[843 acres] Practice What You Preach?

by Perryn Pettus

In an effort to fight obesity and advocate for a healthier New York, the city’s Department of Health recently adopted a campaign against sugary drinks, including soda, sports drinks and juices. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed with the plan. His vision for a healthier New York is evidenced in his changes for the better, e.g., banning the use of trans fats, requiring fast food chains to disclose the number of calories in every menu item, and urging diners to use less salt in their food. Now, he’s on the crusade against sugary drinks. According to the New York Times, however, Mr. Bloomberg might be an advocate only in theory. Along with admitting many other unhealthy eating habits, he confessed, “I like a Big Mac like everybody else.” Perhaps, he isn’t practicing what he preaches? [New York Times, Mayor Doesn’t Always Live by His Health Rules]

Whether you politically support Michael Bloomberg or not, this article forces a reality check. In Matthew 23, Jesus warns us of hypocrisy, i.e., against living a life where our words and deeds are divorced. In James 2:14 the question is raised, “what good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?”

Doesn’t this hurt the validity of Mayor Bloomberg’s argument if his actions aren’t matching up with what he’s asking the people of our city to do?

What about you? Is your witness for Christ a counterargument for your own actions? Are you practicing what you preach or claiming to live a life of faith without the heart and deeds that follow?

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8 Comments to “[843 acres] Practice What You Preach?”

  1. Very interesting post. Great real life example of a difficult thing for Christians in our world… the preaching part is easy but it only bears fruit if you live by what you say. Thanks!

  2. Politicians are such an interesting case. They have to stand for these lofty moral ideals to get things done. They are constantly being exposed because they “represent” ideals that they themselves cannot adhere to.

    I do want to say that I think that this also points to where we as Christians often get confused. We think that as a witness, our job is to adhere to God’s moral law and some of our own culture’s moral law, too. In other words, to be a witness is to be a shining example of goodness. This is impossible for us, so our hypocrisy is exposed and our “witness” is damaged. If we aren’t exposed, we spend a lot of time being nervous about being found out.

    To me, this practice is contrary to the very presuppositions that are required before the acceptance of the good news of Christ: that we are completely incapable of fulfilling and adhering to God’s law. We can’t even stick to the moral codes that we invent for ourselves and try to impose upon others. If you think that we can, see Mr. Bloomberg for a perfect example of one not being able to follow his own rules. Need another example? Make a close examination of your own life. Or mine.

    So, I believe that where the real hypocrisy lies is not when we fail to be “good,” but when we fail to acknowledge our absolute inability to be so. Our lives have to be an acknowledgement of our own failure, a humble walk that overflows into actions. If we have the confidence in Christ’s unconditional acceptance of us, we are free to expose ourselves for what we really are and we don’t have to live in fear.

    So, I have to say that I like Mr. Bloomberg admitting that he can’t stick perfectly to his own rules. There is a humility and honesty there that I appreciate, and plus, now he doesn’t have to worry about the paparazzi stalking him on his next trip to McD’s!

    So which is more important: integrity or humility?

  3. As to the second comment, great points! The Christian does not say, “I am perfect and righteous and never make mistakes.” Rather, the Christian is the person who says, “I make so many mistakes that I need a savior and that savior is Christ.” That being said, however, as we grow in righteousness, are we not called to ever more obedience? (John 14:15: If you love me, you will obey what I command.) This is not to say that we will not sin, but should the balance not increasingly tilt toward more obedience?

  4. I think that I see what you mean. As I reread my reply, I can why you would ask, but what about obedience? I should be more careful not to negate that (which was also the very valid point of the original post). But I just think that if we stop there, that we are doomed to fail in our witness and have our hypocrisy exposed. We have to take it farther than that.

    To say it another way, I don’t see it as a linear balance tipping from one direction to another really. I feel like the Christian walk is almost always better captured in paradoxical terms…as we obey more and more, I think we are also uncovering at the same time the depth and gravity of our continuing disobedience. Otherwise, perhaps we stop short of the gospel?

    In interest of full disclosure, though, I will say that I would be the one tend toward owning up to my mistakes and stop short of really striving for a real Christ-like obedience that would make my life more loving , generous, and less fearful. I have never been very good at “goodness”, and I tend to equate real obedience with discomfort at best, suffering at worst. I personally prefer to be comfortable and I like to make excuses. This is not enough either, and is a shoddy witness as well, but that is my personal temptation.

  5. I agree that it may “hurt the validity of Mayor Bloomberg’s argument if his actions aren’t matching up with what he’s asking the people of our city to do”. However, I question whether it is possible for any human (and especially a politician) to live a life where one’s words and deeds are never divorced. Even the words of Jesus, at times, appear divorced from His actions. For example, in Luke 6:29, Jesus states “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” Yet, when Jesus was Himself struck in the face by an official of the high priest, He did not “turn to him the other also”. Instead, Jesus replied “If I said something wrong… testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” John 18:22-23.

    In view of the foregoing, I think it is inappropriate to invalidate what may be a beneficial policy on the grounds that the politician promoting said policy does not meet an impossibly high standard.

  6. As humans, we are all guilty of our words and deeds being divorced at times. (Jesus’s words and deeds, however, were never divorced even if they appear that way to us.) This doesn’t change the expectation that we should be striving towards obedience and righteousness, because Jesus sets an impossibly high standard for us, i.e. perfection. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus commands us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Whether we can fulfill this command or not, shouldn’t this be our goal?

  7. CDR makes an excellent point in questioning Jesus’s own consistency with language and actions. But, since I agree with Perryn (“Jesus’s words and deeds … were never divorced even if they appear that way to us.”), the more appropriate question is how could his words and deeds possibly be consistent. In other words, how does Jesus illustrate the scope of what is permissible under the idea of turning the other cheek?

    First, turning the other cheek is a euphemism for retaliation. In Jesus’s response to being struck on the cheek in John 18, Jesus was not retaliating, but rather questioning the authority under which his arrest took place. If anything, this is an excellent illustration – and rightly put forth by CDR – of the scope of the definition of “turning the other cheek,” i.e., it doesn’t necessarily mean doing away with the fundamental of justice (Micah 6:8).

    Second, in Isaiah 53, Isaiah writes of the coming of Christ and his death and resurrection: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” v. 7, NIV. Again, Jesus did not literally keep his mouth shut (see John 18-19), but he did not retaliate against those whom were persecuting him. Again, a wonderful illustration of the scope of “turning the other cheek.”

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