The closer we got to Seattle, the heavier the traffic grew. Alean and I became part of a cluster of vehicles and travelers passing and being passed by one another over and over again. As this scene played out, I became aware of a repetitive, high-pitched “beep” that seemed to be coming from over my right shoulder. Eventually, I determined that the repeating tone was coming from the tractor-trailer rig, approaching from behind in the lane to my right. He was part of our little vehicle cluster.
Eventually, the rig passed us, and I noted that, though the semi was moving forward, the backup lights were illuminated, and the repeating tone was the vehicle’s backup alarm. The truck is lying, I thought to myself. What the truck was “saying” was not consistent with what the truck was doing. So for the next 20 miles, in congested city traffic, we endured the repeating tone from the lying semi-truck that was moving forward while claiming to be backing up.
As I tried to ignore the obnoxiously incessant beeping from my neighbor on the freeway, I began thinking about all the ways in which my life is as inconsistent as the message from this semi. Though he claimed to be backing up, it was obvious to everyone who saw him that he was moving forward, just as we were. I claim to be a Christ-follower, but …
“So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:28, NASB
Though we bristle against the term, it really is hypocrisy. It is such an ugly word. Ironically, even full-fledged hypocrites despise hypocrisy.
It was not always such a negative term. The etymology of the word hypocrite takes us back to a Greek theatrical term, hupokritei. It describes the act of assuming, feigning, playing a part. The one on stage is a pretender, an actor, portraying himself or herself as being something or someone she is not.
What makes hypocrite such a repulsive term is the context to which it is applied. Jesus reserved some of his strongest rebukes for those who practiced hypocrisy with regard to their faith.
“And He said to them, ‘Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.”‘” – Mark 7:6, NASB
Jesus sternly rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for shutting the door of the kingdom against the faces of those who were trying to enter it. Was he speaking literally? No, of course not, but through their hypocritical behavior, they did this. They abused widows, engaged in pretentious behavior (“look at me…how holy I am”), created and enforced absurd rules and laws that they themselves were uwilling and unable to follow. They made lofty claims to know what they did not know. They gave great attention to meticulously following the minute details of the Law while stripping it of justice and mercy.
“You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” – Matthew 23:24, NASB
They worked diligently to appear righteous to all who looked upon them, yet allowed all manner of filth and lewdness in their inner-man.
“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.” – Matthew 23:25, NASB
And to really confirm that Jesus is beyond a little incensed, he even goes so far as to say…
“You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” – Matthew 23:33, NASB
Before we nod too enthusiastically at what Jesus is saying to these people, we need to engage an honest session in front of the mirror. Do I cover my inner iniquity with a feigned religiosity when I am around other believers? Am I quick to bind behavioral standards on others yet willing to cut myself some slack in those same areas? Do I strenuously engage in “good Christian behavior” while excusing myself from the weightier matters of showing mercy to the poor, the disenfranchised, the imprisoned, the widowed, and the orphaned?
All of this, Jesus calls hypocrisy. We are so quick to grasp the tweezers to remove the speck from another’s eye while ignoring the bridge-timber embedded in our own.
“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” – Galatians 2:11-13, ESV
Are we willing to fellowship certain people so long as the “holy folks” do not know about it? Do we pretend disapproval when in truth, we just enjoyed a festival with them? Paul calls this hypocrisy. And the sad reality about this particular hypocritical act is that it is infectious – spreading like a raging cancer, as we sacrifice our convictions on the altar of popular approval.
Perhaps the saddest and most alarming reality is that we can become blind to our own hypocrisy. We are hypocrites and we cannot even see that truth about ourselves.
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.” – 1 Timothy 4:1-2, NASB
We become so practiced at our feigned religiosity that we begin to believe our own masks. Our conscience is so seared that we cannot feel the nails driven into it. At this point, we have become the victim of our own play-acting, and the end-result may one day be that we stand in protest, saying, “Lord, Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or in prison and not minister to you?” (Matthew 25:44)
“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” – John 4:23-24, The Message
Victoriously in Christ!