For Jesus, very few things – if any – are worse than being a hypocrite. Making a public show of being holy while in private being anything but is just about as low as anyone can go, even lower than consciously choosing to be a sinner. Jesus accused nearly all of the religious leadership of being hypocrites, a charge which they not only resented but became the basis for their hatred of Jesus. People hate hearing the truth about themselves if that truth is unflattering (yes, those pants do make you look fat because you ARE fat). But rather than consider whether what Jesus said about them had any validity, the hypocrites outright rejected being called hypocrites and then outright rejected Jesus and his salvation.
Christians are called not to be hypocrites. We are also called not to be offended by what is done or said to us. Certainly, lies shouldn’t offend us, but neither should truths. We should be beyond bristling at hearing unflattering truths because those truths, however uncomfortable and no matter the source, are what we need to hear: they are a form of lesson.
Years ago, when I was first born again from atheism, I had one of those “uncomfortable truths” moments from a stranger. I’d been sitting in a beer garden in Toronto having a drink and talking about Jesus with someone sitting across from me. All of a sudden he ripped into me not for what I was saying but for what I was wearing (black leather jacket, low-cut shirt and black tights). I wore black tights because they were easiest for cycling, I wore a black leather jacket because of its cut and durability, and I wore a low-cut shirt because that’s what was in my closet, but the impression I made in this get-up was likely not, in most people’s minds, very Christian. After railing about my clothing choices, the guy stomped off, leaving me slightly bewildered and very defensive.
In hindsight, the guy was right: my get-up wasn’t very “Christian”. I had been aiming for practicality and stylishness, but if I came across as sexually provocative, then that’s not the message I should be sending. That’s not very Christian. In the bedroom with my spouse, I can be as sexually provocative as I want, but out in public, I need to be modest, even asexual. How we present ourselves to the world as Christians is as important as what we say and what we write. We need to be blameless or our blameworthiness will get in the way if the message we’re trying to relay.
I have since turfed the black leather outfit and my clothing is now quite modest. You can be modest and still stylish (Jesus’ cloak must have been stylish, since the soldiers went to the trouble of betting for it), meaning that you can be visually appealing without being sexually provocative. I could, if I wanted to, don leather again (after all, God made Adam and Eve leather clothing, and John the Baptist wore leather), but it’s not important. As a Christian, you should not be wearing clothing that says “LOOK AT ME!” but rather “listen to me”.
This was a hard lesson for me to learn. As a spiritually young Christian, I believed that it wasn’t what I was wearing that mattered but what I was saying, not understanding that what I was wearing was part of what I was saying. I had become offended by a harsh truth and it took some time for me to swallow my pride and admit the enraged stranger was right.
There is very little criticism that doesn’t have a core of truth. The trick is to cut through the dirty peelings and bruised fruit to reach the pristine core. This is one of the reasons why we shouldn’t be offended by what anyone says about us; if God permits people to say it, he’s revealing a truth that we need to hear.
Unflattering lies don’t hurt us, so neither should unflattering truths. We don’t want to become like the hypocrites who refused to hear unflattering truths and in the process condemned both Jesus and themselves. Christians need to be open to improving every aspect of their witness, including the all-important first impression they make on strangers through their clothing choices.
If someone says something that gets under your skin, dispassionately examine what was said and see what you can learn from it. God teaches us both directly and indirectly: directly, when we’re willing to hear what he has to say to us, and indirectly, when we’re not willing to hear.