Living a Sincere Christian Life
A common way to close our letters is, “Sincerely yours,” Why do we do that? Ostensibly, I suppose it is so the reader will know we are truly sending a message, that we are not kidding or trying to pull something tricky.
The dictionary describes a sincere person as one who is not hypocritical. Sincerity describes honesty of expression or type of behavior. Sometimes we appeal to people who do not seem to be sincere by telling them, “Oh come on, be real” or when we are exasperated by someone’s lack of real and sincere behavior, we say, “Get a life!” Lack of reality and sincerity is quickly noticed by all, and almost always meets with disapproval.
This undesirable trait often shows up in our Christian life and profession. Perhaps you have heard that the word hypocrite comes from a Greek word that described one who was on stage, playing a part, or simply acting. Are we hypocrites in our Christian profession? Most of us would immediately deny this accusation-but we need to ask ourselves, “Am I simply playing a part in this Christian faith business?” Let me quote from a famous person of another age who said, “There are, in the end, only two ways open to us: to honestly and honorably make an admission of how far we are from the Christianity of the New Testament, or to perform skillful tricks to conceal the true situation” (Soren Kierkegaard, Provocations: the Spiritual writings of Kierkegaard-Plough, 1999).
Now, that’s a challenge. How much time do we spend performing skillful tricks-and how much time and effort do we spend really seeking the Biblical standards of our daily lives?
Let’s briefly review some of the Biblical teachings concerning the need for sincerity. Paul said in Romans 12: 9, “Love must be sincere” (NIV*). When he wrote to young Timothy, he said: “…love…comes from a sincere faith” (I Tim 1:5). The author of Hebrews urges us to “draw near to God with a sincere heart“(Heb 10:22). Again, Paul in writing to the church at Corinth said he wanted “to test the sincerity of your love” (2 Cor. 8:8). Genuine Christian living requires adherence to faithful and sincere living.
Gandhi once observed, “One man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole” (S.Covey, First Things First Simon & Schuster, 1994, citing E Easwaram, Gandhi, the Man, Niger Press, 1978). Gandhi did not profess Christian faith, but he certainly had this principle right—we cannot deny our faith by living a two-faced life. Here is an old joke: An old Methodist frontier preacher was riding his horse through the forest. He was stopped by a robber who demanded his money. The old minister said, “You wouldn’t rob an old Methodist preacher would you?” The robber thought for a moment, and then said, “No, I guess not, you see I am a Methodist myself.” Paul wrote to the Colossians and said, “…(live) with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord” (Col 3:22).
Hypocrisy is bad news. We don’t like it in business or any kind of personal relationships. We certainly are not to tolerate it in our profession of faith in Christ. Sincerity of heart and life is to clearly mark the Christian who is trying to be obedient to God.
Many centuries ago one of God’s great leaders stood before the people and as part of his last challenge said: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all sincerity (faithfulness)” (Joshua 24:14). All through the ages, God has appealed to His followers to be sincere, without hypocrisy and sham. It is good to have the reputation of being “real and genuine,” to have people know that our word is to be trusted, that we are earnestly trying to live open, Godly and sincere lives.
Sincerity – A Four-Minute Sermon
Contributed by Dr. Paul E. Toms
Senior Pastor (Retired), Park Street Church, Boston, MA
Sincerity versus hypocrisy has always been a challenge to the human race.
Hypocrisy comes from the Greek word, “hypocrites” which means an actor, a pretender. It is safe to say that, like in Greek tragedies, the actor wears a mask. Therefore, as its opposite, sincerity would mean one who shows his real face. You don’t have to wonder what he or she is really like. What you see is what you get. This, however, does not always mean the “blunter the truth the better.” We all know people who think that being honest is also being vocal. To them, you have to say it just like it is no matter whom it may hurt. Not so. The Bible tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we are to “speak the truth in love” (NIV*). The sword doesn’t have to be blunt to be accurate!
When one thinks of the word sincerity, several thoughts spring to mind. There are times when one is sincerely right, other times when one can be sincerely wrong, and other times when one is simply sincerely sincere!
Let’s look at one who is sincerely right. Here is a person who is transparent, but truthful. This person, while being honest knows that to exhibit the best qualities of sincerity, he or she has to take the feelings of the recipient of their truth into consideration. When one is right about a subject, especially a controversial one, one can afford to be and of a right ought to be sincere. One can be as right as rain and still display an inept attitude in attempting to prove that one is right. It seems to me that sincerity, true sincerity, also incorporates in it the well-being of the person who disagrees with you. That person may be sincerely wrong and still demonstrate more of the “Christ-personality” than the person who is sincere and right. Sincerity before God takes in the feelings of the person who may strongly disagree with you and is wrong as sin. Jesus said that “You will know the truth (Himself) and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8.32). That freedom of knowing the Truth observes the value and the feelings of the person who disagrees with us. In these days of strident confrontation and clash of moral cultures, it is important that the Truth, Jesus Christ, shines forth in our sincerity especially when we are sincerely right.
