Being called a hypocrite by others is not a good thing, but it doesn’t seem quite so bad to call yourself one. In that light I am willing to acknowledge that at times I am a hypocrite. And I am fairly confident at times you are as well.
The designation hypocrite originally referred to an “actor” playing a role (holding up a mask) in Greek theater, but in our popular English usage it has a much different meaning. The way we use the word today comes from the way Jesus used it in His teaching. Hypocrites is what He repeatedly called the religious leaders of His day who constantly criticized Him. As a matter of fact, because of Jesus’ usage today Pharisee and hypocrite are synonymous as a negative designation for someone.
Hypocrite in Jesus’ usage and Christian usage today refers to someone who is acting as though he or she is much better and more holy than she or he really is. A favorite example of this usage is in Matthew 6:1-18 when Jesus warns His followers “not to practice [their] righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” He gives three specifics regarding not calling undue attention to one’s giving, not praying in public to be seen, and not going overboard to make it obvious when fasting “as the hypocrites do.” The basic idea is about motive and a call not to show off your righteousness with the purpose of being seen and applauded by others.
A second way Jesus used the word hypocrite was in connection with deception. In Matthew 22:15-22 there is an account of the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus with regard to whether or not the Jews should pay the imperial tax to Rome and Caesar. Before they asked Him the question they “buttered Him up” with flattery. Verse 18 reports “But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?’” In this exchange the issue seems to be deceit by pretending you are something you are not with the goal of doing damage to someone.
The third way Jesus used the word hypocrite is the best known usage and has to do with judging. In Matthew 7:3 and 4 Jesus asks, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in our own eye?” Then in verse 5 He uses our word: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” In this oft quoted teaching Jesus is forbidding the harsh judgement of others (remember in Matthew 7:1 He cautions, “Do not judge”), and especially with no awareness of or taking into account your own shortcomings.
In all honesty I don’t think I’m guilty of showing off my righteousness to be seen and approved by others. Nor am I aware of being deceitful by pretending I am something I am not with the goal of tricking someone. But when it comes to Jesus’ best known usage of the designation hypocrite I reluctantly admit there have probably been a few occasions in my life when I might have possibly judged someone harshly while not fully being aware of my own failing. Or to state it more succinctly—yes, I have certainly judged others when I shouldn’t have while being blind to my own sin. I hope we understand and will take seriously these important lessons from Jesus about not being hypocrites.
At the same time I am concerned that some Christians misunderstand and misapply the concept of hypocrisy. To avoid being a hypocrite does not mean you should or have to always be totally honest and forthcoming about what you think or believe. Sometimes we say things that hurt others we don’t really need to say. There are times in life when it is to our credit not to be absolutely transparent. I can’t tell you when those times are, but I can challenge you to realize that not always saying exactly what you think does not make you a hypocrite.
Think about these things and leave a reply below letting others and me know what you think. Also share this post with others on social media if you think it will be convicting and challenging.
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