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Biblical Definition of Sincerity

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary lists the meaning of sincerity. It says the quality or state of being sincere; honesty of mind or intention; freedom from simulation, hypocrisy, disguise, or false pretense; sincereness. From God’s perspective, sincerity is the quality of being free from pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy. Sincere people represent themselves honestly. Their verbal expressions are free from double-talk, gossip, flattery, or embellishment. The Bible places a high value on sincerity. “Love must be sincere” (Romans 12:9; 2 Corinthians 6:6). So also faith must be sincere (1 Timothy 1:5).

What does the Bible say about the kind of sincerity God is looking for?

(Ephesians 6:23–24)1NIV New International Version Translations – “Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”

The phrase “with an undying love,” comes from the NIV translation of the Bible. In the NKJB Bible, it is “sincerity.” This gives you a sign of how God views whether someone is sincere about their faith. God values personal sincerity. God is not willing to overlook shortcomings based only on sincerity. Sincerity does not get you eternal life. A person may be sincere and yet they may be “sincerely lost.”

It is important to understand that sincerity is not a virtue in and of itself. A person can be sincerely wrong, too. Because someone sincerely believes in something does not make them correct. It is only when sincerity is part of our search for God that it pleases the Lord (Matthew 6:33; Jeremiah 29:13).

God forgives us when we surrender our own will at the foot of the cross. Only those who sincerely repent and believe are granted pardon. God is not impressed with an attempt to make something that is not the case appear true. First, we must agree with God about our sinful state. God then takes the record of charges against us and nails it to the cross (Colossians 2:14). He wipes our past clean and gives us a fresh start (2 Corinthians 5:17). In doing so, God eliminates any need for us to live in pretense or hypocrisy. We are free to live authentically, having been pronounced righteous before God.

Because every human heart is subject to pride and pretense, the wise Christian allows the Holy Spirit to have free access to every part of their life. It is with the prayer that our pride and insincerity are revealed to us (Psalm 139:23). God knows if we are sincere by our obedience to His Word:

(Psalm 51:16-17) – “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

God knows the depth of our commitment to Him and the level of our sincerity. We cannot hide from God or fool Him (Psalm 139:1–12). When we allow God to strip pride and pretense from our lives, we discover He loves us all the same. His love frees us to embrace our authentic selves and serve others with “glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46–47).

Example of Biblical Sincerity

Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, were devoted friends and ministry colleagues of the Apostle Paul. At some point, or perhaps several times, they had even risked their lives for Paul’s sake (Romans 16:3-5). Paul first met Priscilla and Aquila when he went to Corinth as part of his second missionary journey. Priscilla and Aquila had just arrived in Corinth from Rome in around 49 AD. Paul then spent eighteen months living and working with them (Acts 18:1-3, 11, 18). After Corinth, Priscilla, Aquila, and Paul travelled together to Ephesus (Acts 18:18). Paul had confidence in the abilities of both Priscilla and Aquila as church leaders, and he left them there to care for a church that met in their house (1 Corinthians 16:19). It was while the couple were caring for a church in Ephesus that they met Apollos.

Apollos was a man of the Jewish descent from Alexandria. He had important skills. Apollos was eloquent and had a good knowledge of the Scriptures. He was sincere in his desire to preach about Jesus. Despite his skills, Apollos still needed the help of his two best friends, Aquila, and Priscilla. Apollos met them when he came to Ephesus. Aquila and Priscilla provided counsel and instruction. Apollos’ message, although sincere, was incomplete. For sincerity to be effective for God, it takes more.

(Acts 18:24-28) – “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.”

Apollos had knowledge. Verse 24 says he was “with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.” Apollos was a Jew born in Alexandria. Jews who were raised in this Egyptian city were generally highly educated. Alexandria was an important center of academic learning. It is where the Old Testament had been translated from Hebrew into the Greek. The city was the second largest in the Roman Empire. The Jews had built a large synagogue there. Alexandria had the reputation of being a seat of learning where Jewish students received a complete education. Having access to books and classes and teachers does not train or educate or make you wise. Apollos applied himself, took both the initiative and the time. While living there, his objective was to become knowledgeable in the Scriptures. It is part of the virtue of sincerity that is often missed. Learning about God through Scriptures is a foundation for a virtuous life.

