Recently I had a conversation with a two people who
professed to believe in God and who supposedly wanted to have some relationship
with God but refused to frequent a church because of “all of the hypocrites who
attended.” They had nothing but
criticism and contempt for people they thought did not live a righteous life
but who professed to be Christians. This
criticism seems to be a common complaint (or excuse) for those who fail to
attend church or fellowship with other believers.
The charge of hypocrisy has been around for a long
time. What exactly is hypocrisy? According to Webster’s Dictionary, it means
“simulation; feigning to be what one is not; or dissimulation; a concealment of
one’s real character or motives. More
generally, hypocrisy is simulation, or the assuming of a false appearance of
virtue or religion; a deceitful show of good character, in morals or religion;
a counterfeiting of religion.” Looking
at the definition, it is clear that hypocrisy has a lot to do with the intent
of the person. It applies to a person
who intentionally conceals their real character or who deceitfully acts like
they possess good moral character when they actually do not.
Jesus Christ Himself confronted hypocrisy during His day on
numerous occasions. When He confronted
hypocrisy, He attempted to teach a lesson.
In the “do not” verses that follow, Christ was teaching about rewards
and the value of the act or gift. Notice
the commonality contained within those verses.
2 "So when you
give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the
hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I
tell you the truth, they have received their reward in
full. Matthew 6:2 (NIV)
5 "And when you
pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in
the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. Matthew
"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they
disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth,
they have received their reward in full. Matthew 6:16 (NIV)
In Matthew 6:2 Christ was addressing a religious act and the
way in which that act was administered. Gifts
were not to be announced in order to be honored by men; otherwise, the donor of
the gift had received his “reward in full.”
In other words the honor given by men would be all that the donor would
ever receive as a gift given in this manner would not be honored by God.
It is fairly common in our society for people to make
charitable gifts and some people give very large charitable gifts. There are a number of people who establish
charitable trusts or foundations for the purpose of benefiting organizations or
the less fortunate. Many of these
charitable organizations are well-known and have had a major impact on their
donees. The question that arises however
is “What is the primary motivation for the making of the gift?” Is it purely for the charitable purpose? Is it because the donor wants to be recognized
for their generosity? Is it for creative
tax planning purposes?
In Matthew 6:5 and Matthew 6:16 Christ was referring to
religious acts which dealt with public demonstrations of the act. Prayer was being offered in public
(synagogues and street corners) for the wrong reasons. These individuals wanted to be seen by
men. Why would they want to do such a
thing? The reason, of course, was to
show their contemporaries just how righteous and holy they were. They did not pray in public for the purpose
of witnessing to the masses. Rather, it
was a “feigning to be what one was not.”
It was a simulation of the act.
There was no desire to commune with God.
The underlying desire was to be seen by men.
Similarly, disfigurement of the face was a way of showing
that one was undergoing the right of fasting.
Fasting was a denial of self in order to grow closer to God. However, the idea of fasting in public was
abhorrent to Christ not because of the actual act of fasting but rather because
of the intent of the individual. In this
instance, just as was the case with public prayer, the intent of the hypocrite
was to be seen by his fellow man so that all would know just how godly this
individual was. The intent was not to
deny oneself but rather it was to glorify oneself.
In each of these verses as like the verses hereinbelow, the
term “hypocrites” is used. According to Strong’s Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, that word from the
Hebrew means “an actor under an assumed character (stage-player), i.e.
(figuratively) a dissembler ("hypocrite").” It was an actor, someone acting out a
part. It was not someone who was real or
genuine but rather someone who was in fact disingenuous. Like Webster’s said, it was someone
pretending to be someone or something they were not.
Christ went on to deal with hypocrisy in His “woe to you”
verses. In each of these verses, Christ
specifically addressed the religious leaders of His day, i.e. the teachers of
the law (scribes) and the Pharisees. Woe
was a primary expression of grief meaning “alas.” In each of these verses Christ was
criticizing and condemning these leaders for their actions which did nothing to
further the Kingdom
of God. The fact of the matter was that the religious
leaders of His day acted in such a manner that was contrary to God’s wishes.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's
faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying
to. Matthew 23:13 (NIV)
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a
single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of
hell as you are. Matthew 23:15 (NIV)
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill
and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the
law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter,
without neglecting the former. Matthew 23:23 (NIV)
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish,
but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Matthew 23:25 (NIV)
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of
dead men's bones and everything unclean. Matthew 23:27 (NIV)
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and
decorate the graves of the righteous. Matthew 23:29 (NIV)
In each instance Christ publicly labeled these people as
counterfeit, fake, disingenuous and deceitful.
