Hypocrisy

June 8, 2021

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,

and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Hos 6:6 NIV

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Maybe you have either heard it said or implied that people don’t attend church because it's full of hypocrites. Ignoring that claim for the moment, let’s try to answer the question, “What is a hypocrite?” The answer to that question is important because people often throw accusations at each other without realizing what they are actually saying. Others merely cast aspersions to denigrate those who believe differently than they do. They do this with the hope that the charge will stick, therefore, ending the conversation in victory. It’s also important to understand what hypocrisy is because their charge might actually be true. In this last case, a proper response will be a humble self-evaluation that ends in repentance and spiritual growth.

At the outset, is important to state that imperfection is not necessarily hypocrisy. All of God’s servants have demonstrated character flaws. Consider king David. The Bible says that he was a man after God’s own heart. And yet David demonstrated several times that he was not a perfect man. Consider his situation with Uriah the Hittite and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). Also, it was Abigail who saved David from making a serious mistake (1 Samuel 25). The great missionaries Paul andSilas had a serious falling out and separated after their first missionary journey. Paul and Peter had issues. True, they worked them out, but it was obvious that these men were not perfect. The whole concept of spiritual growth demonstrates that perfection is not achieved in this lifetime. Paul was pressing on to the goal of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ. It is a goal of every serious Christian to become more like Christ. Christians are not perfect. But could we be hypocrites?

To answer that question, let’s answer another question: “What is hypocrisy.” The simple definition is saying one thing and living differently.The word hypocrisy in the Greek New Testament implies acting a part, as in a drama or play. “The word hypocrite ultimately came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means ‘an actor’ or ‘a stage player.’”[1] In ancient Greek theater, an actor could wear different masks to portray different characters or moods. Therefore, we get our meaning of someone pretending to be someone they are not. As the need arises (at least in their mind) they can pretend to be anyone to appear acceptable or safe.

At any given time, a Christian may not be acting like a Christian. That doesn’t mean they are not a Christian. Sometimes a photograph catches you at a time you were not feeling well. That captured moment does not necessarily reflect the person you want to be. Someone has said, “being a Christian isn’t about pretending to be good; it’s about admitting that you’re bad. Jesus says he didn’t come for people who have everything sorted; he came for people that are messed up.”[2] Just because we stumble does not mean that we are a hypocrite.

To whom did Jesus refer as hypocrites? Surprisingly, they were the prominent religious leaders, the Pharisees. How did Jesus describe these religious professionals that caused Him to call them hypocrites?Of the four gospel writers, Matthew records the most indictments that Jesus made against the Pharisees. Mark and Luke add a few more. To summarize, here are some of the charges Jesus made against the hypocritical Pharisees.

First, they set themselves up as authorities over everyone else. Because of this, they usurped the authority that only God rightfully has.With this “authority,” they tried to trip up others because it demonstrated their authority and because it made them look good. When they could reveal the faults of others, the attention was distracted from their own faults. They loved to be seen as righteous.

Second, their primary motivation was to be honored by people rather than God. As a result, they were good at making a show. To them it was more advantageous to look good than to be good. When they prayed or fasted, it was important for others to see them. They could be eloquent or pitiful, as the situation required. Appearance was more important than sincerity.

Next, they honored God with their words but not with integrity.Jesus said, “This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me.” (Matthew 15:8) As a consequence, their actions did not usually match their words. Today, they might sing the worship songs on Sunday with as much gusto as the sincerest believer. However, on Monday their language might sound more like what they heard in an R-rated movie. In Matthew 23:26 Jesus cautioned them to “first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” In other words, the key to righteous living was not to look good but to be transformed from the inside out.

Finally, they majored on the minors. They were more interested in defining and obeying the minutiae of the Law than in fulfilling the intent of the two greatest commandments: to love God and to love people. This resulted in the Pharisees leading many people astray. Leaders who commit public sins are giving permission to others to do the same.

If we are accused of being hypocrites, let’s compare ourselves to Jesus rather than to the Pharisees. The goal is not to keep the Law, but to love God and to love others. Remember, “If the standard of being a Christian is moral perfection, no one has ever been a Christian.”[3] I can never be perfect, but I can follow the advice of the Apostle Paul: “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2-3) I need to remember—it’s not about me. It’s all about Jesus. Be honest about your shortcomings, but firm about your allegiance.


[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/

[2] https://www.christianityexplored.org/

[3] MarkDavid Hall, Did America Have a Christian Foundation?, p. XXII

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