Tag Archives: Hypocrisy

What Smokey Says to Churches

What’s the worst thing about church?  Ask ten people that question and the chances are most of them will say something about hypocrisy.  Too many church people robe themselves in the look and sound of Christian-eze, while on the inside they struggle like all the rest of us.  Sound familiar?  

If so, you may be intrigued to know how Jesus taught his boys to act when they began to attract great adoring crowds of followers.  He did not tell them how to greet people with spiritual sounding phrases.  He did not tell them to raise their hands during the praise choruses, or to look pious during prayer time.  He taught them to watch out for trying to act all holier than thou just because they were His disciples.  

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.  (Luke 12:1-3)

Boys, He said in effect, it’s so easy to put on airs when you see how many people have showed up, to start acting like you are better.  Watch out!  Be real.  Don’t be hypocrites!

Of course, in our day, the same caution applies to the folks who show up at church, not just to the leaders.  There is an awful lot of pretending that goes on in the lobby.  Words and expressions that don’t match what we really think and feel.  True, that stuff frequently goes on in many other places – not just at church.  But Jesus knew hypocrisy is cancer in a church.  Because, if people feel judged, they will never get to know the One Who did not come to judge them but to save them.

And the way to fix it begins with you.  Like what Smokey the Bear says: “Only you can prevent…”

Them Hypocrites

What does Halloween have in common with hypocrisy?  Masks.  The word, hypocrite, comes from a Greek word for mask.  Halloween is better: you get candy and the masks are not as scary.

Sometimes hypocrites wear a mask with deliberate intent to deceive.  But much of the time, what looks like hypocrisy is simply someone trying to act more like a Christian.  Sadly, many churches have taught people to do that. Trouble is, people respond to hypocrisy about like they do to other dead things.  

Jesus had a better idea. Instead of trying to act like a Christian, come to Him in faith and come alive in your soul with His life.  Then, He takes care of the changes.  They flow from inside without masks.  

He said,

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  (John 15:5)
Pay attention to that last part and put away your masks.  Make your home in Jesus and He will live in you.  But, hey, before you go, help yourself to some candy….

Jesus’ Harshest Criticism

Jesus knew His time was short and spent His final days delivering His most urgent teachings.  You might have thought He would level His cannons at the Romans, the pagan oppressors of God’s people.  But He ignored them.  Jesus also mostly ignored the crooks and swindlers in Jerusalem.  He didn’t pick on the wealthy or those who seemed lost in sin.  No. Jesus spent most of His final time on earth scolding religious people, especially the highest leaders.

He did not mince words.  He called them “blind guides”, “snakes” and “vipers,” “fools” and, more than any other name, the H-word: “hypocrites.   Jesus’ most biting criticism was against religious people who tried to look holy on the outside while, on the inside, they were morally and spiritually decaying and dying.  He compared them to tombs, whitewashed on the outside but full of dead men’s bones.

But why, when the city of Jerusalem was overrun with violent soldiers and scoundrels, liars and low-life’s, did Jesus pick on people who had focused their whole lives on being religious?

One reason He gave is that the religious leaders were tying people up with all their do’s and don’ts, keeping people away from God with all the ritual and legalism, when God’s intent is to invite us into a loving, intimate relationship with Him.  He said:

““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)

When religious leaders care more about their own authority and controlling people than they do about truly connecting people with God, they are working against God’s purposes.

Another criticism He leveled against them was that they were not living in step with God’s ways.  God does not want us to be prisoners of rules, but champions of grace and love.

“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)

Compare those spankings to what Jesus was teaching His followers just before He died:

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:33-34)

Each of us makes a choice about Jesus, deciding whether He is One we will follow or not.  Too often, the only things we’ve heard about Jesus come from religious leaders who are trying to control us.  How about going straight to Jesus’ own words, before you decide?

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.


Tell and Show

In truth, it’s not what you say that matters; it’s what you do.  That’s the test.  It’s not enough to sound religious, to say a bunch of holy things about God and stuff.  It’s what you do that shows if you are spiritually alive.

