In the early days of acting a hypocrite was considered a good term. It described an actor who could put on many different faces or masks. Actors in the Greek theatre wore masks depicting an emotion. The masks were large, often twice the size of an actor’s face, so they could be easily seen. The Jews used the word hypocrite to describe a liar, deceiver, two-faced, or one who hid his true nature behind a mask.
How would you define the word hypocrite? To be a hypocrite is to believe one thing and behave contrary to your beliefs. If someone called you a hypocrite, how would that make you feel? Christians often get labeled as hypocrites. Christians are hypocrites, but so are non-Christians. Non-Christians believe people should behave a certain way based on various values, and Christians believe you should behave in a way that mimics Christ.
In the Gospels, Jesus accuses the Pharisees of hypocrisy because they used brassy actions that attracted attention, but covered their true heart intentions. They would pretend to do what was really important to God, but Jesus since He was God had x-ray vision into they hearts.
The religious are often the most hypocritical. The Pharisees were outwardly very religious people. The Pharisees controlled the synagogues, its teachings, and were regarded as the chief interpreters of Jewish legalism. They not only believed the Law, they expanded it to include 400-plus rules, and insisted everyone else follow too. Jesus used hypocrite to describe the Pharisees and pronounced seven woes on them for their hypocrisy.
What are the various faces of a hypocrite? And do you wear masks that fit?
First, hypocrites add to the message of the gospel [Matthew 23:13]. The message of the gospel is a simple message: you are rebellious sinner separated from God, but Jesus came to redeem sinful man through the cross, and only those who respond through faith and repentance will be redeemed forever. Though it is a simple message it is not easy. To make the application of the gospel message more than “repent and believe” by adding church attendance, tithing, baptism or any other work as prerequisites for salvation is duplicitous to the work of Christ.
Second, hypocrites use God to manipulate other people [14-15]. Hypocrites commonly devour people for selfish reasons. Hypocrites will injure people with their words and cover with a pious action. Some in the name of God have used and abused their listeners. That is blasphemous. Hypocrites are good at winning debates and proselytizing people to their own opinions. Jesus says the missionary efforts of hypocrites pave the way to hell. Instead of converting people to Christ, hypocrite’s covert people to their system that do not leave room for a Messiah.
Third, hypocrites seek to squeeze out of commitments [16-22]. Hypocrites are skilled liars. They know the loopholes or lingo to get out of commitments. They will make religious oaths with religious loopholes. Jesus says that all oaths are related to God and therefore binding [cf. Matthew 5:33-37]. Evasive oaths are not oath, but lies.
Some Christians say that they are committed to God because they read their Bibles everyday, pray before their meals, go to church faithfully, and give to good causes, but one glance at their life and you would see a huge disconnect. You can commit to all good things making yourself look godly [i.e. reading the Word, prayer, and serving the church], but if your commitments are not rooted in Christ they are self-centered facades.
Fourth, hypocrites are masters at making little things big and big things little [23-24]. Jesus condemns the Pharisees for not understanding God’s Law. The Law required that everything produced should be tithed to the Temple. The silly act that Jesus describes of counting every kernel of spice to make sure that it amounted to exactly 10 percent, no more and no less. Jesus was not criticizing tithing, but was pointing out that true righteousness results in godly behavior—not just an appearance of godliness.
How is it easier to focus on doing the little things—those less personal—than the big ones? Doing small duties are easy, but delving your heart, soul and mind into following Christ takes discipline, time and sacrifice. What did Jesus emphasize in His example of straining at gnats but swallowing a camel? There is great danger in focusing on the things that don’t matter, while ignoring the things that do. For example, some come to church on Sundays to worship God, but Monday through Saturday you are living separate from God. Sunday for them is a show, rather than serious occasion to worship God with His people that transform the rest of their workweek.
Fifth, hypocrites are concerned more about the outside than the inside [23:25-32]. Jesus casts two disturbing pictures of the Pharisees emphasize the outer man over the inner man. The first example is of keeping the outside of a vessel clean without taking the time to clean the inside [25-26]. Would you eat off a plate that was not fully clean, but caked with yesterday’s casserole? Or would you drink from a cup with three-day old milk marks inside? Of course not, that is just gross. That is exactly Jesus’ point. You are clean on the outside, but inside you are unclean.
The second example is decorating the outside of tombs. You can spend all your time on beautifying things that really don’t matter. People spend big bucks on making our faces look better, teeth whiter, clothes brighter, hair shinier, and body thinner. This might make you look good for a time, but in light of eternity it does not matter A beautiful tombstone does not change the condition of the decaying body within. Neither does a mask of Christian righteousness make a person who is dead to Christ inside into a true Christian [cf. Matthew 6:1-3; 15:1-11; 22:18-22]. What you do if you knew no one would see reveals who you really are and whom you really live for!
How do hypocrites stop playing with masks and start being authentic in Christ?
First, realize hell has hypocrites . Hypocrisy reveals your hearts intents. The difficult truth is, the more hypocrisy you have in your heart the harder it is to change. Followers of Christ hate hypocrisy in their hearts and are committed to change in Christ. If a hypocrite continues in hypocrisy there is a good chance he is not a follower of Christ. If there is no change hell is on your horizon.
Second, repent and open yourself to God [34-36]. The response of the Pharisee should have been, “You are the Messiah, forgive us our sins.” However, they would not respond and repent, rather they recoiled to their hardheartedness. Jesus, the Messenger of the gospel, prophesies about other messengers He will send [i.e. apostles, disciples and followers] who will confront the religious system with their wholehearted commitment to their Lord Christ Jesus. Yet just as they rejected and killed Jesus, they will reject and kill His messengers. 1 Peter 2:22-25 says,
“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
Third, restore intimacy with your Savior [37-39]. God is a restorer of His people. This is a great promise. When repentance is authentic, restoration of intimacy with God follows. As 1 Peter 2:1-3 says,
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Fourth, remember servanthood is your calling [23:11-12]. Not serving yourself, but serving your Master, Christ. To preface Jesus’ woeful concerns towards hypocrisy He says, “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
In conclusion, do not criticize the Pharisee for his hypocrisy for Jesus shares this message not only to them, but also to you. You could be a Pharisee too. Remove your masks. Repent; allow God to restore, and remember your position under God is a humble servant. Pharisees have infected the Christian community. Subtly. But Jesus thinks the heart condition of hypocrites is a serious matter to consider.