Not many of the more than 500,000 words in the English language evoke a stronger response than the word hypocrite! The accusation, if directed to you personally, makes you feel resentful and defensive. The typical response is “Who are you to judge me?”
Hypocrisy is subtle, covert and deceptive. It is vice masquerading as virtue, pretending to care but void of compassion. The Good Samaritan responded to the abused and wounded man. The priest and the Levite, known for their teaching, laws and religious pronouncements, “passed by,” detached in religious elitism and preoccupied with their own interests (Luke 10:30-35).
But hypocrisy is more than words that speak louder than actions. Hypocrisy destroys integrity, attacks trust and spoils relationships. In marriage–the highest interpersonal commitment–the hypocrisy of infidelity thrives in pretense and deceit. In business and contractual agreements, fraud and corruption are the currency of hypocrisy.
In advertisement, presentation manipulates reality. In the entertainment world, performance masks substance. In fact, the word “hypocrisy” originates from the language of the theater and the stage. In playing a costumed role, the identity of the actor is immersed in the character of the play so that he appears one and the same. In Scripture the Apostle Paul warned the Church that there are “false apostles, deceitful workers transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. … For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore … his ministers also transformed themselves into ministers of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, NKJV).
In all of Jesus’ teaching, He identified the root of hypocrisy as deceit, pride, a spiritual self-righteousness and the desire to dominate others. Jesus’ most scathing criticism was directed against hypocrisy. “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33, NIV). “Woe to you … hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15, NIV).
The Word of God describes the hypocrite as one who …
- Says one thing and does the opposite. “They do not practice what they preach” (Matthew 23:3, NIV).
- Desires to be seen by others, to have the envy of others and to receive glory (Matthew 6:2, 5).
- Appears spiritually pure outwardly but is impure inwardly, like “dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27).
- Is oblivious to the reality that God knows everything and sees his heart (Matthew 6:5-6).
- Views himself as spiritually superior and immune from scrutiny (Matthew 6:16).
- Seeks to distract attention from his duplicity by criticizing others (John 12:4-6).
- Abandons faith and is seduced by the devil, becoming a liar (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
- Misleads the spiritually blind–as he himself is blinded–by words and arguments (Matthew 23:16-19).
- Breaks God’s commandments but acts piously in his own self-designed religious traditions (Matthew 15:3).
- Performs religious acts but neglects justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).
The Lord Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, explains the true meaning of prayer, fasting, giving and serving God. In contrast to the sincere practice of these spiritual disciplines, the hypocrite seeks to establish his own claim for God’s approval. Any effort to establish personal righteousness is not only futile, it is an affront to God. Job 8:13 says, “The hope of the hypocrite shall perish” (NKJV). Works done as a display before others are done for self-glory. God abhors duplicity–pretending to seek His favor when secretly seeking our own. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33, NKJV). Jesus says the pursuit of God’s righteous ways and His reigning control of our heart will offset any tendency to pretense.
How Does This Apply to Me?
To avoid being a hypocrite:
- Guard against adopting any double standard. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Monitor what you say as if there were a courtroom voice recorder for your words. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who have been made in God’s likeness. … Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. … This should not be” (James 3:9-10, NIV).
- Question any imbalance in your conduct as a follower of Christ and the example Jesus set. “You should follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21, NIV). “If anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. … Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:5-6, NIV).
- Quiz yourself on consistency in spiritual disciplines: How often and faithfully do you pray? Jesus taught His disciples to pray and not to give up (Luke 18:1). Do you believe in Jesus and fail to do what He requires? Jesus said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love…. I have told you this so… your joy may be complete” (John 15:10-11, NIV). Is your financial stewardship intentional or occasional? God said, “You rob me. … In tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:8, NIV).
- Examine your indiscriminate viewing of motion pictures, television, the Internet and other venues of the world’s showcase. Much of today’s entertainment darkens the heart, sears the conscience and smothers godly desires. “A friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4, NKJV). “Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil” (Psalm 141:4, NIV).
- Remind yourself of the awesome consequence of confessing Jesus as Lord but refusing to do what He says. Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:22-23, NIV). This is ultimate hypocrisy.