by Stan Mitchell
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside may also be clean” (Matthew 23:25,26).
Hypocrisy: “The assumption or postulation of moral standards to which one’s own behavior does not conform” (Oxford English Dictionary).
Just about everyone has heard someone say, “I’ve quit going to church because I found there were hypocrites in the church.”
Yet spotting a hypocrite is not as easy as many people think. Really! Can you read other people’s hearts? If not, how do you know whether they meant what they were singing, or that they were responding appropriately to a sermon? When Jesus pointed out religious hypocrisy in his day, you might recall, he was able to do this. The demographic group that can read hearts today is about the same size as the number of flying pigs.
One is not a hypocrite if he is theologically conservative. One is not a hypocrite if he believes God demands obedience.
The term hypocrisy refers not to one’s theological disposition but to the condition of one’s heart. I say this, frankly, because so many brethren perceived to be “progressive” theologically lay this burden on those who are theologically conservative. I see no evidence whatsoever that hypocrisy automatically attaches itself to conservatives.
Can I emphasize again that hypocrisy occurs when someone pretends to love and serve God, yet in reality desires nothing of the sort? This can be the condition of the heart belonging to church-goers both liberal and conservative. Is this person pretending to be something he is not?
“Not long ago I was asked by a college student how I could stand to go to church, how I could stand the hypocrisy of Christians. I had one of my rare inspirations, when I know the right thing to say, and I replied, ‘The only hypocrite I have to worry about on Sunday morning is myself,'” (Marva Dawn, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down).
Some points regarding hypocrisy:
- Christians need to be conscious that outsiders are waiting, eagerly, to call us hypocrites. It frees them (so they believe) to lead a life of selfish indulgence.
- Two wrongs still do not make a right. Spotting a hypocrite in the church does not justify your own faithlessness. It simply means that both you – and the hypocrite – are wrong.
- If you disagree with someone’s teaching, don’t dismiss him as “just a hypocrite.” By all means study the Bible passage with him to see what it says. But to simply label someone a hypocrite with whom one disagrees is usually only a means to avoid actually encountering the matter at hand. It is a cheap, hasty and unkind way to dismiss the other.
- We must look deeply into our own hearts. Though this sounds simple as peeling an orange, the fact is that too few of us do this. It is harder to look into our own motives because what we see there is searing-hot and uncomfortable to look at.
The only hypocrite you can identify truly – and change – is yourself.