“So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see…” (Matthew 23:3-5). The above saying by Jesus was just an introductory remark in His exposition on Hypocrisy in Matthew 23. The entire chapter was dedicated to hypocritical behaviour and its consequences for both the culprits and their victims. It can also be referred to as “Preaching virtue and practising vice.” One phrase that ran through the exposition not less than seven times was “Woe to you Teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites”. It was, therefore, evident that the ever-loving Lord expressed His disgust at the phenomena where people preach water but end up drinking wine. One group of people who disturbed the Lord during His earthly ministry by several attempts to get Him off His balance were the hypocrites around His line of engagement. Suffice it to say that even demons did not obstruct Him that much. In describing them at one point, He used phrases such as “You blind fools, whitewashed tombs, snakes and brood of vipers, etc.”. Rather than seeing Jesus as a non-diplomatic hot-headed Messiah, let us take time to glean lessons from why He detested hypocritical tendencies in such a despicable manner.
Today, most believers would bear with me that hypocrisy amongst the brethren has graduated from it being a stumbling block to a fully fletched stronghold. It has invaded people’s family lives, arrested the beauty of relationships within organisations and has made serious inroads within the body of Christ, resulting in deep and irreparable cracks amongst believers. Others have also argued strongly that what some often judge as hypocritical is rather diplomacy and not hypocrisy. Some insist that hiding a belief and balancing and adjusting oneself to suit the trending temperature and pressure of the day for convenience is just wisdom at play and not necessarily hypocrisy. How and why people can gather all the energy and momentum to loudly preach water but hide and drink wine (i.e. Hypocrisy) is the puzzle the write-up seeks to discuss. Attempts will also be made to suggest ways hypocrisy can be avoided or eliminated as much as it depends on us.
Hypocrisy is not showing loyalty, respect, reverence, humility and obedience to people in authority. Greetings and salutations to people in power, such as ” Your majesty! Long live the king etc.” shouldn’t also be viewed as hypocrisy even though People like Daniel’s detractors abused that felicitation in furtherance of their selfish ambitions (Daniel 6; 3:9). We are all required to give honour to those deserving, respect, and support those in authority. Unfortunately, some who exhibit such godly and enviable traits sometimes get tagged hypocrites.
The dictionary defines Hypocrisy as the practice of claiming to have higher moral standards or beliefs to which one’s behaviour does not conform. Words such as; Pretence, sanctimoniousness, false virtue, insincerity, falseness, falsity, deceit, deceitfulness, deception, dishonesty, duplicity, imposture, two-facades, and double-dealing are some of its synonyms. In my own words, hypocrisy is living a lying or deceitful life. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Lord never countenanced any form of it, no matter how little. The measure of hypocrisy in a person’s life is the difference between their words and actions. So, the higher the difference, the higher the level of hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy is exhibited through mediums such as speech, attitude, actions, gestures and mannerisms. Hypocrisy can, therefore, be expressed or implied in a person’s behaviour. The common ones that usually get some pissed off are when people criticise their neighbours for something they are guilty of, according to Luke 6:42. There are, however, more sophisticated ones which are even more deadly. Judas Iscariot used a warm kiss to exhibit his on the night in which the Lord Jesus was betrayed. In Jeremiah 9:8, the Bible gives an example of the kind of talk from the mouth that doesn’t emanate from the heart but the mind. Words that come from the mind can be deceptive at times. Therefore, as Christians, we must be careful what we utter to God with our lips because, unlike all other gods, He is omniscient.
Some possible reasons and undercurrents for hypocritical behaviour are selfish ambitions, fear, men-pleasing syndrome, greed, discontentment, praise loving and conformance. It must, however, be stated that it is the natural birth and the fallout of the seed of sin through the Adamic fall that makes all humans disposed of hypocrisy. The flesh, therefore, swings towards hypocrisy by default. Pointing accusing fingers at others as you read this article is not the way to go since you may end up being the worst culprit if you lose your guard.
