Hypocrisy is an unpleasant word that signals an empty and shallow life. A hypocrite is defined by Webster as "a person who pretends to be what he is not; one who pretends to be better than he really is, or to be pious, virtuous, etc., without really being so."(1) The English word "hypocrisy" is a translation of the Greek word hupokrisis. Thayer defines this word as "the acting of a stage-player . . . dissimulation, hypocrisy."(2) In Classical Greek, this word referred to a stage actor. He usually wore a mask, and in speech and action imitated the character whom he represented in the play. There was no inherent connotation of evil or deception involved in the early use of the term. However, with the passing of time, the word took on a bad meaning. It came to denote one who pretended to be what he was not, especially in the areas of religion and morality. The New Testament always uses the word in a evil sense.(3)
What does the New Testament have to say about hypocrisy? Jesus repeatedly condemned the Scribes and the Pharisees for this failure. He said, "Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" (Lk. 12:1). Matthew 23 contains a scathing rebuke of their fraudulent faith. Seven times Jesus said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" (Matt. 23:13,14,15,23,25,27,29) The language of this chapter is harsh, blunt, and severe. Our Lord had no patience whatever with their inconsistency and deception. Jesus said that Isaiah had prophesied of their hypocrisy, saying, "This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me" (Mk. 7:6).
For the hypocrite, religion is but an outward show; he only pays lip service to Christianity. Let us remember that Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees because "they say, and do not" (Matt. 23:3). A hypocrite is a fellow who isn't himself on Sundays. He prays, "Lord, help me be an influence for good," and then lives like the devil. He sings, "Have thine own way, Lord," and then does as he pleases. The hypocrite prays, "Bring us back at the next appointed time," and then sits home on Sunday evening to watch television. The hypocrite prays, "Grant that sinners may be saved," but never talks to his friends and neighbors about their souls. The hypocrite prays, "Forgive us of our sins as we forgive our debtors," but will hold a grudge till his dying day. The hypocrite prays, "Help us raise our children to be faithful to the Lord," and then leads them astray through his bad example. He sings, "All to Jesus I surrender," when in fact he is the servant of sin. Let us remember that the Lord has never been pleased with those who "say, and do not." The same could be said of those who "pray, and do not."
Paul said, "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ" (Phil. 1:9-10). The Greek word translated "sincere" has an interesting history. In ancient times, certain dishonest merchants would take a damaged vessel, and smooth wax into the cracks to make it look unbroken. The word "sincere" describes that which is found to be whole when examined by the sun's light.(4) In a moral sense, our lives must be "without wax"! Our outward appearance and our inner character must match.
However, some people attempt to hide behind a mask of pretended righteousness. They try to deceive others and also attempt to fool themselves. They think that as long as their sin is not discovered by men, God won't notice it either. Hypocrisy is foolish and futile because we cannot hide anything from the omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient One who will judge us in that final day. At the day of judgment, our character and manner of life will be exposed for all to see. Every idle word, every evil thought, and every hidden deed will be brought to light. Hebrews 4:12-13 says, "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the hearts. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do."
The wisdom that is from above is "without hypocrisy" (Jas. 3:17). Those who would grow as Christians must lay aside "all guile and hypocrisies" (1 Pet. 2:1-2). We must avoid hypocrisy both in worship (Matt. 6:1-5; 15:7-9) and in judgment (Matt. 7:1-5; Rom. 2:1-3,17ff). When the Final Judgment is pictured in Matthew 24 and 25, those who are condemned to hell are assigned a place with the hypocrites (Matt. 24:51). This reveals the ultimate destiny of those who feign righteousness.
A hypocrite obstructs the work of God. After viewing hypocrisy in the church, the statement is sometimes made, "If that is what Christianity is all about, I don't want any part of it." In a way this response is understandable. A hypocrite is universally despised. There is no rogue like a godly rogue. He does the devil's work in the house of God. Let us condemn this sin in all its forms. No excuse can be made for those whose lights have gone out. No defense can be made for salt that has lost its savor. No justification can be given for inconsistency between faith and practice. Christians should live so as to attract rather than repel. However, anyone who would use the hypocrisy of others to excuse himself is "copping out."
The fellow who is always complaining about hypocrites in the church has the outlook of a buzzard: he overlooks all the live sheep and sees only the dead ones. The famous preacher, Billy Sunday, once said, "Hypocrites in the Church? Yes, and in the lodge, and at home. Don't hunt through the Church for a hypocrite. Go home and look in the glass. Hypocrites? Yes. See that you make the number one less."(5) As Arthur Adams once said, "Don't stay away from church because there are so many hypocrites. There's always room for one more."(6)
No justification can be made for hypocrisy. This horrible sin has no place in the life of a Christian. However, don't let the hypocrisy of others come between you and God. We don't throw away good money because some bills are counterfeit. By the same token, we should not reject Christianity because there are some phony Christians.
1. Webster's New World Dictionary, 2nd College ed. (1970), s.v. "Hypocrite."
2. Joseph Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. "Hupokrisis (G5272)."
3. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised Ed. (1982), s.v. "Hypocrisy."
4. Thayer, s.v. "Eilikrines (G1506)."
5. W.A. ("Billy") Sunday, as quoted by Frank S. Mead, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1965), p. 242.
6. Arthur R. Adams, as quoted by Mead, p. 240.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 6, pp. 181-182