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Defining Hypocrisy

March 18, 2008

What is hypocrisy?  I believe that this word is often used inaccurately.

We sometimes think of hypocrisy as a question of motives.  But hypocrisy is not doing good things from impure motives.  If we all waited until our motives were pure to do good, nothing good would ever get done, we will always struggle as long as we are in the body with a measure of selfishness and impurity in our noblest actions.

I learned this from some wise counsel I received early in my Christian life.  I was a junior in college and it was the first time I had ever led an evangelistic Bible study.  And one day I said to a friend who was a little older and was a mentor to me… “I think that my next door neighbor has become a Christian, and I want to go ask him and find out, but I’m not sure that I should.  I’m afraid that I want to know just so I can say ‘Yay! I led someone to Christ!’ and get a notch on my belt and congratulate myself.”  And he had a great answer.  He said, “Well, your motives probably are impure, so just confess your sin of pride to God and go talk to your neighbor anyway.  If he has become a Christian then he needs your encouragement and exhortation to get into the Word.  Why withhold good from him just because your motives aren’t pure?”  So you see my impure motive was sinful, it was selfish, proud and probably several other sins mixed in there, but it wasn’t hypocrisy.  Doing good with an impure motive is not hypocrisy.

Here’s another inaccurate way we use the word.  We often say someone is a hypocrite because they do not practice what they preach.  Or we say of ourselves “I feel like such a hypocrite, I tell my kids to do one thing and then they catch me doing just the opposite.”  That ever happened to you?  Well it’s bad not to be a consistent example to your children, but that’s not hypocrisy.  No one perfectly practices what they preach, so that’s not a good definition of hypocrisy.  By that definition hypocrisy is no different from being a sinner.  The sin of hypocrisy is more defined than that.

So what is it?  What is hypocrisy?  Hypocrisy is the intention to create a false impression.  It is trying to look on the outside what you are not on the inside. The word was used in Greek drama.  Remember the mask that is half happy/half sad?  That actor was the hypocrite. He was two-faced.

So you are not a hypocrite if you do not live up to the Bible’s high moral standards for those who profess faith in Christ.  You are a hypocrite if you try to make other people think that you live up to the Bible’s high moral standards.  You are a hypocrite if you try to hide from people the ways that you fail to live out the holy life called for in the Scriptures.  Hypocrisy is all about concealing sins and looking good on the outside so that others will think well of you.  

That’s why Jesus, immediately after naming the sin of hypocrisy, warns in Luke 12:2 “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” Behold the tragic futility of hypocrisy, it will all be uncovered one day anyway, so why hide?  Or look back to what Jesus said of the Pharisees in 11:44  “Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”  They are concealed tombs. On the outside they are white and shiny, on the inside they are filled with dead man’s bones and every unclean thing and most importantly, they conceal this from other people.

Pharisees do not walk in the light. Pharisees do not confess their sins to one another and pray for each other that they may be healed.

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