Thursday, April 15, 2010

What makes a person a phony?

So, what makes a person a phony? That’s the question I discovered the other day while reading an article on about Master’s champion Phil Mickelson. The author, Joe Posnanski, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, noted that several of his friends considered the three-time champion a fake, by which they meant, Phil does good things in public but just in order to present a good image of himself to the world. Posnanski took quite a bit of umbrage at that charge and made a pretty good case that what matters is not so much our motives but our actions.

"I guess my feeling about what "phony" means is different from some people. I believe in actions. Say there's a guy who, deep down, doesn't care all that much about people and would prefer to, I don't know, watch TV or go to strip clubs or whatever. But he desperately wants to be seen as a good guy, so he gets off the sofa, and he gives a lot of money to a charity and he tirelessly gives of his time, and he's always friendly in public, and he works hard to make other people feel better about themselves and he never stops doing this, all of his life.

"Okay, he is not doing this for the right reasons. He's doing it so people will think he's a good guy. Is he a phony? I guess some would say yes because he doesn't feel it. But I would say absolutely not, because at some point for me his actions outweigh his reasons. I don't expect to understand why he's doing it and I don't care why he's doing it. Heck, I barely know why I do things"
(click here
for the full article).

The article got me thinking, “What matters most in life? My motives or my actions?” Ideally, we’d love both to match up. But what about when they don’t? Which would I rather be 1) a person who doesn’t feel like doing what’s right, but does anyway, or 2) a person who feels like doing right, but doesn’t? When put that way, I think I’d much rather be the person who does what’s right no matter my feelings or motives. I thought of a story Jesus told in Matthew 21:28-32. In the parable, a father has two sons and asks each to come and help him work in the fields. The first son flippantly tells his father off but then later shows up in the field and helps. The second boy, full of politeness and propriety says, “Yes sir, I’ll be right there” but then never shows. Jesus asks simply, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?

Notice Jesus didn’t ask which one was a phony. In a way, they both were. He didn’t even ask what their motives were: guilt? shame? love? laziness? No, he asked, which one did what his father wanted. Obviously, we all want to avoid hypocrisy in our lives. The Bible certainly condemns such play acting. But in the Bible the charge of phoniness is laid most often at those who present themselves as righteous in worship but fail to practice righteousness in their daily lives (for an example see Isaiah 1:10-20). Rarely (if ever?) is someone criticized for showing mercy or doing justice despite the fact that they may have done so with mixed motives. I wonder what God might ask at the end of this day. Will his question be what did I feel or what did I do?

What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God – Micah 6:8.

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