“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. “ (James 1:26-27)

At first glance it sounds like James is saying, “Hey, watch your language around here, buddy…” But really, he is warning people not to sound religious to impress others or maybe even God.  People may be fooled by that, but God isn’t impressed with lofty tones of voice and holy vocabulary.  He cares about what He sees us do.  Don’t misunderstand: we can’t earn our way into God’s favor with good works.  But when we have His Spirit alive within us, we will show it as we tend to help others in distress.  Even those like widows and orphans who, in that day, didn’t count for much.  “Being polluted by the world,” in this context, means caring more about my own reputation among the influential people than I do about someone else with real needs.

These two verses drag me across coals of regret. I wince to read about keeping a close rein on my tongue.  But that’s why I need these verses.  And why I need grace.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Eye Test

Bill O’Reilly really makes me mad because he interrupts so much.  I get so frustrated with people that constantly interrupt – people like me.   The things things that bug me most in other people tend to be the things I don’t like about myself.  You too?  Perhaps that’s because our own struggles make us more sensitive to these same faults in others.  Plus, it is way more fun to correct those faults in others than to address them in ourselves, right?   It’s human nature.  That’s why Jesus said:

“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 your own eye? 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.  (Matthew 7:3-5)

Jesus didn’t say we should pretend not to see our brother’s faults.  He told us how to prepare so we are able to help “remove the speck from our brother’s eye.”  Such help begins with an honest assessment of our own similar faults.  “Seeing clearly” includes humility and compassion, attitudes that flow from honesty about our own struggles.  Most people resent criticism from on high but respond well to someone who comes alongside with understanding and encouragement.

Not so Fast

Did you know you can get a reward from God?  Jesus told us how.  Three times, Jesus said “…your Father Who sees in secret will reward you.”. The first time, He was talking about giving to the poor.  The second time, He was teaching how to pray.  Once more, while teaching about fasting, Jesus explains how to be rewarded by “your Father”. 

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  (Matthew 6:16-18 – ESV)

Once again, the point is the same: Do not try to impress people with your devotion to God; keep it private, between you and God.  Generosity, prayer and fasting are all expressions of a deep rrelationship with “your Father”.  When you use them to show others how religious you are, how good you are, they have the opposite effect.  They show people your pride and hypocrisy and they diminish your relationship with God.

Fasting does not earn us any points with God, it simply clears away the clutter and distraction so we can commune with Him more fully.  There are times, when you sit down to talk with someone, that it is natural to do it over a casual lunch.  There are other circumstances when lunch would simply get in the way: you just need to be together and talk.  It’s times like that with your Father that Jesus says are just for the two of you.  Don’t ruin them by using them as an occasion to show off to people. What is the reward? That too is just between you and your Father, but you can be sure that it is primarily the relationship itself.

This is radical stuff!  People almost always picture God as a distant and demanding figure.  Jesus says He is your Father and desires a relationship with you that is intimate and genuine. 

Keep it Real

Did you ever hear someone else praying and think, “That guy is a phony?”  Jesus did.  And he warned us against phony praying.  He said:

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  ( Mat 6:5-8. –   ESV)

The essence of prayer hypocrisy is paying more attention to people than you do to God. God knows your heart, knows what you need, and loves you. He invites us to pray as a natural part of our relationship. Nothing we can say will impress Him or manipulate Him. He wants us to keep it real.   

The temptation to impress others causes some to love to pray out loud. The flip side of that same temptation causes some to hate praying publicly, fearing that others will not be impressed. Jesus says we can avoid all that by praying privately – honestly talking things over with Our Father.

That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to pray with others out loud, but when we do, the same principles apply:  Remember Who you are speaking to, pray what is truly in your heart, and keep it real between you and God.

You know what happens when a dad comes home from serving overseas and pays a surprise visit to his daughter in school?  When she see him and runs to him, the last thing on her mind is how she looks and sounds to everybody else.  Pray like that…