This guest post is by Dr. Jacob Kim. He received his M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary, M.A. from Seoul National University; he received his Ph.D. from the department of religion at Temple University where he currently teaches as an assistant professor of instruction. He is also the senior pastor of the Korean Presbyterian Church of Huntingdon Valley located in Pennsylvania.
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”
– Romans 12:9
These days many people are frustrated and angry. They are frustrated because it is hard to identify and explain the many problems around them; it is even more difficult to try to figure out solutions. People are angry because they sense injustice everywhere; it is the feeling that something is very wrong, but one is powerless to do anything about it. Though most people cannot identify the source and cause, the effects of injustice are visible and tangible. This situation is a challenge for believers everywhere. Should believers act or abstain from the controversies which swirl around them? What is the right or wrong action to take? Believers are supposed to abhor evil and cling to good, but how does one do this when the information is not altogether clear and value is subjective? This brief article hopes to offer a constructive perspective through which people can determine a course of action and continue to glorify God in an unbelieving world.
Love and Law
It is not wrong to simply say that the anger in society is a problem of love; in other words, the injustice of society is the result of ignorance and lack of God’s love. However, this by itself is hardly more than a cliché. What is the love of God that the lack of it would result in injustice? It is a temptation to take the easy road and strive to understand the eternal love of God through the typical ephemeral emotional yearnings of sinful humanity. We should instead realize that the love of God is an expression of the eternal law and will of God. Recall that when the Lord Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment in the law was, he replied by saying that we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love is a command and law.
All that God does is consistent with his law and eternal will; this is not a restriction of the nature of God, but a characteristic of his perfection. Though the comprehension of the law and will of God by people is varied, it is always incomplete; it is incomplete primarily because of our inability to fully grasp the infinite love of God. True believers are not wrong about their personal understanding of the love of God; it is just that it is but a part of what the love of God is. It is not unlike the three blind men who each touch a different part of an elephant; each believes they know what the elephant is like, but each has yet to comprehend all that there is to know about an elephant. Keep in mind that the love of God is infinite and all that is the love of God cannot be fully grasped even after a lifetime of study. To focus on only one aspect of the love of God while ignoring all others is to create a caricature or distortion of that infinite love of God. Each of us as we live out our lives through God’s grace experience God’s love, but the love of God is beyond our ability to know completely.
Believers can understand more of God’s love by studying the law and word of God in scripture. This way believers will realize that God does not act inconsistently, nor does he break his own law. In an odd way then, the Lord God is predictable in the sense that believers know that he will act in accordance with his eternal law and will; what exactly will he do is generally unknown. Believers should be comforted in knowing that God will not even occasionally be unlawful or depart from his nature and character. It is this character of God which enables us to understand that God is always fair and righteous. Any appearance of inconsistency is merely evidence of the limits of our own knowledge and comprehension.
Consistent adherence to perfect law is the foundation of justice. Anything less than that breeds injustice and the kind of anger and dissatisfaction which can be seen today. Believers trust God’s judgment and rely on his grace through Jesus Christ to live life in an ever more faithful and consistent manner which is indicative of saving faith. This grace is the foundation and strength of the life of the believer until the day of judgment.
Because of the sinful condition of the world, the law of God is absent from the world; it is this absence which is the root of problems today. In other words, we live in a world corrupted by sin; our knowledge, our world, our desires, everything is corrupted; we have laws but the laws are also corrupt and do not resemble the law of God. Instead of God’s perfect law and principles of order and justice, we have hypocrisy. Though many people would try to define hypocrisy as pretending to have moral standards one does not actually have, it is better to understand hypocrisy as simply “double standards.” Hypocrisy is having different sets of rules, standards, and expectations for different people; so when it is time to reward or punish, the injustice is readily apparent. It is hypocrisy which is the root of all injustice in society. People know and express their sense of hypocrisy as something which is “unjust.” It is impossible to have justice when the law is hypocritical.
Generally, people are hypocritical because they often expect more from others than they do of themselves; people will hold others to a higher standard than they do for themselves. This is what gives people the sense that a hypocrite is only pretending to have certain high moral standards. Hypocrites cannot live up to the standards they impose on others and generally make excuses for themselves. Hypocrites go easy when it comes to self-critique and are generally more lenient when it comes to self-imposed punishment. This type of hypocrisy generally and primarily affects the person who is being hypocritical; depending on how severe the hypocrisy is, people will either tolerate or distance themselves from the hypocrite. In other words, everyone is a hypocrite to some degree without realizing it and the public effect of this type of personal hypocrisy is not that great. Hypocrisy in law, however, is an entirely different matter. In other words, if parents are hypocritical with their children, it is the parents who are most affected by the consequences of their behavior. Other people will largely be unaffected by someone else’s hypocrisy. However, when hypocrisy exists in law, there is injustice throughout society.
