Hypocrisy and Hypocrites
by CWK, 1.26.10
Hypocrisy has been defined as “doing one thing and saying another.” This contemporary definition is taken for granted, but is both incorrect and dangerous. Why? It focuses our attention only on externals, and leaves sincere people feeling guilty.
gk. hypokrites = originally, a theatrical actor; we need to meditate on what a theatre actor does, and we will have a glimpse into religious hypocrisy. Fundamentally, an actor is ‘acting,’ i.e. not his/her true self; they are acting like someone they are not, playing a role. Thus, there is always an element of unreality. Also, an actor is there to entertain; an actor is focused on pleasing the human audience. Thus, actors are known for ostentation, show-manship.
hypokrites is used frequently in Matthew: Mt. 6.2, 6, 16; 7.5; 15.7; 22.18; 23.4, etc.; 24.51). In the LXX + term for the godless.
“These religious show-offs are “actors” in that they aim to impress others, but at the same time their behavior demonstrates how far they are out of touch with God’s understanding of “righteousness” (France, NICNT, Matthew, 237).
“(Yeast is a metaphor for that which has) penetrating power... corrupting influence... The Pharisaic mind-set is represented as a contaminant with potential to invade even the company of Jesus’ followers. Pushing the metaphor further, Jesus also builds on the secretive nature of yeast, the work of which is concealed at first, apparent later (Lk. 12.2-3)... Such yeast must be avoided, Jesus warns, because nothing will remain hidden... (‘will be manifest’ could mean)... First... the inner dispositions of people are evident in their outward behavior (cf. Lk. 8.17; 11.33-36; 6.43-45)....Second, and more at home in this co-text, the true constitution of a disciple will come to light in the experience of persecution – and, as is becoming more and more clear, persecution is the lot of those who are faithful to God in the midst of an evil generation (6.22-23, 27-28). Third, Jesus’ caution that all will be made manifest may be read as an eschatological warning: Conversation presumed to be secret now will become public then (Joel Green, NICNT, Luke, 480-481).”
“ (Scribes and Pharisees) are accused of having missed the point of true religion especially by focusing on minutiae and externals instead of on the essentials of the sort of life God really desires. This tragically distorted perspective has become so entrenched that it has made them enemies of God’s true messengers (Mt. 23.29-36) (R.T. France, NICNT, Matthew, 869).”
The antidote to hypocrisy? God-centeredness (cf. Lk. 12.1).
It must be acknowledged that hypocritical professors of religion, they do abundance of mischief to souls in this respect: they make a fair and pompous show, a more than ordinary profession; they will always be aping of religion. And no wonder it appears unlovely, as ‘tis in them: it is because they have it not. Hypocritical professors of godliness do more hurt to religion than the most profligate, openly profane man. Men have their eyes upon them, to see what is in them, and they see that it is unlovely; and so they judge all religion to be. The most amiable things, when they are counterfeit, appear the most unlovely... Thus the shape of an ape and their actions are most deformed and ridiculous because they imitate man’s. Religion and knowledge in hypocrites is dead, and appears as deformed, dreadful and melancholy as the countenance of a dead man, whereas, perhaps when alive [was] very amiable. Those who are pretenders to religion, and nothing else, they spoil it and deform it; they make it look dreadful. They don’t know what it is, and can’t imitate it exactly. The only make a bugbear of it, to fright men from religion; make men think that religion consists very much in a melancholy disposition and sour temper; whereas would have a commanding loveliness if it were real and true. And even some that are godly, by their unwariness and imprudence, may do hurt in this regard, mistaking that to be religion in some things which is not so, and not practicing in all things according to pure and lovely Christianity. Whatever we see truly unlovely in any respect in persons, is not religion. (Jonathon Edwards, A Spiritual Understanding Of Divine Things, vol. 14 of works, pg. 92).
II. Hypocrisy and Sincerity Defined
All their works they do to be seen by men (Mt. 23.4-5).”
“They appear outward beautiful, but are within full of dead bones, and of all uncleanness... (they) appear righteous to men, but within are full of hypocrisy and iniquity (v.27-28).”
A hypocrite is, “a person whose conduct is not determined by God and is thus ‘godless (Giesen, upokrisis).’”
A person, “whose concerns with legal observance were not rooted in the love of God or in a commitment to justice (Lk. 11.42; cf. 10.25-37) (Joel Green, NICNT, Luke, 480).”
