Hypocrisy. (Actual hypocrisy.)

How do we know we’re saved? Fruit of the Spirit. Seriously.

Hypocrite /'hɪ.pə.krɪt/ n. One who claims moral standards, beliefs, or practices, to which their private behavior does not conform. Pretender.
[Hypocrisy /hə'pɑk.rə.si/ n., hypocritical /hɪp.ə'krɪd.ə.kəl/ adj.]

People tend to get hypocrisy wrong. They define it as inconsistency—a person says one thing yet does another. A tree-hugging celebrity drives a gas-guzzling Humvee. A politician who rants against outsourcing jobs nonetheless has his suits made in Mexico and China. “Hypocrisy!” pundits screech. But it’s not true hypocrisy unless there’s a coverup.

If I preach against smoking, yet I’m known to indulge a cigar from time to time, it’s certainly inconsistent. I might justify it by pointing out it’s an addiction: “Do as I say, not as I do, ’cause man is it hard to quit.” I’m still totally kicking the legs out from under my argument. But even so, it’s not hypocrisy. Still, people are gonna call it that because they don’t understand what hypocrisy truly means. It’s why we Christians get called hypocrites so often: “You preach we shouldn’t sin, yet you sin. Such a hypocrite.”

But it’s the deception, the lying, the cheating, the subterfuge, which makes it hypocrisy. If I’m vocally against drug use, but secretly snorting mountains of cocaine in secret; if I’m outspoken about the sanctity of marriage, yet I privately cheat on my wife; if I tell everyone I would never drink, and hide that I do, that’s hypocrisy. Lying makes it hypocrisy.

I’m not a hypocrite because I’m a sinner who preaches against sin. I’m pursuing an ideal. Sinlessness is something we oughta strive for. I surely don’t claim I’ve achieved it; Pp 3.12 I suck too. Only if I pretend I have, are we talking hypocrisy.

But to be fair, a lot of us Christians are hypocrites, hiding sins for various reasons. Usually out of pride. Sometimes to fool ourselves. 1Jn 1.8 But we’re not fooling anyone. Everybody knows nobody’s perfect but Jesus. If we’re hiding sins, people know something’s in there somewhere. And it’s the sin-hiding which makes one a hypocrite. Not inconsistency.

Jesus and hypocrisy.

Our word comes from ypókrisis, Greek for “over the face.” In the ancient Greek religion, this was what they called their prophets. Whenever someone claimed to speak for the gods, they’d put on a show. When a man claimed Zeus was speaking through him, he’d assume a deep voice, exaggerated gestures, and perform sort of an impersonation of Zeus. (And since we’re talking fake gods anyway, it was totally an act. “Hypocrite” is a very apt description.)

Comic and tragic masks. Wikimedia

This “prophetic” acting evolved into Greek drama—in other words, real acting. The “prophets” wrote down their “revelations” and handed them off to actors. And just so the folks in the back of the theater knew whether the “gods” were happy or sad, actors would put on literal over-the-face masks. You know those happy and sad masks, associated with drama and the theater? Don’t worry; I included a picture. Hypocrite turned into the Greek term for actor.

Don’t get the wrong idea: There’s nothing wrong with acting. Well, so long that people know it’s an act—when they don’t, it’s fraud.

So when Jesus called the Pharisees “hypocrites,” meaning actors, it was because they were acting, but hiding it, and therefore committing fraud. Sometimes against fellow Pharisees; sometimes against God himself.

Mark 7.6-8 KWL
6B “Isaiah accurately gave this prophecy about you phonies. He prophesied this:
‘The people honor me with lip service. Their heart is kept far distant from me.
7 They worship me for show. They teach human ideas for their teachings.’ Is 29.13
8A You forgive God’s commands, and seize hold of human customs.”
Matthew 23.25-28 KWL
25 “Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how sad for you.
You clean outside the cup and dish; you’re full of schemes and wrongness inside.
26 Blind Pharisee. Clean the inside of the cup first, so its outside can also be clean.
27 Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how sad for you.
You’re like painted mausoleums which look beautiful on the outside.
Inside, it’s full of the dead’s bones. It’s wholly unclean.
28 Likewise outside, you resemble righteous people.
Inside, you’re full of hypocrisy and Law-breaking.”
Matthew 6.1-2, 5, 16 KWL
1 “Watch out to not do your righteous acts before the people to be seen by them.
Otherwise you won’t earn wages from your heavenly Father.
2 So whenever you do charity, don’t toot your own horn,
like hypocrites do in synagogue and on the street, so they can be praised by people.
Amen, I promise you: They got their wages.
5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites
who really like standing in the synagogues and the corners of the main streets,
praying so they might be seen by the people.
Amen! I promise you all: They got their credit.
16 “When you fast, don’t be like the sad-looking hypocrites
who conceal their faces so they look to people like they’re fasting.
Amen! I promise you all: They got their credit.”

Yeah, the Pharisees were inconsistent. Who isn’t? But that’s not what Jesus rebukes. His problem is with people who lie about it. Who put on a show of piety, to make ourselves look better than we really are. Why should anyone need to show off their piety? Lots of reasons: Friends and family who criticize instead of encourage. It’s much easier to fake devotion than have it, especially when others expect or demand it. But too often it’s to lord our fake “perfection” over others.

