Hypocrisy Misunderstood

What is hypocrisy? If you were to ask any person, the answer that you would likely get is, “Hypocrisy is practicing the opposite of what you preach.” While this is indeed true–that the one who is a hypocrite does not live in the same manner that he preaches, this contradictory living is merely a fruit of hypocrisy rather than the essence of hypocrisy. For if this were hypocrisy in its essence, all men would be hypocrites at some times, for all men are sinners.

To understand what hypocrisy is, we must understand its roots. The word “hypocrisy” comes directly from the Greek language, and it was a term used of actors who wore masks that covered their true identities. When Christ employs to term to speak of the Pharisees, he is condemning them for their mask-wearing–for their desire to appear holy and righteous before men not before God.

This is hypocrisy in its essence, viz. the desire to be esteemed by men rather than by God. For the business of making a good appearance before men does not demand a transformed life and heart, but it demands the ability for one to put on a good show. Contrarily, the one who is not a hypocrite is not concerned with putting on good show before men, but he is concerned with pleasing God–the one Being who is not deceived by masks and outward appearances.

Therefore, the question that must be raised is, “What is the desire of your heart, to please men or to please God?” For if your desire is to please men, be it in a religious, cultural, or economic setting, you will be a hypocrite, for your concern is not about righteousness or holiness, but it is about living your life in such a way that you garner for yourself the praise of men. Think upon the practices of your life–how you dress, the music you listen to, the gifts you give, the meetings you attend–do you practice these things so that you might honor God, or do you do them so that men might think more highly of you? For if your desire is to be esteemed by men, you will by necessity be reduced to mask-wearing for the mere sake of keeping up appearances.

For as the prophet Isaiah condemns the hypocrites of his day:

This people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men (Is. 29:13).

And as the apostle Paul speaks concerning those who are truly in the covenant of God:

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart by the Spirit not by the letter, his praise is not from man from God (Rm. 2:28, 29).

Meditate upon your present state, whether you desire to please God or men, for as Christ declares, there will be many hypocrites who appear before him on the Day of Judgment, and there unfolded will be their secrets (cf. Rm. 2:16):

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Mt. 7:21-23).

Categories: Theology

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2 replies

  1. Thanks for the post! This is indeed very important.

    May I define terms?

    Hypocrisy – pretending to be or do something _good_ which you are not or are not doing.

    Pharisism – failing to practice what you preach.

    By these definitions, though the two naturally tend to occur together, "pharisism" may occur without hypocrisy. One can preach something good, not do it, and confess that he has not done it.

    Of tremendous importance is the appropriate one who speaks the truth without living it out: Do as they say, not as they do. (I think Jesus explicitly commands doing this in response to Pharisees speaking the truth but not living it out, but I can't find the passage, if it indeed exists.) It is all too common to focus on how bad someone else is, effectively using that as an excuse to continue to err when they speak the truth of one's error. Instead, the one sinner should listen to the repentant sinner speaking the truth and, likewise, repent.


  2. I think you're right, that hypocrisy does entail appearing to be what one is not, however I believe the heart of the matter resides in where one is looking for praise–either from men or from God. When one seeks the praise of men, he must appear what he is not, because he is not concerned about his heart but with looking good before men. A hypocrite may very well practice what he preaches and be blameless before men, but his heart is in the wrong place. Contrarily, the man who seeks praise from God both practices what he preaches and has a right heart, for his righteousness resides in his heart and is for God alone.

    Thanks again for the input, brother. Grace and peace.


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