Note that this is not an argument in favor of theocracy. It is not possible to govern a society like the USA which is populated by people who do not believe in God with the law of God. Even if one were to try (and it has been tried) the interpretation of the law for contemporary society will be subjective and problematic. In other words, which laws and how would those laws be applied and enforced is not the kind of discourse this article seeks. Even among believers themselves, there is hardly consensus when it comes to the interpretation and application of the law of God.
Hypocrisy in Law
Hypocritical laws in society are numerous and appear in virtually every part of the American legal system. Most people are taught not to recognize hypocritical laws and so many not only support existing double standards but continue to advocate for more. Anytime biased codes of conduct are established, applied and enforced, one can find injustice. Interestingly, problematic laws include many of the high minded, well-intended laws passed to address and combat injustice. The result, of course, is more injustice often in other areas of life. Few people ever seek to blame the initial law or regulation as the root cause of injustice. This is not only because the original problematic law had good intentions, but also because it would prevent further efforts to pass more laws to combat the problems caused by previous laws. The fact that unintended harmful consequences of those laws appear in other parts of society leads many to believe that the problems are unrelated. It is easy to see that this type of behavior and blindness are trending and are taught by teachers all over the USA. It is also easy to see that the depth of the hypocrisy is beyond the scope of the average person’s imagination or nightmare.
For example, people are generally taught all the dangers and evils of monopolies yet are encouraged to support and patronize the true monopolies in society: state-run and protected monopolies. Having a dominant market share even if the market share is 90% does not make that company a monopoly; competition against a company with a dominant market share is still possible and encouraged. The recent bankruptcy of Sears is evidence that without state protection, companies can only stay in business if they maintain favorable business practices. However, it is illegal to compete against true monopolies; therefore, they persist despite poor quality and expensive services. Because these monopolies are controlled by the state, law enforcement (usually also a monopoly) protects them. These monopolies exist in transportation, mail, law enforcement, primary and secondary education, courts and currency just to name a few. They all exhibit many if not all of the problems of monopolies and yet every year more money and resources are poured into them in wasteful efforts to save, fix or reform them. In the meantime, the people who are most adversely affected by state power are the poor of society; the very people others claim and strive to help.
Hypocrisy exists in the protectionist policies of the government which privilege domestic companies and their workers at the expense of other citizens. Because of the favoritism given to corporations by government, people must pay more for a lower quality of life. Despite these policies of protection, protected companies always eventually fail and continually require bailouts with taxpayer money when forced to compete against the more efficient businesses overseas. The automotive industry is a classic example of this kind of corruption. Factory new cars, comparable to domestic offerings are sometimes 80% cheaper and are therefore illegal to purchase (e.g. the Renault Kwid). Allowing Americans to purchase the inexpensive alternatives would mean an immediate fiscal crisis for domestic auto companies. Safety or emissions standards are often used as excuses to deny lower income families the opportunity to buy a brand-new car. Note also that insurance prices would be lower if the cost of the auto comes down. The lower income earners of society are sacrificed to protect politically influential corporations and their employees.
Hypocrisy exists in entrance standards at many schools through quotas and unequal entrance requirements. These hypocritical standards exist even in city and state-supported schools and often restrict Asian enrollments to exclusive schools. This creates the curious situation where citizens of Asian descent pay taxes which subsidize the schools which discriminate against them.
As if to add insult to injury, hypocritical laws are coercive. Laws often come from perspectives which are ill-informed and narrowly focused. Activists legislate morality (pass laws) as a cheat or short cut to quick and fast reform. Because people either make choices which are intolerable to others or are believed to be too ignorant to make the choices which are obviously better, many activists reveal their inner authoritarian and coerce their fellow citizens through legislation to conform to subjective codes of conduct. In other words, legislated coercion is the political equivalent of schoolyard bullying; except this bully has the monopoly authority of the US government. They have the legal power to imprison, plunder and fine.
However, coercion never works in the way it was intended. Instead legislated coercion incentivizes criminal behavior; well-intended legislation does not result in changed values and behavior patterns but instead simply creates criminals. Alcohol prohibition in the early 20th century and drug prohibition in society today are the most glaring examples of the failure of coercive laws. Smuggling is incentivized which has the side effect of violence. People who were going to drink or do drugs did and continue to do them; others may have been attracted to the thrill of participating in something illegal. Whatever the reason, they all became criminals for breaking hypocritical and unjust laws. Further negative consequences would be stigmatized attitudes towards addiction and overflowing prisons. Rather than this path of coercion, the power and responsibility of individual choice must be preserved over oppressive and hypocritical coercion.
Even the most well-intended activism in society today, will usually devolve into an exercise in hypocrisy. Believers should be wary of participating in worthy sounding social movements and causes which have new legislation as a goal and method. New legislation generally targets specific demographic groups either for special privileges or restrictions; this is hypocrisy, that is, double standards. This means that many of the movements which seek government action are fundamentally opposed to the love of God.