Hypocrisy is always a lie. When hypocrites publicly give to charity, people assume they give a lot to charity, but the reality is this is the only charity they do, and their “sizable donation” is money they can casually part with and not even miss. When hypocrites pray in public, people assume they pray all the time, but the reality is this is the only praying they ever do. When hypocrites dress down for fasting, people assume they’re really struggling with their fast… and in reality they’re not. Sometimes not even fasting at all. (Swapping your Frappuccino for a Frappuccino Light isn’t fasting.)

Fight your own hypocrisy.

Same as with the Pharisees, hypocrisy is everywhere. Everywhere. Every human does it, to one degree or another. They may not be actively lying, but they’re letting people get the wrong idea. And we Christians constantly permit people to think we’re following Jesus better than we are. Because we never publicly admit how we’re really doing. Privately maybe; never publicly.

How do we fight this? The only way we can: Truth. Be honest. Be transparent. Admit you’re no better than anyone else. Confess your sins to one another.

Now, I’ve been taught by many a Christian that being transparent like this is insanity. Even dangerous—it gives people ammunition so they can blackmail or manipulate me, or think ill of me. Thing is, how can they blackmail me if everybody knows my sins? How can they manipulate me when I publicly condemn my own sins before they could? And if they think ill of me, it’s only because they’re following a double standard, or are in denial of their own sins. Nah; this is bad advice.

And actually the advice of hypocrites. They fear transparency, and that’s why they’re so quick to find reasons to never do it. If everybody agrees to stay in the dark, they’ll never risk exposing their sins. Jn 3.20 If they can convince everyone that confession will cause people to recoil in horror, and scare ’em into shutting up, so much the easier for them.

But Christians must embrace the light. Jn 3.21 Wanna expose a hypocrite? Confess your sins and watch ’em freak out. Real Christians will forgive you—they make the very same mistakes, and know they’re no better than you. Fake ones will encourage you to stay in the closet… with them.

So start with the sins which are easiest to admit. Everybody lies, everybody cheats, everybody steals, everybody lusts, everybody covets. Work your way up to the harder-to-admit sins. Get to the point where you can easily confess anything. When you condemn sin, be quick to say, “Yeah, I do that too—but I’m fighting it, as we should.” (Or if you really don’t do that, stay humble: “I don’t do that anymore—but don’t get the idea I’m perfect; I’ve still got a ways to go.” Or “I’ve never been tempted in that direction, but I get tempted in my own ways, and I stumble too.” Whatever fits.)

Keep public acts of worship to a minimum. Do them as best you can, but never pretend you’re better at it than you really are. Never put on a show. Be who you are, and no more. Strive to be better, and act better only if you are better.

Never assume you’ve “arrived.” There will always be some aspects of ourselves which are a little phony: Find the phoniness and be rid of it. And, though it’s not always a sin to be inconsistent, try never to be inconsistent, so no one can accuse you of what they wrongly call “hypocrisy”—for it’s far too easy to lie about our inconsistencies, and turn ourselves into real hypocrites.

Hypocrisy and fruit.

As you know, Christians are supposed to produce fruit. And as you also know, a lot of folks don’t produce anything God would consider decent fruit. But they sure pretend to. They claim to be fruity, but their fruit is more like a 2-liter bottle of “fruit punch” which contain no juice whatsoever. Just artificial flavor and lots of sugar. No nutritional value; more likely to put you into a diabetic coma.

  • They’ll claim to have love, but they don’t really care about people unless they can exploit ’em. More often you’ll see hatred. They hate sin… and tend to hate sinners.
  • They’ll claim to have joy, but they’re sour, humorless, pessimistic, and quick to find problems.
  • They’ll claim to have peace, but be really fearful of sinners or the End Times.
  • They’ll claim to have patience, but have none. They rarely forgive.
  • They’ll claim to have kindness, but they’re rude, and excuse it as “being real.”
  • They’ll claim to have goodness, but they simply have a convenient excuse for being undependable, untrustworthy, unsympathetic, uninterested, ungenerous… unchristian.
  • They’ll claim to have gentleness, but their emotions are totally out of control—and “it’s just the way I am.” Their mood swings affect everyone around them.
  • They’ll claim to have self-control, but their lives are a mess. And grace doesn’t help them get any better—it’s instead their excuse for not getting any better.

Where’d I get this list? My own hypocrisy. I used to do all this crap. I still struggle with some of it. And there are other fruits than Paul’s list in Galatians 5.22-23—and the fruitless have their excuses for not producing them either.

Now, does this mean they’re not really Christians? That’s debatable. I would say they’re not, but then again I’m not as gracious as God is. I’ll just say they’re Christianists—they appear godly, as our culture defines godliness, but they’re not following the Spirit who’d actually make ’em godly. 2Ti 3.5 Don’t give up hope; they could always repent. I sure wish they would. But as it is, they’re more likely to lead us astray, so follow Paul’s advice to Timothy and watch out for them.

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