I've been writing small group curriculum for my church for the last 18 months. The curriculum aligns with and supplements our current sermon series. Because our pastor commits (thankfully) to preach expositionally through various passages and books of the Bible, we don't pick and choose what passages are comfortable and easy to address, we deal with whatever issue, topic, or difficulty the Scripture brings us. Because of this, there have been times where I've had to write on subjects that I've felt I had no room to speak into. Many of the studies I've written have been the overflow of a hypocritical and broken heart.
But isn't this the case for everyone who is called to testify to the entire counsel of God? Not a single one of us can go their whole lives without preaching a hypocritical sermon or writing a hypocritical lesson. At some point, we are going to have to address issues that we ourselves have difficulty understanding and adhering to. We will inevitably call people to be obedient to a standard that we ourselves fall short of, and we will give advice and instruction to our churches that we need a healthy dose of ourselves. But this shouldn’t cause us to shy away from preaching the Word of God in all its fullness. When confronted with the opportunity to preach a hypocritical sermon, there are three things we shouldn’t do:
1. Don’t ignore the issues. The temptation will be to divert our attention away from these issues and ignore them, perhaps waiting until we can preach or teach these texts with a clearer conscience. But past failure is no excuse for present cowardice—your church needs you to be courageous in preaching the hard texts. Because “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13), you can be assured that the same struggles you deal with are felt by your congregation all the same. And if you fail to address them, you’re shortchanging the very people for which you will have to give an account for one day. Faithful preaching and teaching will require us to venture into uncomfortable territory, but that’s exactly what a good shepherd does. He marches boldly and confidently into the dark valley to reach the sheep that have wandered outside the fold.
2. Don’t be a hypocrite. You can avoid hypocritical preaching by just not being a hypocrite. I was once asked to teach a lesson on prayer and as soon as I was asked to do it I knew that I was not at all qualified to teach on this topic. At the time, and even still, my prayer life was not healthy. Of course, I didn’t let on that I felt this way and I enthusiastically accepted the invitation. But during my preparation, my inadequacy was hovering over me the entire time, nagging at me and robbing me of confidence. So when it came time deliver the lesson, I opened by admitting to the church my shortcomings in prayer. I told them I didn’t pray enough, I didn’t desire prayer enough, and I was preaching just as much to myself as I was to them. I asked God for forgiveness, asked the church for their patience and grace, and then taught the lesson. We’re not called to model perfection for our churches, our sole responsibility is to shine the spotlight on the only One who ever was perfect. And sometimes the way we do that is we get low, humble ourselves, and get out of the way. We get the attention off of us and model the very repentance that we are calling our churches to model. When we do this, we avoid the charge of hypocrisy altogether.
3. Don’t withhold the same grace that you need. When I prepared my lesson on prayer, I became intimately aware of the very grace that I needed, the grace that I so strongly desired from the Lord. As a result, I believe that I was even better prepared to deliver that lesson than any other I’d ever given. Delivering that lesson wasn’t a mere formality, it was personal. When you preach a hypocritical sermon, don’t just deliver the cold hard truth that the church needs, deliver to them the very same grace and patience that they need to learn, grow, and flourish. Sometimes we expect our churches to, in one sermon, grasp and obey certain concepts or standards that took us years to adopt. This shouldn’t be. We’re all in this together, sharing in the struggle of trying to grow in holiness, but also sharing in the grace needed to get there.
We are all hypocritical pastors at times, but we shouldn’t avoid it or deny it; we should own it. Our qualification to preach the whole counsel of God comes not from our ability to keep all of it, but from Him who fulfilled every jot and tittle and subsequently gave us His credentials. We are called to “preach the word…in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2); during seasons of obedience as well as seasons of disobedience. May we not give any opportunity for our sin to hinder the proclamation of God’s Word.