As my wife, Sharon, and I wandered through the local discount store, a “50% OFF!” sign caught my eye. I picked up a package from the stack and read the label: “Religious Tablecloth”. I wasn’t sure how you make a tablecloth be religious, but apparently someone figured it out. There it was on the shelf for sale. I considered buying it and watching it to see how well it did in being religious (but, of course, it was only given that label because of “The Last Supper” design that was on it.)
Through years of helping Sharon decorate for Church functions, I have learned that you can cover up a lot of things with a tablecloth – like a stack of hymnals, a super-sized can of green beans or an old, nearly collapsed cardboard box. Then, whatever you set on it, from a flower arrangement to a group of candlesticks, will look good and you won’t see what’s under the tablecloth. I guess if you put a religious tablecloth over something, it will look good and appear to be religious too.
Jesus often condemned the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. (He repeated the phrase “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” so many times in the 23rd chapter of Matthew that I sometimes call it the “Woe” Chapter). He said they were like whitewashed tombs – beautiful on the outside but unclean on the inside. “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt 23:28 ESV)
We Christians can also be guilty of hypocrisy – of hiding under a religious tablecloth. We might outwardly appear to be following God, and even sincerely believe ourselves that we are. But in the place where it counts, in our heart, we may be envious or greedy or in other ways sinful. While we may be successful in hiding that from others, and deceiving ourselves for a while, we can never hide it from God. “…Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (Luke 12:1-2 ESV)
God knows our heart so there is no need to try covering it up. The best thing to do is to be obedient to Him, search our heart and confess our sins. God’s Word has given us this marvelous promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 ESV) If we trust in that promise and rely on His power to cleanse us, we won’t need a religious tablecloth to cover us. For what is within us will be revealed and be beautiful – a righteousness not from ourselves, but a righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ Himself! “Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Php 1:11 ESV)