cor 1:17-18).
One writer notes that the double “yes” and “no” carries a consecutive force, as if to say, “Do I say ‘absolutely’ and ‘no way’ in the same breath?” (Guthrie, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 108).
Paul was no hypocrite. He didn’t tell people what they wanted to hear in the moment. Many do that in our day. Perhaps they have a hard time saying “no.” Perhaps they intend to follow through in the moment but don’t get around to it. Or, perhaps they don’t intend to at all, but they want others to think highly of them. Whatever the case, it falls under the label of “hypocrisy.”
It is purported the great orator, Charles Spurgeon, wrote a description of the hypocrite, whom he called “Mr. Facing-Both-Ways.” He says:
(1) “Like water, they boil and freeze according to temperature;”
(2) “Their brains are in other peoples’ heads.”
(3) “If they are at Rome, they would kiss the pope’s toe, but when they are home, they make themselves hoarse with shouting, ‘No popery.’”
Spurgeon concludes, “Let your face and hands, like the church clock, always tell how your inner works are going. Better to be laughed as Tom Tell-truth than be praised as Crafty Charley” (sermon, “Mr. Facing Both Ways”).
Pastors shouldn’t be hypocrites, but neither should parishioners.
We not only are to trust godly leaders until they give us a reason not to trust them . . . but we should stand up and defend them when falsely accused. If we don’t, we’re the hypocrites and we’re part of the problem. It’s our “brain in other peoples’ heads!”
A long time ago, a faithful congregation member shared with me four questions that cut through the clutter. If the Corinthian members asked themselves these four questions, it would have saved years of heartache; us, too:
1. Is the charge true?
2. Is it confidential?
3. Is it necessary?
4. Is it edifying?
How many times do we believe rumors without giving the subject of those rumors the benefit of the doubt? How many times do we repeat those unsubstantiated rumors without asking the four questions above? How many minds have we corrupted by advancing those rumors? How many people have we hurt while we carry on our merry way? Why didn’t squash such rumors? Why didn’t we check with the source?
Paul was no hypocrite, and he asks us not to be either. Of course, no one is perfect. Everyone knows that.
But Christians should be honest and forthright. That doesn’t mean we need to blab everything all-at-once, leaving a path of destruction behind us. But it does mean we should be clear and straightforward in a graceful, Gospel-centered way.
Dr. Chipley McQueen Thornton is lead pastor at First Baptist Church of Springville.