During his ministry, Jesus denounced “hypocrites” as vehemently as any group. More than prostitutes. More than extortionist tax collectors. More than drunkards. In fact, there is no evidence that Jesus campaigned on moral issues, decrying the bad behavior of his people. Yes, he commended those who kept the law of Moses, but he lifted up loving God and loving our neighbor as the core commandments. And he warned against judging others.
“Hypocrite” is a transliterated word from the Greek (and my regular readers know how I feel about transliteration rather than translation). It is used rarely in the Greek Old Testament (LXX), and occurs only in the Synoptic Gospels in the New Testament (Matt 13x, Mark 1x, Luke 3x). It is a pejorative label that Jesus affixes to those who oppose him the most, These are the “Scribes and Pharisees,” those who knew Scriptures the best, and who appeared to live by Scriptures the most. We can find Jesus’ understanding of a “hypocrites” clearly in Matthew 15:7-9, where he quotes Isaiah 29:13 as a defining characterization of these hypocrite-opponents. There are three things in this Isaiah passage that apply:
- Hypocrites give praise and honor to God with their words, but not in their hearts.
- Hypocrites worship in a vain, false manner.
- Hypocrites erect rules and doctrines that are not from God, just human creations.
Wow! We usually define hypocrites as folks who say one thing but secretly do another. They are the ones who establish many rules for behavior, yet don’t follow these rules themselves. This certainly applies to #3 from the Isaiah list, but #2 and #1 are a little different. They deal with false worship.
Hypocrites are those with the hidden heart. Their lives don’t ring true because the interior is not as pure as the exterior appears. Hypocrisy in this sense is not so much deception as it is a dilemma. Hypocrites give an appearance of righteous living when the reality is a hidden struggle. Perhaps this is why Jesus loved people like Matthew the Tax Collector so much. There was no pretense. There was apparently a desire to have fellowship and approval from God, but no attempt to hide his despicable profession and riotous lifestyle.
More than once in ministry I have been told by unaffiliated Christians that they have no interest in a church because “the church is full of hypocrites.” I have even been schooled about the hidden peccadilloes of some members of my flock on occasion. My answer to this is sometimes very shocking. I say, “Well, we’re all hypocrites, aren’t we?” And I think it is true. No church is so open that all our sins are on the table. We are all hiding something, and some of those things are just between us and God. Where there is a difference, I think, is that we realize these things are not hidden from God, and this accountability motivates us to change, to clean up our lives. And this does not happen overnight. It happens day by day, as we seek to eliminate the unbearable tension in our lives of professing one thing and living another. And we do make progress. By the grace of God and the cleansing power of his Holy Spirit, we grow and mature, and the hypocritical side of our existence grows smaller and smaller. And some day, we will stand before our Savior having left all sin behind, for there will be no hypocrites in heaven, because we will be changed fully into his likeness.
Nebraska Christian College