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By Steve Thompson, Midnight In America
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Scripture references are from the New King James Version.
There are many people who claim to believe in God yet do not attend any church or practice any type of worship. Ask any of them why, and very often you will get the response, “Because the church is full of nothing but hypocrites”. While this type of response is a convenient excuse for many, could there be any truth in such a statement? The answer is ‘yes’! That may come to you as a shock, but the facts will speak for themselves, as I will discuss later.
My father used this reasoning as an excuse for not going to church, and he truly believed it. My son is the same way. To tell you the truth, I myself have not had a long history of attending a church. And the church I did attend for a short time (many years ago) turned out to be a false one, a cult.
What is it that causes people to have such an opinion of churches? Much worse, what is it that keeps people (who may be truly seeking God) from becoming Christians? What do they see in today’s church organizations that turn them off?
In one word – HYPOCRISY!!!
…every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits (Mat 7:17-20).
My father did not read the Bible and was not aware of this scripture, but he was well aware of the principle, as are most people in this world. Anyone with
prudence looks at the fruits of others, in some form or fashion. If someone “talks the talk but does not walk the walk”, as the old saying goes, we call that person a hypocrite.
My own experience with various churches brought me to a similar conclusion, and affected my views about Christianity for many years. The first impressions of such kind I received as a teenager, when I saw and realized the double standards of churchgoers. I would see the people I knew go to the church and act completely different from the way they behaved in everyday life. They would suddenly become ‘holy’ (sanctimonious). And later during the week, they would revert back to what they really were.
…You also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Mat 23:28).
Why do Christians do this? There are a number of reasons, but when we dig deep to get to the root of the problem, we find two major reasons:
But in any case, pride is at the root.
What the Bible Says
The Bible has much to say about hypocrisy. The term is found 42 times in the entire Bible (NKJV), with 29 of those being found in the New Testament, though references to its nature are far more abundant.
However, it must be noted that there is no actual word for ‘hypocrite’ in the old Hebrew, as this quote from the Wycliffe Bible Dictionary explains:
This concept of pretended goodness was foreign to OT thought. The Heb. Root h-n-p, translated “hypocrisy” or “hypocrite” in the KJV, was translated in the LXX [Septuagint--Greek translation of the Old Testament] by anomos, “lawless,” “criminal,” or “godless,” parallel to poneros, “an evil doer” (Isa 9:17); and by asebes, “godless,” “irreverent” (Isa 33:14).
In the book of Job it is clear that the hanep is one radically opposed to God, one who forgets God (Job 8:13; 15:34-35; 20:5; 27:8). The verb hanep means to pollute or corrupt (cf. Num 35:33; Ps 106:38; Isa 24:5; Jer 3:1). Theodotion’s translation of Job, later incorporated into the LXX, rendered Heb. hanep as hypocrites in two verses (Job 34:30; 36:13).
The New Testament gets its interpretations from the Greek words hupokrsis (an actor under an assumed character or dissembler) and hupokrites (acting under a feigned part; deceit).
With these descriptions in mind, we can move on to what the Bible tells us of hypocrisy.
In Matthew 23:13-30 Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites 7 times, and scathes them for their many displays of this evil! It is no wonder that the word ‘pharisaism’ is an actual synonym for the word ‘hypocrisy’.
A closer look at what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 reveals much. What He said was not meant just for them. It describes many of our church leaders today, and it also describes many Christians as well. I believe it safe to say that every Christian, at some point and time, has been guilty of at least one of these points that Jesus made. Peter was guilty of hypocrisy. He was accused by Paul of being hypocritical in regards to the way he treated Christian Jews and Gentiles differently (Gal 2:11-14). None of us are above this evil sin of hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy in the Churches
Hypocrisy in the churches is allowed by, and in many cases, even promoted by the church leadership. Consider the following by A.W. Tozer:
“By the cross,” he [Paul] said, “I am crucified unto the world” (see Gal 6:14). The cross where Jesus died became also the cross where His apostle died. The loss, the rejection, the shame, belong both to Christ and to all who in very truth are His. The cross that saves them also slays them, and anything short of this is a pseudo-faith and not true faith at all. But what are we to say when the great majority of our evangelical leaders walk not as crucified men but those who accept the world at its own value—rejecting only its grosser elements? How can we face Him who was crucified and slain when we see His followers accepted and praised? Yet they preach the cross and protest loudly that they are true believers. Are there then two crosses? And did Paul mean one thing and they another? I fear that it is so, that there are two crosses.