How about the person who is sincere, but sincerely wrong? Sincerity cannot make the wrong right, no matter how much a person believes it to be true. One can write an essay on how 2 plus 2 equals 5. This person may have all his punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure correct and in good order, however, none of this sincere effort can alter the fact that his sincerity is leading him over the cliff of false conclusions. Especially to the Christian who sees the spiritual reasoning of many cults as sincere is it important to be right as well as sincere. The followers of Jim Jones who drank the arsenic-laced Koolaid were certainly sincere, but being sincerely wrong, they were shortly sincerely dead. What can one do for and with a person who is sincerely wrong? First, in loving concern, show the person, to the best of your ability the error of their reasoning. Then, if they refuse your conclusions and advice, love them anywhere, but never agree with them. Your love and concern for their change are good all the way to the end.
Finally, what about the sincerely sincere? One can make up one’s mind without having the real facts or the truth in hand and be sincerely sincere without being right or intentionally wrong. On the other hand, can you ever truly be insincerely sincere? Well, not really. While one may have an emotional feeling of sincerity, there is no real “to-die-for sincerity” without one truly believing the facts as he or she has them. Sincerity that is “put-on” is an act and the act involves the mask and the mask screams, “Hypocrite.” I include this adverse/adjective (sincerely sincere) just to demonstrate the fact that either you are sincere- that is, showing as well as telling the truth, or you aren’t. While there are degrees of sincerity, there is only one quality of sincerity when your true attitude is being displayed, or there is subterfuge of some degree at work. The Bible is very big on the truth. Paul wrote, “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Romans 3:4), or every man in the world may lie, but not God.
So, let us be without deceit, pretense, or hypocrisy. With an honest heart, let us present honest faces with no masks. If always done in kindness, the world will be a better place for it.
Sincerity – A Four-Minute Sermon
Contributed by Clyde C. Miller
Senior Pastor (Retired), First Christian Assembly, Cincinnati, OH
Sarcasm in the Body of Christ
In Ephesians 4:20-23, Paul exhorts us to put off our old nature and put on the new one. He exhorts us to live differently, because of Christ’s work in our lives. Then in verses 25-32, he cites specific examples of how we can do this. One of his examples touches on the issue of sincere conversation, as seen in verse 29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (NIV*).
Paul exhorts us to sincere conversation. First, he urges us to stop “unwholesome talk.” Unwholesome talk is language that is of little value and actually causes harm to another. It is a wonder that within the body of Christ Paul has to address such talk. How is it that we who are the displayers of Christ to the world cannot display Christ to each other? Paul understands the danger of such talk, realizing that it does not benefit people or cause them to grow in Christ. Second, Paul urges us to speak things that build others up. Our words are to actually benefit others. Paul does not give any gray area—either words benefit others or they cause harm.
The question is, how does this play out in real life? We are in a culture that speaks so quickly, turning words into meaningless utterances. However, if we are to put off the old self and put on the new self, shouldn’t Christians display something differently?
Most Christians do not struggle with curse words, or coarse joking—although some may. But what seems to be plaguing the body of Christ is sarcasm. Dictionary.com defines sarcasm as, “A cutting, often ironic remark intended to wound. A form of wit that is marked by the use of sarcastic language and is intended to make its victim the butt of contempt or ridicule.” We in the body of Christ have often reduced our relationships to sarcastic joking, belittling each other in “fun.”
Although some may contest that sarcasm is used in fun and not meant to harm, the question is whether it builds up another and benefits another. Paul is clear—“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Does “fun” sarcasm benefit a believer? Does it build them up and direct them in the way of Christ?
Often Christian relationships have fallen into a pattern of sarcastic comments that the individuals involved know not how to speak sincerely to each other anymore! Their relationship is reduced to nothing but sarcasm. How does this help believers deepen their thirst for Christ and practice transparency with each other? Sarcasm is often the roadblock to transparent and intimate conversation.
Perhaps this sounds too radical, after all, everyone likes joking once in a while, don’t they? Wrong. Joking is good—but only when it is not done at the expense and degradation of another, even if as a “joke.” Paul urges us not even to mention things of the darkness (Eph 5.12) and he asserts that there should not even be a hint of foolish talk (Eph 5.4). Therefore, how can the believer even lightly joke negatively about another?
Some may object and insist that sarcasm is an honest way to laugh together. Nevertheless, Paul’s challenge is to speak only that which builds and benefits another. Try it! The body of Christ may be amazed at how many other avenues of laughter will arise that truly are honest and pure—but first we must thwart that which is not pure and holy in our speech.
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New International Version
Sincerity – A Four-Minute Sermon
Contributed by Michael C. Lyons
Editor of Faith Outreach, Character Council, Cincinnati, OH
This material is published by the Faith Committee of the Character Council of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Reproduction and Adaptation is encouraged.