Apollos was teachable. His academic standing did not stop him from learning more. Aquila and Priscilla “invited them into their home,” and “explained to him the way of God more adequately.” There was something Apollos did not know yet, the doctrine of Christian baptism. He was teachable, and because of his good and honest heart, he was able to bring his preaching in line with truth and reality. This made Apollos more effective. When Christians open their homes, their lives to others, and sincerely take interest in others, good things happen. They could have said nothing. They could have stood up and have humiliated Apollos. They could have marked him as a false teacher in front of others, but without saying anything to him. Instead, Aquila and Priscilla went directly to Apollos, taught him something he did not know. The outcome was good for everybody and pleasing to God. If you ever reach a place in life where you cannot accept correction, you are no longer teachable. To stop learning is not compensated for by a prior accumulation of knowledge!

Apollos himself was approachable. He accepted an invitation to learn more. That was a test of personal humility, to let someone take you aside to learn more. Do people feel free to approach you?

(1 Corinthians 10:12) – “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”

Some of the most valuable things you will learn about yourself will come from criticism. If you refuse all criticism and correction, you could shut yourself off from one of the great sources of education.

(1 Corinthians 15:58) – “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Apollos was immovable. When we are rooted in our faith, when we know we will not move away from Christ, we can become effective for God. After learning the full truth of the gospel, his public defense of Jesus became stronger. Apollos’s work required knowledge and firmness of conviction. It required courage under fire. He was immovable because he believed and practiced what he preached. He really believed that Jesus Is the Christ! Apollos believed that with all his heart and his preaching and living was based on that belief.

Apollos’s ministry was blessed by God. In addition to the testimony of Luke in Acts, there are these mentions by Paul (1 Cor. 3:6 & 4:6), showing that Paul and Apollos worked together as fellow workers but not competitors. So that people in Corinth would hear the gospel of Christ and so that Christians would know how to live. Apollos’s sincerity was based on his love for Christ!

Ideas to Explore

Use this time to practice teaching the Gospel’s message. What does it take to be an effective teacher? Why were parables so effective? Do people know and understand how to explain Jesus?

Example of Historical Sincerity

Sincerity is clearly a virtue whose foundation is based on trust. If one looks at the American Revolution, one of the greatest failures would be in our treatment of the indigenous population, the Indians. Here were the top reasons the American Revolution occurred:

  • Opposition to taxation. The colonists insisted that taxation could only be passed if they had a voice in the British parliament, or at the very least to be consulted. They also wanted to have their petitions to Britain heard and treated with respect.
  • Desire for representation. The desire for “actual representation” was a corollary of the debate about representation.
  • Sovereignty. A desire for sovereignty became part of the debate, particularly in 1774 and beyond. Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense about the reasons for independence and American sovereignty, the right of a nation’s government to rule itself and not be commanded by others.
  • Fear of military oppression. Military rule is “tyranny.” Cities in the colonies didn’t even have a visible police force so the presence of British soldiers in the 1770s came as a shock. The use of a threat of violence to make the colonies “obedient” was an insult. 
  • Natural rights. The English philosopher John Locke argued that man is born with “natural rights” that no government could take away: these rights are life, liberty, and property. Property being the right to acquire it and keep it safe from theft or seizure. It was the role of any government to protect the natural rights of its citizens, rather than to restrict or impinge upon them. The various Quartering Acts of 1765 and 1774, requiring colonists to house and feed British soldiers in their own homes was also despised.
  • Commercial freedom. The restriction of colonial commercial potentially fanned the flames of dissent due to the many restrictions imposed by British mercantilism and the Navigation Acts.
  • Anti-Catholicism. Religion and paranoia about Catholicism also helped drive the revolution and secured the support of colonial Protestant churches. While the colonists often preached religious tolerance, they feared Catholics as much as King George III.

The Magna Carta, signed in England in 1215. Before William the Conqueror invaded in 1066, England had Common Law in place that respected the private property rights of landowners. However, after William took control of England, he asked for a complete list of all the private property owners in the land. This was completed in 1085. With this information, William forced these landowners to sign over the deeds to their property. The battle over property rights continues today to be one of the principle causes of wars.

  • the right to use the good (thing that is owned),
  • the right to earn an income from it,
  • the right to transfer it to others, and
  • the right to enforce the property rights.

No lesson on the American Revolution can exclude a discussion on Indians and property rights. The indigenous peoples in North American were here first! During the American Revolution, Indians operated physically from the interior forests of North America. Their tribal culture viewed themselves as “stewards” of the land rather than “owners” of the land. While conflicts occurred over some areas, most Indians were initially content to view the landowner as the “Creator.” After a century and a half of exploration and settlement, the English colonists, in 1763, were finally masters of the coastal areas. With the colonial populations growing rapidly. Colonists were looking west for room to grown. Here is where the breakdown occurs about sincerity and trust. The European concept of property rights were paramount, no co-existence would do. The westward expansion would first take the form of the French and Indian War. The English government had applied controls over colonial freedom to expand.

