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"You Can Fool Most of the People..."

The Biblical View of Hypocrisy


by Dennis Pollock

Hypocrisy is an attribute that is condemned by nearly everybody, saints and sinners alike. Ungodly, irreverent folks often use hypocrisy as an excuse for staying away from church. When asked about attending church, they love to fume with all the indignation they can muster: "There's no way I'll ever go to church. The churches are filled with nothing but hypocrites!" Many of them have hardly attended church, but they have a friend whose mother's cousin's mechanic is a deacon in his church and reportedly rips off his customers. And that settles the question for them, once and for all!

But it is not just the irreligious who have a distaste for hypocrisy. In all the Bible no one spoke more against hypocrisy and hypocrites than our Lord Jesus Christ. In Matthew 5 He speaks of the evil servant who expects his master to delay his return. Jesus says that this man beats his fellow servants and drinks with the drunkards, and adds that he will eventually be given his portion with the hypocrites. Thus the primary attribute our Lord gives for those who will find themselves in that terrible place of darkness where the consuming worm never dies is hypocrisy. If you are eager to go to hell, there is no surer road to it than the life of the hypocrite.

Definition of a Hypocrite

So what exactly is hypocrisy? In the famous sermon on the mount Jesus speaks of the individual who is eager to fix everybody else's problems. This person is so eager to straighten folks out, he attempts to remove tiny, little specks from their eyes. But his efforts aren't too successful, mainly because he has a big long board in his own eye. Jesus thunders, "Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:5).  In another place He rebukes the Pharisees who place a high premium on adhering to even the tiniest, least consequential religious duties, but fail miserably to show love and mercy to the poor and weak. In some cases they would take the property from destitute widows, all the while taking great pride in their religious devotion and public prayers. Jesus declares, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation" (Matthew 23:14).

Biblically speaking, hypocrisy exists when your actions, your lifestyle, and your heart do not at all correspond with your religious convictions, beliefs, and pronouncements. The atheist who makes no profession of faith and never pretends to hold any religious beliefs is no hypocrite. He may be evil; he may be selfish, he is decidedly foolish, but he is no hypocrite. That title is reserved for those who read the Bible, pray at dinnertime, tell others about their faith in God, sing hymns, dress up nicely for church every Sunday, and yet live carnally and selfishly Monday through Saturday.

In the twenty-third chapter of Matthew we read an entire sermon by our Lord against religious hypocrites. In this sermon Jesus is furious, and you get the impression that He had been waiting for some time to deliver this scathing rebuke to the Pharisees, the world class hypocrites of the Jewish nation in those days. Now that His time had come to go to the cross and die for the sins of the world, He let loose with a barrage of holy outrage. Again and again we read the words, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…" This is no seeker-sensitive Jesus here. He is enraged with the religious leaders of Israel for abusing and misleading the sheep of God. He says, "You travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" (Matthew 23:15). He calls them "white-washed tombs" which appear beautiful on the outside but are full of death and stench on the inside. He accuses them of straining at gnats and swallowing camels. Finally, Jesus sums up their terrible spiritual condition with the words, "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" (Matthew 23:33).

Wow! Is it any wonder the religious leaders were so determined to have Jesus put to death? Until Jesus came along these men were praised and admired as the spiritual elite of Israel. They were considered the very essence of holiness, the devout of the devout, the holiest, purest examples of godliness, upon whom the favor of God rested in abundance. They wore the finest robes, sat in the most prominent seats at feasts and parties, and were what every Jewish mother wished her sons to become. Now this uneducated carpenter from Nazareth had the audacity to call them snakes and fools, and to declare they were headed for certain destruction and wrath.

Hypocrisy in the Pulpit


In my own life, I got a great big taste of hypocrisy in the church where my family attended for years. The pastor of that church, who had been a mainstay there for decades, was exceedingly tough in his preaching. He preached hard, tough messages, challenging the congregation to dress conservatively and to give up virtually all forms of entertainment. The litany of sins Christians must avoid was almost endless in his eyes. In addition to the basic sins the Bible condemned he added liberally to the list with all sorts of cultural evils he felt were abominations to be avoided at all cost. Women were especially picked on. Wearing lipstick was a sin, as was short hair, eye makeup, and dresses anywhere close to the knee. It was an abomination for women to wear pants, and shorts were unthinkable. Even short sleeved shirts were to be avoided and sleeveless tops were a terrible offence. All sorts of games and recreations were also taboo. Attending a professional sports event was "worldly" as were bowling, playing card games, and going to the theater to watch a movie. After all, what if Jesus should come back and find you in the movie theater watching some worldly movie? He discouraged young people from getting involved romantically, but if they did, they should be extra careful, even avoiding hand holding, which would surely lead to worse things.

