Jesus harshly rebukes those who pay lip service many times in the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible does it mention lip service. Jesus hardly spares his criticisms against the Pharisees as accounted in the four gospels. In Luke 18:9-14, the famous parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus says that rather than the self-righteous Pharisee who boastfully and publicly prayed for his own sake, the sinful tax collector who prayed honestly with a broken heart “went home justified before God.” (v.14) In the midst of his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:5, Jesus refers to the Pharisee as a hypocrite, preaching “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.”
These two passages are probably most often taught on the sincerity and humility in prayer. However, Jesus also teaches us an essential lesson about dangers of hypocrisy in our lives, challenging us to be genuine. We don’t necessarily pray in public places in loud voices, in order to show off our righteousness. However, we often pay lip service, lifting up insincere words to God, just like the Pharisees did.
In the parable, the Pharisee prays to God and praises God insincerely. The heart motive is all wrong. Who knows, if those same words came from a humble and sincere heart, God may have been pleased. A lot of times our words and thoughts to God lack sincerity in the exact same way. We don’t necessarily do it for show, as the Pharisee did. But we all have many different heart motives, heart motives that aren’t humble and genuine towards God that results in us paying lip service again and again.
I don’t write this as criticism for others. I write this as a reflection on my hypocrisy and as a rebuke to my sinful self. I have been struggling in this aspect of my faith for some time. Take the simplest acts of faith in my life for example. When I thank God for my meal, “God, thank you for blessing me with this food,” am I truly grateful? If I’m not, I’m paying lip service, which is a form of hypocrisy. When I sing worship songs, when I sing “I love you, Lord” and “Your grace is enough,” do I really believe that in my heart? If I don’t, I’m paying lip service to God. I want to be sincere and true in my faith, starting from the smallest actions. Many times I was discouraged by my failure to be genuine to God who has given me life, who has blessed me incredibly. But I find hope in the salvation made possible by Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for my failures and sinfulness. Every time I feel as if I am failing in my Christian walk, this hope pushes me to try again, to continue to strive to be more like Jesus every day.
Jesus wants all those who believe in his name to be genuine. Are there ways that we aren’t being genuine to God, areas in our lives that we are being dishonest to God? Jesus calls us to recognize these areas and wants us to change them so that we can become more and more like Jesus, until he returns.