David Owens, A New York preacher, tells a story about a well-respected British minister who boarded the trolley early one Monday morning from his suburban home to downtown London.
He paid the driver as he got on the trolley, and being preoccupied with his busy schedule and the needs of his church he didn’t notice that the driver had given him too much change.
When he sat down he looked at the change and his first thought was, “My, how wonderfully God provides!”
But the longer he sat there, the less comfortable he became because his conscience was registering a strong conviction.
When he reached his destination and walked to the trolley door, waiting for it to open, he said to the driver, “When I gave you money for the trolley ride, you accidentally gave me too much change.”
The driver smiled and said, “It was no accident. You see, I was in attendance at your church yesterday and heard your sermon on integrity and hypocrisy. I just thought I’d put you to the test. Looks like you passed.”
This story is probably apocryphal (I’ve heard various versions of it through the years), but it does make a powerful point. It’s a point that Paul hammers home to his Jewish readers of Romans.
After a scathing denunciation of the pagan Gentile world for their ingratitude toward God’s goodness, their insolence, and their depraved descent into perverted immoral practices, he turns to the Jews and condemns their self-righteous hypocrisy.
“Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Rom. 2:1)
As the argument unfolds, Paul reminds them that God’s judgment will be based on Truth, not their tradition. That God’s judgment will be according to their actual deeds, not their pompous declarations. And that God’s judgment would be impartial, not biased, favoring the Jewish people.
Then the apostle raised several rhetorical questions to demonstrate the folly of the Jewish pronouncements in light of their practices.
“You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? (Rom 2:21-23)
Paul’s piercing interrogation still resonates with you and me in the 21st century. It’s easier to preach a sermon than it is to practice it. It’s easier to tell others how to live instead of living it yourself. It’s easier to talk the talk than it is to walk the walk.
We’ve seen this play out in the political arena during the last year. Those in positions of power find it much easier to issue edicts that mandate mask-wearing, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders, rather than follow those rules for themselves.
More importantly for God’s people, this lesson ought to especially ring in the ears of all preachers and pastors. People are more impressed and more easily persuaded by the gospel when we apply it to our own lives than merely spout pious platitudes that we use to browbeat people yet ignore those principles in our daily living.
Furthermore, Parents must be careful not to employ a double standard in their homes of “do as I say, and not as I do.” Our warnings against foul language, indecent entertainment, and self-control, sound empty and hollow when they hear mom and dad utter curse words, catch them watching “after hours, adult movies,” and see them live a life of intemperance, self-indulgence, and excess.
As Christians are we putting into practice the sermons we hear and the Bible lessons we study? Or merely giving lip service to them? What about treating others the way we want to be treated? Or doing good to all people? Or being a “Good Samaritan” to someone in need?
Is our love limited only to those who love us? Or can we love the unlovable? Even our enemies?
Are we generous with our money? Liberal in our giving? Willing to share God’s blessings to advance the cause of Christ? And ready to share with a friend or brother who’s hurting financially?
Finally, are we quick to condemn those who fail in these aspects of Christian living, while we, too, are neglecting these commands in our own lives?
David A. Bednar was right when he wrote, “People of integrity and honesty not only practice what they preach, they are what they preach.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman