Learning from a Biblical Hypocrite
David W. Hegg
I just finished preaching through the biblical book of Jonah. Even if you know the story, you may not have grasped its significance. As you may know, Jonah was told by God to head to the wicked city of Nineveh and deliver a message of warning, calling them to change their evil ways. But Jonah thought God was wrong to offer mercy to such a vile people, so he went the opposite direction. But, he couldn’t outrun God, who created the storm that led to Jonah being thrown overboard. However, even in disciplining his prophet God showed great mercy. He appointed a large fish to provide Jonah three nights in waterfront accommodations, and it was there Jonah figured out his best option was to align his behavior with God’s command.
And so, he went to Nineveh, preached God’s message, and saw the great city repent of its evil deeds. And unlike every preacher who ever lived, he was livid over his success. For Jonah, God’s mercy toward Nineveh brought about the ironic agony of victory!
That’s the story, but the significance is quite simple. Jonah was willing to change his behavior but unwilling to change his heart. He went to Nineveh to look good, to get God off his back, but his heart was still seething. His external was quite divorced from his internal, and that’s what we call hypocrisy.
We see it everywhere today, even in ourselves. We’ve become a society of style without corroborating internal, ethical substance. We strive to look good while not thinking it necessary to be good. And even more sadly, we no long expect others to be good if what they are doing brings about beneficial results.
But hypocrisy carries a huge price tag. If we’re honest we’ll admit that living with a chasm between how we appear and who we really are causes radical emotional dissonance. It takes energy to live a double-life, and it also slowly rots the soul.
Eventually every hypocrite wanders into the spotlight of reckoning and the truth comes out, and regret takes over. Too late we learn the harsh reality that any benefit derived from our hypocritical lives will never deliver us from the pernicious life-decaying disease of compromised character and ethical infidelity.
Our headlines are filled with stories of the famous becoming infamous when the reality of their hypocrisy is uncovered. But what is more devastating is the fact that we’re becoming numb to it as a society. It happens so often we hardly recognize it for what it really is … the evidence that we have lost our ethical anchors as a people.
We’ve driven God out of our schools, out of our political realm, and out of our public discourse. Along the way, we’ve become a society of victims, and this cult of victimhood has led to minority rule and placed a gag over the mouths of any who would speak up for traditional ethical values. And so, I have to ask: Are we better off today than we were years ago? I know the answer and so do you.
It’s time we went back to considering what integrity means, and why it matters in both individuals and society as a whole. It’s time we demanded that fitness for leadership starts with impeccable character. It’s time we taught our children there is absolute truth, and it determines right from wrong. And it’s time we searched our own hearts and demanded of ourselves a convictional alignment of our private selves with our public activity.
There was a reason God sent Jonah to Nineveh. The biblical text tells us the city’s evil had “risen before the eyes of God.” Make no mistake, God exists, and he sees you and me and our great nation. Nineveh was spared because they turned from their evil. I only hope we have the courage and good sense to do the same.