Dwight L. Moody was an American evangelist and publisher, who lived in the 19th century. Among other institutions, Moody founded the renowned Moody Bible Institute and Moody Publishers, both still in existence today. He was known for his piercing and passionate sermons and for leading highly popular revival tours in Great Britain and the U.S.
In one of his publications, titled “Moody’s Anecdotes,” he wrote a provocative story about a picture exhibited in a gallery in London. From a distance, the picture seemed to depict a monk engaged in prayer — his hands clasped, his head bowed. Upon closer examination, however, the reality of the monk’s activity became clear. He wasn’t praying. He was actually squeezing a lemon into a punch bowl.
This illustration presents a timely reflection during this election year, when presidential candidates’ character and integrity have been questionable to an unprecedented extent. Hypocrisy and inconstancy have been hot topics during this presidential race, and we, the voters, are left to wonder whether the “monks” are praying or, indeed, squeezing a lemon in the national picture.
But the presidential elections is only a side note on my column today. It is not my intent to discuss our politicians’ integrity on this commentary, but rather, the natural tendency humans have to exalt their own goodness, often hiding the true condition of their hearts.
I believe Moody’s picture anecdote is an amusing, yet poignant observation that also rightly reflects the hypocritical standing for many people of faith. Superficially observed, many of us have a tendency to appear good, righteous and holy, whereas in reality, the contradiction between our outward appearance and inner reality are only fully known to God, and perhaps immediate family members.
Many tend to value the appearance of goodness more than the truthfulness and transparency of one’s faith. On the outside, we, church-goers, know all the right buzz words, reflections and charitable works needed to give us the appearance of godliness amongst our peers.
We agree to follow rules, look and behave a certain way. We are also quick to judge those who appear not to follow our (often legalistic) decrees. But when we are left alone with our thoughts and actions, it’s not uncommon that they don’t reflect a genuinely charitable and good spirit.
During his time, Jesus called these types of church-goers “whitewashed tombs.” They looked great on the outside – chaste, controlled and wise. But their faith was skin deep and bore no substantial fruit.
These are the good ol’ church folk who won’t miss one Sunday service, but turn their faces away from their unchurched family members. These are Christian friends who slander your name when you are not around. These are gossipers who are quick to spread rumors and denounce pastors, rabbis and other leaders without verifying the facts. These are deacons and Sunday school teachers who turn to pornography when no one is watching.
Like whitewashed tombs, they carry a faith that is dead inside. Their works and appearance are for show, not a reflection of a changed and truly generous heart.Like whitewashed tombs, many carry a dead faith inside. Their works and appearance are for show. #Hypocrisyinchurch Click To Tweet
We have all been hypocritical at some point in time, but I personally tremble at the thought of hypocritical faith, because I sincerely believe this is one of the foremost reasons many people leave the church. Surrounded by monks who were squeezing lemons while appearing holy, they are exposed to heartless religion, and consequently choose to turn away from God.
May it never be that our words and appearance are found deeper than our faith, lest we become a stumbling block for the world around us, hence living a life of little impact and consequence in the places we were planted.
This article was published in Patricia’s column for the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Faith & Value Section on Saturday, September 17. Patricia is a Christian author, blogger and International speaker. Her Book Twelve Inches is on sale at Barnes & Nobles, Amazon and retailers worldwide. Visit her website www.soaringwithHim.com. For speaking engagements and comments, email pholbrook@soaringwithHim.com