Nearly every Christian I know is very familiar with St. Francis’ famous quote, “Go into all the world and preach the good news, and if necessary use words.” I’ve always found this quote inspiring. I’ve even used it on several occasions. St. Francis didn’t just pull this out of thin air. In the Bible Jesus explains The Gospel to us by living it out. Yes, he does do his fair share of speaking, but it is almost always because someone is asking him what he is doing. Jesus’ parables came because what he was doing was so revolutionary that people needed explanation. Today, we seem to get it backwards by trying to say revolutionary things when the world around us wasn’t asking (I first heard this point from N.T. Wright).
Today I was sitting at my desk and judging people on Facebook for preaching lofty ideals while doing very little to fulfill them (I know, just like Jesus would be doing). I’ve heard this called disembodied idealism. It was then that I realized the mutual exclusion of practicing and preaching. It would seem that the more one talks about his/her beliefs, the less they tend to live them out. I’ve always known being good is better than talking about goodness, but I had never thought that talking itself could lead to less doing.
Things took a turn for the worse pretty fast at that point. Out of nowhere I was square in the cross-hairs of my own judgments. I started remembering all of my preachy Facebook posts. My love for preaching in Church, and in general. My need to throw my two cents into any discussion. I then juxtaposed my lofty ideals against my mediocre life and I became silent. Yep! I’m that guy! My condemnation of my peers was no more deserved than by me.
I should have known I was the one with the problem. Here’s how to know you’re a hypocrite: you tell everyone else what they should be doing and judge them for not doing it. If you do this, you can be about 95% sure that you are not practicing what you preach and are trying to make yourself feel better by condemning everyone else. In a nutshell, I am the chief of these sinners.
Enough of this hypocrisy! It seems I have two choices: match my life to my idealistic rants or stop preaching what I am not living out. Then again, my new discovery may show the need for a third way. Perhaps I need to do both; but get the order right this time. My prayerful resolution must become this: to become the belief I so passionately long for others to adopt, and when I can realistically say this is the case, to decide how best to encourage others to do the same. If I had to guess, once I’ve put forth the blood, sweat, and tears necessary, and miserably failed at the task several times, I will have much more humility and grace in my preaching than I do now. Lord, let it be so.