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28 November 2018

Hypocrites. They’re everywhere.

The reason pagans assume Christians are phonies is ’cause we are. So let’s stop that.

HYPOCRISY hə'pɑk.rə.si noun Pretense: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards which one doesn’t truly have.
2. Inconsistency: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards, but one’s own behavior demonstrates otherwise.
[Hypocrite 'hɪp.ə.krɪt noun, hypocritical |hɪp.ə'krɪd.ə.kəl| adjective.]

The Greek word ypókrisis literally means “over [the] face.” In the ancient Greek religion, whenever someone claimed they spoke for the gods, they’d put on a bit of a show. When a man claimed Zeus spoke through him, he’d assume a deep voice, exaggerated gestures, and perform a sorta impersonation of Zeus. (Since we’re talking about fake gods, it was totally an act.)

Comic and tragic masks. Wikimedia

This “prophetic” acting evolved into Greek drama. Certain “gifted” poets, whom the Greeks believed had some divinely-inspired prophetic ability, would have actors memorize their “revelations” and present them to audiences. So you’d know who was playing whom, actors would wear masks; so the folks in the back of the theater knew whether the actors were happy or sad (’cause the actors weren’t always good at their jobs), masks might have exaggerated features. You know those happy and sad masks, associated with drama and the theater? Don’t worry; I included a picture. Anyway, ypókrisis turned into the word 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 borrowed the term to describe certain Pharisees, he meant they were acting. But hiding it; therefore fraud. And Jesus wasn’t happy about the fraud. Pissed him off more than anything.

Matthew 23.1-7 KWL
1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and his students, 2 saying,
“In Moses’s judgment seat sit the scribes and Pharisees.
3 So you must do, and revere, everything Pharisees might say.
But don’t do according to their works—for Pharisees say, and don’t do.
4 Pharisees tie up heavy, hard-to-carry burdens and place them on people’s shoulders.
And they don’t want to move them with their fingers.
5 Pharisees do all their works for people to see:
They widen their prayer-straps and lengthen their tassels.
6 Pharisees love the first couch at dinner and the first seat in synagogue,
7 and to be greeted in market and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by people.”

Every so often it’s a good idea for us Christians to swap the word “Pharisee” with “Christian” and see whether it still fits. Annoyingly, it still largely does.

The Message does a pretty good job of adapting these ideas to fit our culture:

Matthew 23.3-7 Message
3 “You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.
4 “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. 5 Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. 6 They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, 7 preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’ ”

For hypocrites, whether Pharisee or Christian, it’s all about gaining that reputation of being a great person, a revered elder, someone to look up to. But it’s unearned. They didn’t get that reputation by actually being good, following Jesus, developing good fruit, loving their neighbors, studying their bibles, acting in compassion. They got it by faking all those things. They got it through fraud.

And people see right through the fraud. Pagans in particular; we Christians are really good and blinding ourselves to it, but you’re not fooling them any. Hence the profoundly crappy reputation we Christians have for being fakes and hypocrites. And the reason, all the more, we gotta not be another one. Quit faking your Christianity! Be authentic.

Fight your own hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy isn’t limited to Christians, of course. It’s everywhere. Everywhere. Every human does it, to one degree or another.

Fr’instance lies of omission: We’re not actively lying, but it’s totally fine with us if people get the wrong idea. We like looking as if we have our act together. Christians are perfectly happy to let people think we’re following Jesus better than we are. And we never, ever publicly admit how we’re really doing. Privately maybe… but sometimes not even then.

How do we get rid of this façade? The only way we can: Be honest. Be transparent. Admit we’re no better than anyone else. Confess our sins to one another.

Now. I’ve been taught by many a Christian to not do this. That being transparent, truly transparent, publicly admitting my screw-ups, is insanity. Even dangerous. It gives people ammunition. They can use it to manipulate me. They can hold it against me. They might even try to blackmail me. When you’re working with people who are only looking out for themselves, you cover your ass!

Yeah, I’m not gonna do that. I’m gonna be honest.

I don’t deny it’s got a down side. I have probably lost a job over it. ’Cause whenever I make mistakes, I immediately confess to them. Whereas my coworkers do no such thing… so my bosses never know they made mistakes until they royally screw up in ways which they can’t hide anymore. When you’re the only one who tells on yourself, ungracious people definitely mistake your honesty for incompetence.

But on the upside, everybody knows I’m not gonna lie to them. And if I tell ’em the truth kindly, what do they have to hold against me? As for the warning I might get blackmailed: It’s stupid. Transparent people have nothing we can be blackmailed with. It only aggravates people who want something they can use against me. (But they can always resort to lies… assuming anyone believes ’em. Hey, sometimes they do.)

These Christians who advise me to not be transparent? Yep, they’re hypocrites too. They fear transparency, which is why they’re so quick to give reasons why they should never, ever do it: Everybody needs to just stay in the dark, same as them, and hide there with their sins. Jn 3.20 If they can scare the rest of us into committing the same sins as they, 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. Real Christians will forgive us: They make the very same mistakes, and know they’re no better. Dark Christians forgive nothing, and fear exposure because they don’t expect they’ll be forgiven either.

So confess those sins. Start with the sins which are easiest to admit: The ones everybody does. Every single human but Jesus lies, cheats, steals, lusts, and covets. Admit those. Work your way up to the harder-to-admit sins. Get to the point where you can easily confess anything.

And when you condemn sin, don’t be inconsistent. Be quick to say, “Yeah, I do that too. But I’m working on it. As we should.” Or if you actually don’t do that—hey, it happens!—stay humble: “I don’t do that myself, but it’s not like I’m perfect. I have my own failings.” Or “Yeah, I used to do that too; I still have a ways to go though.” Whatever suitably admits we still stumble.

Never assume you’ve “arrived.” Go with Paul and Timothy’s attitude:

Philippians 3.12 KWL
Not that I already receive resurrection or I’m already perfect: I pursue it, if I can seize it.
And this is why I was likewise seized—by Christ Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t want hypocrites among his followers. He wants earnest, honest students. He can work with such people. Phonies, on the other hand, learn nothing, and stay fake.

True, there will always be some aspects of ourselves which are a little phony. (Old habits die hard.) When you find the phoniness, be rid of it. When you find inconsistency, be rid of it. Eliminate anything which can be labeled hypocrisy. Be the Christians of whom pagans say, “You act like you actually follow Jesus.” Good. That’s precisely what we’re going for.