I have also heard a forceful argument being made by some that what people often tag as hypocrisy is instead diplomacy or the display of wisdom but is misconstrued to be hypocrisy. Diplomacy is the art of dealing with people sensitively and effectively. The English lexicon uses similar words such as tactfulness, sensitivity, discretion, and finesse to describe this rather good virtue and which has nothing to do with hypocrisy. Resolving conflicts and exerting a positive impact and influence on some individuals and society requires tactfulness or the art of diplomacy. The use of diplomacy calms nerves and brings down tension on such occasions. The entire household of Nabal was saved from a massacre by David and his men through the act of wisdom and diplomacy of Mrs. Abigail (1 Samuel 25). The diplomacy of Christ during His earthly ministry was second to none. His engagements with the Samaritan woman, Zaccheus, the tax collectors and the Teachers of the law attested to this. The honouring of His mother Mary’s request against His initial stands to turn water to wine at the wedding in Cana were other examples of diplomacy and tactfulness when He came to live with humankind. Yet, none was truthful, plain, and at times confrontational as Christ anytime the situation called for such responses.
Embedded, however, in hypocrisy at times is a certain appearance and film of diplomacy. In some circumstances, it is not simple to look sharp diplomatically without veering off and slipping into the lane of hypocrisy like Peter and Barnabas found themselves in one particular instance and which was duly confronted by Paul in Galatians 2:11-14. “When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he feared those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy so that by their hypocrisy, even Barnabas was led astray.
When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all…”. Some believers, I think, have problems as to why Paul didn’t keep quiet and win the accolade as a “wise” and “smart” Apostle but chose to go on that tangent with Peter, a senior colleague at the time. For fear of falling out with the Jerusalem caucus, Peter fell into a hypocritical act. I must admit that there are occasions where I have been caught in similar webs in my quest to be diplomatic with some issues. May the good Lord forgive me. It’s all because I overstretched the limit of diplomacy in those instances. Thank God Peter took the rebuke in good faith and did not argue with Paul. When reprimanded by the Holy Spirit or confronted by others on a hypocritical gesture, let us not take it personally or be overly defensive. Paul has, thus, been judged as being temperamental and a non-discretionary talkative who knew very little about diplomacy. I beg to differ because we’re talking about someone who could keep his mouth shut about secrets for more than 14yrs. Even until his death regarding some heavenly mysteries, he was privileged to understand but not permitted to utter a word about it to mortal men (2 Corinthians 12:2).
How diplomatic could Jesus have been without exposing Judas on the night He was betrayed as the betrayer? How diplomatic could Daniel and his 3 Jewish brothers be without being hypocritical in their dealings with the Kings of Babylon? These were first-class, young and intelligent diplomats by all standards so far as all the literature of Babylon was concerned. They knew the implications of the stands they took on instructions received when they collided with the precepts of the God of their ancestors. Do you think they didn’t take their coursework in diplomacy seriously or didn’t understand it in their 3-years orientation program at Nebuch’dnezzar’s palace? Will they have come out as the best students? The only difference between them and the others was their determination and vow to worship the Lord God with all their hearts, souls and mind. They were neither disrespectful nor proud, judging from the gentle, submissive and excellent spirit they exhibited as officials at the King’s palace. Hypocrisy is not wisdom at play or diplomacy so let’s not force them to look alike. I see diplomacy rather as the exhibition of truth under the canopy of love and which should not have any resemblance with hypocrisy.