Then He specifically told them why He identified them in that way that
He did. With all of their rules and
regulations, they purposefully shut door to the Kingdom of God to seekers even
though they themselves were not going to be allowed to enter; He accused them
of chasing down converts only to turn them into something as bad as they were;
He accused them of fulfilling the minor requirements of the law while at the
same time neglecting the more important aspects of the law such as justice,
mercy and faithfulness; He looked inside each of them and criticized them for
their motives; He identified their character labeling them filthy and defiled;
and finally, He accused them of murder.
It is no wonder that they ultimately planned and carried out his
At the end of the Olivet Discourse in the form of an
allegory, Christ infers what happens to hypocrites when He speaks about the difference
in treatment for those people who are prepared for his rapture of the church
and for people who will be unprepared.
"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in
charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper
time? 46 It will be good for
that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 I tell you the
truth, he will put him in charge of all his
possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My
master is staying away a long time,' 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow
servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant
will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware
of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matt 24:45-51 (NIV)
The unprepared will be cut to pieces and assigned a place
with the hypocrites where there will be great distress and mourning. Hypocrites are evidently consigned to Hades
and ultimately would be consigned to hell (Gehenna).
But some may ask, “What about those Christians who are hypocrites? Are they going to hell?” Those aren’t the questions to ask. The question to ask is “Is a hypocritical
person truly a Christian?” I submit to
you that they are not for the reason that as we have seen already, a hypocrite
is somebody pretending to be someone or something they are not. They are deceitful. They are merely actors playing the part. Their true intention is not to live the life
of a Christian but rather to cloak themselves with the cover of Christianity
while they carry out their own nefarious schemes. They believe that the claim of Christianity
can supply them with credibility that they are other wise lacking.
Getting back to the comments made at the beginning of this
article by the two people who refuse to go to church due to perceived
hypocrisy, are they right? Is the church
filled with hypocrites? Prior to
researching and writing this article, I would have told you, “yes, the church
is filled with hypocrites; they are just saved hypocrites.” Today, my view has changed.
I believe that the church is filled with sinners, people who
struggle in their Christian walk every day.
However, I no longer believe that the church is filled with hypocrites,
i.e. deceitful people who are just play-acting for their own benefit and the
benefit of those around them. Yes, there
are hypocrites in the church just as there are hypocrites in every walk of
life. We encounter disingenuous people
virtually everyday; however, do these morally bankrupt people fill the pews on
Sunday? I submit to you that by and
large they do not. The ones who come
aren’t fooling anyone. People know.
Moreover, the issue of perceived hypocrisy within the church
is a red herring. The simple fact is
that you can find a Bible-teaching church that fits you if you will just look
around. The world is not filled with
churches that are attended exclusively by hypocrites. Hypocrites do not peruse the papers each
Saturday picking out the church that they will attend the following day. The refusal of a person to worship God
corporately and fellowship with other believers is just that – a refusal.
The New Testament, particularly the Book of Acts, is replete
with references concerning the gathering of God’s people together.
44 All the
believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their
possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they
continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in
their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God
and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number
daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47 (NIV)
26 What then shall we
say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of
instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be
done for the strengthening of the church. 1 Cor 14:26 (NIV)
21 In him the whole
building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in
which God lives by his Spirit. Eph 2:21-22 (NIV)
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting
ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Eph 4:16 (NIV)
It is clear from these verses that the purpose behind the
gathering together is to build up the body of believers. When people come together according to God’s
purpose, it is to edify, support and strengthen their fellow members.
As time grows short and the advent of the Rapture comes
closer, the gathering together of God’s people becomes more and more important. As we read the news each day, we see gloom
and despair spreading throughout God’s creation. People, even Christian people, begin to lose
hope. There is a way to prevent this
loss of hope during these end times.
25 Let us not give up
meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one
another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Heb 10:25 (NIV)
Comments or questions may be directed to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.