Games Christians Play
Good News Magazine
June 1974
Volume: Vol XXIII, No. 6
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Games Christians Play
D Paul Graunke  

   OK, SPORTS fans. Today's chalk talk is about a special kind of game. You'll never read about it on the sports page or hear Howard Cosell talk about it on TV. Yet it is the most popular game in the world. It isn't a spectator sport; it's the kind of game everybody can — and does — play. In fact, it's the most widely played game of all time.
   The name of the game is "Hypocrisy." Hypocrisy a game?
   Absolutely! And we know this thanks to a special breed of sports analysts known as psychiatrists. We are particularly indebted to the observation and analysis of Eric Berne, who reported on this most popular sport in his best-selling book, Games People Play.
   The games Berne wrote about weren't the kind people play in their leisure time or watch on TV on weekends. They are the kind people play every day of their lives — at work, at home and even at church.
   We all know that the object of a game like football is to score points. And if it's professional football, there are other payoffs, such as prestige, a fat three-year contract, and bonuses for making it to the playoffs and the Super Bowl.
   The object of games in everyday life is also to score points. But these points are measured in terms of human emotions and feelings — not numbers. Typical payoffs are feelings of pride and superiority.
   The major difference between games on a playing field and games in real life is that in the former, the player's true motives are obvious and aboveboard; while in real-life games the player's motives are ulterior — hidden to others, and, as we shall see, even to himself.
   In games of hypocrisy, people strive for points by deception and cover-up. On the surface it appears that they are talking and interacting with other people for the sheer fun of human companionship and conversation. But this is only a front for ulterior and interior motives. In reality they are striving for an emotional payoff.

Counterfeit Christians

   Christians play games, too.
   In these games with God they may look and sound like Christians to other people. But the game players are living a lie. Their conduct is a counterfeit of real Christian virtue. They are passing spiritual three-dollar bills and plug nickels. They are Christian in outward appearance — but not in fact. The Apostle Paul describes them as people who "maintain a facade of 'religion', but their conduct will deny its validity" (II Tim. 3:5, Phillips translation).
   So much for the game theory. Let's see how Hypocrisy is played in real life by people who consider themselves to be "Christian."

"Never on Sunday"

   The first game we'll examine is called "Never on Sunday." The name is derived from the fact that Monday through Saturday the player drinks too much, argues with his wife and kicks his dog — but never on Sunday. Six days of the week, he does what he pleases; but on the other he rests from his sins, puts on his Sunday best — clothes and conduct — and goes to church. There he conducts himself like a Christian. He may even pretend to be a Christian for the rest of the day. (Maybe he's hoping to get time off for good behavior.) But by Monday morning he discards his Sunday best and resumes his weekday worst. The masquerade party is over.
   We know God sees through this hypocrisy. This person is only a pseudo-Christian. But does his Sunday performance convince the rest of the congregation?
   Alas, he is foiled. It just so happens that his game has been exposed by someone in the congregation who is playing another game.

"The Splinter in My Brother's Eye"

   He is playing the game known as "The Splinter in My Brother's Eye," or "Blemish." His object is to find the faults and hypocrisies in other people — not in himself, mind you, but in others. This game is called "The Splinter in My Brother's Eye" because of Christ's description of it in Matthew 7:1-5: "Judge not, that ye be not judged.... And why beholdest thou the mote [splinter] that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam [plank, log] that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
   People who play "Blemish" either don't realize that they have any beams to pull out or they think they have pulled them out already. Since the only beam-free, perfect human ever to walk the earth was Jesus Christ, the chances are quite slim that they have done this. But this does not deter them from playing "Blemish."
   A game very similar to "Blemish" is "Comparison Shopping." In this game the player realizes he has beams in his eyes — he has problems to overcome. But rather than concentrating on pulling them out, he searches for people whose sins are worse than his — the darker and more X-rated, the better. In stark contrast and comparison to their sins, his own don't seem so bad after all. The lower his opinion of others can sink, the more his opinion of himself will be exalted.
   Paul warned Christians in his day about this game: "But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding" (II Cor. 10:12, RSV). He also instructed: "... In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Phil. 2:3).
   A great deal of busybodying, scandal-scouting, gossip, talebearing and slander is an outgrowth of games like "Blemish" and "Comparison Shopping." Key phrases of speech that identify a game player include: 1) "Isn't it a shame that... ?" 2) "What's the world (people, teen-agers, etc.) coming to... ?" 3) "I'm glad I'm not like..." (see Luke 18:10-14 on this phrase). 4) "They say that...." And 5) "Why, I would never do something like...."