Hypocrisy and the Love of God
Scripture informs us that there is no hypocrisy in the love of God; there are no double standards in the law of God. Whatever has or can be characterized as hypocrisy cannot be a part of the love of God. This means that the people of God may not and should not pursue hypocritical endeavors or have goals which are ultimately complicit with hypocritical laws. Realizing that certain pursuits are problematic and hypocritical often is a slow process. The process is impeded by one’s own subjective understanding of the interpretation and application of God’s law.
Hypocrisy is part of the evil that believers must abhor; hypocrisy on a personal level of course, but the hypocrisy in law as well. Hypocrisy does not suddenly become acceptable because it is a law which one already subjectively favors; this position trends toward prejudice. Though much of the regulatory bureaucracy of the country is well-intended, it is fundamentally hypocritical in practice, enforcement and result. When the apostle Paul wrote that believers should cling to good, he did not mean that believers should strive to coerce people to comply with arbitrary moral standards. The apostle Paul did not hope that future believers would facilitate the passing of unjust laws to increase the struggles of politically weak.
Instead, Paul challenged believers to live and love without hypocrisy. Believers cannot fulfill this challenge from Paul by participating in the political games people play today. Unless believers are attempting to roll back much of the regulatory corruption and legal interference of the state, believers will have to look elsewhere to meet the challenge Paul had given the Romans and all believers everywhere. Again, not only are many laws and regulations which codify unequal treatment of citizens hypocritical, they are coercive and thus ineffective if not counter-productive. Believers who participate in such endeavors run the risk of doing the opposite of glorifying God or bringing light to the world.
Clinging to Good While Abhoring Evil
It is at this point that most people will begin to prescribe some behaviors which are supposedly irrefutably good. The difficulty of this approach, if it were even possible, is that the list of some suggested behaviors acts as a minimum standard of behavior. While such an approach is well-intentioned it often has the result of stifling growth in faith. If one can engage in so-called good behavior, and claim saving faith, then the need to do more or different activities is drastically reduced; the desire to study the word of God more is hard to acquire. The need to learn more and understand the consequences and effects of our choices is ignored. There is also the danger of slipping into a “minimal works righteousness” frame of mind. It should be remembered that salvation is by faith alone.
This is not to say that there are no good works which people can do; rather that it is difficult to know what is and what is not good works. This is especially important when one considers the factor of faith. Something might be considered a good work, but is it done by faith? Identifying certain behaviors as good or bad resembles and is analogous to the attitudes which create hypocritical laws of the USA. Results of church behavioral and social prescriptions are never what was hoped and in the long run, one must deal with many of the unintended problems which may arise.
If prescribing good behavior or behaviors which are understood as “clinging to good” is problematic, how do leaders today guide people to cling to good while abhorring evil by living a life free of hypocrisy? There is only one way; continual study and meditation of the word of God. Personal and guided study at home, at church or in a seminary must never stop. Our ever-growing faith is fueled by knowledge and understanding which informs future choices. This kind of growth helps to prevent the ossification of our faith and helps to prevent us from drifting into hypocrisy. The goal of this type of growth is not to enable one to judge others correctly; rather it is so that believers can be better at identifying and recognizing hypocrisy within themselves. This activity alone should keep one busy all the days of one’s life. Each person is responsible for the life they live. Our responsibility towards each other is the witness and testimony of the gospel message and the blessing which comes with faith. This faith and the life of faith will be increasingly free of hypocrisy and more in line with the love of God. It will always be a work in progress, but we are moving in the right direction – toward God – by ridding our own lives of hypocritical standards, expectations, and judgment so that we can love with love of God.
The process of growing in the knowledge of the eternal will and law of God guides believers in the course that each must take. In other words, each person’s life in faith will be unique because each of us is unique; no one is a clone of anyone else. Even if the challenges and obstacles resemble what others encounter, how each person reacts and attempts to overcome them will differ; this diversity is instrumental in offering the believer’s choice in future action. It is through each person’s faith and understanding of the word of God which will inform each believer what needs to be done and how; what must stop and when alternatives must be explored. Because learning never stops, people will never cease to improve and innovate better methods of ministry and testifying the love of God.
Keeping in mind that attempts to control the behaviors and beliefs of others through coercive regulations and laws are counter-productive, believers should prioritize their own faith. Minister or church member, seminary professor or student, there are no exceptions to this need to grow. Teachers and preachers push themselves to discover their own hypocrisy and repent in order to be more effective leaders in the body of Christ. Teachers and preachers strive to increase their knowledge and understanding of the word of God to be prepared for the next great struggle in life and in society. Teachers can then to pass along this growth in knowledge to the people who look to them for instruction and guidance.
Consistent and dedicated meditation and study of the word of God through faith will enable one to look back at their own life and realize that the unintended positive benefit was to cling to good while abhorring evil. To put it in another way, actively pursuing a subjective good through subjective activity often produces results rife with hypocrisy. However, pursuing the word of God, the kingdom of God first through faith and diligent study of the law of God will result in love, peace and the glory of God. May we all be blessed with the patience and willingness to choose the difficult narrow path, the end of which is the fulfillment of the eternal promise of life.