With all his emphasis upon avoiding sin and its very appearance, he drove off many visitors after their first visit, who looked upon him (rightfully) as a fanatic. But those who stayed around very long usually came to look upon him as a very holy man, who lived on a plane far above ordinary mortals. Then one day everything fell apart. A young woman accused the pastor of sexually molesting her over 100 times during her youth. As the word got out another woman came forward and said he had done the same to her, and then another, and then another. Within a short time this pastor, who had been looked upon as a paragon of virtue and rectitude, was exposed as one of the most sexually deviant ministers in the history of the Christian church in America. While he was shaming young teenage couples from the pulpit for holding hands and condemning women for wearing lipstick, he was seducing young girls in his parsonage and committing unspeakable acts with them. His perversion and abuse had gone on for decades. Apparently most of his victims were too intimidated by him to report his crimes, and those who did were not believed… until that one day when his subjects found out far too late that the emperor had no clothes on. His façade of righteousness was a cruel joke.

PhariseeJesus tells us, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known." God is the great exposer of hypocrisy. Often he does it in this life, but not always. Sometimes men and women go to their graves having fooled nearly everyone with their pretense of decency and propriety. But in truth they have gotten away with nothing. There is nothing covered that will not be revealed. On that great day when men and women stand before the judgment bar of God, every hidden act will be laid bare, every motive exposed, and every hypocrite revealed. All those who talked a good game but never lived it will be unmasked. The Bible says, "All things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13)

There are two types of hypocrites: the deliberate hypocrites and the unconscious hypocrites. The deliberate hypocrites know what they're doing; they know that their lives and their declarations don't come close to matching, but it doesn't bother them much. In the 1970's a young man named Marjoe Gortner went around preaching in Pentecostal churches and made quite a splash. He was a great speaker, he was nice looking, and many people came to Christ. The only problem was he wasn't a believer at all. In his final year before he went on to try his luck in Hollywood, he took a camera crew with him and produced a documentary about his ministry. Since this was the last year he intended to preach, he was quite candid and fully admitted this was simply a business he was in to make money. He mocked Christianity and especially the Pentecostal folks who looked upon him as a ministry superstar. Once he painted his forehead with a cross, using invisible ink which would turn reddish in color when mixed with sweat. As he preached and warmed up in his preaching, sure enough the red cross appeared on his forehead and amazed his listeners. Gortner related: "I had that whole audience… it made it very easy for me to take offerings and receive money."

Unconscious Hypocrites

As horrible as the deliberate hypocrites are, the unconscious hypocrites are probably in a worse position. The deliberate hypocrites at least know they are hypocrites. Their conscience may eventually bother them and result in repentance, but the unconscious hypocrites are clueless. They actually think they are as righteous as they portray themselves to be. The Pharisees were in this category. They totally believed themselves to be the most virtuous men in all of Israel. And yet in the eyes of Jesus they were vile and deserving of nothing but hell and judgment, "devouring widow's houses, and for a pretense making long prayers," conscientiously paying tithes on tiny amounts of spices they were given, and yet totally ignoring justice for the poor, and mercy for the unfortunate.

What is the answer to hypocrisy? In a word it is Christ. It is Jesus Christ living in us, flooding our hearts with God's love through the Holy Spirit. Religion alone always leads to hypocrisy. Rules and commandments, committee meetings and organizational plans, five year goals and church growth tactics, the desire to be holy, and strenuous attempts at righteousness, apart from Jesus Christ and His love will always tend toward legalism. In fact religion itself is deadly in this regard. Religious people tend to be the most hypocritical folks you will ever meet, if their hearts are not saturated with Jesus and His love.

Jesus and the Love of God

Love for God, love for Jesus Christ, and love for people: all of these are the work of the Holy Spirit. None of us has even the slightest degree of divine love naturally within us. This love is given us as a gift when we are born again, but we must continually look to Jesus and abide in Him that God's love may always increase in us and never wane. The Bible says, "The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:5). Divine love, given us through Jesus Christ, is the antidote for hypocrisy, both deliberate and unconscious. Where this love is active and present in a life, hypocrisy can gain no foothold. Let us come to Jesus and receive from Him that love which will give us "boldness in the day of judgment" (1 John 4:17).

As for those famous "hypocrites in the church" of which sinners continually complain, there is no need for excessive worry. The Bible tells us, "The Lord knows those who are His" (2 Timothy 2:19). We may not be able to tell between the true and the false. There may be some clever deceivers so skilled at pretending to be righteous that they will fool us all, but they will never fool God. And in the end all will be sorted out. The true believers will be taken to live with Christ forever, and the hypocrites will go to that place reserved for those whose pious professions did not accord with their lives and deeds.

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