“To mask or not to mask,” that is the question of our time. Not just in society in general, but among Christians and church attendees.
In the past 8 months, we’ve worshiped with 14 different congregations in 9 different states. Each one has approached wearing masks in worship differently. Some churches requested everyone wear a mask. Others didn’t, and very few wore masks. In some places, it was suggested, but not required. In one church there were masks and no masks sections.
To all Christians everywhere we suggest, “Take off your masks.”
If you read Sunday Seed Thoughts on “no masks” you already know I’m not speaking literally, but figuratively and spiritually.
In that post, we observed the irony of Christians wearing masks, when we ought to be transparent. Too many wear emotional masks that conceal their feelings and disguise their pain. I can’t bear your burden if I don’t know that your hurting.
But there is another mask problem we need to consider. The mask of hypocrisy. Of pretending to be something we aren’t. Of using religion to conceal and cover up our sins. Of hiding behind a facade of religiosity when we lack spirituality.
Interestingly, the Greek word for “hypocrite” in the Bible originally referred to “an actor who wears a mask.” A. T. Robertson writes that it means “to pretend, to feign, to dissemble.” It speaks of one who impersonates someone else. Robertson then adds, “This is the harshest word that Jesus had for any class of people, and he employed it for these pious pretenders who posed as ‘perfect.’”
Matthew chapters 6 and 23 record Jesus’ condemnation of those guilty of hypocritical religious practice.
Barclay observed, “To the Jew, there were three great cardinal works of the religious life, three great pillars on which the good life was based—almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.” Yet, it was in these 3 areas that Jesus warned they were too often engaging in these with the wrong motives. Barclay expressed it this way.
“A man may give alms, not really to help the person to whom he gives, but simply to demonstrate his own generosity and to bask in the warmth of someone’s gratitude and all men’s praise. A man may pray in such a way that his prayer is not really addressed to God, but to his fellow-men. His praying may simply be an attempt to demonstrate his exceptional piety in such a way that no one can fail to see it. A man may fast, not really for the good of his own soul, not really to humble himself in the sight of God, but simply to show the world what a splendidly self-disciplined character he is. A man may practice good works simply to win praise from men, to increase his own prestige, and to show the world how good he is.”
In each case, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, they have their reward” (Matt 6:2,5,16). I recall Brother Srygley pointing out that the Greek text could literally be translated, “They have received payment in full.” The verb “apechein” was a business term used to indicate that an account was “paid in full.” In other words, when you seek people’s praise instead of God’s favor for your good deeds, you’ve fully received your reward. You’ve been paid in full. Your reward is earthly and temporary. Not heavenly and eternal.
Jesus’ observation of the hypocritical Pharisees was “they say and do not.” They don’t practice what they preach. Their motives were ungodly. Their hearts were insincere. And their goals were carnal. And so, Jesus’ warning was “do not according to their works” (Matt. 23:1-3).
At this point, it’s important to note as Warren Wiersbe reminds us that “a hypocrite is not a person who falls short of his high ideals, or who occasionally sins, because all of us experience these failures. A hypocrite deliberately uses religion to cover up his sins and promote his own gains.”
So, while it may be needful to literally wear masks in our worship assemblies and in our daily lives during this pandemic, let’s not be guilty of wearing religious masks.
If you’re wearing a mask of insincerity, duplicity, and fake piety, take off your mask.
Remember, God sees what’s behind the mask.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman