18 – Question 3

I have to admit that many Christians act hypocritically, but I wouldn’t say that all Christians are hypocrites.  I’m sorry you’ve been exposed to people like that.  It’s interesting to notice that the scriptural meaning of the word hypocrite is ‘an actor under an assumed character.’  We understand it to be someone who is acting like someone he is not, or someone who says one thing, but does another.

Why do you think that people do that?  One reason given in scripture is that people love to be praised by other people.  We seem to love to have the respect and admiration of others, especially when we don’t deserve it.

The Lord Himself had to deal with hypocritical people while he was here on the earth.  Let’s look at a few verses in Matthew where the Lord talks about hypocrites.  Matthew 6:2 says, “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”  Matthew 6:5 says, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”  Then, Matthew 6:16, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”  In each of these three instances, the Lord warned about doing or saying the right things just to get noticed by people.  In the giving of alms, praying, and fasting, these people were not doing these things for the glory of the Lord; they were doing it to be noticed by people.  The Lord said of each one of them, “They have their reward.”  They wanted the praise of men and they got it.  However, because they acted hypocritically, they did not receive what’s most important…the praise of God.

Sadly, those whom the Lord most often called hypocrites were the scribes and Pharisees; the so-called spiritual leaders of their day.  Describing their hypocrisy, the Lord said of them in Matthew 15:8, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.”  He later said in Matthew 23:28, “Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”  They looked good on the outside, but on the inside they were full of sin.

I know it’s frustrating and discouraging when we see people acting like they are godly, when in truth, we know them to be worldly.  We’ve all seen people criticize others for doing the same things they are doing.  I can’t say that I’ve never acted hypocritically either.

But, let’s look at one man who might have been called a hypocrite: Peter.  John 13:36-38 says, “Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards. Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.”  If you read John 18:15-27, you’ll see that Peter did indeed deny the Lord three times.  However, look at what he says to a gathering of people later.  Let’s read Acts 3:12-15, “And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.”  What nerve!  Peter accused these people of denying the Lord.  He had no room to criticize them.  He denied the Lord, too.  People might have thought, “Don’t accuse me.  You did the same thing.”  The difference is that Peter had been restored to the Lord, he had been forgiven, and he could put that episode behind him.  Even as Peter had publicly denied the Lord three times, the Lord later gave him the opportunity to express his love three times.  Read John 21:15-17.  These people, however, were still guilty of denying and crucifying the Lord Jesus.  You see, Peter was not a hypocrite at all.  It must have been hard for him to speak to that crowd, knowing he had done the same thing, but he had been forgiven and needed to tell them of their guilt.  He had successfully removed the beam out of his own eye so that he could see how to remove the splinter of their eyes.  Read Matthew 7:3-5.

Maybe some of the people that you think are hypocrites are not hypocrites at all.  Perhaps they have done things in the past, but now are forgiven and have stopped doing those things.  Regrettably, some Christians do act hypocritically.  Let me caution you not to judge the Father by the acts of His children.  Just because some people are hypocrites, does not mean that the Lord is pleased with them.  Remember how we read in Matthew 6:16, the Lord had said, “…be not, as the hypocrites…”

Let me caution about one more thing: just because someone is a hypocrite, that doesn’t necessarily mean that what he says is wrong.  In Matthew 23:3, the Lord said about the scribes and Pharisees, who were terrible hypocrites, “All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.”  Although these spiritual leaders were not doing the right things, they were saying the right things.  If the world’s worst hypocrite should say to you, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”, listen to what he says, compare it with scripture, and if it is right, do it.