Almost everything we know about the subject of hypocrisy, from the Bible, comes from Jesus himself. The Old Testament records only one use of the word, in Psalm 26.4: “I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites.” OK, so we at least know that hypocrisy is some kind of deceit.
When Jesus arrives on the scene, he has a lot to say about hypocrisy, and it’s all aimed at religious people. The Greek word comes from the world of theater and describes an actor: someone who wears a mask and impersonates another. It’s the poser and pretender, and in the crosshairs of Jesus’ criticism—the religious fakers. They aren’t in it for the depth of relationship with God in the genuineness of their souls; they’re just being religious as a means to some other end, whatever it may be. God takes being used like that as an affront to his very Person. This is the harshest word Jesus serves up to anyone, and the religious are the ones he invites to dinner. Ouch.
Jesus’ point is always that the heart counts more than “the show:” the image, the lips, the cute smiles, and the hidden agendas. Cut the crap, and show me what’s real. BE real. True devotion wrapped in honest packaging is the only honorable course. Sometimes we give symbols more standing than the substance. We toy with compromise like it’s a fun adventure rather than a comfortable way to deceive others about our faith and our choices. In Matthew 23 Jesus rolls out terms for the tricksters: fools, hypocrites, blind guides, sons of hell. Ouch.
Are religious people more prone to be hypocrites than non-religious ones? No. There is no shortage of hypocrites out there in every area of life. But the Bible only deals with its own, y’know? The Bible prophecies that the church, unfortunately, will become plagued by hypocrites and hypocritical leaders (1 Tim. 4.1ff). The response of faithful people is not to walk out in disgust, but to stay true to the faith, point out the errors, (1 Tim. 4.6), and set the example for others (1 Tim. 4.12).
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