Practice what you preach

October 1st, 2017

Matthew 23:1-12

“Why don’t you practice what you preach?” Have you ever said those words? Maybe someone has said them to you. Hypocrites are people who pretend to be something they are not. They may say one thing and then do the opposite. They may act one way in a certain setting and then act another way in a different setting. It is very important that as Christians, we follow the example of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter where we are or who we are with. The words we speak and the things we do should always reflect our faith. Sometimes we are good at telling other people what they should do and how they should live, but we fail to follow our own instructions. We need to, as the saying goes, “walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”

Some time ago, I saw a Peanuts comic strip that had Snoopy on top of his doghouse with a flock of baby birds. The time had come for the baby birds to learn how to fly, and Snoopy was their teacher. Snoopy flapped his ears and walked to the end of the roof of the doghouse. He leaped into the air and continued to flap his ears. Unfortunately he landed right on his head. He got back up onto the roof and shared this lesson: “Do as I say to do and not what I do.”

In Matthew 23, Jesus tells the crowds and his disciples to do what the Pharisees and the scribes teach them to do, “but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach” (Matthew 23:3). In other words, the leaders talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. Why is it important to practice what we preach? The most basic reason is the integrity of our faith; we are the body of Christ for the world.

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” People should be attracted by the light of the way we live and the words we speak. Whether we like it or not, people are watching us and seeing how we respond to the ups and downs of everyday life. Children watch adults and then imitate what they see and repeat what they hear. Are our words and actions something we want repeated by our children? Our friends, neighbors, coworkers, family members, and classmates are watching us. What evidence do we offer of our profession of faith? Are our responses any different from those of persons who don’t profess to know Christ? Not only are nonbelievers watching us, but so are other Christians. Persons who are new to the faith often look to more-mature Christians. Do our words and actions encourage and build up other Christians?

Our church’s young men’s softball team was in a hard-fought battle with another church’s team. The two teams had been rivals for several years. The games were always exciting and well played. One of our players was up at bat. He hit a hard line drive to center field and quickly ran to first base, then turned the corner toward second. The outfielder made a good play on the ball and threw perfectly to the second baseman. The play was very close, but the runner was called out. Our player protested the call and began yelling at the umpire. We encouraged him to get off the field, but his anger escalated. His language became coarse and abusive. When we finally got him off the field, we admonished him to remember who he was and what he represented. We reminded him that young people and perhaps people who did not know Christ were watching him. Was this what he wanted them to see? It was an important lesson for him.

How do we practice what we preach? One way is to be careful about the words we speak. You can tell a lot about a person by the words they use. You can tell even more by the words they use when they are distressed, angry, or threatened. James tells us the tongue is very dangerous. It can set a great forest ablaze. We can tame all kinds of animals, but we cannot tame the tongue (James 3:3-6). People are listening to the words we speak. Do our words build people up or cut them down? Do our words bring peace and calm to a situation or do they add fuel to the fire? The words we speak should match the person we claim to be. If we profess that we are followers of Christ, then our words should be a reflection of that relationship.

We practice what we preach when we live our lives as reflections of the life of Christ. The way we act at work should be the same way we act at home, at church, around other Christians, in the supermarket, or waiting for a bus. My wife and I have always said, “What you see is what you get.” We try to act the same wherever we are. When people see us, they should see a reflection of Christ. Do we live our lives in ways that reflect him?

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