1. Focusing on externals to neglect of internal.
2. Putting on a show.
3. Cleaning the outside of cup, and neglecting inside; putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.
4. Doing works as a public show ‘to be seen by men,’ i.e. practical atheism, as if humans were the only audience.
5. Living like image is everything; putting on costumes to impress.
6. Hunger for honorific titles.
7. Obsession with external items (in our day = clothing, tattoos, necklaces, bracelets, etc.) to show and identify piety.
8. Focus on minutiae of law-keeping, while neglecting true godly priorities.
1. Confessing sin honestly in high-definition (1 John 1.9)
2. More concerned about God’s opinion than man’s – doing acts of righteousness toward God, to be seen by Him.
3. Loving God’s law in the heart, even if failing in practice.
4. Focus on the inner, hidden person.
5. Living before God, knowing that He sees and knows all – down to heart motives, and that on the judgment day he will bring every last deed into judgment, including ‘every hidden thing – whether good or evil (Eccl. 12.13-14).” In short, doing everything before the Lord, to the Lord, for His glory (1 Cor. 11.33).
So, the contrast of hypocrisy is NOT between word and deed, but between external and internal. Actually, the practice of hypocrites appears perfect, beautiful, spotless – it is their heart which is ugly (Mt. 23.27-28).
Thus, the biggest hypocrites probably look most righteous to us.
III. Questions to Diagnose Hypocrisy
1) Is our focus on external or internal?
2) Do we find ourselves ‘putting on a show’ around men, hoping they see us and take note of what good people we are?
3) Do we long for praise of God, or praise of men? Who is the real ‘audience’ of our lives?
4) Is there an inconsistency between who people think we are and who we actually are?
5) Are we more concerned with our image than with heart holiness?
6) Are we honest with people about our failings, faults, frailty?
7) Are we obsessed with external trappings of religiosity: looking good at Church, having the ‘right’ Bible, being a well-known teacher, looking like the perfect Christian family, wearing Christian apparel, trinkets (
23.5-6)? see Mt.
8) Are we more concerned with style, or substance?
9) When we pray, fast, give, sing, preach... who are we doing these things for? Who are we most concerned about? God? Man?
A hypocrite is not someone who, “says one thing and does another.” This is defining hypocrisy by a contrast between word and deed, profession and practice. By this rule, the apostle Paul was a hypocrite of the first order, “For the good that I want to do, I don’t do, but the evil which I don’t want to do – this I do (Romans 7.19).” If we say something is evil, and then we do it, that does not prove we are hypocrites. It may prove we are Christians.
The Christians is one who is in the fight against sin. They are, as Hal Farnsworth put it, “free to struggle.” The Christian is one who is battling to conform their lives to goodness. They profess and cling to what is good. Alas, they still do what is evil from time to time. In their inmost being they delight in the law of God, but their external practice often falls short, “For I delight in the law of God in terms of the inner man, but I see another law at work in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Romans 7.22-23).”
So, it is not hypocrisy to confess something as good with our mouths and hearts, and then do the very opposite.
If Christianity consists of loving good in our hearts, but then failing in external practice, then hypocrisy is loving evil in our hearts, and putting on a show of external practice. Hypocrisy means, literally, “play acting.” It is putting on an external show when our heart is ‘far from God.’ It is pretending. It is pretension. It is cleaning the outside of the cup spic and span, and then leaving the inside filthy and corrupt. Hypocrisy is an inconsistency between heart and deed; it is focusing on the externals to the neglect of the internal. It is a life of smoke and mirrors. It is a life of putting on more and more make up.
Christians should be encouraged to confess their sins, and be honest about their failings. They should feel free to struggle.
The definition of hypocrisy as, “saying one thing and doing another,” is bound to leave people feeling guilty, while all the time trying to make their words and deeds consistent. Defining hypocrisy like this drives people to hypocrisy. It drives them to spiff up their external behavior. This definition fails to focus on the heart. The above is a cliché, something you hear in the streets again and again. Some people say it from the rooftops while they look down on poor, struggling Christians. There is an heir of self-righteousness, judgmentalism – aye, hypocrisy – in such a definition.
 We need to be aware just how powerful examples of hypocrisy are, and just how easily we ourselves fall into a lifestyle of hypocrisy. Jesus gives this warning because we need it, and if we don’t heed it, we are in danger of hypocrisy. Consider your own (much more than other's) danger of being hypocrites, the Lord Jesus is saying.
 Phylacteries were small leather boxes which housed important scriptures from the law. They were worn on the forehead and arm in a literal application of Dt. 6.8, 11.18. The boxes or straps that kept them in place could be made more ‘showy’ by making them larger (see France, Matthew, 862).