But if I see aright, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament upon the bosom of self-assured and carnal Christianity whose hands are indeed the hands of Abel, but whose voice is the voice of Cain. The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it. The old cross brought tears and blood; the new cross brings laughter. (A.W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man, pp 52-53.)
Tozer saw this in the church leaders in 1950. One can only imagine what he would write about them today!
The church leaders walk a very tight line embracing the world and proclaiming the gospel at the same time. This is hypocrisy, and they use it to promote their own agenda, increase church membership (and thus their power), and in many cases, to feed their ego. How do they do these things? The list is long, but some of the more prominent ones are:
These leaders drag the church members into practicing hypocrisy. Many members are aware of the failings of the leadership, but choose to follow men rather than God.
There are actually two types of hypocrites within the membership of the churches. First, there are false ‘Christians’ who attend church for a variety of reasons, none of which have anything to do with worshiping the true God. Then there are Christians who, either knowingly or unknowingly, succumb to the temptations and pressures of the world, and end up practicing hypocrisy. We will take a closer look at these two groups.
The Hypocrisy of False ‘Christians’
Hypocrisy is rampant in the churches today. This is due primarily to the number of false ‘Christians’ who attend their churches, and the leaders they follow. Oh, they may believe in God (that there is a God in heaven), but they care little, if anything for God. To them are addressed Jesus’ stern words:
Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you saying: “These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Mat 15:7-9).
A perfect example of this type of hypocrisy can be seen in our political leaders. Most of them are members of Christian congregations. They profess to be Christians. Yet, they support and practice evil in their public office. How can a true Christian support and promote abortion? Hypocrites! Jesus describes them perfectly:
Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward (Mat 6:2).
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men… (Mat 6:5).
Of course, this type of behavior is not limited to politicians. Many attend churches for their own selfish needs and gains. Some of these that I have personally observed are:
To these people, and their corrupt leaders, Jesus has something to say. He stated three times:
…assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. (Mat 6:2, Mat 6:5, Mat 6:16) [in this world].
Hypocrisy in the Lives of Christians
Hypocrisy is SIN. And, for the Christian, allowing sin in life means being a hypocrite. Each time we knowingly sin we are (in some form or fashion) guilty of hypocrisy. We are doing or saying something we know to be wrong and would find wrong in others. It is no wonder that Jesus said:
And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Mat 7:3-5).
Hypocrisy comes in many forms, sometimes very subtle, and often we do not see it. Take, for example, a Christian who is with a group of people when one of them tells a ‘dirty’ joke. Everyone laughs, but what about the Christian? If he joins in with the laughter, instead of walking away, he is a hypocrite. He wants to feel ‘part of the crowd’, and is ashamed to distinguish himself by doing what he knows in his heart to be the right thing. Now, consider that some in this group know he is a Christian. What do you think their thoughts are on this? It feeds the notion that the Church is nothing but a bunch of hypocrites, and that Christians are no different from the unconverted. This example makes it clear that something we might consider a ‘little thing’ has far reaching ramifications.
Many of the things we do and say in our everyday life affect not just us, but how others view Christianity. If we use vulgar language, it speaks against the Church. If we are seen coming out of a theatre showing an inappropriate film, it speaks against the church. Whenever we gossip or slander, or show angry tempers, jealousy, arrogance, we are guilty of hypocrisy, and it speaks against God’s true Church. Notice Paul’s words:
You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For "THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU," as it is written (Rom 2:21-24).
We must be on guard at all times, for this evil can creep into our spirit, as the apostle Paul warned:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron… (1 Tim 4:1-2).
Moreover, we must always remember that:
…the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (Jas 3:17-18).
Then, from Peter, who knew well the evil of hypocrisy:
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord (1 Pe 2:1-3).
