No sin in all of scripture aroused more indignation in Christ than hypocrisy. On eight occasions Christ exposed the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His day, pointing out their blatant disregard for the essence of true spirituality. His exposing of inconsistent faith stood as a warning to all who claim to be Christians because one of the greatest temptations for Christians is not to abandon Christ altogether, but rather to mold the character and words of Christ into a traditional and popular perspective of Christianity that one’s faith and practices may be tolerated by the majority. Such actions could result in a good reputation among men, worldly gain, an outward appear of success as a Christian, and a satiated conscious to one’s vain and selfish lifestyle. On each of the eight occasions Christ rebuked hypocrisy, Jesus taught a characteristic of a hypocritical faith that all Christians would do well to note.
The Hellenistic root of the word ‘hypocrisy’ refers to “acting or simulation” (Burdick’s International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). Jesus’ warning in Luke 12:1 serves as a perfect illustration of hypocrisy, “…he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Hypocritical faith refers to one who plays a religious part as if on stage – the person’s faith is not genuine because the works and words of the religious individual contradict the source of the faith, the teachings and nature of God (James 1:25-26). Unfortunately, negligent Christians may fall into a hypocritical faith without waking to their folly because they refuse to regularly “take heed unto themselves, and unto the doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:16).
Slipping into Hypocrisy
Note the historical background that contributed to the pervasive character of the first-century Jewish hypocrisy. Religious historians, such as Thompson, explain the strong and unfair persecution against the Jews during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. It was therefore the duty of religious leaders to not hide their religious zeal and passion but rather to proudly show the faith and practices in rebellion against fear and hatred to the Law of Moses. Many Bible readers don’t realize that these outward acts of religious practices by the Pharisees originated from a good place! The Jewish leaders wanted to stand their ground against religious sanctions against God’s people. The Jews wanted the Romans to know that they would not be silenced or bullied into not worshipping God!
After the Jews received some lenience of religious freedom from the Roman government, religious leaders paraded the public manifestation of their faith as a banner of overcoming hardship. “The fact that they gained credit by praying at street corners when the hour of prayer came and would have lost credit with people had they not done so, was not recognized by them as lessening the moral worth of the action” (Thompson, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). Nevertheless, these well-intentioned, religious leaders allowed their banner of freedom to become a pendant of pride and shame in the eyes of the Lord because they failed to examine their motives and thoughts in their faith.
Believers today could and have made the same mistake in their shows of religious zeal. The cross worn around one’s neck started as a reminder to Christ’s sacrifice and to be proud of being a Christian. However, ungodly people today wear these pendants as decoration while speaking and acting in unrighteous behaviour. Praying with one’s family at a restaurant my seem like a good way to remind people to thank God for their food, but some zealots have made this act a sanctimonious performance. Wearing nice clothes for the Lord on Sunday morning started as a way to show reverence to God, but some worship-goers now use their nice clothes as a requirement to make their assemblies into a place for the vain and prideful.
Nature of Hypocrisy
Finally, note the character of the hypocrisy that Jesus rebukes in each example.
- Hypocrites engage in religious acts to impress people, not God (Matt. 6:1-8, 16-18).
- Hypocrites are hypercritical to all but themselves (Matt. 7:1-5).
- Hypocrites exalt manmade traditions above inspired precepts (Matt. 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13).
- Hypocrites are more concerned about earthly matters than spiritual matters (Mark 8:11,12; Luke 12:54-57).
- Hypocrites say one thing and mean another (Mark 12:12-17; Luke 20:20-26).
- Hypocrites demonstrate little compassion for hurting people (Luke 13:10-17).
- Hypocrites are one of the greatest deterrents to Christianity (Matt. 23:13-39).
Is our faith guilty of any of these actions? – Be honest with yourself.