Apart from Him we can do nothing

When Hypocrisy is Used as a Reason to Leave the Church

Hypocrisy is often used as a reason to leave the church.

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Hypocrisy is used as a reason to leave the church because hypocrisy directly contradicts what the church is supposed to be.

I wrote to the church about this, but Diotrephes, who loves to be the leader, refuses to have anything to do with us. When I come, I will report some of the things he is doing and the evil accusations he is making against us. Not only does he refuse to welcome the traveling teachers, he also tells others not to help them. And when they do help, he puts them out of the church.

Dear friend, don’t let this bad example influence you. Follow only what is good. Remember that those who do good prove that they are God’s children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God. (3 John 1:9-11)

As disciples, it devastates us to hear of someone we know decide to leave the church “because there are so many hypocrites.”

The Need to Understand

It hurts to see this happen for several reasons. And because it hurts, we will begin to try and reason it away.

Perhaps we will ask ourselves what we could have done differently.

Or we may try to put on our detective hats and discover what put that person over the edge. Maybe we’ll narrow it down to a person or an incident.

We may even try to blame the person for being too thin-skinned, wounded, or using hypocrisy as an excuse to give up. After all: “We are all sinners! What did they expect? They shouldn’t put their faith in a person, but in Jesus Christ.”

I have seen this last line of reasoning used more than once. I have been guilty of using it myself in the past, probably as a means to short circuit any responsibility I may have carried (as opposed to begging God’s forgiveness for any part I may have played in the person leaving).

Because it is so painful, we are quick to look for an answer to sooth our soul, instead of taking the situation head on. Maybe if we did there would be less room for hypocrisy in the church.

Hypocrisy Corrupts the Body of Christ

While it is true that people should be following Jesus Christ, and not people, the design of the church is for it to be built by people equipped to share the gospel and disciple others.

Hypocrites in the church will drive people away because the Body of Christ are the ones who are representing Christ to each other and to the world. Jesus intended for others to learn about Him through the example of those who were following Him.

Hypocrisy is an attack on the love for each other as believers that is the proof of our faith in Jesus Christ. When there is hypocrisy, it is taken as evidence that Jesus Christ is not real in our lives. And if He is not real for those who claim to follow Him, why should the person who leaves expect Christ to ever be real to them?

Hiding in Plain Sight

We can be quick to dismiss the claims a person makes when using hypocrisy as a reason to leave the church.

Hypocrites can be hard to spot. A hypocrite is someone who claims to be something that they actually aren’t.

Some people are quite good at pretending. Some of them – perhaps many of them – are good at hoodwinking believers.

This is what John was dealing with in today’s passage. Diotrephes was causing trouble within the Body of Christ in the congregation of John’s friend Gaius.

Diotrephes took a leadership position in this church, but was clearly acting in a hypocritical and hurtful manner. John accuses him of gossip, slander, and forcing believers he disagreed with out of the church.

John clearly has a plan for dealing with Diotrephes, and then adds an important distinction in verse 11: that “those who do evil prove that they do not know God.”

A follower of Christ can act hypocritically in isolated situations. In all likelihood that person will sincerely repent upon being confronted with their own sinfulness.

But we also have to be aware that there are true wolves in sheep’s clothing within the church. Eventually, such a person will be exposed in their hypocrisy, and needs to be confronted.

The Disciple’s Response

Here are a few things the Body of Christ can do when hypocrisy is used by someone as a reason to leave the church.

Lovingly Engage the Person Leaving

Link to Pinterest pin image of woman in the dark with hand over her face with text that reads "It is worth the risk of being vulnerable over playing it safe and being unloving to a hurting member of the body of Christ". It really doesn’t matter why the person is leaving. If someone feels hurt enough that they are walking away from the church, shouldn’t we try to hear their story?

This is about us as a Body of Christ loving each other (1 John 4:7-20). We cannot afford to protect ourselves. We need to be humble enough to listen to their hurts, even if those hurts may involve something we have or haven’t done.

Letting the person just walk away will only reinforce their stance that the church is full of hypocrites. If we don’t reach out to them in love, we are joining in the hypocrisy.

We are not looking for gossip. We are seeking to repair the damage done, if possible, and restore them to fellowship.

Perhaps in that moment, too much damage has been done. But if we don’t make an attempt at correction, our silence could be the last straw that impedes future possibilities at redemption.

It is worth the risk of being vulnerable over playing it safe and being unloving to a hurting member of the Body of Christ.

Love the Entire Body

There are multiple passages that speak to the Body of Christ growing together, edifying each other, and serving side by side. Perhaps the most famous is 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.

It is clear through this and other passages that the disciple’s walk should be done in community.

When we partake in the discipline of fellowship and are engaged in each other’s lives for the purpose of the gospel, it results in more opportunities to love each other and bear witness to each other.

As we shine the light of Christ into each other’s lives, we find the darkness cannot extinguish it (John 1:5).

The more we pour love into the Body of Christ, the more we can identify and root out the hypocrisy in our midst.

Do Better With Accountability

There is a reason Jesus gave us specific guidelines for dealing with grievances within the Body of Christ. It is to help give us a strategy to root out bitterness, strife, and envy from our midst. And it can expose hypocrisy.

Coming together in fellowship isn’t just about feeling good or delighting in each other’s company. We are meant to be iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).

As we come together as a Body of Christ and keep each other accountable to that pursuit of Jesus, the less comfortable a hypocrite will be in that environment. But when we discover hypocrisy, it is up to the Body of Christ to deal with it, by either bringing the guilty party to repentance or bringing the discipline of the church to them.

So the next time someone uses hypocrisy as a reason to leave the church, don’t simply shrug your shoulders, or feel bad for that person. Do the work of loving that person, loving the Body of Christ, and holding the Body of Christ accountable.

More verses about dealing with and guarding against hypocrisy in the Body of Christ:

Romans 16:17-18; Galatians 6:2-3; Ephesians 5:1-14; James 1:26-27; 1 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 3:7-10; 1 John 4:20-21

All Biblical reference links courtesy of Bible Gateway, a searchable online Bible tool hosting more than 200 versions of the Bible in over 70 languages.

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