Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. (Matthew 23:23)Hypocrite was not always a bad word. It once described stage actors who held a mask in front of their face to show the attitude of the person they portrayed. This word now means a fake, someone who pretends to be what they are not. One of the Greek words in the Bible that has been translated hypocrite means “a person marred by sin” and another describes someone who is “impious.”
God does not look at the masks. The Bible says, “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
The same is said of Jesus. The New Testament says that He “knew their hearts” and “knew what was in them.” With this discernment, He saw right through religious pretense. No one can fake it in front of Jesus. However, these scribes and Pharisees cared far more about outward appearances than they did about their own attitudes, or others, or even what Jesus thought of them.
We ought to care what God thinks and how we are perceived. Christians have been called hypocrites because we say we believe in Jesus Christ but our lives do not match our words. We do not “walk the talk” and therefore come into condemnation.
This is a just criticism because Jesus has given us all we need for Christian living and godliness. We have no excuse to fake godliness. Even though we often fail to measure up, instead of pretending, God wants us to confess our sin and shortcomings, then get what we need from Him, not wear a mask.
One example popped up last week. I heard a young Christian say that she “hated being at work because she had to pretend to be happy.” She did have some rough things going on in her life and no one would have condemned her faith had she been sad, yet somehow she thought a constant smile was expected so she faked it.
Other examples involve the masking of blatant sin. Professing Christians behave in questionable ways during the week, but piously go to church Sunday. They seem to have no idea that Christ died so they could resist and overcome sin.
I cannot point a finger at anyone without three pointing back at me. I’ve caught myself in church thinking “I need to look joyful” and I’ve told people “I’m fine, thank you” when I was anything but fine. Not mentioning my sins to others could make me look like I’m never guilty of anything. Isn’t that a form of hypocrisy?
To live is Christ means being honest. This is does not mean dumping my garbage on everyone, but it does mean that I do not whitewash it. Sinful pride makes me want to look better than I am. Honesty is admitting my pride and getting off any pedestals I’ve climbed or that others have put me on. The only thing honesty and hypocrisy have in common is that they begin and end with the same letters.