One of the most trending words these days on social media is authenticity. People are craving it. The world is demanding it from those in authority, from those in the limelight, and from those who are supposed to be helping us. We are tired of the artificial, seemingly perfect lives these people display.
In the Gospel reading today, Jesus has strong words for those in religious leadership. He accuses them of lacking authenticity. “For they preach but do not practice.” Matthew 23:3 The scribes and Pharisees placed many burdens of expectations on those they were leading; however, they didn’t take care to live up to those standards themselves.
On the other hand, in the second reading, Paul writes of his love for those to whom he ministers. He compares himself to a nursing mother, tenderly showing affection. “Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” 1 Thessalonians 2:9 Paul didn’t approach his leadership and ministry as laying out a standard, expecting the listeners to raise up to it. Rather, he “lowered” himself down, as a servant, and in humility presented the gospel truth to all who would hear.
Paul’s ministry was successful not because he preached the perfect words or set a standard for others to attain. His ministry changed lives because he showed loved through service and authenticity. His words carried weight because they were backed with action, with love, and with example.
Why is it that we think that our lives must appear to be perfect and holy in order to draw others to our faith? In the same way we madly deep clean our house when company is on its way in order to prevent them from thinking we are slobs, we sterilize our lives, at least the outward veneer, to give the allusion that we have our faith life together and are not hiding dirty secrets in our closets. We falsely think that no one will want what we have if they see how messy we are. We falsely think that people want to follow perfect people. We falsely think that a Pinterest perfect spiritual decor is the way to spread the gospel message.
The beautiful saint stories of old often portrayed these holy people as walking 3 feet off the ground. Well… even though some of them might actually have, literally, floated off the ground in ecstasy, I believe that in their day in and day out lives they were a work in progress. They struggled to pray. They had to work at controlling their temper on occasion. But what drew people to desire to mimic their holiness was their authenticity. They pursued God in their weakness in the best way they could. They weren’t preaching anything that they themselves weren’t practicing. Their zeal, their realness, their tangible love was the best witness of the Lord’s grace.
So what does that mean for us? Are we to just walk around flashing our mess to everyone? Are we to forget about bettering ourselves in the name of authenticity? Um…NO!
God says, “Be holy because I am holy” 1 Peter 1:16 we must pursue holiness. We must keep trying to win the battle over the flesh, but it is okay to share that struggle with others. Why?
Here are 3 short reasons why being real and authentic is a better approach to sharing the Gospel.
1. Because it can give hope to those individuals who feel like giving up. Most people will stop making an effort towards a goal if they believe they have failed. Showing them your own weakness while sharing your desire and determination to improve can motivate resolve in their own hearts.
2. Because perfection is exhausting. I love dressing up. But if I had to dress nicely every single day I would get pretty tired of it. Living life wearing a facade of perfection will wear you down. Eventually a crack will appear and the results could be damaging, not only for yourself, but for those who have been watching your journey.
3. Because pride is at the root. We must be honest and recognize that at the root of our desire to appear spiritually “together” is pride, and pride is a nasty quality that the Lord cannot use. God’s greatest work in and through us can only be achieved when we step down off our pedestal and walk in a spirit of humility. Ultimately, Jesus doesn’t need us; yet, he desires to use our weakness to bring glory to himself. Step down and allow humility to grow.
Living a life of humility and authenticity is embarrassing, painful, and just hard. But I don’t want to be accused of not practicing what I preach. How about you?