"Shell-Game Crossup"

   With three games in progress at once, there is lots of action. So much so, you probably missed the most crucial play of the game. This play is known as the "Shell-Game Crossup." It happened so swiftly, was executed so adroitly, that you probably weren't aware it happened. So let's have an instant replay and view the game in slow motion.
   Every game of Hypocrisy is like the man at the circus who conducts the shell game. He takes three shells, places a marble under one, and then moves them around, mixing them up. The object is to confuse others so they can't find the shell that has the marble under it.
   Instead of hiding marbles, the people in the preceding games are trying to hide their real selves. They do this under their "shells," or facades, of righteousness and virtue, hoping no one will find out what they really are like.
   But a cross up occurs: the hypocritical game player may try to shuffle his facades around to fool others — and fail (as did the "Never-on-Sunday" player) — but in the process he ends up confusing and deceiving himself!
   That's right! The person who plays games to deceive others usually ends up deceiving no one but himself. He forgets about the marble he's playing and even the fact that he's playing a shell game.
   If you don't think this can happen, then read Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" The mind is a master of deceit — so deceptive that it usually ends up misleading itself more than it does anyone else.
   So it is easy to spot hypocrisy in others — but it is not so easy to spot it in yourself. This means you could be unconsciously playing games right now. God knows it. So do other people. But you don't.
   It's entirely possible. In fact, it is very probable. So as you read about the following games, don't try to think of others who fit the descriptions. That's playing "Blemish" and "Comparison Shopping." Hold the mirror up to yourself. Apply the games personally. Use God's Word and Spirit to be honest with yourself. Outwit your deceitful mind.

"Show Off"

   Jesus Christ was an expert at exposing games. In parables and personal encounters, He put down the religious pretensions and hypocrisies of His day. Let's examine some of them:
   The games most often played with God come under the category of "Show Off." Their object is to demonstrate to God — and to others — the "righteousness" of the game player. The game may look convincingly godly at first glance. But this spirituality is only a disguise for human pride. It is actually an exercise in self-righteousness rather than godliness.
   In these games the player can't detect his hypocrisy. Can you — in yourself?
   The first game under this category is "Public Prayer." It was described by Christ in Matthew 6:5-6: "And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward."
   The modern form of "Public Prayer" is most frequently played from the pulpits and radio stations throughout the land. It is characterized by fulsome, flowery phrases and archaic, seventeenth-century language like "thee" and "dost." The game player delivers it by shifting his voice into a special frequency and tone, reserved strictly for those occasions when the public is invited to eavesdrop on his "conversations" with God.

"This Is a Recording"

   Another prayer game is found in verse 7 of the same chapter. "But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking."
   The object of "This Is a Recording" is to pray from memory — not from the heart. Game players strive for spiritual Academy Awards by acting out prayer scripts written for them by others. What the players say is not nearly as important as how well and how often they repeat it.
   One of the favorite formulas which game players feel necessary to repeat over and over, word for word, is the so-called "Lord's Prayer" in verses 9-13.
   If this were what Christ had in mind when He said, "After this manner therefore pray ye...." He was contradicting what He said two verses earlier.
   Christ gave the prayer as an outline, a model, a pattern, to help us organize our own heartfelt, original prayers to God. But many people persist in sticking to each letter of the prayer rather than observing the spirit and intent. And then they wonder why their prayers are never answered.
   Use prayer to tell God what's on your mind — not what's in some book or pamphlet. For some ideas and guidelines, write for our free article "The Answer to Unanswered Prayer." Learn to talk to God — not play games with Him.
   Two other games are covered in Matthew 6: "Trumpet Tooting" (verses 1-4) and "Religious Advertising" (verses 16-18). By now you should be adept enough at game analysis to figure out how these games are played — and how to avoid them in your life.

The Antidote — Humility

   We have only scratched the surface of the games Christians play. The Bible is full of examples of games — from the very first game Adam and Eve played with God in the Garden of Eden ("Hide and Seek") to the ones Christ exposed among the religious people of His day. You'll find a few in Acts and even more in the epistles of Paul, Peter and John.
   The cure for such games is spiritual honesty, objectivity and humility. It's realizing that all our human self-righteousness is nothing but filthy rags when compared to God's true righteousness (Isa. 64:6). The way to do that is to stay close to God in real prayer, don't neglect the study of His Word, and give yourself periodic checkups (II Cor. 13:5).
   Three times Christ said that those who exalt themselves will be abased, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matt. 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14). It is the meek who shall inherit the earth — not the self-righteous and the game players (Matt. 5:5). So follow Christ's prescription — eat humble pie. Be honest with yourself and aware of your own faults and wrong motives.
   Be a true Christian — not a counterfeit. Don't play games with yourself — or with God.

(To be Continued)

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Good News MagazineJune 1974Vol XXIII, No. 6