Psalm 78:36-37 But then they would flatter him with their mouths,
lying to him with their tongues;
their hearts were not loyal to him,
they were not faithful to his covenant.
Human beings have a remarkable capacity for putting on fronts. The Japanese even have standard terminology for it. Tatemae is your “public face,” with the characters indicating “something built in front,” while honne is your “true sound,” what you really mean. With it institutionalized like that, interactions can be very frustrating at times, particularly for Americans who have a cultural tradition of frankness. Even Japanese Christians sometimes struggle with being open about themselves and their feelings, and the “white lie” is expected, or even socially required. From a Biblical standpoint, that’s a problem! That’s not to say that Japanese can’t be open and honest, but it is to say that it is often a real struggle for them, because they have been taught that frankness is rude. The thing is, they aren’t alone in that struggle. American churches, too, have been called “hypocrite clubs,” and not without reason. It is common to all cultures to want to do what is socially expected, whether it’s sincere or not. There are two things we must remember in relation to this. The first is that God sees our hearts and knows our honne, whatever front we happen to put on. The other is that thanks, praise, and worship are choices, and are not to be reserved for “when we feel like it.” That can indeed feel like hypocrisy at times, but if it is the choice of our will, our emotions will eventually “come along for the ride.” When we place emotions first, whether we “feel like it,” we will get further and further away from worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24) Sadly, some churches today use the “special effects” of the world to try to whip up emotion, rather than calling people to choose to worship. The result of that is precisely what the Psalmist is talking about here.
As a pastor ministering in Japan, this is a virtually constant issue. On a personal level, I need to maintain absolute honesty while not being unnecessarily rude. That can be difficult! However, I am called to be an example to the flock, and that’s the other side of it. This issue is not just personal for me, because I am charged with feeding the flock what Christ has for them, (John 21:15-17) and not just what sounds nice to them. (2 Timothy 4:3) That has driven some people away from this church. I am always to speak the truth in love, (Ephesians 4:15) but speaking a lie is never love. I am to be gentle, remembering that I am as much in need of God’s grace as anyone, but always urge them on to grow into the likeness of Christ Jesus our Lord.
Father, You know better than I do that I don’t have the wisdom to do this right on my own. I ask You to keep my heart true to Yourself so that I may accurately draw others to You as well, for their eternal blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!