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What Hypocrisy Looks Like and Why the Lord Hates It With a Passion

Then I noticed something in Scripture.

Throughout the gospels, the Lord Jesus was tender with the outcasts and outright sinners (see Luke 15:1-2: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” And guess who was unhappy about that? The scribes and Pharisees), but was at His strongest and fiercest when dealing with religious hypocrites.

That scares me a little. I’m a religious leader. I’m in a position where people look at me and—to my horror—make judgements about Jesus.

If I misrepresent Him by my manner, my rudeness, my teaching, my attitude, etc., then people get the wrong idea about Him and He is not pleased with me.

Hypocrisy is intentional, and not accidental. To be sure, some people get things wrong and unintentionally say one thing and end up doing something else. But the hypocrisy that roused the Lord’s dander was the well-thought-out kind that intends to betray and misuses the position of trust.

Hypocrisy aims to deceive. In order to convince people to trust us, we say the right things without any intention to follow through on them. Politicians in our country have developed this into an art. The scribes (experts on the law) and Pharisees (conservatives calling for strict adherence to the law) were publicly impressive and privately “devour(ing) widows’ houses” (Matthew 23:14).

Hypocrisy looks like truth and honor. The lies and dishonor lie beneath the surface. Jesus slammed the scribes and Pharisees as being like “whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). A hypocrite is like beautiful cups and saucers brought out to impress guests; inside the cup, however, is garbage and sewage. An unforgettable image!

Hypocrisy counts on people’s gullibility and laziness. They hope no one will ask the tough questions, such as, “Didn’t you say the opposite thing last week?” “How do you account for this thing you did yesterday?”

Hypocrisy is all about appearance. Unless someone notices the hypocrite being spiritual or sees his generous gift to the campaign or is impressed by his pious talk and religious fervor, it’s all in vain. So, he will go out of his way to make certain that others see all the good he has done.

God’s faithful people—the disciples of Jesus Christ—must be always on the alert to the temptation to say one thing and do another. We must not condone it in ourselves and certainly not in our spiritual leaders.

The hypocrite is the greatest rationalizer of all time. He has an explanation for the gulf between his claims and his actions, his preaching and his failure to practice. What’s more, he probably believes some of his own lies. And that makes him more dangerous than ever because it empowers his attempts at sincerity.

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbors, for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25).

Let us constantly pray the prayer of Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me; and lead me in the everlasting way.”   

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Joe McKeever has been a preacher for nearly 60 years, a pastor for 42 years, and a cartoonist/writer for Christian publications all his adult life. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.