And finally, a word from our Lord:
No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light (Luke 11:34-36).
A Shining Light
The Bible tells us in many places that Christians are lights in the world. This is crucially important for we are tasked to bear witness to the world.
I gave an example above about a Christian who was in a group when someone told a ‘dirty’ joke. If that Christian had turned and walked away, most likely, he would have been scorned and made fun of by many in the group. However, he would have proved himself to be true to his beliefs. As a result of his integrity, some of his mockers might have got a more favorable opinion of Christianity. Some might have even been brought to Christ as a result. May I repeat myself: something you consider a ‘little thing’ can have far reaching ramifications. This time - for the good.
Peter mentioned that our actions can be a guide to bring others to Christ:
…Even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of… [yours], when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear (1 Pe 3:1-2).
In the context, Peter was writing about believing wives, but this concept works for any Christian when we come into contact with unconverted people in this world. We can bring them the light of God by our deeds and words, without direct preaching.
Jesus called John the Baptist a burning and shining light (John 5:35). He had been sent ahead of Jesus, to bear witness to the Light (Jesus). Now, this is not to say that we all are to live in the wilderness, eat locusts, and wear a robe of camel hair! Jesus did not call John a shining light because of these details of his life, but because of his pure heart and love of God. It showed, and everyone saw it.
We are to be ambassadors for Christ, as Paul stated:
Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).
An ambassador is a messenger who represents someone greater than himself. We must be careful, therefore, to remain faithful to Him who sends us.
A wicked messenger falls into trouble, but a faithful ambassador brings health (Pro 13:17).
We are ambassadors in a world that does not want us, nor does it want to recognize the King we represent. Therefore we must strive to live up to what Jesus said in His sermon on the mount:
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Mat 5:14-16).
If we do all He commands, we can be assured of hearing those sweet words from Christ on the day we face Him:
…Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord (Mat 25:23).
When the Lord moves me to write, it is often because of my own failings, which He brings to my attention. He wants me to write about these lessons in order to ‘burn’ them into my mind, also to pass them on to others in order to help them overcome as well. This article is no different. The Lord recently showed me some hypocrisy in my own life (which I had not seen), and my need to change. I have learned much in this lesson, and I pray that you, the reader, benefit as well.
As I stated previously, no one is completely free from hypocrisy. Each time we sin we are guilty of hypocrisy. When we have realized our sin and repented of it, we should also look for the hypocrisy that accompanied it, to be purified of it as well.
Ask yourself this question, “Am I a shining light, or a hypocrite?” If the latter is true, then you must change if you are to inherit the kingdom.
Hypocrisy is a hard thing to overcome. So what can we do? Consider the following contribution by Malcolm Heap:
Overcoming weaknesses and sins is a big subject. But success boils down to our willingness to be humbled, for it is the Spirit of God that gives us victory, and His Spirit does not dwell within us unless we are humble.
All our efforts to overcome will amount to very little without this basic inner change taking place in our spirit. It’s a new ‘birth’. When you are willing to die to self, the Spirit can begin to make the ‘new creation’ Paul talked about (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15).
The root of hypocrisy is pride – the maintenance of one’s ego. Reversing ego or pride is a painful process, one which is resisted by most at all costs! But Jesus promises those who fall on Him will be broken (Mat 21:44), their self-will and self-reliance then replaced by child-like reliance upon Him.
Brokenness, contrition and humility can then start to take the place of that ugly satanic pride and self-assertiveness.
This inner transformation takes place at great personal cost, which is why many Christians do not properly surrender to God. The result of this is a spiritually undisciplined spirit, one that is still very vulnerable to demonic influences. Hence they remain hypocrites.
I close with this quote from the apostle Paul:
Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world... (Php 2:14-15).
Apostasy in God’s Church! (Apo);
The Missing Dimension in Christian Living (Mis);
Meetings With Jesus (MWJ); The Truth About Easter (Eas);
The Faith Once Delivered to the Saints (FOD);
The Mark of a True Christian (Mrk); The Ten Virgins (10V);
Why Keep Christmas? (X); On Halloween (Hal);
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