By Mike Willis
Every week, I am privileged to conduct a call-in radio program on one of the local stations. During the course of an hour, I usually receive eleven to fourteen calls. In a recent program, a lady called to state that the reason she did not attend church service somewhere was because of the hypocrites in the church. During the remainder of the program, a clear one-third of all of the calls which I received pertained to hypocrisy in Christians. Surely, this is indicative of our need to be sure that we are not guilty of hypocrisy.
Defining the Word
What is a hypocrite? In order to answer that question, let us consider the meaning of the Greek words hupokritas and hupokrisis. Surprisingly, in classical Greek these words are rather neutral in meaning; they have neither a good nor bad connotation. The hupokrites in classical Greek was the man who expounded or interpreted. He was also the man who answered another. Because a play is a work which is made up of question and answer, it was not long before the words were used to refer to the ones who participated in the play. Hence, the hupokrites was the actor. From this latter usage, hupokrites developed its bad sense.
Because the actor is one who plays a part, the word came to mean a man who pretends to be what he is not. The art of the actor is that from the moment he dons the mask his whole conduct on stage should be in keeping with his allotted role. In ancient theaters, the actor used a mask to cover his face in order to help him to pretend to be the character whose role he assumed. From the moment he donned the mask, the hupokritts pretended to be someone other than who he really was. Soon, the word hupokrites was used to refer to the man who made human life the stage and his conduct his role. It came to refer to the man who pretended to be righteous when he was wicked.
Examples of Hypocrisy
To further illustrate the meaning of the word hypocrisy and to show God’s attitude toward the hypocrite, let us consider some biblical examples of hypocrisy.
1. Peter (Gal. 2:13). This passage records the conduct of Peter while he was in Antioch. In the early church, Antioch was one of the first congregations to overcome its Jewish background sufficiently to break down the middle wall of partition which separated the Jews and Gentiles. In Antioch, the two groups had fellowship with each other; they ate meals together. When Peter came to Antioch, he joined right in with the two groups. He ate with Gentiles on the same basis as he ate with Jews. Soon, however, some men from the Jerusalem church arrived in Antioch. The Jerusalem Christians apparently still clung to their Jewish heritage. These men would have considered it a sin to eat with a Gentile. Consequently, they would disapprove of what was going on in Antioch. When these men arrived in Antioch, Peter donned his mask; he pretended to be what he was not. Whereas he had been eating with the Gentiles, when the men from Jerusalem arrived he ceased to have anything to do with the Gentiles. Hence, he was playing a part, pretending to be different to what he really was. Consequently, we read this report of what happened in Antioch:
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-13).
This example from the New Testament illustrates what a hypocrite is; he is a man who pretends to be something he is not.
2. Matt. 23. Consider the various passages in this chapter which illustrate to us what the hypocrite is. Here is Jesus’ description of the hypocrisy in the Jews; He said:
The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do sad observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them. And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men (vs. 1-5).
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive a greater condemnation (v. 14).
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (v. 23-24).
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also (vs. 25-26).
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (vs. 27-18).
These passages very well portray the nature of hypocrisy. Like the beautiful mausoleum which is very beautiful on the outside but full of decaying bodies on the inside, the hypocrite puts on a front which is very attractive but inwardly he is full of wickedness.
Hypocrisy Is Still In the Church
There is probably no church which is without hypocrites. I have been in the company of song .leaders who told more ungodly stories than many non-Christians with whom I have associated. Having had the opportunity to know a few Christian businessmen, I have. heard many of them warn me not to do business with other Christians. When asked to tell me why they said that, they began to tell me of one case after another of brethren in the local church who were indebted to them and who refused to even answer their statements of debt. Quite frankly, I would have had a pretty hard time following such a brother when he led the congregation in prayer if he refused to pay his debts and I knew about it.
I have known of men who served the church in various capacities getting involved in immoralities. Rather than having the decency of resigning from the offices which they held or classes which they taught, they preferred to play the hypocrite. Consequently, they manifested this spotless image to the church while wallowing in the immoralities of sin. That, my brethren, is hypocrisy.
We could cite other examples of hypocrisy. The man who pretends to be righteous but who cheats on his income taxes is a hypocrite. The man who portrays the image of a faithful Christian while loafing on the job which he is being paid to perform is a hypocrite.. The man who waits on the Lord’s table but lies when asked about the condition of the car which he is selling is a hypocrite.
Not All Sinners Are Hypocrites
Let me hasten to relate that not all sinners are hypocrites. None of us who claim to be Christians can live a perfect life. Consequently, we are going to be guilty of sin from time to time. The man who, when guilty of sin, falls down on his knees, prays to God for forgiveness, and honestly tries to cease practicing the sin of which he is repenting is not a hypocrite. This man is not trying to put on a cloak of righteousness to cover the wicked conduct in which he is engaged; he is a man who openly admits his guilt and asks God’s forgiveness. The hypocrite is aware of his guilt but has no intention of quitting his sinful conduct. Rather, he only wants to retain the respect of God’s people while following the Devil.
The hypocrite has the ability to hide his devious deeds from the sight of men, at least some men on some occasions. However, he can never conceal his conduct from God. Though the hypocrite might have a good reputation among men, his character is rotten and God knows it. The hypocrite is, therefore, a man who cares more about what men think of him than what God thinks of him.
God has revealed to us that all hypocrites will be exposed. Jesus said,
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops (Lk. 12:1 3).
The hypocrite will be exposed by God at the judgment. At that time, God shall tear away the cloak of righteousness with which the hypocrite hides his wicked heart underneath. Every idle word (Mt. 12:36) and every evil thought (Heb. 4:13) will be exposed for what it is.
Are you ready to stand before the judgment seat of Christ? Only the man who is protected by the blood of Christ can stand before God. Having had his sins washed away, this man is acceptable to God Almighty. The hypocrite, on the other hand, will be cast into Hell. Let us be sure that our righteousness is genuine and not feigned.
Truth Magazine XXII: 17, pp. 275-277
April 27, 1978