This is the first in what I plan to be a series of posts intended to help us identify (and thus, avoid) the weapons of Apollyon.
Of all the weapons Apollyon uses to destroy, hypocrisy is among the most poisonous. But why is that?
First, it is a failing of human nature that we believe hypocrisy is ‘proof’ that a person is wrong. If I say a certain action is immoral, yet I then do that action myself, it is natural for you to conclude that I either don’t actually believe that action is immoral after all, or — more likely — that the action wasn’t immoral in the first place. It is natural to think this way, but if we do, we would be wrong.
You see, this form of thinking is a fallacy. It is called ‘Tu Quoque‘ (or, “and you, too’). Basically, it works like this:
Look who’s talking. You say I shouldn’t become an alcoholic because it will hurt me and my family, yet you yourself are an alcoholic, so your argument can’t be worth listening to.
In this example, it should be readily apparent that alcoholism is something one should try to avoid — even if the person urging us to avoid it is an alcoholic, themselves. But this is an obvious example. All too often, we do not see this trap — especially when it comes to guarding our own behavior.
This is why Scripture repeatedly cautions us to pay closer attention to what we do and less attention to what others do. This does not mean we should ignore the actions of others, or be indifferent to them. Scripture never teaches us to tolerate sinful behavior (i.e. lawlessness). But it warns us that the example we present to the world can make a difference in the lives of those who are watching us. If we live according to the way God’s Word teaches us to live, and treat others as we are commanded to treat them, it is an example to others. Scripture assures us that this example will be noticed: like a light in the darkness. Living in this way is a benefit, to ourselves, and to others. It builds up others by providing a good example and encouraging them to follow it, as well as supporting society in general. However, if we are constantly boasting about our salvation and our freedom in the Lord, but we live a sinful (lawless) life, then our hypocrisy can do more damage than if we had never spoken of the Lord, at all. Living a hypocritical life if destructive. It erodes individual belief and tears the fabric which binds society.
This is why we shouldn’t boast, but we should also guard our actions and help others to guard theirs, as well. We just need to remember that we help others not by chastising them, but by encouraging them and reminding them of what God’s Word tells us is the proper way to live. But even if we live this way, we must understand that it is not a guarantee we will avoid hypocrisy. Eventually, even the best of us finds themselves acting hypocritically. The key is, when it happens, we must catch it and correct it — even if it means others have to point it out to us. This requires us to stay humble, so that we can accept necessary correction. It is equally important that, once our hypocrisy is made known to us, we must acknowledge it and act to make things right again. But most importantly, when others stumble, we must not use it as an opening to beat them up, but to build them up again. We do this by reminding them that it is OK: we all stumble. But the righteous acknowledge and correct their actions, and then try to help others to do the same when they stumble. But the wicked refuse to acknowledge their hypocrisy and/or use it as an excuse to beat up on others when they stumble.
Therefore, let us live a life that guards against hypocrisy, first in our life, then in others. Let us live so that, when we stumble, we acknowledge it and correct our actions, and when our neighbor stumbles, we show them mercy in helping them get back on the path of righteousness. In this way, we can be assured that we will build up, strengthen and sustain and not weaken, tear down and destroy. In this way, we can stay on the side of righteousness and away from the armies of Apollyon.