Hypocrites. They’re everywhere.

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 ὑπόκρισις/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 the audience would know who was playing whom, actors wore masks. Masks might have exaggerated features, ’cause the actors weren’t always good at their jobs. 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 Greek word for “actor.”

There’s nothing wrong with acting… so long that people know it’s all an act. When they don’t, it’s fraud.

So when Jesus borrowed the word ypókrisis to describe Pharisees,, he meant they were acting, but hiding it; therefore fraud. And Jesus isn’t happy about the fraud. Pisses him off more than anything.

Matthew 23.1-7 NLT
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. 6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ ”

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

The Message does a pretty good job of adapting Jesus’s 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 having a reputation as a great person, a revered elder, someone to look up to. But it’s unearned. They didn’t get such reputations by actually being good, following Jesus, developing good fruit, loving their neighbors, studying their bibles, acting in compassion. They got it by faking all these things. They got it through fraud.

And yeah, the fraud cons a lot of people. A lot of godless, fruitless people have large, wealthy ministries. But those of us who know what to look for, see right through the fraud. Pagans in particular. They already doubt whether we can be trusted, so they’re checking all of us out closely, and you’re not fooling them any. Hence the profoundly crappy public reputation we Christians have for being fakes and hypocrites: There are just enough hypocrites among us to ruin it for everyone else.

All the more reason we gotta not be another one. Quit faking your Christianity! Be authentic.

Fight your own hypocrisy.

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

Fr’instance lies of omission, where we’re not actively lying… but it’s totally fine with us when people get the wrong idea. We like looking as though 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 never, ever do this. They warn me being transparent, truly transparent, publicly admitting my screw-ups, is insanity. Even dangerous. It gives our foes ammunition. People might use my confessions to manipulate me. Or they’ll hold my sins against me. Or even try to blackmail me. When you’re working with people who are only looking out for themselves, you gotta cover your ass!

Yeah, I’m not gonna follow any of that advice.

I don’t deny transparency has a downside. I’ve likely lost jobs over it. Certain people, like the Christians who give me bad advice, think this is a weakness, and won’t hire or promote me because of it. Whereas the rest realize everybody makes mistakes—and my honesty is far more valuable of an asset to them. They know I’m not gonna lie; that I’m gonna tell the truth kindly; that I’m not gonna tattle on coworkers but instead urge them to come clean before the truth comes out on its own, as it regularly does.

As for the warning I might get blackmailed: It’s stupid. Transparent people have nothing we can be blackmailed with! Everybody knows my failings already. If people want something to use against me, they’re gonna have to make up a lie… which won’t work because my bosses already know I’m honest.

These Christians who advise me to not be transparent? Yep, they’re hypocrites too. They fear transparency. That’s why they’re so quick to give reasons why they should never, ever do it. They’d prefer everybody stay in the dark, same as them, and hide there with our 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 3.12-14 NLT
12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

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, don’t grow, and corrupt others to be “twice the children of ge’enna” as they. Mt 23.15

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 trying to do.