Westward expansions were limited. By the Proclamation of 1763, the lands beyond the Appalachian Mountain chain were declared off limits to colonial governments. These areas were “reserved” to the Indians under the word (the trust) of the British Crown. In the Crown’s dealings with the Indian nations, the English authorities utilized the concept of treaties in which solemn covenants were entered into as between equals. During the period 1763 to 1775, a series of boundaries between the colonists and the Indians of the interior were created from Lake Ontario to Florida. Clearly this confirmed to both the Indians and colonists that expansion and further settlement would not occur.

The English government, meanwhile, continued its policy of restraining colonial expansion into the territory reserved to the Indians. By the Quebec Act, the seaboard colonies were seemingly shut off from expansion into the lands they claimed by charter, those lands being incorporated into the new British province of Quebec. While the Quebec Act is typically interpreted as having religious significance, the act was more significant in stopping expansion. As the American Revolution progressed, a reluctant Indian population was pressured to take sides. The Iroquois, because of their treaties with Britain, joined the British in leading to counter offensives from George Washington. Patriot armies, under George Washington, applied a scorched earth policy to the villages and cornfields of the Iroquois.

In the inland areas of the South, the Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks and Chickasaws joined with the British colonies of East and West Florida. As the American Revolution ended, the Spanish representative at the Paris negotiations, the Conde de Aranda, had asserted that the territory west of the Appalachians to the Mississippi, which England grandly delivered to the American colonies, belonged to “free and independent nations of Indians.” American negotiators rejected the Indian claim and asserted the full authority of the colonies to possess the lands west to the Mississippi. In their succeeding negotiations with the Indians, the Americans attempted to convince the Indians that by choosing the losing side in the struggle they had lost all their rights, including the rights to live in their homelands. They asserted that the Indians were a conquered people. So much for sincerity and trust if you are on the losing side!

In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which required the various Indian tribes in today’s southeastern United States to give up their lands in exchange for federal territory which was located west of the Mississippi River. Most Indians fiercely resisted this policy, but as the 1830s wore on, most of the major tribes, the Choctaws, Muscogee Creeks, Seminoles, and Chickasaws agreed to be relocated to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). In May 1838, the Cherokee removal process began. U.S. Army troops, along with various state militia, moved into the tribe’s homelands and forcibly evicted more than 16,000 Cherokee Indian people from their homelands in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia. The Seminole Wars in Florida, Florida’s resistance to the Removal Act, would add about 3,000 more to the relocation.

The impact of the resulting Cherokee “Trail of Tears” was devastating. More than a thousand Cherokee, particularly the old, the young, and the infirm died during their trip west. Hundreds more deserted from the detachments, and an unknown number perished from the migration. The tragic relocation was completed by the end of March 1839, and resettlement of tribal members in Oklahoma began soon afterward.

We now have a Bill of Rights that offers all citizens further protections.

  • The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from “unreasonable searches and seizures” by the government wherever there is a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
  • The Fifth Amendment protects the right to private property in two ways. First, it states that a person may not be deprived of property by the government without “due process of law,” or fair procedures. Second, such takings must be for a “public use” and require “just compensation” at market value for the property seized.

Today, social media and e-services are transforming the meaning of trust. Spin doctors and fake news makers destabilize public confidence in the integrity of legal, political, and media institutions. Politicians have deepened the “crises of trust.” Instead of being true representatives of “the people,” there is a complete avoidance of truth. For a nation to survive, all must face painful truths. Those who refuse to do so, simply lack sincerity and should not be trusted.

Ideas to Explore

Begin with a review of the “Great Law of Peace,” also known as “Hiawatha Wampum.” Take time to learn the Indian culture of that period in history.

Make a list of all the “factions,” the groups or individuals involved in this period of history. Now determine whether each one was sincere in their dealings? For those who were not, what were the consequences? For those who were, what were the benefits, if any?

Examples of Historical Sincerity Occurring in Florida

The dictionary defines sincerity as “the absence of pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy”. To be sincere, one needs to be a person that says what they believe. A person’s words and actions reflect what is in their heart. Sincere people are truthful people. Sincere people live a life of servanthood. For our historical Florida example of sincerity, we will look at the life of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, who devoted her life to service.