God expressed His utmost disgust for hypocrisy even before the advent of Christ. Amos 5:21-24 says that God is not interested in our religious festivals, offerings and solemn assemblies if they are loaded with pretence and are just a show off to impress others. He went on to say that even the hymns we sing will be noise in His ears if we don’t put a stop to hypocritical lifestyles. Also referred to as “the yeast of the Pharisees” in Luke 12:1, Jesus also could not understand why some would be two-faced in their dealings with their neighbours. In Luke 22:48, He asked Judas, “Are you betraying the Son of Man with a Kiss?” How on earth would a man appointed by the Lord as an Apostle do such a thing to Jesus? And how can ushering people to the slaughterhouse be done with a Kiss? Heaven doesn’t understand and will never accept hypocrisy today or tomorrow. Therefore, believers who have made false praises or flattery their specialty but harbour ill motives should use the rather sad end of Judas as a lesson and repent.
Judas, at the time, had grown to become a two-faced Apostle because he knew the arguments to the table to appear spiritually sharp anytime Jesus was around but at the same time managed to look good in the eyes of the Pharisees. He disingenuously objected to a divinely inspired act of worship by Mary in John 12:3 when he said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” Judas was the same person who had his hand in the same bowl with Jesus eating on the night He was betrayed and still asking Him who and why someone would betray Him. Meanwhile, at the time, he had already pocketed the thirty shekels of silver to betray Jesus to be killed. Absenting himself from the prayer meeting with his other colleague Apostles at Gethsemane with Jesus, Judas was the one who came in the company with the soldiers to arrest Jesus once he kissed Him. How could one person be Jesus’ boy and a foot-soldier for the Pharisees simultaneously? That is the confusion surrounding hypocritical lifestyles.
Hypocrites are a nuisance to Kingdom-minded goals and a hindrance to the flow of the Spirit. All unrepentant practising hypocrites are, therefore, the venom that needs to be monitored closely with steps taken to evacuate all non-suspecting victims around their line of operations. If you know what you have succeeded in communicating to others about your virtues is not your true self, it is called pretence. Please examine yourself because that is what hypocrisy is all about. The confirmatory test for hypocrisy is a self-conducted one since it involves the intents or motives of people’s actions.
Is it not scary to learn about the eternal resting place of all hypocrites? Matthew 24:51 reads, “He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Hypocrisy is, therefore, a fake lifestyle enroute to the city with foundations designed for Satan and his cohorts.
Thankfully, there is hope for all who desire to shun hypocrisy and all of its appearances. Apostle Peter, who got rid of some traces of it in his life after Paul confronted him, had this to say in 1 Peter 2:1, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” Thriving on that low-lying ground where sycophancy is bred and cultivated, hypocrisy, especially the “viral” type, can also be very contagious. Let’s, therefore, move to higher ground, so we don’t lose our guard. Keeping faith and trust in God’s word with a quality prayer life is one sure way of warding off hypocritical tendencies. Avoiding needless efforts in pleasing all men instead of focusing on pleasing God will also help all who are determined to do away with hypocrisy. Let us also be modest in our expectations by our ambitions and honesty, and contentment accept and believe in the faithfulness of God to see us through in all our endeavours.
It is worth noting that when hypocrisy is allowed to thrive, many innocent people become victims and suffer its consequences apart from the hypocrites themselves. Even though Judas hanged himself after becoming remorseful, he had succeeded in creating problems in many households in Jerusalem, caused Peter’s disgrace before little girls, broke the hearts of Mary, the mother of Jesus and shook the foundation of the church at its budding stage. Like Judas, hypocrites usher us to our detractors and serve as a link or bridge between them and us. We must break that bridge and disconnect that link through effective prayers.
Hypocritical behaviour may appear rewarding temporarily, but the end of Judas Iscariot must be a great lesson for all who are already reaping some of its short-term rewards. Systems that breed it, which have been institutionalised, must open for immediate reforms so the weak and vulnerable who get in there aren’t intoxicated and consumed in it. However, since Heaven wouldn’t take any excuse for indulging in hypocrisy, every effort must be made by all to shun all forms of it in our lives. Jesus answered Judas’ hypocrisy, “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:4-8). Let us also decisively tell hypocrisy to leave us alone, and it will go in Jesus’ mighty name. Stay blessed.
Written by Pastor James Orhin Agyin