Humility and hypocrisy

Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord (Colossians 3:22 ESV).

Jesus saved some of his harshest criticisms for hypocritical Jewish leaders (see Matthew 23). A hypocrite, one who wears a mask, is a person who is duplicitous. Hypocrites say one thing and do another, or think one way and act or speak another.

Peter acted hypocritically in Antioch. Peter ate with Gentiles, but when Jews came from Jerusalem, he separated himself, fearing the “circumcision party.” Many other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s example, even Barnabas (Galatians 2:11-14). Hypocrites are dangerous because they can fool people, and the people they fail to fool often are put off by what they see.

Love is the first line of defense against hypocrisy. If we love God and love others then we will not pretend to be something we are not. Love does not abide lying, but rather rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:7). Peter failed the love test in Antioch, allowing fear to guide his actions.

Honesty is the second line of defense against hypocrisy. If we are honest with ourselves and honest with others, even when it hurts, we will not continue in hypocritical behavior. Peter failed the honesty test as well. Peter was the vessel God used to bring the first Gentiles into Christ (see Acts 10). Subsequently, Peter brought that good news to Jerusalem and withstood the criticisms of the “circumcision party.” Those who heard his report were silenced and then glorified God (see Acts 11:1-18).

If Peter, a friend of Jesus, an apostle, and an overall commendable servant can fall victim to hypocrisy, so can we. Since hypocrisy is so dangerous, and we are so given to it, we might need to call on more than two lines of defense.

One defense that might not be as obvious as the first two mentioned is humility. While false humility is certainly hypocritical, legitimate humility mitigates against hypocrisy.

The truly humble person will realize that God knows their hearts. David once remarked, “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.” This understanding caused David to ask, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:4, 7). Speaking to hypocrites, Jesus said, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15a). The humble recognize their standing before God and will act accordingly.

The truly humble person will also realize that the truth will come to light. The famous quotation, perhaps falsely attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time,” is true, nonetheless. While it is a matter of practicality instead of morality, we should recognize that always fooling people is not possible. As Launcelot said to his father, “at the length truth will out.”

Finally, the truly humble person will know that hypocrisy will ultimately distress the soul. One cannot continue in duplicity without doing damage to their consciences. The Spirit, through Paul, warned Timothy of those who would leave the faith and that they would be “influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:2 NET). This searing desensitizes the conscience. Those who live hypocritically will develop hard hearts and will become calloused (Ephesians 4:18-19). The humble will recognize that they are not strong enough to halt the damage done by duplicitous living.

As Joshua once said, “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14a).

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