By James P. Needham
The above graphics illustrate an age-old concept many have of their lives. Some feel that life is made up of various compartments that don’t overlap. Being a “Christian” is one compartment of life, but its principles do not govern what one does in business, as a citizen, or in the family, etc. Being a “Christian” is what one does when he goes to church, and when he is with other Christians, but how one conducts business, or acts in politics or in his family should not be governed by the value system imposed by the laws governing a Christian’s conduct. Being a “Christian” is like a Sunday coat that one dons on Sunday, but puts off on Monday as he enters other compartments of his life. It is well said that a hypocrite is one who isn’t himself on Sunday. John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress spoke of the person who “is a saint abroad and a devil at home.” I knew a church member, a preacher’s wife, who was confronted about her social drinking and the use of tobacco. Her answer was, “Yes, I am a Christian, but I am also an individual, and if I want to smoke cigarettes, or have a drink with my friends, that’s my business and does not mean that I am not a Christian.” The true view of what it means to be a Christian is illustrated by the second graphic above; one should be governed by the principles of God’s word in every compartment of his life.
There are people who go to church and talk as good a story as anyone; they contend for following the Bible in church work and worship; they may even preach from time to time and preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, nothing more, nothing less and nothing else, yet be as crooked as a barrel of snakes in their business dealings and seemingly have no compunction of conscience whatsoever. We have all known of church members, even preachers, who appear to be sound, but cheat on their wives, seemingly with no feeling of guilt, lie, don’t pay their debts, and otherwise violate God’s word. I have to say that preachers have told me more lies than anyone else! We read and hear of preachers and priests who molest little children, engage in homosexualism, steal money, fail to pay their debts, and commit other acts of ungodliness. Some of our own brethren seem to be model Christians, but abuse their wives and children, if not physically, mentally, by selfish- ness and unkindness. We see this and wonder: how can it be! Do these people not know better? Can they not see their inconsistency? What such people are doing is compartmentalizing their lives, whether they call it that, or realize what they are doing. They see their church work as one compartment of their lives, and their business, or private lives as another, and one does not interfere with or govern the other. I had a very able preacher friend who did excellent work. We worked together in gospel meetings and other projects on many occasions. Once he held an excellent meeting where I was preaching, and during that very meeting a woman other than his wife was pregnant with his child! How he could stand in the pulpit, much less preach, is a mystery. How he could associate with me, stay in my house, eat with my family, and talk of spiritual matters is difficult to understand unless he was compartmentalizing his life.
A brother wrote a well-known book as a professional historian in which he referred to the church of our Lord as a sect. When asked about it, he said he was writing as a professional historian. Many brethren were upset about it. I asked him would he have done it had he known the brethren would be so upset? He said, “Yes, he would, because he was writing as a professional historian.” Here is a concrete case of compartmentalizing. He stepped out of his role as a Christian and wrote as a professional historian. He didn’t take his Christianity with him. He thought he could do something as a professional historian that he couldn’t do as a Christian. He very likely would not stand in the pulpit and call the Lord’s church a sect, but he could sit at his typewriter as a professional historian and call it such! Compartmentalizing.
Pat Boone grew up as a Christian in Nashville, Tennessee. His family were all members of the church. He did some preaching as a young man. He recorded a song that made a hit, and he was off and running as an professional entertainer. As usual, Hollywood put him in the movies. Soon they wanted to cast him in a role where he would have to kiss the leading lady. He was reluctant to do so, but eventually justified it on the basis that he was not being disloyal to his wife, but was doing it as a professional actor. Compartmentalizing; he thought he could do something as a professional actor that he couldn’t do as a Christian.
Jesus called such people hypocrites. They are not what they claim to be or appear to be when they are in church or in the presence of Christians. It is well said that a hypocrite is one who is not himself on Sunday! Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:15). He said such people are like “whited sepulchers . . . which in- deed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27).
Jesus excoriated the Pharisees for saying and doing not; For “. . . tithing mint, anise and cumin, and leaving off the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.” Jesus said, “these ye ought to have done and not to leave the other undone” (Matt. 23). Like many today, the Pharisees had a polka dot hermeneutic, they believed the Bible in spots. They were very meticulous in bringing their “mint, anise and cumin” to the treasury of the temple, but in their private lives they ignored “justice, mercy and faith.” They were compartmentalizing.
We need to realize that if a person is not a Christian everywhere, he is not a Christian anywhere. Believest thou this? The Bible makes this very clear in such passages as 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17). “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:6).
Our public officials today are involved in one moral scandal after another, reaching all the way to the White House! Using brute power to satisfy personal lust is the rule of the day in Washington as well as in the office, in the school, in the military, and in the factory. Listening to talk radio, reading letters to the editor, and following the various polls gives one a pretty good view of the state of public morals in this country, which today are in the gutter and despicable. Public reaction to the recent moral scandal involving the president, whether true or not, has brought to the surface compartmentalizing with a vengeance! Many people are saying, “What the president does in his private life has nothing to do with his ability to run the country. As long as he does a good job as president, it’s none of our business what he does in his private life.” (One lady said it is good to have an adulterous person in the White House!) People don’t re- ally believe this, but they think they do when it suits them or serves their purpose. What if in the president’s private life he committed murder, embezzled funds, beat his wife, abused his daughter, or got drunk as a skunk, or did drugs on weekends, etc. would these people say the same thing? This is a naive view of matters.
It is a failure or a refusal to realize that the character flaw that would cause a person to violate his marriage vow or otherwise act immorally or dishonestly, indicates that he is a dis- honest person who cannot be trusted in other compartments of his life. If one is less than honest or moral in his private life, what evidence do we have that he is otherwise in his public life, if it were to his advantage? If one will be dishonest or immoral to get what he wants in one compartment of his life, why not in another compartment, or in all compartments? This reminds me of a preacher who was answering questions from the audience. One person asked the preacher what he thought about a person who said he and his wife had been married for 30 years and had never had a cross word. The preacher answered, “You’d better watch a fellow like that because he will lie about others things too!” He who would steal an egg would steal an ox. We should realize that one is no better than his morals, and no worse than his principles.
The religion of Christ is called a vocation (a full-time job), not an avocation (a sideline or a hobby) (Eph. 4:1). It is not a Sunday coat but work clothes. He who is not a Christian everywhere, is not a Christian anywhere!