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was one of the most prominent African American women of the first half of the twentieth century. She was born in Maysville, South Carolina, July 10, 1875, to parents who had been slaves. She began her life working in fields with her family at age five. Her motivation to seek an education included a five mile walk to a one room schoolhouse. She would be the first member of her family of seventeen to attend school. Mary McLeod received a scholarship provided by a teacher in Colorado who wanted to help an African American girl realize an education. Bethune then attended Scotia Seminary, a school for African American women in North Carolina. After graduation seven years later, her benefactor paid for her to attend the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Her every intention was to serve as a missionary in Africa.

The Presbyterian Mission Board denied her request to serve. They stated that there were no missionary positions available for African Americans in Africa. This disappointment led Mary McLeod to the conclusion that Africans in America need Christ. Teaching would be her next endeavor. Mary Bethune was raised in a God-conscious environment with intentional nurture in the Christian faith. Her beliefs in these principles made her sensitive and benevolent toward others. McLeod married Albertus Bethune in 1898. They moved to Savannah, Georgia, where she did social work until the Bethunes moved to Florida. They had a son named Albert. Coyden Harold Uggams, a visiting Presbyterian minister, persuaded the couple to move to Palatka, Florida to run a mission school. The Bethunes moved in 1899. Mary ran the mission school and began an outreach to prisoners. Albertus left the family in 1907. He never got a divorce but relocated to South Carolina where he died in 1918 from tuberculosis.

Foresight is a characteristic that enables servant leaders to understand lessons from the past. Then compare them against the realities of the present. This allows for comparative decisions on the future. Servant leaders are adept at picking up the patterns in the world and predicting what the future will bring them. Divine guidance would cause Mary Bethune to leave her work in Palatka, Florida. Her new goal was to start a school in a destitute area of Daytona Beach, Florida. Faced with much opposition, Mary saw the African American community of Daytona as a place of need.

The school was initially an all-girls school. The curriculum had the girls rise at 5:30 a.m. for Bible study. Classes included home economics and industrial skills such as dressmaking, millinery, cooking. Other crafts emphasized a life of self-sufficiency for them as women. Students’ days ended at 9 pm. Bethune then added science and business courses. And then high school-level math, English, and foreign languages. Mary Bethune was always seeking donations to keep her school operating. As she traveled, she was fundraising. A donation of $62,000 by John D. Rockefeller helped, as did her friendship with Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, who expanded her network of contacts.

In 1931, the Methodist Church helped the merger of her school with the boys’ Cookman Institute. This formed the Bethune-Cookman College, a coeducational junior college. Bethune became president. Bethune-Cookman School continued to operate and met the educational standards of the State of Florida. From 1936 to 1942, By 1941, the college had developed a four-year curriculum and achieved full college status. After making the school’s library accessible to the public, the Bethune-Cookman College library became Florida’s first free library accessible to Black Floridians.

In the early 1900s, Daytona Beach, Florida, lacked a hospital that would help people of color. Bethune had the idea to start a hospital after an incident involving one of her students. She was called to the bedside of a young female student who fell ill with acute appendicitis. No local hospital would take her or would treat black people. Bethune demanded that the white physician at the local hospital help the girl. When Bethune went to visit her student, she was asked to enter through the back door. At the hospital, she found that her student had been neglected, ill-cared for, and segregated on an outdoor porch. Out of this experience, Bethune decided that the black community in Daytona needed a hospital. She found a cabin near the school, and through sponsors helping her raise money, she purchased it for five thousand dollars. In 1911, Bethune opened the first black hospital in Daytona, Florida. Black people would not fully integrate into the main location of Daytona’s public hospital until the 1960s.

On May 18, 1955, Bethune died of a heart attack. Her death was followed by editorial tributes in African American newspapers across the United States. Her life and history are filled with contributions to our world. Take time to learn more about Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. Her life is an example of what can be accomplished by a servant of God. Your life will be better for it.

Ideas to Explore

The home of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune is located on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University, which she founded in 1904. Formerly known as “The Retreat,” her home is now known as the Bethune Foundation. The home features precious pieces including her original library, furniture, photos, and family heirlooms. Visitors who came during Dr. Bethune’s time include Langston Hughes (Harlem Renaissance writer), Jackie Robinson (baseball legend) and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Come walk in the steps of the presidential advisor, international civil rights activist, and college president!

Practicing Acts of Sincerity

  1. Sincerity comes from the heart – Mean what you say, do what you promise
  2. Be a genuine person – To do anything less is insincere
  3. Be a servant without concern for a reward – Live and act in the interest of others
  4. Be positive to others – Use positive affirmations, they outweigh the negatives
  5. Be Truthful – Choose the truth, speak from the heart
  6. Be open, be calm, be non-confrontational – Anger brings insecurity
  7.  Be giving – Open your heart
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    NIV New International Version Translations