Hypocrisy

Preaching and Worship Resources about Hypocrisy

It’s not only religious people who can be hypocrites; anybody may apply. Hypocrisy is an equal-opportunity sin whose center is a kind of sham faith or virtue. Hypocrisy is personal (or group) “disintegrity,” in which persons falsely present themselves as virtuous or as true believers.

In Scripture

Examples: The psalmist’s “companion” with “speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war” (Ps. 55:21). “An enemy dissembles in speaking while harboring deceit within” (Prov. 26:24). People of Judah who “honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isa. 29:13). People who humbly fast and pray and also “oppress all [their] workers” (Isa. 58:2-5). Those who turn the house of the Lord into “a den of robbers” (Jer. 7:11). Those who give to the needy and then announce it with trumpets (Matt. 6:2). The “spies” who “pretended to be honest” in order to trap Jesus (Luke 20:20).

Warnings: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies...But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21, 24). “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5). “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Matthew 23 throughout, with its seven reverse beatitudes (“Woe to you, hypocrites”); “You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). “Beware of the teachers of the law” who pray at length and also “devour widows’ houses” (Luke 20:46-47, NIV). “Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?” (Rom. 2:3).

Vice list 1 Peter 2:1

Points to Ponder

Counterfeit virtues In his treatise The Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards makes much of the presence in Christian communities of “counterfeit” virtues and counterfeit Godliness. He writes, “the more excellent anything is, the more will be the counterfeits of it.” It is easy to imagine examples. Lust passes for love, sentimentality for compassion, flattery for respect, humiliation for humility, and so on. Virtues are valuable to a person’s image; that’s why there are so many knock-offs.

Not just false presentation Not all false presentation is a case of the sin of hypocrisy: false teeth, padded brassieres, elevator shoes, hairpieces, and tinted contacts don’t qualify a person for the hypocrites’ club.

More than just feelings You aren't a hypocrite if you do what you don't feel like doing. Getting out of bed when your alarm goes off doesn’t make you a hypocrite. We may, and often should, work against the grain of our feelings. The idea here is not to deceive anybody, but to serve them. In Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis distinguishes between good pretense and bad pretense: good pretense is "dressing up like Christ," trying to act like a Christian with the hope of becoming a better one. Bad pretense is a deception in which we try to fool someone into thinking we are what we are not. Good pretense makes no claim along this line, but simply tries to act right in order to become right.

Only persons can be hypocritical. We don't criticize our Yellow Lab for hypocritically wagging his tail at us while his heart is far from us.

Sinful false presentation A false presentation may include either dissimulation (the concealment of sin) or simulation (the projection of virtue), or both. A false presentation may be directed to others, to oneself, or, remarkably, to an all-seeing God.

Presentation vs. awareness Presentation entails nothing with respect to the hypocrite's awareness of his falseness. That's why the term is useful: it preserves the possibility of unconscious hypocrisy, characterized and generated by self-deception, as well as (the more familiar) deliberate hypocrisy, marked by pretense.

Self-deceived Hypocritical persons (such as certain Pharisees) may be both pretenders and also self-deceived. Hence, the pretense of spies in Luke 20:20 and the disingenuousness of some “Pharisees and Herodians” in Mark 12 who preface a trick question with an unctuous compliment: “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity” (NIV). The gospels sometimes treat the religious leaders of Israel as deliberate frauds. But, they also seem to be blind—"blind guides," "blind Pharisees," foolishly trying to finger a speck out of someone else's eye but not doing a very good job of it because of the log in their own. Think also of the accounts in Matthew 7 and 25 of surprised disciples on judgment day. Their astonishment (“Did we not cast out demons in your name?” “When did we see you naked?”) suggests a fatal unawareness of their own condition.

Types of hypocrites It may be that the beginning hypocrite knows he’s false and the recovering hypocrite knows he’s false, but the truly deep-dish hypocrite thinks he’s sound. That’s why he’s a “blind guide leading the blind.” He’s unaware that he’s unqualified to be a leader.

Jonathan Edwards treated hypocrisy almost exclusively as a self-deceived and self-deluded phenomenon. He was mighty aware that a hypocrite could be frighteningly sincere. This might be why Jesus hammers at hypocrites so hard. He’s trying to dent their self-deception. And it was audacious for him to do it, because to do so he had to judge their hearts. Who knows people's hearts except God? We are not to judge other people because we don't know their hearts. But Jesus does it boldly, confidently. This is tantamount to a claim of divinity.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.