Do you not teach yourselves?
When we speak to people who do not attend church, or are even directly hostile toward the church, one reason that seems to be offered quite often is hypocrisy. The claim is that the church is an unreliable place to exercise our spiritual life, because people do not always authentically live the faith that they claim. Whether or not this is a valid argument is not really my focus, but the accusation itself is worth investigating, because hypocrisy is strongly condemned by Jesus on several occasions. (Matthew 23:28; Luke 12:1)
If we are going to be the church that Jesus established on earth, and if we are going to claim to follow His teachings, then hypocrisy must be a concern we take seriously. This will not only allow us to please Jesus in truth, but it will also allow us to overcome the slander of the enemy. We can not only make our individual faith genuine, but also protect our churches from accusation by unbelievers.
In Paul's letter to the churches in the Galatian region, he had to address the false teaching that circumcision was necessary for salvation. One of the issues was Peter's apparent hypocrisy in refusing to eat with Gentile brethren while certain Jewish brethren were present. The result was not just Peter's error, but also his example. “The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.” (Galatians 2:11-14) The result was that Paul had to address the situation publicly, and Peter had to repent. Even though he taught the gospel rightly, he wasn't living it honestly.
Paul was aware of the fact that he couldn't preach enough to others to save himself, and that his salvation was based on his own behavior. He remained diligent to overcome temptation and lust in his own walk, comparing it to an athlete in training. He did this, “so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (I Corinthians 9:25-27) Despite his self-sacrificial work for the gospel, and bringing many to salvation, he still needed to be living righteously before God to be saved.
Not just evangelists have to grapple with this issue. In Romans 2:17-24, Paul addresses the arrogance that can lead us all into holding ourselves to a different standard. “But if you bear the name ‘Jew’ and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know [His] will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” Certainly this is a mentality that we can struggle with in our lives.
We should always strive to lead others to the truth of God’s word, but we must remember to teach ourselves first, and live accordingly.